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45 days in Northern Laos

  • kandpfishos

    Joined Travelfish
    10th January, 2011
    Posts: 16

    This is our first post. We think our last try to post got lost in a thread that ended somewhere exotic! If you read this twice and remember doing that :)) ignore one or other post. Healthy travels!

    Hello all

    We will be in Laos later this year and would appreciate commentand fine-tuning of our itinerary for the Northern Laos component of the trip. In context, we are two mid-60’s Australianblokes, accustomed to independent travel and each other (we have lived and travelledtogether for over 35 years – so we know each others foibles and habits toowell!) We will be enteringThailand and Laos, in about November 2011, from Jinghong and will have been inYunnan for 30 – 35 days before the trip outlined below. We tend to travel “locally” butsupplement this with a few flights if needed, and will upgrade to theequivalent of 3-star accommodation every few weeks as a reward for goodbehaviour - LOL. We do not usuallyneed touristy-support or same-to-same comfort and get through with humour,laughter, patience, a smatteringof local conversational language, and respect for local people. We try to travel slowly and arecommitted to the “less is more” principle. We have tried to allow one down day for rest (no activity atall) in each week, and one day in each week for travel blockages and delays. We cannot imagine going any faster forthis itinerary but happy to go slower if advised to do so.

    Our planned itinerary to date is as follows:

    · Chiang Saen (T) – 9 hour boat trip fromJinghong, Yunnan. 2 days (historical park, travel to SopRuak for that photo and opiummuseums, local cycling)

    · Chiang Khong (T) – 2 days (local cycling, Ban Haf Khrai)

    · Huay Xia (HX) (L) – 3 days ( Wat Chome for 6pm monks’ chant, town walk and cycle, shortrural surrounds cycle, a rub and soak at Red Cross Massage, etc)

    · Pak Tha (L) – 2 days (arrange for departure on slow boat on Nam Tha River to Luang Nam Tha , local cycling)

    · Slow boat to Luang Nam Tha (L) - 2days including over night stay (Information? The boat leaves from Pak Tha?Anything we need to know? Aredepartures reliable? Where isovernighter?)

    · Luang Nam Tha – 5 days (2/3 days trek, local sights, cycling, down time)

    · Muang Sing (L) – 4 days (short trek, local cycling, down time)

    · Transit from Muang Sing to Luang Nam Tha toOudomxay (probably have to stay overnight here to get bus forward) to MuangKhua – allow 2 days.

    · Muang Khua (L) – 4 days (short day treks (any suggestions?), local cycling, downtime, arrange slow boat trip to Muang Noi of about 5 – 7 hours)

    · Muang Noi/ Ban Sop Houn (L) -4 days (caves, trek, cycle, arrange forward boat travel to Nong Kiaw of 2-3 hours)

    · Nong Kiaw (L) – 4 days (trek – length one day? Two day? Suggestions please? Cycle and walk, down time, arrangeforward boat travel to Luang Prabang of about 7 – 8 hours)

    · Luang Prabang (LB) (L) – 7 days (the usual things – Kuang Si falls, cycle town, cycle ruralarea (do we need a trek guide for this? Is it straight-forward for 1 or 2 days cycle ride?, Pak Ou caves, downday). Suggestions for the unusual/atypicalwelcome!

    · Vientiane (L) – fly from LB.

    This is an itinerary of about 45 days or so for thisnorthern section of Laos.

    We have avoided the section of up-river trip from LB to HXin favour of flying down to Vientiane since we think we have chosen the equally(more?) beautiful, and less travelled sections of river life above (to those inthe know is this a good choice?). We have also avoided the “Gibbon Experience”, not through any “fear offlying” on zip lines but a profound fear of having to share a tree house with 6Aussies (or Kiwis, Israelis, Brits, Swedes, Irish, or ad infinitum mates under the age of 20yo!, LOL). (BTW, does any one know how this tripand “zipping” can be organised in a more civilised way? Note: not more expensive, just in a way that we don’t have tosleep in such close quarters with all that testosterone!) For similar reasons we have opted tofly south rather than end up in Van Vieng.

    Subsequently, weplan to stay in Vientiane 7 – 14 days (suggestions welcome), and then go downto Pakse, Champasak, up to the Bolaven Plateau, Si Phan Don (if we can find a“quiet” place to say – suggestions welcome) for the next 6 – 8 weeks, and thento conclude our 3 – 4 month Laos trip by crossing to Siem Reap and Cambodia (for8 weeks). This section is notsufficiently planned to even invite comment yet but will post soon for inputand comment.

