My husband and I will be going to Laos in November.
I went for the first time last year (on a "business" trip working for an NGO) and absolutely fell in love with the country. Now I need to show it to my husband as well. :)
I've tried to come up with a route including Vientiane, Phonsavan and Luang Prabang and avoid taking the same road twice but rather going in a circle.
My plan for now is to start in Vientiane, go by bus to Phonsavan, continue by bus (or songthaew or ??) via Nam Neun to Nong Khiaw. Mabe a short stay in Muang Ngoi and then by boat to Luang Prabang and back by night bus to Vientiane.
Here come the questions:
1) For somebody not interested in drinking, tubing and partying, is a stop in Vang Vieng worthwile just for the sake of taking in the landscape? If so, does anybody have suggestions for a quiet guest house and a one day trek to do in the area?
2) The biggest problem seems to be the leg between Nam Neun and Nong Khiaw. So far I haven't been able to find any information on buses operating on a regular basis on this route. Has anybody done this trip in this direction recently and has some advice? Is this doable?
3) Last but not least the question if you think this itinerary can be done in a relaxed way in 3 weeks?
(Idea for now, including travel days: 3 days in Vientiane, 2 days in Vang Vieng (if you don't advise against it), 2-3 days in Phonsavan, 7-8 days for the leg Phonsavan - Nam Neun - Nong Khiaw, 4 days in and around Luang Prabang, 1-2 days in Vientiane.)
Any suggestions and ideas will be much appreciated!
a few KMs on from Nam Neun is Phou Lao. this is the junction of the Phonsavan -Sam Neua & Sam Neua-Nong Khiaw roads. 2 buses per day, both originating from Sam Neua, should pass Phou Lao on their way to Luang Prabang via Nong Khiaw (one will terminate in LPB, the other continues on a marathon journey to VTE). the approx times they will pass through Phou Lao, i don't know.
7-8 days for the leg Phonsavan - Nam Neun - Nong Khiaw
are you planning to make overnight stops in places along the way (apart from at Nam Neun)? cos it should be possible to cover this route in just 2 days (one night in Nam Neun) if your aim is just to get to Nong Khiaw ASAP. but if you wish to enjoy this relatively-neglected-by-tourists part of northern Laos, there's Vieng Thong, Vieng Kham + could even detour to Sam Neua/Viengxay. some info from others:
Vieng Kham: http://www.travelblog.org/Asia/Laos/North/blog-374455.html
Vieng Thong: http://www.travelblog.org/Asia/Laos/North/blog-374456.html
good thing about travelling in the Nam Neun > Nong Khiaw direction - can just hop/squeeze on/off the Sam Neua-LPB bus as it passes through towns along the way during the day time...less worries about finding a songthaew going your way. in the opposite direction the buses pass through only later in the day (LPB-Sam Neua bus) or in the middle of the night (VTE-LPB-Sam Neua bus).
think 3 weeks is good. November - maybe time your trip for Boun That Luang in VTE? should fall around 10 Nov 2011. or if you end up in Laos later, you might be in time for Hmong New Year celebrations (usually 1st half of Dec, varies by region) towards the end of your trip - just keep asking around wherever you are in Laos...a few of the 'major sites' for celebrations along/near your route are KM52 north of VTE, Phonsavan (biggest i think?), Ban Songcha (not too far from Pak Mong/Nong Khiaw) & LPB.
Wanderingcat, thanks a lot for your reply and the links!
Now I am a bit more confident that this can be done. :)
It's good to know that the actual travelling time for that leg of the journey should not be more than 2 days because we would indeed like to spend some time in that probably rather un-touristy part of Laos before heading to LPB.
I was also thinking about taking a boat up north from Nong Khiaw towards Hat Sa, if there's some time left.
Unfortunately we will be too late for Boun That Luang by a few days. Will arrive in VTE on the 14th. But you can't always be lucky: Incidentally I happened to be in LPB last year for Boun Ok Phansa - I really enjoyed watching the Lao people celebrate. :)
But even without celebrations, I am so looking forward to going back to Laos!
Greetings from Germany