Photo: Classic scenery surrounds Vang Vieng.

Laos forum

Escaping the hoards?

Posted by Bowner on 28/1/2013 at 04:26

Ok so I arrived in Vientiane a couple of weeks ago and after a brief stop in Van Vieng, which I found to be way too touristy (although I did enjoy 2 days out on a scooter in the countryside) I'm now in Luang Prebang and enjoying it. But, I feel like for the rest of the trip I want to get off the track a bit and head away from the hoards a bit. I've been to the Buddha caves and to the waterfalls and both were pretty packed with tourists and I've felt a bit disappointed in some respects. The alms giving this morning was a bit of a circus too so I'm looking for something a bit different.

I'm planning on heading up the river by boat to Non khiaw and then further up to Muang Khua and on to Phongsali. I'm hoping to do some trekking but don't want to be with loads of people sticking cameras in villagers faces etc!

Do you think that that route is going to do the trick in terms of seeing less tourists?

Btw, I'm not an unsociable person... just nice to feel like you're exploring a bit sometimes!

Btw, just read several reports on treks out of that region on this site and both sound a little disappointing. Think I might just go for an indpendent ramble around the place when I get there!

#1 Bowner has been a member since 10/1/2013. Posts: 11

Posted by daawgon on 28/1/2013 at 09:04

Independent rambles around a country littered with unexploded ordinance can prove deadly!

#2 daawgon has been a member since 17/4/2007. Posts: 1,114


Posted by busylizzy on 28/1/2013 at 13:24

The areas that you are currently in are probably the most travelled throughout Laos, and at this time of year, they're going to be pretty packed out .
I know what you mean though - sometimes you just want to get away from all that canned tourism and misbehaving tourists!

I'd suggest heading down to the Bolaven Plateau if you have the time. I spent about 5 days going around and only saw a handful of other tourists. That was in September/early Oct mind you - it might be busier at this time of year.

#3 busylizzy has been a member since 31/12/2007. Location: New Zealand. Posts: 2,155
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Posted by exacto on 28/1/2013 at 17:49

The Bolavens Plateau came to my mind too as a place to get off the beaten track. A good departure point for Bolavens is Pakse, and even most of Pakse, and particularly the areas down along the river, didn't have many tourists when I visited. Plus, you can get out of town quickly on a scooter to explore other spots too, like Champasak. Truth is, Savannakhet didn't have many westerners wandering around when I visited either, so that might be a place for you to get lost not in a crowd. Same is true for Phonsavanh and the Plain of Jars, although it gets more visitors than before. Whatever you do, don't look in the mirror when you shave, or else there will be a tourist looking right back at you. It's a fate worse than .... a group bus tour! Laos is charming. Have a wonderful time.

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Posted by busylizzy on 28/1/2013 at 18:32

"Whatever you do, don't look in the mirror when you shave, or else there will be a tourist looking right back at you. "

Love it!

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Posted by Bowner on 28/1/2013 at 20:25

ha, yes I am aware I'm one of the hoards! But on the plus side... I do shave! So at least I'm not one of the unshaven hoards ;)

I had thought a week or so ago of flying from LB down to Pakse and heading back up towards Vientiane where my flight departs but decided that was a bit of a waste given that the North has plenty to offer. This was a tough decision as Wat Phou was one of the main places I wanted to visit but when I travel I prefer to avoid internal flights as I feel it's cheating a bit! So do you think the North will still provide what I want or should I reconsider and look into a flight to Pakse?

#6 Bowner has been a member since 10/1/2013. Posts: 11

Posted by MADMAC on 28/1/2013 at 20:39

This is easy, and it doesn't only apply to Laos. If you go to places which are popular with tourists (you know, places you "discovered" on the internet that tell how great they are) then you are going to run into tourists who have done likewise. Especially named places like VV and Luang Prabang. They are marketting themselves for tourists. If you want to avoid tourists, go to boring, uninteresting villages in the middle of nowhere and you'll be the only one there. Rent a motorbike and tool around. Not hard to do.

