Southern Laos and Cambodia in a Flash

Greetings from Bangkok!

It’s been a while since I last posted. I have been having a lot of fun and have not made any time for writing. How lazy of me…

This post will cover quite a bit, so I’ll have to be brief.

After LP, we headed south to Vang Vieng. It used to be the backpacker party town, but thanks to the closure of many of the riverside “party platforms,” it has turned into more of an outdoor activity mecca. It’s also gorgeous with the river running through and the karsts jutting up into the sky. Here is what we did:

  • Full day outdoor climbing adventure: Very fun, met some great people, well worth doing
  • Tubing the river: A must do for VV. Many idiots have gotten too drunk and drugged up and died doing this, so don’t be stupid, have some self control, get your tube back before 6pm, and it’s all a wonderful time. Avoid getting stuck at the first bar they drop you off at, take a few Beer Lao cans with you (you can get more without having to get out of your tube), and enjoy. Just to repeat, don’t be dumb.
  • Push bike cave exploration: We rented pushbikes and went to a few of the many of local caves. The blue lagoon and cave was cool, especially for swimming, but it was full of tourists. We stopped at two others on the way back to town, each we had to ourselves. They were gorgeous and well worth the trip. Sadly, entry to the caves is never free but the price is far from high.

VV is still largely a backpacker hangout, so there are still lots of bars to hang out at, including Jaidee’s if you like the ganja, and plenty of partying to be had. We met quite a few cool people there with whom we had a great, relatively responsible time. If you are looking for something quieter, head across the bridge and get a bungalow looking out over the karsts. The view is unlike anything we have ever seen before. VV is well worth a couple days stop, especially if you enjoy the outdoors.

Next we went south to the capital, Vientiane. We spent one night there. It was a city, we didn’t really do anything besides walk around a bit and buy some books. My personal opinion is you can skip it altogether.

Next on the list was Tha Khaek. The town itself has little to offer beyond a nice view of the Mekong. Its main attraction is its proximity to Kanglor cave, which is actually 200 plus kms away. The cave is a tunnel that runs about 7kms through the karsts, with a river running through it. The boat tour through the cave and back was breathtaking and well worth the time and effort. There is also a cool little waterfall just outside the little town near the final turnoff for Kanglor. Motorbikes and tours can be scheduled from Tha Khaek, or you can get a bus directly from Vientiane. We stayed at a lovely little resort just north of Kanglor town, called SpringRiver Resort. The bungalows look out over the river and the karsts. It was very picturesque, especially at dawn and dusk, and the food was to die for. Stay there if you are in the area, you won’t regret it.

From Tha Khaek we went to the Four Thousand Islands on the Laos Cambodia border. Though the guide says Don Det is the party island, we found it to be something of a lie. There is a reggae bar where you can buy joints, and it does tend to be where the younger backpackers go, but it was far from a party. The whole atmosphere was very laid back and quite enjoyable.

We stayed across the bridge on Don Khon, and it was even quieter. We spent a lovely couple of days relaxing in the hammock and enjoying watching the locals boat around and fish. Even though more people stay on Don Det, Don Khon has most of the natural tourist draw in the form of two awesome waterfalls. The islands are small, so it’s an easy one day bike ride to see it all. The roads are dirt and a bit rough, but the ride is wonderful, especially around Don Khon. We had a lovely afternoon drinking beer and relaxing in the cabanas by the big waterfall after we had spent most of the morning cycling the island. We loved it so much we didn’t want to leave. It would get boring after a few days though as there is little to do and the pace is extremely slow.

We spent a night and a day in Pakse before flying to Siem Reap. Pakse is a rather normal sort of city, and we never did find much to do besides walk around and eat. Courtney bought a traditional Lao skirt and got it tailored, and I came upon a local outdoor carnival type thing while I was wandering around at night (I was the only white person there and the locals got a kick out of it. I was the subject of many pictures and shared a few beers with them. It was cool.), but it’s not really a touristy sort of place. It’s really just a stop over for people coming and going between Lao and Cambodia. Daolin restaurant was fantastic though. If you’re there, look it up.

From there we flew to Siem Reap. It was more expensive then busing, but it was a one hour flight compared to a thirteen hour bus ride. We thought the price was worth it. Even with customs and all that it took no more then three hours and it was painless.

We only had a few days in Cambodia, so all we saw was Siem Reap. Cambodians are much less laid back then Laotians, and they seem to be much more upfront with the fact that they really just want your money. We had a good time anyway. Angkor Wat and all the other temple ruins are the big draw for the area. It’s just one of those things you have to do once. We spent three days exploring the area, and it was a wonderful experience.

One tip: The floating city is a waste of time and money; skip it.

Siem Reap also had a huge backpacker population, and if you are looking for a straight up party, there are a few large hostels that do just that. I happened upon one place that was having a pool party, and it was a sight I haven’t seen since college. I’ll leave the details up to your imagination.

There is also pub street, which I found to be quite boring really, and lots of markets and shopping. Beware of buying clothes though as the quality can be rather bad.

If you are in Siem Reap there is one thing, besides Angkor Wat, that you can’t miss, and that is Phare the Cambodian Circus. The show was an hour long, and it was brilliant. We enjoyed every second of it and we would go again in a heartbeat. If you visit Cambodia at all, look it up and go. They do shows in all the big cities.

Well, that about sums it up. Laos was our favorite place by far. We loved it and would certainly go back again. The people are amazing, the nature is beautiful beyond words, and there was a ton of cool stuff to do. Go there, you will love it.

Jake – over and out



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