I traveled to Laos with a mission to surround myself in the beauty and serenity of the Laos countryside.

I was totally looking forward to wander around remote villages, hiking past blooming rice paddies bordered by towering limestone cliffs.

I ended up traveling from the northeastern Thai-Laos border to its southernmost Laos-Cambodia land crossing . The trip took around 18 days taking 3 to 4-day stops at popular tourist spots like Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Vientiane, and Pakse.

I was also able to visit off-beat destinations, which made my trip especially memorable.



Day 1: Huay Xai

Thailand-Laos Border Crossing

After using up my entire 30-day free visa on arrival in Thailand, I crossed the Chiang Khong-Huay Xai border crossing  located at the far northwest corner of Laos.

Laos also offered free 30-day visa on arrival for Philippine passport holders.

I spent one night in Huay Xai before moving on to Luang Prabang, my first major destination. I definitely needed a little rest in preparation for the butt-numbing and nauseating 12-hour bus ride to Luang Prabang.

View of Huay Xai, a border town beside the Mekong River, from the rooftop terrace of Friendship Guest House

Laos money and expenses

I used my (Bank of the Philippine Islands) ATM card to carry and withdraw money to “Lao Kip” (LAK) currency. One US dollar converted to around 7,800+ kip.

I only needed US$128 (or PHP5,200) to be a millionaire in Laos :) Of course, that amount was only enough to spend on backpacking around Laos for nearly one week.

I was surprised that backpacking around Laos turned out more expensive than Thailand. Particularly with food and accommodations and in Luang Prabang, especially. I was expecting the opposite since Laos seemed less developed/wealthier than Thailand.

Hostel dormitories were not common in all places I visited save for Vientiane, which added to my expenses as I was traveling solo. I was definitely missing Chiang Mai’s famous 100 baht dorms :(

Day 2 to 4: Luang Prabang

I got on the 12-hour bus trip from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang instead of the hyped up two-day slow boat down the Mekong River.

Luang Prabang is a tourist town known for being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This ancient city served as the capital of early kingdoms that ruled Laos, center of Buddhism, French-colonial stronghold, and briefly as the seat of power during the communist “Kingdom of Laos” government.

Luang Prabang had a rather subdued charm to it rather than a place filled with sights built in grand fashion.

French-colonial shop houses and Buddhist temples were exquisite, especially the buildings with luxurious views of the Mekong River. It was the kind of place I’d go to if I was looking forward to spending lazy days sipping down a cup of coffee or a bottle of beer while enjoying the beautiful scenery in a very laid-back town.

There were also lots of  monks in saffron-colored robes roaming quiet streets and a variety of local food to indulge in.

Peaceful riverside promenade at Luang Prabang bordered by exquisite French-colonial buildings and the mighty Mekong River

Tasty and extremely cheap vegetarian buffet at the night market in Luang Prabang (10,000 kip per plate).

I rented an automatic scooter (150,000 kip per day) with another solo backpacker that I met on the bus to Luang Prabang. We visited two sites outside the city center: Tat Kuang Si Waterfalls located south of the main city, then Pak Ou caves in the north.

Taking an automatic bike out for a spin beyond Luang Prabang city center

Lower cascades of Tat Kuang Si waterfall, located 29 kilometers south of Luang Prabang city center.

Tallest cascade of Tat Kuang Si Waterfall with all its fury during Laos’ rainy season

Wooden boats used to ferry us to the Pak Ou Caves, located 25km north of Luang Prabang.

Hundreds of miniature Buddha sculptures hidden inside one of the caves at Pak Ou.

Overlooking the Mekong River from the trails at Pak Ou Caves

Day 5 to 8: Muang Ngoi Neua and Nong Khiaw

I continued my journey, backtracking northwards to Nong Khiaw, a sleepy town 4-hours away from Luang Prabang. Nong Khiaw was situated beside the Nam Ou River and surrounded by breathtaking views of monolithic limestone formations.

Since I wasn’t in any rush, I decided to go, further, on the hour-long local boat to Muang Ngoi Neua, which was even more remote and exceptionally beautiful.

Ferry ride along the Nam Ou River from Nong Khiaw to Muang Ngoi Neua

Scenic view at the ferry landing in Muang Ngoi Neua

Beautiful view of the Nam Ou River from my bungalow at Muang Ngoi Neua.

Closer view of the lush highland scenery from the balcony.

Overlooking view of Muang Ngoi Neua village on my late afternoon trek to Phanoi cave

I wandered, on my own,  around and random trails meandering through blossoming rice paddies at Muang Ngoi Neua. The experience turned out to be the best part of my 18-day journey in Laos.

I spent an extra night when I got back to Nong Khiaw, so I can check out the views around that area.

Gorgeous countryside views on my hike around Ban Na Village

Staking a herd of water buffalos. An albino at the back :)

View from the highway bridge at Nong Khiaw village center

Thick clouds approaching

Caught up in the rain and muddy trail

Although the views were breathtaking, the skies were too gray during my trek at Muang Ngoi Neua and Nong Khiaw. I wasn’t able to capture the perfect souvenir photo of the scenic Laos countryside fixated on my mind. I was left wanting for more but I needed to move on to my next destination, hoping the weather would turn up.