#7 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by Bowner on 28/1/2013 at 20:41

Very true Mac. Think a scooter will be the way forward.

#8 Bowner has been a member since 10/1/2013. Posts: 11

Posted by MADMAC on 28/1/2013 at 20:57

This is a nice spot without any tourists. I'm almost afraid to post it, as maybe it will cause people to start going there. Good place for swimming.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3I5FJEtMeo

#9 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by MADMAC on 28/1/2013 at 21:04

In NKP itself:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63Fn4skZVQU

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Posted by billytheliar on 29/1/2013 at 11:30

You could try Sayabuli province. Not really much to do (well,depending on your interests and mobility options), but certainly less visited than other parts of the country. As mentioned in various previous threads, Huaphan province in the north east could be an option,too.

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Posted by I_Gamera on 29/1/2013 at 11:56

I second the option of Sainyabuli Province. I spent 5 days in Pak Lay, Sainyabuli & Hongsa without seeing one other tourist. Beautiful scenery without the unshaven hordes. Very little English spoken, though, and I never found an English language menu.

#12 I_Gamera has been a member since 29/1/2013. Posts: 1

Posted by busylizzy on 29/1/2013 at 13:23

"Very little English spoken, though, and I never found an English language menu."

And that's what makes travel fun and interesting. It shouldn't put you off going to an area - you can also get by with hand signals, looking into the pot to see what you're going to be served, etc.

Sorry - I didn't venture too far off the standard route in northern Laos. I did go to Phonsavan and really liked the feel of that town (but I had only been in the country fro 2-3 days so maybe I was just still on a buzz!). Whilst there were tourists about, it was quieter - and I found it quite interesting historically.

I understand your thoughts on wanting to avoid internal flights because it's cheating. I have changed my view on it at times - and look at it is an efficient means to an end. For example, I want to go spend 5-10 days in the Bolaven Plateau (and other southern areas) where I know that I will enjoy the solitude, remoteness and relative lack of people. It'll be worth it when I get there. I could spent 2-3 days of my valuable time sitting in a bus, seeing a bit of countryside, but not really seeing what I want to see. OR.. I could fork over some $, catch a flight to just get there so that I can start doing what I want to be doing. It's a means to an end - if budget isn't an overriding concern.

Don't get me wrong - I'm a definite fan of overland travel too. But sometimes it just isn't the best use of time if you have limited time.

#13 busylizzy has been a member since 31/12/2007. Location: New Zealand. Posts: 2,155
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Posted by MADMAC on 30/1/2013 at 20:46

"I understand your thoughts on wanting to avoid internal flights because it's cheating."

Ahhhh OK. Who is being cheated if you take an internal flight? I'm missing something here.

#14 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by exacto on 31/1/2013 at 11:42

MADMAC,

I can't speak for others, but I remember that while travelling in my 20's I liked the idea of trying to rough it a bit while on the road. This meant eating at a cafe instead of a fancy restaurant, taking the city bus instead of a taxi, and taking the long-distance bus or train instead of flying. I think the idea was to try and live more like a working-class or middle-class local than some rich foreigner on holiday, so I could experience life more like everyday folks would. Some of it had to do with economics too, since city buses are cheaper than taxis and trains less expensive than airplanes.

I don't feel that way anymore, largely because I have more money to spend while on vacation, but also because the local standard has improved so much that taking the taxi or internal flight is exactly what many locals now do. For example, I remember when the overnight sleeper trains were filled almost exclusively with westerners as were most internal flights, beaches and tourists attractions. That's no longer true.

Anyway, I can understand that romantic ideal the others mention, even though I don't feel that way anymore. People are at different places at different times in their lives, and if they have more fun roughing it under some ideal travel strategy, more power to them.

Having said that, if an internal flight or a taxi gets you where you need to be, saves precious time, and eliminates discomfort, I'm all for it. Take care.

