Tricks and tips : Laos
And here we continue through the road I took ! Again, nothing crazy in here but a few tricks to make you live better when travelling through Laos. Coffee, food, camp spot !
Visa : You can get the visa in advance with your embassy. But for most of us, makes no sens as it will take more time, money and energy. Same for the Evisa. Double check regarding your nationality, but it's quit easy and quick to get a visa at the border. The official price is 30USD. ALTHOUGH : as in Cambodia, it's most of the time a bit of a fight not to pay extra fee who goes direct in the customs pocket. Corruption is decaying the country from the inside. So if you patient and courteous, of if you don't care giving up a few extra dollars, the problem is quickly solved. But if you're a bit stubborn as I do, it will be a bit more agitated. I crossed the Laotian border 3 or 4 times and it was always different. It's easy to get a visa extension in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. I think I heard that you could do it in Savannakhet as well. Although, double check all the informations and calculate clearly the cost. Considering the amount of days you extend for, it's something easier and cheaper to do a visa run with the neighbours.
The border : With Thailand, it's mostly links with what they call the "friendship bridges". And those bridges are forbidden to cyclist. You got to ditch bikes in a bus and go across the Mekong river with. Can't remember the price but it's not cheap. ` Currency : Kips Time zone : GMT+07h
Border crossing : Laos - Thailand : - Chong Mek / Vang Tao - Mukdahan / Savannakhet - Nakhon Phanom / Tha Khaek - Bueng Kan / Paksan - Nong Khai / Vientiane - Ban Mo / Vientiane - Tha Li / Nam Hueng - Chiang Khong / Huay Xai Is two more possibility but they don't deliver visa. - Phoudou checkpoint in Xayabouly - Pakxan checkpoint in Bolikhamxay Laos - Cambodia : - Stung Treng border Laos - Vietnam : - Sop Hun – Tay Trang (They apparently don't accept the Vietnamese Evisa)
- Bo Y – Ngoc Hi
- Cha Lo – Napao - Nam Phao – Cau Treo
- Dansavanh – Lao Bao
- Nam Khan – Nam Can Laos - China : - Boten / Mengla
Laos - Myanmar : No more land border crossing for independent tourists as far as I know.
To sleep : - Mini S hotel, Vientiane. A cool and cosy hotel out of the center. But no problem if you have a bike. Cool room, cheap and clean. More expensive than the dormitories, but it's an other world. Vientiane is not very well equiped in cool backpacker place. And I would even say dorms are pretty crappy. So a bit more expensive, but worth it. - Kulap Kao bungalows, Don Det. Not the nicest place ever, but a cool and cheep bungalow right in front of the Mekong river. Food is not exceptional but beers are cold and you can enjoy liying on the pillows starring at the water flowing. Beside of this hostel, lets say it's quit easy to camp in this 4000 islands area anyway. Except in Don Det island as it concentrates the touristic infrastructures. But digging a bit around, is a cool wildhish places where you can camp along the water. And on evening you can enjoy locals fishing in the river.
- Mama Pap, Tad Lo. If you fancy some comfort, go somewhere else. For others, it's the place to be in this village. Good and copious food, cold beers and mostly the most affordable dorm ever !
Mama is a legend ! - Coffee plantations, Paksong loop. Not a particular place to recommend but just to le tyou know that you can easily sleep in coffee plantation, either with tent or in homestay. You can have a look at the coffee trees and try the super local coffee from the family itself. I started the climb quit late so I stopped before the top, and crashed in a random plantation. That was a very cool moment with good food and a sweet family, they even gave me ome freshly roasted local coffee.
- Kasi HP resort, Nam Ken. On the road between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang, a cool stop in this hot spring resort. Possible to rent a bungalow or just pitch your tent somewhere around the hot water bassins. Can't remember the price but wasnt too bad. We were the only clients so pretty cool to have this huge warm pool for us when the sun went down. Small and convenient shop/restaurant next door. Cool spot to spend a night, also mostly because is not much solutions to camp in those mountains... - Elephant centre, Pak Ou. 30km north of Luang Prabang, a small village along the Mekong which we access through a lovely road where you can already see some elephants. It's a pretty busy place during the day as it turned to be a daily excursion from Luang Prabang, mostly for his caves and elephants. However it's possible to camp somewhere between sand, Mekong and elephants. And when digging a bit for an optimal option, we ended inside the property of an elephant centre who has a large, clean and lovely path of sand. With a morning surprise as the elephants showed up to take their bath. PS : apparently conditions aren't optimal for elephants there. I didn't know at first and anyway, I just sleep there and obviously didn't jumped on any elephant's back.
- Buddhist temple, everywhere ! A possibility among others, and even more than that actually. Almost a to do thing while cycling in SE asia. Dunno clearly how everything works, and why sometimes is no problem and sometimes they refuse. Being a female might influence, as the outfit does. And overall the goodwill of everybody. I finally didn't sleep much in temples in Laos. And mostly because at the first time I ended in a police car and an absolute non understandable situation. Was a weird evening. But anyway, there is temple everywhere and might most likely success to pitch your tent. and possibly sometime get some food as well.
