Sabaidi! This itinerary was part of my trip backpacking in Laos and Cambodia in 16 days, and even that my trip took me from Laos to Cambodia by bus via Pakse, you can also take the bus back from Kong Lor to Vientiane airport or further on towards Bangkok.
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Bangkok > Vientiane > Van Vieng > Luang Prabang > Kong Lor Cave
Bangkok > Van Vieng
Our backpacking in Laos trip started in Bangkok which is where we landed coming from London. We arrived at 16:00 and had enough time to find our way to the city centre, get to the bus station and had some Thai street food.
The night bus took us to Vientiane where we arrived on the following morning. We walked a little bit and had our first Laotian lunch before taking another bus towards Vang Vieng as we were not planning to stay in the capital.
Here we finally stopped for a couple of days. Vang Vieng is a chilled village with plenty of stuff to do, and great places to go for dinner and some drinks by the Nam Song River.
After finding a hostel in Van Vieng, we went to tubing in Tham Nam cave, which is cool if you like caves but to be honest you don’t get to see lots of rocks formations as some areas are completely pitch black, still a fun day out! after having lunch by the cave, the tour also included a kayak to go down the river back to Vang Vieng, this can also be done tubing and going from bar to bar.
From what I understand, a few years ago there were lots of bars and quite a few death-trap swings but I didn’t see anything like that. People just chilling and having a great time!
Vang Vieng > Luang Prabang
This beautiful – UNESCO protected – town deserves a good few days to explore! not because of its size but its beauty. It’s full of ancient Buddhist Temples, and some of the younger monks sometimes are willing to share a word or two which is always nice to discover a little bit of their mentality and perspectives about life.
You cannot go backpacking in Laos and not visit Luang Prabang! Have a look here for cheap hostels in Luang Prabang.
The walk around Mount Phousi is a must, you do need to sort out hundreds of steps, but it’s a gentle climb and you find little temples, Buddhist sculptures and shrines every now and then. At the top you will be rewarded with great 360 views.
Early on the following morning we went to see the Alms Giving Ceremony. I have mixed feelings about this 14th century tradition, which although beautiful and deep in meaning, I feel it’s spoiled by unconscious tourist that in the spirit of getting a selfie become intrusive on this highly spiritual act.
I say this being a tourist of course, but there are certain things that we should still enjoy at a respectful distance.
Later on we took a tuck-tuck close to the market towards the Kuang Si Waterfall, remember to negotiate this as initially you will get some crazy prices. Once there you can have a refreshing swim and even do a bit of hiking, our day there was relatively hot and those turquoise water pools are impossible to refuse.
Following up the main path to the waterfall, you can climb to the top of it and then keep walking around the area where you will find some trails.
You can hike for about an hour or so, I was in flip flops so you can gather that it was not a technical hike (shoes would be better tough). Not many people take the trails so it’s a nice break from all the crowds you find by the pools.
Another absolute must is the Wat Xiengthong complex, with its most famous temple dating back to 1560, it cost about $2 to get in and it’s totally worth it!
The food market has plenty of options to eat, we loved the Mekong River Fish! We also took a Laotian Cooking class at Tamarind and it was brilliant, we had a terrific dinner made by ourselves! in the evening there’s also a street market where you can find some souvenirs to take back home, it’s something with no charm and tourist-oriented but is not bad to have a stroll around.
On the same street of the night market, we found a fantastic place for noodles, it’s a humble tiny hut where a little old lady that speaks no English at all makes some delicious food, we went there for breakfast twice! you will find it by entering a narrow gravel road across the road right in front of the Wat Mai Temple.
There’s also plenty of night life, whether you’re clubbing or after something a little bit more chilled (our plan). We went one night for drinks at Utopia and really loved the balconies overlooking the Mekong River. I still day dream of that place!
In terms of accommodation, there’s plenty of it, we went without any bookings and just started asking around, we ended up in a super cheap place (a couple of dollars per night) by the river, the hostel does not even appear on google maps, but if you find the Vietnamese Consulate General, keep walking towards the river and then turn left. It was an OK hostel but the cheapest we found in the area.
Everything in town is about 15 min walk max. I also went for a run by the river and into town and in no time I saw a lot of it!
Luang Prabang > Kong Lor Cave
From Luang Prabang we took a pretty long bus towards Kong Lor to visit the Kong Lor Cave (a bus change is required in Vientiane).
This remote village is not crowded at all, possibly because of its remoteness but we absolutely loved it there!
Again, we had no bookings and started walking around looking for accommodation, Kong Lor is pretty small but you still have a few options around.
We stayed in Phounsouk Guesthouse, which has some pretty negative reviews about the owner, I personally didn’t see anything suspicious and I even spoke with the guy several times and he was very nice.
From there, it’s just a 3 min walk towards the entrance of the cave. If you arrive late, you can still have a great swim in the river.
The following morning, We took a boat across the cave, which is about 1.5Km long! and has an illuminated area that enhances the fabulous stalactites and stalagmites!
The cave is a magical place, powerful head torches will be provided. Once you get to the end of the cave, there will be a stop in a “village” where you can eat/drink something or get some souvenirs. Then back on the same way we came.
Depending on the amount of water running through the cave, there may be parts that you get off the boat and walk as it’s too shallow. That adds a bit of spice as well to the trip!
The village itself is very small but you can chill and have a walk around. To stay a couple of days in this remote place is definitely worth it.
Our trip from here was taking us to Cambodia, the options here will be, to take a bus to Pakse and then to Siem Reap or to take a bus back to Vientiane if you’re on your way back home. Check my combined post about backpacking in Laos and Cambodia for more details!
We stayed 2 days in each place and took night buses to maximise our time and minimise accommodation costs.
Got any questions about backpacking in Laos? drop a comment! 🙂