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Laos forum

Tha Khaek & Southern Laos

Posted by Intrepid82 on 22/4/2009 at 13:45

I'm considering whether to make a trip to Tha Khaek and other parts south of Vientiane when I am in Laos in Nov/Dec.

So far my plans for Laos were focussed mainly on the north but am interested in seeing some parts of the south, which I am told are a little less 'touristy'.

Is this really the case? If so can anyone tell me what are the must see's in this part of the country? I am definitely on the look-out for the "authentic" Laos experience i.e sleepy villages and beautiful scenery.....BUT I am time poor so I dont know if I can venture TOO far off the beaten track.

Advice please!!

#1 Intrepid82 has been a member since 21/4/2009. Posts: 33

Posted by somtam2000 on 28/4/2009 at 09:09 admin

Tha Khaek is an ideal spot to explore the Konglor Cave -- there's also a bunch of other minor caves worth spotting out. Give it two nights if you can afford the time.

#2 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,576
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Posted by MADMAC on 9/6/2009 at 04:25

Personally, I find the "authentic Laos experience" to be bad food and dirty, run down hotels. The people are friendly enough, but Laos villages are holes. That's why so many Laotians are living in Thailand.

Tha Khaek, IMHO, is boring.

Savanakhet, a little further down the road, is bigger (reportedly the second largest city in Laos, which is saying something about Laos but not saying anything good), and has a couple of decent, if expensive, restaraunts. But it's pretty boring too.

Honestly, there isn't much to see or do on the Laotian panhandle, but everytime I've been there (which has been often for visa runs) there are backpackers all over the place.

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

Posted by somsai on 9/6/2009 at 09:36

Intrepid82 I have some good news.

Almost everywhere in Laos isn't touristy if you just take 2 steps off the tourist path. It takes no extra time and you don't have to venture into a different part of the country. Most towns only have a couple of places that are over run, the rest of the country is yours to explore.

I'd chose a part of the country you want to be in and explore little bits around one area. One time I heard Travelfish say, "less is more". And it's true, don't try to see too much with a limited amount of time.

I think what Madmac is trying to say in the last post is that small towns have a charm that can only be appreciated if you want to experience authentic Lao food and enjoy the hospitality of small family run guest houses. Your smile is the only passport you need to be treated to the best room in the house and all the delicacies of the market.

Skip the "must sees" and see much.

Sok Dee

Oh, and bring a phrase book.

#4 somsai has been a member since 1/3/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 568

Posted by MADMAC on 9/6/2009 at 13:30

Somsai
I was a soldier for 27 years and spent large amounts of time "living close to nature" in such exotic places as East Africa and the Middle East. It has taught me to appreciate civilization more, and unfortunately Laos is a little short in that department for my tastes. Can I rough it? Sure. Do I enjoy it? No more than I enjoy sleep deprivation.

I think some see Laos as Thailand was in days gone by and romanticize it. If that works for them, fine. For me it's just dirty and run down. So I don't go there anymore, because I don't have to (visa is now squared away) and I live literally right across the river from Laos. Just no reason for me to go. I kind of cringe when I hear someone write about the "authentic" Laos experience. Even the Laos don't enjoy the authentic Laos experience. Not sure why someone would want to spend their valueable leisure time (you only get so much in this life) eating bad food, sleeping on a mat on a dirty floor... Maybe age has jaded me, but I'd be seeking more hedonism before heading back to the rat race.

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

Posted by somtam2000 on 9/6/2009 at 14:04 admin

Personally, I'd lean towards somsai's view here, though I can see both.

We lived in Thailand (Bangkok) for seven years and Laos was always, every time we visited, a breath of fresh, unadulterated (admittedly dusty) fresh air. The south has an especially soft spot in my heart, but the entire country, I found, to be very enjoyable travel -- especially by motorbike.

yes it is poor and at times rundown and dirty -- and the public transport does truly suck sometimes -- but, for us at least, that's all a part of the experience.

#6 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,576
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Posted by MADMAC on 1/8/2009 at 17:20

Also Laos has no salsa scene - none, zero, zip. Major drawback.

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

Posted by sayadian on 1/8/2009 at 22:16

The missus and I are planning on spending two weeks in southern Laos during November.To put it kindly we aren't as young as we were but still enjoy travelling. OK, we never go for luxury but we feel we would rather sleep on a mattress and eat decent food. Is this not possible in southern Laos? By the way, I have had a fair bit of experience in rural Cambodia including wooden mattresses and food I wouldn't feed a dog.If it's going to be like that we'll have to change our plans.
Any advice appreciated

#8 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557

Posted by MADMAC on 2/8/2009 at 01:35

"OK, we never go for luxury but we feel we would rather sleep on a mattress and eat decent food."

Yes, this is possible.

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

Posted by Noggins on 2/8/2009 at 02:11

We enjoyed Tha Kaek- but yes the accomodation etc is crap..but if you dont mind roughing it who cares, the buses once you get off the VIP tourist trail are pretty awful, but also really amusing/interesting. The real Laos is poor, so i guess if you want to experience it, live as the locals do and go on the crappy buses etc! :)

#10 Noggins has been a member since 26/5/2009. Posts: 24

Posted by Noggins on 2/8/2009 at 02:12

p.s there are a fair few tourists there but nothing on the scale of Luang Prabang/Vientiane...avoid anywhere you can go on a vip bus/minibus and youll be fine

#11 Noggins has been a member since 26/5/2009. Posts: 24

Posted by Noggins on 2/8/2009 at 02:14

p.s there are a fair few tourists there but nothing on the scale of Luang Prabang/Vientiane...avoid anywhere you can go on a vip bus/minibus and youll be fine

#12 Noggins has been a member since 26/5/2009. Posts: 24

Posted by BruceMoon on 2/8/2009 at 14:29

Intrepid82



I wasn't going to add anything here, as I felt that others could say more. But I relented.

