29th December 2017 – 23rd January 2018
It is often skipped during many people’s Southeast Asia travels however we still felt one month in Laos was only just enough to see this adventurous country. Laos is not known for its big temples, large bustling cities or beautiful coastline. However this landlocked country in the heart of Asia has some stunning scenery and some of the most friendly people. If you enjoy the outdoors this is the country for you as it offers some amazing jungle trekking, kayaking, caving, zip lining and so much more. It also has an interesting and raw history surrounding the Vietnam War and the Ho Chi Minh trail which ran through Eastern Laos.
Food and Drink
A big bowl of noodle soup became a regular breakfast for Rich and me in Laos. The noodles came in a giant bowl of tasty broth seasoned with spring onion and other flavours. When you asked for meat you sometimes got nice pieces of chicken breast however often you had a mix of artificial meatballs and meat on the bone which we have become accustomed to. One thing we learnt in Laos was that every bit of the animal is used. Nothing is wasted.
Once you have your soup you are then given a massive plate of greens. This often has vegetables such as raw green beans, mint, lettuce and bean sprouts in. You add as much or as little as you want to your soup along with chillies. We have now become very resilient to spice and have to have a good helping of chilli jam with our noodle soup.
Laos was colonised by the French from the late 19th century until the mid 20th century. This has left a noticeable impact on Laos through its architecture, games and of course food. After seven months in Asia we particularly enjoyed the bread. French baguettes can be found at most Lao markets and we enjoyed having a proper sandwich after being away from Europe for so long. It’s the simple pleasures in life.
Jungle Trekking Food
Whilst in Luang Namtha in Northern Laos we did a two day jungle trek and a full day kayaking trip. Both trips included an very local style lunch. The local guides would serve the food on a freshly cut down giant banana leaf as seen in the photo above. We would eat using sticky rice and our hands as the local people do. The food was tasty and included tofu, egg, chicken and the more exotic silk worm.
This small village on the Mekong is not accessible by road and therefore is very peaceful with no cars and only the odd motorbike. It is the ideal place to relax and slow down your pace of life. We arrived by boat from the Northern town of Muang Khua. It was very cloudy when we visited but this made the beautiful karst scenery more mysterious. Whilst here you can visit small caves, go up to viewpoints and walk to the surrounding local villages which are even quieter and even more beautiful than Muang Ngoy itself.
Whilst visiting we were sad to hear that due to numerous Chinese dams being built on the Mekong River that tourism has declined dramatically. A local guesthouse owner from one of the surrounding villages explained that three or four years ago his guest house would be full every night. Now it remains empty for days. He was trying to think of new way to attract tourists through personal tours. Back in the main village of Muang Ngoy we also heard that fish quantities had reduced as well as the local delicacy of river weed. It was sad to hear that their livelihood was changing so dramatically due to the damming and that it seems that there is nothing they can do about it.
This city is popular amongst lots of travelers and you could instantly understand why. It has a small city centre with lots of beautiful temples and interesting colonial architecture. The city is on the banks of the Mekong River and so you can easily jump on a boat or sit at the water’s edge and watch the sunset. We met loads of really lovely people here and enjoyed seeing the city, its nightlife and the surrounding countryside.
Champasak is known for its famous Khmer temple ruin Wat Phou however most people visit from Pakse on a day tour. We were surprised that so little people stayed in the town of Champasak itself. It had cheap perfectly located accommodation along the banks of the Mekong and was very relaxing.
Things we learnt
- When we visit countries we are always interested in their history. Laos was no exception however this country has a surprisingly dramatic history which still affects them today. During the Vietnam war the Ho Chi Minh trail ran from Northern Vietnam through Eastern Laos to Southern Vietnam. It allowed North Vietnam to supply troops and equipment to the communist insurgents fighting the US backed government of South Vietnam. As a result between 1964 and 1973 US forces dropped an estimated 2 million tons of ordnance on Laos to try and stop this key supply network. This is more tonnage than was used during the whole of World War II. 78 million bombies (small bombs dropped from a single larger cluster bomb) dropped on Laos failed to explode. These are staggering figures which we read at the Luang Prabang UXO Centre. We also learnt that because of all this remaining unexploded ordnance (UXO) one person is killed almost everyday by UXO in Laos. In this developing country the damage caused by UXO not only affects a single person but a whole family. It was also staggering to learn that less than 1% of the UXO been cleared since the end of the war.
- Mopeds and motorbikes are used all over Southeast Asia yet in Laos we noticed that more and more younger kids ride them here.
- In Luang Prabang Rich and I visited ‘Big Brother Mouse’. This is a scheme which allows local people, mainly children, to speak to tourists to help improve their English. This great program not only benefits the locals but also gave us a chance to speak to local people about their lives. We spoke with a Monk about his life at the temple whilst a friend of ours spoke to a child who told him about the hardships of his family. It was a very eye opening experience and one I would recommend.
Top three phrases/words
- Hello – Saibaidee ( ສະບາຍດີ)
- How much? – thao dai? – ( ເທົ່າໃດ? )
- Bye – La kon ( ລາກ່ອນ )
Travel Statistics for Laos
Beers drank: 22.5 (each)
Beds slept in: 17 (each)
Bribes paid: 0
Pick up truck: 8
Spending in Laos
Currency: Lao Kip
Currency Conversion: £1 = 11,541.30 LAK
Number of days in country: 25
Breakdown of spending (together) –
Food & Beverage: £255.24
Total (together): £1,096.90
Total (per person): £548.54
Average Daily Spend (together): £43.88
Average Daily Spend (per person): £21.94