Sometimes getting off the beaten track doesn’t mean travelling for days off road. Sometimes it’s as easy as getting off the bus in the middle of a well-trodden route. Kasi is 60 kilometres north of Vang Vieng, situated on Route 13 between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang.
For backpackers making the commute between these two popular spots, Kasi is usually no more than a bus toilet break, or for those on multi-day cycling or motorbike trips, a necessary one-night rest stop. But Ban Pho Kham and Ban Sisangvone village make an inviting case for all to linger in this rarely visited place.
These two rural villages are home to two backpacker friendly accommodation, both located on the Nam Lik River. The villages are welcoming and a few nights here will have you immersed in the rhythms and seasons of traditional Lao life—as well as enjoying lazy time in the hammock. Pull yourself away from the hammock for walks through the surrounding rice paddies, a trek to a small waterfall (dry season only) and visits to neighbouring villages. End the day with a swim in the river. The experience is better than your typical one-night trekking homestay because here you can truly feel at home.
Kasi has a few sights such as Khounlang Cave, but the district not being on the tourist radar means the sights lack guides and infrastructure. It also means that independent travellers on a do-it-yourself exploration will be rewarded with the place all to themselves. North of town there are some breathtaking viewpoints of the mountains and if serendipity is on your side, perhaps you will find yourself in a village during a lively festival or an important ceremony.
Despite the lack of tourist services, there are burgeoning signs of life with Nola Guesthouse and Uncle Tom’s Trails. Welshman “Uncle Tom” does half- or full-day private motorcycle tours and lessons in Kasi. He can teach those with zero motorbike experience how to ride a manual bike before graduating you to a guided trip through Kasi’s stunning countryside. A half-day beginner’s tutorial costs US$60.
Kasi town itself is forgettable and is more function than fashion, serving as a truck stop before Route 13 north begins to wind its way up the mountains in a serpentine, stomach-turning way to Luang Prabang. There are plenty of noodle soup shops and local restaurants lining the main street catering to those passing through, as well as simple, modern guesthouses. We won’t list them—you’ll find them. They are okay for a night and they are all of the same stock and formula: 60,000 kip will get you a small, basic fan room with a private bathroom with shower and squat or Western toilet. A little more, 80,000 to 100,000 kip, will get you a larger room with air-con, TV, hot water shower and Western toilet. No WiFi.
If you find yourself in town needing accommodation, we encourage you to head 10 kilometres south, then 3 kilometres off the main road to Ban Pho Kham or Ban Sisangvone village for a more peaceful, charming stay.
Those who love a good cup of coffee as much as we do should stop in at the tiny shop at the bus station, of all places. They serve “Phakoiy Brand” organic coffee, grown and produced in Kasi, as part of a development project supported by the Agriculture Development Bank (their sticker is on the restaurant-quality brewing machine in the shop). The arabica/robusta blend is delicious, and home brewers can buy bags of roasted beans.
A small bus station has regular songthaews scheduled in the morning to Vang Vieng and Vientiane. The bus station is located at the fork in the road, where the much talked about “new road to Luang Prabang” splits off from Route 13 and travels via Sayboury province. Route 4 has even more beautiful views and can reduce the travel time between Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng from five hours to three and a half.
Before you get too excited, public buses and minivans usually still use Route 13 because they pick up and drop off people and goods along the way, plus there are more petrol stations, restaurants and toilet stops. The new road also has a very steep gradient that most trucks and buses can’t manage, even in dry season. If you are in a private vehicle in decent condition, then the new road is for you.
Kasi has two ATMs, including one BCEL ATM that accepts most international networks and a branch that can do money exchange during opening hours.
You’ll be hard pressed to find WiFi but 3G signal is strong.
By Cindy Fan.
Last updated on 11th January, 2017.