After two months on the road, Laos was the fourth country to visit on my South East Asia backpacking journey.


Crossing the border from Cambodia, I was presented with my first ever border corruption experience. I was well aware of the notorious illegal stamping fees that the border officers sometimes enforced on departing and arriving visitors, so I was prepared to dish out the dollars. Sure enough – crossing the border – I managed to cop a $2US fee, each on arrival and departure. I questioned the Lao officer on the arrival border as to why I had to pay an additional $2 fee for a stamp, providing I had just paid the Cambodian departure officer $2, paid $30 for the visa, and paid a $1 service charge. His English wasn’t the best so he called in the big dog who sternly notified me with two hands on the desk. “It is the weekend and the $2 is for overtime.” Knowing this was a pile of crap I did some further questioning which got nowhere. I folded and handed over the cash – at the end of the day it was only an extra $4 for the stamps.

Making my way past the border, Don Det in the Four Thousand Islands was my first destination to visit. Setting foot on Don Det island in the early afternoon, I began scouting the coast line looking for a cheap room for the night. I had heard that the further south you went on the island, the cheaper the bungalows got, so south I headed. On my hunt for a bungalow I quickly got a feel for how awesome the island was. Walking down the narrow dirt paths that hugged the rivers edge, I was met with every kind of animal you could imagine – birds, buffalos, chickens, cats, dogs, pigs – you name it. The coolest thing about all these animals was that none of them attacked or squabbled with one another – quite strange when you see a fully grown cat casually stroll through a bunch of baby chickens.

I eventually stumbled upon The Boathouse which offered river edge bungalow rooms for $15 a night – cheap as chips. I set up camp here and started soaking up the coconut life. On my second day I managed to cut the bottom of my foot on rock while I was swimming. Carelessly I didn’t cover the wound and thought it would be a fantastic idea to walk around in flip flops the following day. This quickly resulted in an infection, presenting me with a red line that started to run up foot, towards my ankle. The search results on Google looked grim, so I swiftly started dousing the wound with large quantities of Petadin. Fortunately the infection cleared up and I was able to start walking normally again after a couple of days of limping.

I spent about a week in Don Det, relaxing, eating like a king, exploring the island’s beautiful scenery by bicycle, and waking up to a rooster under my bungalow at 4am every morning.

My next stop was Pakse – a quiet township in the south of Laos. I spent a couple of days here, including a day tour that took myself and some backpackers through the Bolaven Plateau. The tour took us to numerous waterfalls and villages, where we could swim and taste the local freshly ground coffee. While in Pakse, I did some research and found out about a 3 day motorbike loop that you could do from Thakhek. The loop involved a drive through mountainous ranges, where you could explore water falls, caves and cool springs. Since I was having motorbike withdrawals from my excursion in Vietnam, this sounded like my cup of tea.

Arriving in Thakhek, I set out to look for a motorbike to hire. Not being so keen on the automatic scooters, I managed to find Wangwang – a motorbike shop that had everything from old banged up scooters, through to 250cc Kawasakis. Deciding that a 250cc Kawasaki was slightly unnecessary and would probably result in my demise, I settled for a bright yellow, 125cc, manual Honda Grom – I named him Bumblebee.

After absorbing some of the laid back atmosphere and exploring the night market in Thakhek, I set out on the motorcycle loop the next morning.

The first stops included the Buddha, Exit Xieng Liap, and Tham Sa Pha caves. The caves were all unique and interesting in their own right, allowing you to explore by yourself with freedom – apart from the Buddha cave which was very small and required an entrance fee. After visiting the caves, the drive continued through to Thalang, where I would be spending the night. The road there was lined with towering jagged rock faces and electric green pastures – it was truely breathtaking at every turn. Twisting through the mountains, I eventually arrived in Thalang, where I checked in to Sabaidee Guesthouse for the night.

The next morning, myself and a German couple who were also staying at Sabaidee, set off on the second leg of the journey – to Kong Lor Cave. On route, we were presented with roughly 20km of non-stop road construction heading towards Lak Sao. This meant we had to deal with dust, dirt, mud and gravel – a true test for my average motorcycles skills. Emerging unscathed, we proceeded to a cool spring near Ban Phontan. The spring sat at the bottom of a huge mountain range, requiring a stunning drive across an open plain laced with dirt trails to get there – a swim in the springs was well deserved after dealing with dust and 38 degree heat.

Proceeding to our final destination for the night, we eventually arrived at Spring River Resort – just down the road from the mighty Kong Lor Cave – the penultimate attraction of the loop.

Arriving at Kong Lor bright and early the following morning for our tour, we were kitted out with life jackets and head lamps before hopping in our 4 man motorised canoe. The cave was the biggest and most amazing cave I have ever laid eyes on. The ceiling at times was so high, the head lamps couldn’t reveal it – it felt like I was on the set for a Lord of the Rings film. After the cave we made the long haul back to Thakhek to complete the loop.

I spent one last night in Thakhek before heading up to the capital – Vientiane. I found an Aussie sports bar here, where I gladly watched the New Zealand beat Australia in a T20 cricket world cup pool match. Being the only Kiwi in the bar, I copped my fair share of verbal abuse, especially from my new travel companion Wayne – it was good to exchange some Trans-Tasman banter again.

Leaving Vientiane, me and Wayne shot up to Vang Vieng – Laos backpacking mecca. It was an absolute blast. Stuffing my face with $2 baguettes and Beerlaos, partying at Sakura Bar and participating in the notorious river tubing – good times. I even saw a 3 metre long (intoxicated approximation) lime green snake. It was swimming down the river while we were in it, before it sidewinded up the bank – definitely the biggest one i’ve seen in the wild.

After Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang was next on the hit list. Boasting an energetic town centre with an enormous night market, I had a good look around, absorbing it’s French colonial beauty – to me this was the most attractive city in Laos. Unfortunately I missed out on the waterfall and river attractions in Luang Prabang, as I was running low on time. I only spent 2 nights here, as I was eager to squeeze in a 3 day trek further north before my visa expired.

Last but not least – Luang Namtha. A small town in the north of Laos, where the trekking would commence. On the van ride here, myself and Wayne managed to sweet talk a few passengers into joining in on the 3 day trek that we booked. An ideal situation, as I don’t think I would have coped well with only an Aussie in my ear for 3 days – it also made the trek cheaper as well – win win. Having just the one night in Luang Namtha to heal my knee joints from the (at best) cramped, minivan ride. We set out on day 1 of our trek.

We spent the first day hiking through some moderate terrain, often stopping to taste test different plants and even ants, before sitting down for some delicious local tucker. I failed to acquire the sweet taste that the guide ensured me I would experience when eating the giant ants – cheeky bugger. We pitched up at a local village for the night before setting out on day 2.

The following day required a bit more muscle as the terrain steepened, but it didn’t matter, as the lush jungle we were navigating through was nothing short of incredible. We finished the day descending through a rubber tree plantation, before being escorted by truck to another village for our final night – and what a final night it was. It involved rice wine, raw chilli eating and even a 40 minute hike down a dirt road at night to get some Beerlao.

Scoffing down some eggs, with yet another serving of sticky rice in the morning. We set out for the final day of the trek. The day didn’t involve any hiking, but instead, an 8 kilometre rafting mission, which really tested the arms. The dull current was broken up with brief sections of rapids which were great fun – especially when you ‘accidentally’ line up your rafting companion’s backside with a slightly submerged rock. Eventually completing the day, we were dropped back into town, where a hearty meal was in store for our battered bodies, and to top off my final days in lazy Laos.

See more photos of my trip here.