Phonsavan

Phonsavan is the last major eastern town/city in Laos before reaching the Vietnamese border. The city is a rural hub, mostly consisting of farmers and those who sell to farmers. The city is also the closest location to the Plain of Jars which will be covered in my next article. I felt that Phonsavan deserved its own separate article. You can find stunning scenery, traditional culture and cuisine and amazing history in the part of Laos. Spread throughout the region are countless craters from US bombing rounds, as well as countless unexploded bombs and grenades. The locals have made an industry of converting this war era scrap metal into useful items and sellable wares through smelting. You should definitely try to visit one such workshop if you can and watch the locals meltdown bombs to create everything from keychains to silverware, to jewelry, all of which is available for purchase. The scenery alone should attract you, with rolling hills covered in and surrounded by rice fields and water buffalo. Make sure to spend at least a day here, especially if you are passing through on your way to North Western Vietnam. Prices here are also extremely low as it is not a tourism based town. The Plain of Jars is, in my opinion, an ancient wonder of the world and is not to be missed.

 

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Luang Prabang Surrounding Area

Located outside of Luang Prabang is a number of other fantastic sites and attractions and scenery. Located along the Mekong are numerous villages, shrines, and caves to be explored. Many of this caves hold historical religious sites and are a fantastic experience. Also located near Luang Prabang is Kuang Si Falls, a collection of stunning blue waterfalls and pools that an be swum in. This is a fantastic way to spend a hot afternoon in nature. If you do manage to find yourself with a spare day or two while in Luang Prabang, make sure to explore and enjoy the surrounding area.

 

http://www.laos-guide-999.com/Kuang-si-falls.html

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is a famous temple town in the northern mountainous area of Laos. The city is a UNESCO world heritage site due to its historical and cultural importance. You will not find anywhere else quite like this city. The city is known not just for its temples, but also its large population of monks who can be seen streaming through the streets in the early morning to collect food from the town’s people. I highly suggest spending a few days relaxing in Luang Prabang, exploring the town, the surrounding areas, relaxing on the river, soaking in the culture and getting more of a vibe of what Laos historically has been. The small city is also famous for its night market, which takes place down the main street of town, in front of the highly iconic temple, Wat Xieng Thong. If you get a chance, I highly recommend trying the local rice wine or scorpion/snake/lizard infused whiskey. The city has a fantastic communal pool, with a built in bar, so on those hot days that is where you are going to want to relax and unwind. Make sure to climb the hill in the center of town for some stunning views, while there is a small cost to climb it, it is definitely worth paying. Also be sure to visit the towns ethnographic museum to be able to learn about local unique cultural and ethnic groups living in Northern Laos. Make sure to also wake up early enough to be able to buy and give food to the local monks as it is a crucial part of the whole experience and almost feels like something that you need to do.

 

Pakse

Pakse is a small city in the south of Laos and makes a great stopping point if traveling from the 4000 Islands to Vientiane. While there isn’t much to do in the city, it makes a relaxing rest stop and gives you a glimpse into everyday life in Laos. In the city, you will find some fantastic temples and a very large market complex that stocks everything from watches, phones, and clothes to snacks and hot food. Outside of the city, you will find peaceful country roads and small towns to visit for some fresh produce. Also located near the city is a hike up to a large golden Buddha statue, which overlooks the city and the surrounding area. There are also plenty of great restaurants located throughout the city where you can get cheap but delicious traditional Laotian food. If you are making the trip North or South, then I advise spending a day in Pakse, just to unwind and split up your travel time.

 

Four Thousand Islands/Don Det

 

The Four Thousand Islands is a large island group located in the Mekong River near the Laotian border. These islands primarily house farmland and small villages but are also home to some fantastic hostels and bars. I suggest spending at least a day or two on these islands, the largest and most tourist-friendly of which is Don Det. There are several places to eat and some great bars in the main town area on the island. My favourite of all of these was Adam’s Bar, a restaurant/ bar where you can spend the day relaxing, watching the latest pirated movies or playing Xbox, or watching turtles swim in their encolsure. The bar was also famous for selling other, non-standard edible and smokable items. The two main things worth doing on the island are cycling around and between islands, and tubing. Sadly for me tubing was not possible a the time of year that I visited, due to the water levels of the Mekong being dangerously high. As far as the cycling side of it goes, I suggest just renting a bicycle and going off down one of the island paths ad seeing where they take you, you will find some very cool locations. Just make sure to relax, enjoy and explore the natural beauty of the islands and the relatively cheap cost of everything compared to the larger cities.