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Posted by JaiYen88 on 31/1/2013 at 13:01

A place I stayed in for a few weeks that was really beautiful and far from the hordes(!) is a village in the Phou Khao Khouay National Conservation area called Hat Khay (or Had Khai etc.). You can get there from Vientiane in about 3 hours by taking a Song Taew (big tuktuk) or a local bus from the Southern bus station in Vientiane (it costs next to nothing, about $3 as far as I remember), which then travels west from Vientiane along route #13. Ask to be let off at Thabok (or Ban Thabok on google maps) as which point you have to take a left away from the main road, after which it's about 20 minutes by motorbike to the village.

I went there with a group based in Nong Khai in Thailand to teach a bit of English to guides who work with tourists and bring them on treks to waterfalls etc. If you want to prearrange your visit you could ask to be picked up at the junction with the main road, otherwise you can just rock up and I'm sure somewhere could take you in for a couple of days for a fee, but I'm not sure what is charged. They may not expect visitors just to show up out of nowhere, so if you prefer to be safe you can call on T: (020) 224 0303. Here is the link to the info that Travelfish has on the place: https://www.travelfish.org/accommodation_profile/laos/vientiane_and_surrounds/vientiane/phou_khao_khouay_national_park/all/3177

Like the link says, very little English spoken, a guy called Bountieng has the best English in the village, and I stayed with Khamoun, who was great fun and a very kind man who has only a little bit of English but makes you feel right at home. There's another place nearby called Ban Na which could be of interest, where there is an elephant observatory, and it received quite a few visits from tourists each year but I only passed through it very briefly and BHK seemed a lot nicer anyway. There are some amazing rivers, waterfalls and jungle walks that you can request to be brought to. A village nearby called Nyang Keua (seems like its called Nam Leuk for some reason on google maps) is another option, especially for taking a boat trip down the river to see some of the other waterfalls in the area.

Hope this comes in useful, peace.......

#16 JaiYen88 has been a member since 25/4/2012. Posts: 110

Posted by MADMAC on 31/1/2013 at 20:18

Exacto
I guess that's hard for me to understand as I wasn't an idealistic youth. Adventure travel for me including a rucksack and an M-16A2. I didn't tend to live as good as the "locals" (what we called "indigenous persons"). When the opportunity for luxury presented itself, we were all over that like a pack of dogs on a three legged cat. As I've aged, I've become even less idealistic. So I guess it's just tough for me to relate to. My idea of "travel" is to go someplace to have a good time. I don't view it as some sort of a test.

#17 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by exacto on 31/1/2013 at 22:36

I think the key word here is adventure. You got your share on a regular basis without trying, so no need to seek it out otherwise.

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Posted by MADMAC on 1/2/2013 at 03:20

Indeed. Adventure in spades.

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Posted by squarethecircle on 1/2/2013 at 05:39

Phonsavan should be pretty off the beaten track. You won't find more touristed places than VV and LPB in Laos. You can also circle around to Udom Xai then head up to Muang Long/ Xieng Kok across the Mekong from Myanmar. Maybe in the future it will be possible to consistently take the boat down the Nam Kong from Xieng Kok to Huay Xai, but the region isn't quite under central government control at the moment...anyways there's an interesting blend of Chinese/Lao/Akha/Khmu people in that part of Laos, which forms a naturally sheltered valley leading over to Myanmar (historically significant as well).

Also on the way to Udom Xai from Phonsavali there's a small town, mostly Khmu people, called Muang La that has a nice hot spring, some laid-back people, etc. From there it's maybe 1 hour to Udom Xai but might be a good stop for something a little off the beaten track.

Best tip I've ever gotten for travel in this part of the world is to buy a Lonely Planet, buy a map, cross out all the places LP says you "can't miss", and go everywhere else. In places that aren't used to tourists people will just start talking with you (such as teachers, politics people, etc) or flat out throw a little party. You're sure to have a good time.