Ii appears you want to visit 'areas less travelled'. I envy you (Though JohnMac thinks otherwise).

The tenor here has been, get off the beaten track anywhere and you'll be away from the maddening throng. Most here could list many places like that, north, central & south.

I doubt that Tha Khaek is 'off the beaten track' anymore. I consulted LP and it says...

Who'd have thought it? In a couple of years Tha Khaek, the archetypal somnolent Laos riverside town has gone from a charming but relatively boring place to the base for an evergrowing range of adventure travel in central Laos..

But, get away from the bus routes and you'll hardly see another westerner.

For example, in nthn Laos earlier this year, I went to Ban NaLae. It was if I was the first white/westerner that had ever been there. And, its only 2 hours on a motorbike from Luang Nam Tha. Similarly, south of Muang Sing doesn't see too many westerners. And, I was a bit of a novelty when I went 30 minutes away from the Muang Khua main road.

sayadian



food I wouldn't feed to a dog...

As a very generalised statement, I've found that Laos people tend not to venture into the restaurant business. This appears left to the Han (Chinese or Vietnamse): at least the cooks are Han.

So, I doubt you'll find crook food. But, if you are like me, then Han food in the backblocks isn't that flash.

I've found that where the Lao provide food is in markets. So, midday meals are always available, and in some places, the market extends to night time opportunities.

While rural Laos is poor, I don't think it's as poor as Cambodian backblocks. Anyway, rural Laos has a sort of integrity that seems to ensure visitors (nice ones anyway) aren't fed to the....

Cheers

#13 BruceMoon has been a member since 27/12/2008. Location: Australia. Posts: 1,941

Posted by williamtaylor on 2/8/2009 at 17:03

I wouldn't typify food in Laos outside the tourist centers as bad. It does lack variety. All I remember eating in the sticks was sticky rice, noodle soup, and if lucky somtam (ok and maybe a stray banana). The stuff tastes great! But not after 3 or 4 days in a row of nothing but that (I could make the same comment about English food as well). You would probably not have this kind of problem in Thailand.

However that is not to say there is no value in going to Laos.

#14 williamtaylor has been a member since 9/6/2009. Location: Japan. Posts: 29
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Posted by Tilapia on 2/8/2009 at 22:01

I think in the case of Southern Laos, "less touristy" just means not as many people go there, and there isn't as much of a tourist infrastructure, especially compared to Luang Prabang. Fewer tourists = less tourist infrastructure. The two feed off each other. But that is changing ... slowly. Chong Mek is no longer a backwoods border crossing (well, it IS but it is becoming more and more "important" especially to Thai cross-border shoppers). Anyways, tourist infrastructure or not, you can always get where you want on public transport, and there will always be a place to stay ... and they aren't all flea-pits. Some are quite nice.

I found that Champasak was quite sleepy. In fact, it was sound asleep! It's a super little spot to hang your hat for a few days and take in some of the local attractions, but don't expect to go out dancing each night. There are nice little villages in the area with very friendly locals who see very few people. They are easy to get to. You just have to find a path leading to the nearby hills and go for a walk. As it is located on the river with the mountains on the other side, the scenery is beautiful and it's unlikely that you'll get lost.

Wat Phu is great. It certainly doesn't compare to Angkor or Phnom Rung in terms of scale and grandeur, but its location, design, and importance to the Khmer Kingdom is indisputable. If you are interested in Khmer history, architecture, and religion, then I think that it should not be missed. It's a lovely bike ride from Champasak (10km) through more nice little villages along the Mekong. If you get there early enough, you can have the place for yourself. It's probably worth about 3 or 4 hours, including a trot through the museum.

I have had some pretty bad Lao food, but I've had bad food in every country I've been in, including Thailand. With regards to Southern Laos, I found the food to be excellent in the places where we were getting it. The fish I ate came fresh from the river and was not farmed like most of the Mekong fish that get served-up in Thailand. Eggs, chicken, veggies, noodles ... all of them were great.

There is little to no river traffic other than local fishermen, kids in dugouts, and the odd tourist boat floating down to Wat Phu from Pakse. There is virtually no vehicle traffic. The place is Quiet!

Yes, Laotian villages can be a bit dirty, especially compared to Thai villages of similar size, but there are many, many reasons that come into play. Personally, I think of dust and woodsmoke when I think of Laos villages (and Nepalese villages), but I am dusty and smell like woodsmoke whenever I come home from camping, so I don't mind in the least. I kind of like it.

It's definitely worth going to if you have the time.

#15 Tilapia has been a member since 21/4/2006. Location: Canada. Posts: 1,499
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Posted by MADMAC on 3/8/2009 at 00:01

"The real Laos is poor, so i guess if you want to experience it, live as the locals do and go on the crappy buses etc! :)"

The psychology of this never ceases to amaze me. Even the "real Laotians" don't like their lifestyle. That's why they keep coming here in droves. Why anyone would want to spend his valueable vacation time living in poverty I don't know.

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

Posted by withoutborders on 19/8/2009 at 04:41

This video was done by some backpackers and shows the bikes that they hired on the loop and classic examples of troubles along the way.AWESOME!!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=naSUJwDZDR8

#17 withoutborders has been a member since 19/8/2009. Location: Canada. Posts: 17
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