Day 9 to 10: Vang Vieng

I thought Vang Vieng was all about parties and river tubing. I was almost sold on skipping this infamous backpacker destination until a backpacker I met in Thailand convinced me otherwise. She told me the scenery in Vang Vieng was worth checking out, even for just a quick stopover.

I was so glad I did! There wasn’t much of a party scene in Vang Vieng anymore anyways. The local authorities closed down most (or all) of the “tubing bars.”

I stayed at Jamee Guest House located at the edge of town. The owner offered a spacious room with a beautiful view of the countryside for only 50,000 kips. It was totally one of the best back-for-your-buck hostels I’ve stayed at so far!

My room at Jamee Guest House in Vang Vieng, Laos

The main tourist strip in Vang Vieng

I rented a bicycle and pedaled my way to the farming village across the Nam Song River. Most of the limestone formation clusters were around that area.

The sunny weather came at the right time, complementing perfectly with the vibrantly green rice paddies and low clouds surrounding picturesque limestone formations.

I finally got to indulge in the iconic Laos countryside scenery I fantasized. The views were amazing!

Wooden bridge over the Nam Song River

Basking under the iconic view of the Laos countryside in Vang Vieng

Day 11 to 14: Vientiane

Vientiane definitely fit the bill of a “low-key” capital city. The major tourist spots in the city should only take a day to visit, possibly even half a day.

Since I was planning on applying for my Myanmar Tourist Visa at the Myanmar embassy in Vientiane, I spent four days there while waiting for the embassy to release my tourist visa.

The travelers I met in Vientiane made my trip very memorable. The hostel dorm I stayed at was filled mostly by Japanese backpackers, who were very friendly and fun to hang with.

Patuxai (Victory Gate), a local rendition of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe. Great views on top!

Pha That Luang, Vientiane – the national symbol of Laos

Beautiful sunset at the river promenade of Vientiane. The landmass across was already Thailand.

Day 15 to 16: Bolaven Plateau

After my visit to Vientiane, I boarded a night bus to Pakse located in the southern part of Laos. Then got on a local bus to Paksong, a small village at the Bolaven Plateau.

While figuring out how to go about exploring the highland areas of the  Bolaven Plateau, I joined a coffee tour led by Mr. Koffie. Yes, that was his real name.

I learned a lot about growing coffee, different varieties, and preparing the perfect roast. The coffee was also really good!

Coffee Tour at Paksong, the coffee capital of Laos

After the coffee tour, I was hoping to see huge waterfalls the Bolaven Plateau was famous for. A couple of them were located just along the way back to Pakse.

A backpacker I met at Mt. Koffie’s shop graciously offered to give me a ride on his rented motorbike all the way to Pakse. Great timing since he was also planning to see the waterfalls.

Tad Yuang Waterfall, first waterfalls we visited at the Bolaven Plateau

Tat Fane “twin” Waterfall, one of the tallest in Laos.

Day 17 to 18: Pakse, Champasak

After my new travel buddy checked out and continued his journey northwards, I stayed in Pakse a little longer so I could visit the Vat Phu Temple complex located around 40 kilometers south of Pakse.

Vat Phu was an ancient Khmer temple similar to the ones I had already seen at Angkor Wat, Cambodia. This particular temple was distinct, however, because it was built on the side of a forested hill. In contrast, most of the temples in Angkor Wat were surrounded by wide plains.

Footpath leading to Vat Phu “hill” temple

Overlooking view of Vat Phu, twin barays (lakes), and surrounding areas

Inside the Buddhist shrine at Vat Phu

The sunset was stunning on my way back to the city. I even found a dirt road that offered picturesque views of rice fields glowing under the golden light.

Picturesque dirt road branching off from the highway in Champasak, Laos

Seemingly deserted highway in Champasak, Laos

I spent my last day on the shuttle van ride to the Cambodian border and spent the night at Kratie. I did not visit Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands), even though it was just along the way. I set it aside so I’d have more reasons to come back to Laos :)

I’ve totally associated Laos with “adventure.” I loved that I didn’t overly plan my trip. I experienced a lot of  surprises, which made the trip extremely memorable.

Backpacking Summary

  • Length of trip: 18 days
  • Total expenses: around US$400
  • Daily budget: US$20 to 25
  • Places explored:
    • Luang Prabang (Northern Laos)
    • Nong Khiaw (Northern Laos)
    • Muang Ngoi Neua (Northern Laos)
    • Vang Vieng (Central Laos)
    • Vientiane (Central Laos)
    • Champasak (Southern Laos)
      • Bolaven Plateau
        • Paksong
      • Pakse
      • Vat Phu
  • Visas required: Free Visa on Arrival for Philippine Passport Holders
  • Border crossings:
    • Chiang Khong (Thailand) to Huay Xai (Laos) land crossing
    • Veun Kham (Laos) to Dom Kralor (Cambodia)  land crossing

You can find more DIY notes on this trip at Laos Itinerary: North to South traverse.