    Thailand (10 weeks) and Vietnam (8 weeks) will follow. Look forward to communication andinput.

    Keith and Paul

    Currently in Fishermans Paradise on the NSW South Coast ofAustralia

    #1 Posted: 11/1/2011 - 03:31

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  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6341
    Total reviews: 10

    How long are you going to spend in Pattaya?

    #2 Posted: 11/1/2011 - 17:11

  • kandpfishos

    Joined Travelfish
    10th January, 2011
    Posts: 16

    Good question. I think we will avoid Pattaya altogether to be honest but we have not planned Thailand to any real degree yet.
    K & P

    #3 Posted: 11/1/2011 - 18:24

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6341
    Total reviews: 10

    I was kidding. I doubt Pattaya would interest you at all. Great party place and now has a salsa scene - so that's a plus. But doesn't sound like your thing.

    #4 Posted: 11/1/2011 - 21:26

  • wanderingcat

    Joined Travelfish
    21st October, 2006
    Posts: 730
    Total reviews: 4
    Places visited:
    At least 67

    45 days in Laos - could try to apply for 60-day tourist visa. seems to be available only at certain embassies, have heard of people getting it from the Lao embassies in Bangkok & Singapore. best to double check.

    all the local cycling - bringing your own wheels? haven't come across any bike rentals in some of the smaller places you've mentioned.

    Sop Ruak: think there are 2 opium museums in that area? went to the smaller one & there was already quite a bit to see if you do have an interest in the subject. most tourists go on that boat trip that brings them past the casino on the Burmese side to the 'centre' of the Golden Triangle plus a stop at the Lao island of Done Xao (tourist trap complete with entire 'hilltribe' village setup).

    Chiang Saen : there's a lake a few KMs out of Chiang Saen that's supposedly a good birding spot.

    Chiang Khong : Ban Hat Khrai is just at the southern end of Chiang Khong town. this thread has some info on the area: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=2001363
    also a Tai Lue village called Ban Hat Bai along the river road (there's also an inland road) between Chiang Saen & Chiang Khong. have yet to visitit (would like to hear from anyone who has) but have seen beautiful weaving from this area of Chiangrai (it's what piqued my interest in Tai Lue textiles & one of the things that first made me decide to travel to Laos).

    potential trip out of Chiang Khong - check if there is still a songthaew (maybe once or twice per day) going up to Doi Pha Tang (also marketed as 'Pratuu Siam' or 'Gate of Siam' to Thai tourists). far less well known than Phu Chi Fa (for sunrise views over 'sea of clouds' & Laos) & Mae Salong (for KMT Chinese settlement & sakura flowers).

    Huay Xia (HX) (L) – 3 days ( Wat Chome for 6pm monks’ chant, town walkand cycle, short rural surrounds cycle, a rub and soak at Red Cross Massage,etc)

    evening chanting - can listen to it at almost any temple in Thailand & Laos, exact time varies by temple. if you want to sit in, do ask first, & sit right at the back (laypeople sit behind novices who in turn sit behind monks). or just listen from outside. Wat Chom Khao is atop a hill, only been there at dawn, maybe worth checking out if there's a good view of sunset over Chiang Khong?

    might want to see the most recent posts on this blog of someone currently cycling around Bokeo & Luang Namtha provinces: http://bikemonkey1.blogspot.com

    PakTha (L) – 2 days (arrange for departure on slow boat on Nam ThaRiver to LuangNam Tha , local cycling)
    Slow boat to LuangNam Tha (L) - 2days including over night stay (Information? The boatleaves from Pak Tha ? Anything we need to know? Are departures reliable? Whereis overnighter?)

    people have arranged for the Nam Tha boat at Huay Xai. don't know how reliable departures are, doesn't seem to be regular. overnight in village along the way. think Boat Landing GH in Luang Namtha is the place to contact for the latest info. recent info for idea of costs: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=1998108

    actually, with your wealth of time, an alternative route could be:
    Chiang Saen - Chiang Khong - Doi Pha Tang - (optional - Phu Chi Fa for very crowded clifftop sunrise view over 'sea of clouds' & Laos) - Namtok Poo Sang (warm waterfall) - Chiang Kham (wooden Burmese-style Wat Nantaram) - Phu Langka - Tha Wang Pha (Wat Nong Bua murals & countryside) - Nan - Pua - (optional - Doi Phukha Natl Park) - Chiang Klang - Huay Kon - (Thai-Lao border crossing) - Muang Ngeun - (optional - Xienghone & Khop districts) - Pak Ngeuy - Mekong boat upriver to Pak Tha - Nam Tha boat trip...depends on your interests, what you like to see...