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Posted by chinarocks on 1/2/2013 at 05:55

"Buy a Lonely Planet, buy a map, cross out all the places LP says you "can't miss", and go everywhere else."

A brilliant idea if you've no interest in seeing amazing places like Hanoi, Luang Prabang, Angkor Wat and Bangkok.

#21 chinarocks has been a member since 17/6/2011. Posts: 740

Posted by squarethecircle on 1/2/2013 at 06:06

"A brilliant idea if you've no interest in seeing amazing places like Hanoi, Luang Prabang, Angkor Wat and Bangkok."

You don't have to take the idea to its extreme. The point is that locals in heavily touristed areas adjust to the fact that tourists come. It tends to attract the rip-off artists, as well. The morning alms in LPB is a good example. It says in the LP that the morning alms in LPB is one of the great unseen treasures in SE Asia. If you go there now, you'll see a wall of tourists with pictures, and tourist-oriented venders trying to sell "offerings" for the monks.

All of those places, though, are probably big enough to get "off the beaten track" inside the city. In BKK there are places not so far from Khao San Rd that are like this, (example, Phahurat) where you're still a bit out of the way as a (presumably western) tourist.

#22 squarethecircle has been a member since 19/10/2011. Posts: 133

Posted by MADMAC on 1/2/2013 at 07:05

Square has a point - although I am loathe to get up early enough for morning alms rounds.

But if you really want to get off the beaten track (for the sense of adventure or whatever), then that means going places that aren't "amazing".

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Posted by mooball on 2/2/2013 at 21:32 TF writer

The problem with off the beaten track in Laos is that it often means a very uncomfortable existence particularly if you can't speak a word of Thai or Lao. Think crappy guesthouses and noodle soup by the bucket load. Also you can't be on a timetable as not even people running the transport know when things will arrive or depart. You just have to go with the flow and accept that you are on an adventure.

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Posted by MADMAC on 4/2/2013 at 09:35

And Mooball drives a shot up the middle for a basehit.

You can travel the normal paths and see what everyone wants to see (all those amazing sights), or you can diverge off of it and miss the amazing sights and enjoy some discomfort (and a small measure of risk) along the way. But the two are mutually exclusive. If you want to be different from the others, you have to go where they don't go. And they don't go there for a reason.

#25 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by squarethecircle on 5/2/2013 at 06:01

"The problem with off the beaten track in Laos is that it often means a very uncomfortable existence particularly if you can't speak a word of Thai or Lao. Think crappy guesthouses and noodle soup by the bucket load."

Not to be trivial but I slightly disagree. With the economic rise in this region over the past decade, most of the fellow non-locals in these places (outside of LPB and VV or places that draw the western crowd) IME are Chinese/Lao/Thais. They're not taking long holidays, may be on business, and are likely willing to splurge a bit. But there are also the "resorts" for the equivalent of $5-10 USD that might have signs such as "no illegal business" and "prevent HIV" indicating what they are also used for. The saying "You get what you pay for" applies. There are also slightly better restaurants, seemingly catering to Asians passing through, in off-the-beaten-track places I've been to in N and S Laos. Maybe 20,000-30,000 kip for a meal but it'll be good.

"Also you can't be on a timetable as not even people running the transport know when things will arrive or depart. You just have to go with the flow and accept that you are on an adventure."

My experience also.

#26 squarethecircle has been a member since 19/10/2011. Posts: 133

Posted by MADMAC on 5/2/2013 at 11:46

"There are also slightly better restaurants, seemingly catering to Asians passing through, in off-the-beaten-track places I've been to in N and S Laos. Maybe 20,000-30,000 kip for a meal but it'll be good."

I really don't like Lao food, so in out of the way places it's tough for me to imagine this would apply. In Issan my experience has been that in "out of the way" places, the food is crap to OK. Sometimes I get surprised, when I'm lucky.

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