Laos ~ Places to Stay

4,000 Islands:

Mama Piang’s– It’s 20,000 kip (<3US$) price tag per night remains my cheapest accommodation yet. AND, that was for my own big queen bed with mosquito net. It was a great place. Mama and Papa are a little wild, but their kids are darling. It’s right in the middle of the one street between the docks and the bridge to Don Khong. She cooks one of the best laap dishes I had in Laos.

Pakse, Savanakhet, Tha Khek, Pak Beng, Huay Xai:

You’re on your own here. Use your gut and pick a guesthouse. There is not much to plan for here. Each place has about one main street along the river with lots of options. I did stay in the Mekong Hotel in Savanakhet, which had large rooms with TV’s and fan for about 100,000 kip (12US$).

Vientiane:

Sihome Hostel– This place should win awards. Great common area with pool table and beers. There is a padded room with movies and flat screen TV. I came home around midnight and there were some British blokes watching Premier League on the communal TV. All around good atmosphere. Beds are nice, but bathrooms cramped and great location at the beginning of the riverside walk. Absolutely best breakfast for a hostel: Bacon, tasty poached eggs and bread with coffee. They helped us pick the hostel in the next town, Vang Vieng.

Vang Vieng:

BounTang Guesthouse– Fabulous private rooms. Brand new, air-con, balcony, and clean. For 100,000 kip, I bought a private room with best view you can get of the mesmerizing Vang Vieng landscape. They also offer air-con dorms for half the price. Only stayed here one night, but going to bed with the lightning striking over the looming mountains in the distance and waking up to the sunny green hills was quite an experience.

EasyGo Hostel– This place is a dump. It has a small, filthy common area that keeps some of the rain off of you. But judging by the overflowing ashtrays, hasn’t been cleaned in a long time. The showers were clogged with plastic bottles and hair. Mosquito nets were provided. There is one girl who works the front desk and the only face I saw in three days. I understand a hostel is too much work for one girl, but eventually, they must hire a cleaning person or else it’s only going to get worse. It’s cheap though.

Luang Prabang:

LPQ Backpackers- A place full of rules. They rent towels, close the gates early, don’t allow billiards after ten, turn off air-con between 9-10 a.m. but offer a free egg breakfast. The rooms and toilets are nice and clean. It’s off to the end of town, so a slight walk is entailed.

Vang Vieng ~ Ha Long Bay on Land: Full of Natural Beauty: and Tubing!

Deep amid Northwestern Laos, within the old growth forests and the Nam Song river, nestled in a valley of grandiose limestone hills, a tourist hot spot has arisen: Vang Vieng. It gained notoriety a few years ago when, within a 3 km tube session, it was possible to consume at a minimum, if you stopped at all 12 bars, all with free shots upon entry, you can see how an afternoon could just slip away. Not shots of that irascible tequila, or the maddening whiskey, or the swashbuckling rum, but the home made LaoLao. It’s a highly potent rice wine. Those shots were on top of any Beerlao that you consumed during the hours floating the river. Somehow, amid all the drunken buffoonery mixed with an unpredictable river, dozens of people managed to die every year. There were rope swings, zip lines, deck jumps, mushroom cocktails, uppers, downers, Fear and Loathing in Laos Vegas. But, that binging paradise couldn’t last, and now the memories exist only in the rotting, empty bars on the slopes of the river. Although the drug and liquor fueled haze can be seen in some of the tubing patrons’ eyes, the town seems to be moving into the realm of respectable town with the possibility to party. Outdoor activities abound and are sure to please. I had an amazing rock climb and a slow kayak ride (it’s the dry season). Food comes in a few varieties, fried meat, fried rice, fried noodles or Pad Thai. I ate some great Indian as well as a nice schnitzel with sauce, but it’s not made for the gourmand tourist.

The surroundings are surreal. Its setting is a miracle in green. The mountains are between 500-1500 meters high, and almost every morning you could expect to rise and see this make-out session of cloud and rock.

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This was the view from my 4th floor balcony.

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This was the view from my tiny hostel balcony.

There were a few temples and I had some fish-eye fun with the paintings.

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I got to do my first real rock-climbing up ancient limestone cliffs.

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Bob was working on prepositions and he approached me for help. I think he knows the difference of “in” and “on” now.

This place was way more than I expected. The landscape was so irrepressibly intriguing and benignly beautiful. The villagers apparently willing to tolerate our behavior for going shirtless and watching Friends and Family Guy all day. For some reason, a few bars have all ten seasons of Ross, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler, and Rachel’s hi-jinks and innuendos. It was such a comfort being so far away from anything familiar and having those 6 perfectly cast goofballs on the tube set ’em up and knock ’em down. “How you doin’?”

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Leaving on the bus, winding through the mountains, heading toward Luang Prabang, I found these misty mountains in a quiet drizzle.

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Vang Vieng ~ Breakfast

Vang Vieng ~ Breakfast

It’s a tourist town. The party people tube, the adventurers ride 4 wheelers, the vigorous go rock climbing, the hungover/lazy go to the chill bars and watch Friends re-runs. No matter who you are, this was your breakfast most days. There is a glut of street vendors advertising any combination of meat, cheese, avocado and egg; as well as sweeter treats like crepes and shakes. I tried to switch it up one day and had a muesli and yogurt. I was hungry within 20 minutes.

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Vang Vieng ~ Blue Lagoon

Vang Vieng ~ Blue Lagoon

It’s a tiny little swimming hole the color of watered down Powerade. Water cold and refreshing, with a rope swing and multi-level tree jumps, washes away trail dust. The cave in the cliffs above is accessible only by a steep, slippery, sloped stairway. A gold Buddha lays on a golden dais inside, among the dew dropped boulders of this former hideout for Laotian rebels. Beer and chips for sale. A wonderful setting amid a resplendent jungle town.

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