    Luang Nam Tha5 days (2/3 days trek, local sights, cycling, downtime)

    see hobomaps.com for LNT area map on where to cycle to.

    MuangSing (L) – 4 days (short trek, local cycling, down time)

    maybe you could go further on to MuangLong & trek from there.

    Transit from MuangSing to Luang Nam Tha to Oudomxay (probably have to stay overnight here toget bus forward) to MuangKhua – allow 2 days.

    MS-LNT-ODX can be done in a day (2h + 4h). might want to consider exploring Muang La, Oudomxay town tourist info office will have info.

    Muang Noi/ Ban Sop Houn (L) -4 days (caves, trek, cycle, arrangeforward boat travel to Nong Kiaw of 2-3 hours)

    no need to arrange this boat trip, daily departure, & takes closer to just 1h.

    Nong Kiaw (L) – 4 days (trek – length one day? Two day? Suggestionsplease? Cycle and walk, down time, arrange forward boat travel to LuangPrabang of about 7 – 8 hours)

    not gone on any treks there (or anywhere in Laos) but have seen photos of a 1-day trek that brings you up to some lookout point with a great view over the Nam Ou. new roads had been cut there (on the Ban Sop Houn side), wonder where they lead to.

    LuangPrabang (LB) (L) – 7 days (the usual things – Kuang Si falls, cycletown, cycle rural area (do we need a trek guide for this? Is itstraight-forward for 1 or 2 days cycle ride?, Pak Ou caves, downday).Suggestions for the unusual/atypical welcome!

    see hobomaps.com for their maps incl of the Chomphet area - plenty of ideas for cycling routes. unusual/atypical...what are your interests?

    We have avoided the section of up-river trip from LB to HXin favour of flyingdown to Vientiane since we think we have chosen the equally(more?) beautiful, and less travelledsections of river life above (to those in the know is this a good choice?).

    both the Nam Tha & Nam Ou river trips are definitely less travelled (Nam Tha less than Nam Ou) & way more beautiful. wish I had the $$$ to do the Nam Tha trip.

    does any one know how this trip and “zipping” can be organised in a more civilised way?

    other ziplining options in Laos: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=1959098&start=15
    also ziplining options in Chiangmai & Chonburi in Thailand.

    For similar reasons we have opted to fly south rather than end up in Van Vieng.

    other places to stop between LPB & Vang Vieng (to break the journey between LPB & VTE), that have accommodation options, from N to S: Kiew Kacham (very basic accomm), Phou Khoun, Bor Nam Oun, Kasi. hardly any other tourists in these places except for those touring Laos by bike (who seem to be the type of tourists i enjoy meeting the most in Laos). PK & BNO flank the most scenic stretch of this road.

    Subsequently, we plan to stay in Vientiane 7 – 14 days( suggestions welcome)

    again, depends on interests. i like VTE for stuff like textiles, markets, old (incl abandoned) buildings, food, temples, 'communist/propaganda art' (those 'soldier-worker-peasant' sculptures, billboards/paintings of 'model citizen/perfect harmony between ethnic groups', the old aircraft & tank outside the army museum kinda thing), & of course friends. if you're not going to Phonsavan then would recommend a visit to the COPE Laos visitor centre for an insight into the impact of UXO on Laos.

    #5 Posted: 11/1/2011 - 22:00

  • EdSue

    Joined Travelfish
    12th June, 2009
    Location United Kingdom
    Posts: 32
    Total reviews: 8

    Keith & Paul - we too are 'oldies' but prefer to refer to ourselves as 'backpackers with style'. Last Feb we were in Siem Reap at the start of a months' trevelling and it is such a great place with so much to do that we believe it could be a destination on its own. Please make sure you keep at the very least a week so that you can chill out a bit - very hot and not possible to do too much in one day at Angkor Wat.

    We will be in Laos in late February so will be interested in any tips, particularly about the 'unofficial'? border crossing from Si Phan Don into Cambodia.

    #6 Posted: 12/1/2011 - 01:13

  • kandpfishos

    Joined Travelfish
    10th January, 2011
    Posts: 16

    Thanks. We are hiking for the next 4 days (in Deua National Park, southern NSW AU). Will digest when we have maps and respond further then.