So globally speaking, let's say I didn't find that easy to write down some stuffs about tricks and tips relative to accommodation. Is nothing super cool as a backpacker. I mean, it is some places obviously, but this is defy not the things people aim for while travelling there. That's also the beauty of this place, the interest is above this, so makes it a lil bit less touristic and authentic. Beside of it, it's not always easy to wild camp. Fort of all I would say that it's not easy to get understood relatively of the camping and wild camping concept. So language barrier, and comprehension barrier. And the population density doesn't help either. So it results in a lost of patience, time and energy as situations are hopeless, and I don't want to set up the camp if not eveyrybody seems happy. The huge difference of our body gestures interpretation doesn't help either. Temples are always a good option. But it can be "expensive" in some ways as well if you're tired. Nothing better than a cool spot along the Mekong. I wouln't say wild as is anyway somebody passing by at some point ! An other point, Chinese are massively building up in Laos, so that's a game changer. Loads of changes in the scenery as they chopping of everything. No good spot to hide and it's super dusty. Although, hips of hostel as the workers live there. Coffee shop : Well, here as well it's an other story. Laos is a coffee producer, and you can see the production when travelling in the Paksong loop. But, it's robusta and it's not super good. Not a bunch of places where you can find awesome beans or even hot beverages. - Can't remember the damn name !, Paksong. Better than what you'll find on the way up to Paksong, on top is a couple of good coffee shops. Some are kinda famous and were closed at that time but I've been a one special place which looks fancy AF. They had a cool range of different beans, which makes it quit exceptional for the country. The choice was maybe even better than in the capital. - Le trio coffee, Vientiane. Probably the best roaster in town. Choice between different beans and you can sip a cup of good coffee with a croissant on the terrace. The neighbours do some good lebanese food as well. Nice and chill place ! - Minna no cafe Samsenthai, Vientiane.
My fav coffee shop in town, mostly because of the place. A cosy and intimate frame where to stop for a bit and meditate on the meaning of life in front of a combo coffee/croissant. And staff is cool as well. Super cool place.
- Saffron Coffee's Espresso, Brew Bar, & Roastery, Luang Prabang. Best coffee option in town. and a good place to eat as well. Different coffee from their roastery. Different price and quality, not cheap for what it is. Not crazy good but from far the best option around. - Cafe Eh eh, Vang Vieng. Not the best city to find some good coffee despite of the crowd. This coffee shop is good tho, and you can sip a decent coffee with a brekkie. Possible to buy some beans and tea as well. Hard to get an exceptional coffee around anyway, so might be consider as an option if in the need.
Bike Shops :
Well, better be clear now, and mostly, better no having any big problem with special component in Laos. The capital is your best chance, and even there, your chance is the proximity with Thailand. A French dude has a shop in Vientiane, and it's apparently doable to make s things coming from the neighbours side. Outside of it, it's a sort of emptiness.
- Lao bike, Vientiane. Small bike shop in the city center where you can find basic spare parts to fix your steed. Otherise, nothing really sexy.
Foooooooooooood : Sorry but here again, it's not the Thai foodgasm. Easy to find stalls everywhere but it's relentless. Same old same old. In touristic place, no worries at all. Good and a proper wide range. In between, you'll stick to noodle soup. Which is actually good, but I was surprised of what food costed me there, more than Thailand for sure. As a cyclist and because I eat a lot, it turns into not a so cheap place. - Chicken noodle restaurant, Vientiane. With such a name, good luck to find it. Luckily I marked it on the map above. You're welcome. It's my fav place in Vientiane. Soups are soooo goooood. Cheap, and beers are cold. Close early. - Vientiane food market. Just next to the tasteless night market, a few street food stalls. Big deal considering price and taste ! The roasted pork with sticky rice is amazing.
- Green corner, Vientiane. What looks like the tradi French blocks meeting point in town. A terrace right on the street's animation where you can enjoy a French crepe or a traditional south of French drink : a pastis. - Alsace Stebbel restaurant, Vientiane. An alsacian restaurant in Laos ! You can find there what you could miss from home, and mostly, they have my dear alcohol : Picon ! rare enough to find it in this area to note it. - La boulange, Paksé. Impossible to get through Paksé without stopping there. Hold by a super cool team of French lads, you'll find baguettes and croissants as good as in France, and for a very reasonable price. Perfect for breakfast, and even if I'm not a huge fan of Paksé, this place could make me stay longer to smash so French baguette and jam all day long. As a conclusion, a tiny bit of culture. Did you know that Laos is the most bombed country in the world ? Between 1964 and 1973, during the "hidden war" in Indochina leaded by the CIA, this small country received more than 2.5 millions tons of bomb during 580 000 missions, killing more than 50 000 people. Not to be miss : Double check the exact date but around the end of November takes place the Hmong new year. And riding around at that time is clearly magic. Villages are boiling and people are roaming around in traditional dress, male and female.