    #7 Posted: 12/1/2011 - 04:12

  • svolvar

    Joined Travelfish
    19th March, 2011
    Posts: 4

    Keith and Paul,

    My wife and I spent 2 weeksin northern Laos in February. We liked Muang Khua , especially the trekkingthere. The local Tourist office started trekking programs lately so not manytourists have visited those villages. We went with the guide called Keo, youngchap from Thai Dam tribe, speaking decent English. We really took good care ofus. We are good walkers but anyway he made sure that we match his pace. Weate local Lao food that he bought for us at the market - delicious! Theovernight in Akha village was very basic (no toilets in the village), but theybrought us a lot of mattresses and blankets. Keo cookedfor us because Akha people did not pay much attention to the tourist althoughalmost 50% of trekking fee goes to "village found". If I remember rightthe tourist office has options for 1,2 or 3 days trekking.

    Muang Ngoi is nice placewith perfect setting at the river. Great views from riverside guesthouses. It is much more touristy than Muang Khua but you can escape going to the neighboringvillages.

    The boat trip on Nam Ouriver is worth all the money :) We took the part from Muang Khua to Munag Ngoiand then to Nong Khiaw.

    If you are interested in textiles there is very nice weaving center near Luang Prabang (on the way to the KuangSi waterfalls). The cozy place is called Ockpoptock and is run by Britishwoman, you can see and get explanation of the weaving process and make some shopping.

    Jacek

    #8 Posted: 20/3/2011 - 01:12

  • EdSue

    Joined Travelfish
    12th June, 2009
    Location United Kingdom
    Posts: 32
    Total reviews: 8

    Well, we had a brilliant trip this year and arrived home a couple of days ago after 5 weeks and thought you might like a few 'thoughts' to add to our comments re. Siem Reap last year.

    First of all, we were glad we didn't spend more than a few days in Vientiane as we didn't find it too exciting. Do go to the Sunset Bar (at sunset!!!) - most tuk-tuk drivers should know where it is, as it is being dismantled later this year and moved 20 miles up river to accommodate the regeneration going on along the river front. Wonderful atmosphere and a great place to have a beer (or two).

    Laung Prabang was wonderful. Do go to the 'waterfalls' for a dip. We didn't get to the caves and didn't meet anyone that had much good to say about it, but fine if you have time to spare (and the puff to climb all those steps). We found that with the heat and humidity we did most of our trips/sightseeing early morning up to lunch, then had a couple of hours 'zizzing'. Worked for us.

    Border crossing from Laos to Cambodia was tame and easy in comparison to the crossing from Cambodia into Thailand (Poipet to Aranaprathet).

    Do spend time on Don Khone (NOT Dong KonG). It's truly beautiful but you can already see the infrastructure starting for mass tourism and will be spoiled within 10 years. There are even plans to build an 'eco hotel' on an as yet uninhabited island south of Don Khone.

    Enjoy the rest of your trip.

    Ed & Sue

    #9 Posted: 20/3/2011 - 16:57

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6341
    Total reviews: 10

    "Do spend time on Don Khone (NOT Dong KonG). It's truly beautiful but you can already see the infrastructure starting for mass tourism and will be spoiled within 10 years."

    I have to ask again - why do people consider development "spoiling". Think about how much life, your life, would suck if you didn't have electrical power, modern pharmecauticals (you'd probably already be dead), clean water from a tap, hot showers, etc. etc. etc. My wife's village, in 30 years, has gone from a shithole with no running water, no electricity, no paved roads, no medical facilities, and a one room school to a place with all of those things plus a small clinic and a decent sized school with a computer room for the kids to learn word processing. Prior to "development" my wife had to carry water from the well every morning, go into the forest in search of edibles for breakfast, had one dress and two pairs of underwear. Life was very, very hard. The village is still, by western standards, poor - but it is light years ahead of where it was 30 years ago when ugly development began. Development is not a dirty word.

    #10 Posted: 20/3/2011 - 18:37

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  • EdSue

    Joined Travelfish
    12th June, 2009
    Location United Kingdom
    Posts: 32
    Total reviews: 8

    Sorry if I upset you MadMac but water and electricity are already on Don Khone. Perhaps I used the wrong word with 'infrastructure', but cutting down trees to widen roads through the landscape for trucks etc. is not necessarily progress. They already have a clinic and three schools on this small island by the way. With regards to the proposed 'eco resort hotel', this will not necessarily give work to local people. At three 'hotels' we stayed or ate at on the islands the principals were from Pakse and even further afield.

    To anyone who does manage to get there - it is a wonderful antidote to the large towns included on most trips from necessity. Enjoy!

    #11 Posted: 21/3/2011 - 18:09

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6341
    Total reviews: 10

    Just keep in the back of your mind that investors don't invest unless they think that they can draw people. And hotels, restaraunts and so forth do provide jobs for indigenous persons (whether they are considered "local" or not - a poor kid from Paxse needs a job just as much as a poor kid from Don Khone). I have a friend who complains how Koh Samet was "ruined", but he forgets how it's "ruin" created a large number of economic possibilities for people who had none. People get nostalgic for environments, but nothing in this world is static and people in Laos need jobs - Laos needs foreign currency. It's net importer including of basic things like food. So I think we should be cautious in using terms like "spoiled" and "ruined" when referring to development and simply acknowledge that the vistas in the future will not be the same, so now might be a time where people looking to enjoy maximum natural beauty of the Don Khone environment should consider doing it now vice latter. And there's no need to apologize. If I come across as harsh, that's because in some ways I am. Nothing to do with you. I just have a lot of empathy for the people in this region and perhaps a touch of disdain (not directed at you) for tourists who in a strange sort of way regard people here as zoo animals and want to see the culture "preserved" from development for their entertainment. They don't see it that way of course, but when you peel the onion back, that's where it leads.

    #12 Posted: 21/3/2011 - 19:05

  • kandpfishos

    Joined Travelfish
    10th January, 2011
    Posts: 16

    Hello

    Thanks to Jacek and Ed and Sue - and to MadMac

    We have stored your comments away in our planning notes. A few questions if you have time.

    1. When you speak of a 1 day trek etc., what length are you talking about? We are also pretty good walkers - currently hiking around in Tasmania for 5/6 weeks and manage about 10 - 15kms of pretty strenuous walking a day - are we sufficiently prepared??

    2. We are looking forward to the treks but also we like to just wander with no set plans to get a feel for the places we are in. Your comment about Vientiane is interesting since on this trip we decided to come to grips with the "cities" of the region and we have just decided to spend 10 days in Vientiane, 10 days in Phnom Penh and 14 days in Siem Reap. Maybe we will come back with a different perspective on the "big" places to share.

    3. Our trip does not start until September 18 and we have now reasonably planned the regions from Yunnan, North Thailand, Laos (north and South), Cambodia and South Vietnam. The excitement for the 7/8 months of the trip grows daily. We are currently reading a series of books by Lydia Laube - "Lost in Laos" and "Temples and Tuk Tuks" (for the Cambodia section). They make us laugh - and provide a perspective that is thoughtful. Whether they represent anything "real" is another matter. Maybe you could also track them down and compare with your own experiences.

    4. A note for MadMac - there is a nice chapter in Pam Scott's book " Hanoi Stories" (New Holland, Sydney, 2004. Reprinted 2010) on her experience with Latin American dancing in Hanoi (chapter is called "Last Tango in Hanoi"). If you cannot get hold of it we will copy and post to you if you wish. Let us know.

    Greetings from a wet and windy East coast of Tasmania where we are about to set off to walk in the Blue Tiers west of St. Helens for 2 days.

    Keith and Paul

    #13 Posted: 22/3/2011 - 05:09

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6341
    Total reviews: 10

    Thank man, I would appreciate that much.

    #14 Posted: 22/3/2011 - 10:23

  • svolvar

    Joined Travelfish
    19th March, 2011
    Posts: 4

    Re: trekking and preparation. I think you are sufficiently. When trekking near Muang Khua we walked 5 hours a day, and ca 400 m in altitude. Some paths tend to be quite steep and when wet they can be Very slippery. We experienced this also in dry season, managed to do some visually attractive slides on the mud :). The walking sticks help a lot.

    #15 Posted: 22/3/2011 - 12:32

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6341
    Total reviews: 10

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQioRqnjoj8&feature=related

    #16 Posted: 22/3/2011 - 18:01

  • kandpfishos

    Joined Travelfish
    10th January, 2011
    Posts: 16

    To MADMAC

    Hope you are still following this thread. I am back from the depths of Tasmania - many kilos lighter after all those mountains - good riddance too!

    I have just activated my TF private message "thingy" - hoping it is correctly turned on. Can you privately msg me and let me know an email address to scan copy the chapter on salsa dancing in Hanoi to you, or if there is a post office box or similar I will just send you the whole book - it was a good read - but I don't keep books I have read. You would be welcome to it.

    Keith

    #17 Posted: 14/5/2011 - 06:31

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6341
    Total reviews: 10

    Keith
    Here it is:

    madmac572@yahoo.com

    #18 Posted: 14/5/2011 - 16:32

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