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g1082249-d4354676-Reviews-Adam_s-Don_Det_Champasak_Province.html

 

Kanchanaburi

Kanchanaburi is Thailand’s western province, bordering Myanmar. This part of the country is far removed from the tourist hub of Phuket or the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. In Kanchanaburi you will find farmland and lush forest landscapes. This part of the country is however home to a number of famous tourist attractions including the infamous Tiger Temple, which I had the common sense to avoid due to its horrific animal cruelty and black market smuggling activities. Aside from that, you will find Erawan Falls, Thailand’s famous floating markets, the bridge over the river Khwae and Death Railway amongst others. If you have a spare few days in Bangkok, I would suggest spending it here instead as it isn’t a far drive and there are plenty of tours available to take you. If you have yet to see monkeys in the wild, this is the place to do it, because they are literally all over the place in this region. Floating hotels built on the rivers are common in this area too if you would like a unique experience.

 

Floating Markets

The floating markets are one of Thailands best known attractions and normally feature on the walls of Thai restaurants in other countries. These markets are an amazing experience, but an enormous tourist trap. I recommend browsing at these markets for fun, but buying elsewhere, as you will find the exact same items for a fraction of the price. If you pay for a markets tour, you will be taken by boat through the floating market place itself and then on a brief tour of the canals in the surrounding area, passing through farms and housing areas. It’s a great experience and definitely worth doing.

http://floatingmarketthailand.com/index.html

 

Erawan Falls

Erawan Falls are part of Erawan National Park and are a protected area with some of the most stunning sites I have ever seen. The waterfalls and pools in this park are cleaner, clearer and bluer than anything I had ever seen before or have seen since that day. You can easily spend hours exploring the park, swimming in the pools and having a free foot massage from the local fish.

https://www.thainationalparks.com/erawan-national-park

 

Bridge on the River Khwae

This bridge is what inspired the famous 1957 film, The Bridge on the River Kwai, which went on to win 7 academy awards. The film focused on the building of the bridge for the Burma Railway, a horrific two year project by the Japanese during WW2 which led to the deaths of 330,000 labourers through forced labour conditions. Of theses deaths, the vast majority were civilians and prisoners of war, all dying  in order to construct a 415-kilometre stretch of railway between Thailand and Burma. The bridge and the railway still stands and operates to this day. The bridge has become a pilgrimage for many who fought in the war or who lost family or friends in the war, as well as for film enthusiasts wanting to see the bridge from the movie. In actuality, the film was shot in Sri Lanka using a similar looking bridge, but the meaning of this bridge remains the same regardless.

http://www.bridgeriverkwai.com/

 

Death Railway

Death railway as discussed above was the forced labour project of Japan during WW2, resulting in the deaths of 330,000 prisoners of war and civilian labourers. The railway still operates and can be ridden in order to experience a portion of what was build at such an immense human cost.

http://www.deathrailwaytours.com.au/

 

Floating Hotel

You will find plenty of floating buildings including hotels built on the Khwae River. If you get a chance, I highly recommend staying in one for a unique experience and the chance to watch the sun rise and set over the river.

 

Monkeys

If you still have yet to see monkeys in the wild in SE Asia, then this region is the place to go, as there are plenty of  them to be found and they are relatively friendly and playful.

Langkawi

Langkawi is a tropical paradise located off the coast of Malaysia. Not only is the majority of this island area a nature reserve, but the entire island is tax free, making it even cheaper than mainland Malaysia. There is one central urban area, consisting on a coast-hugging  main street with a few alleys branching off of it. Along this street you will find hostels, hotels, pubs, clubs, shops and restaurants. Despite being an increasingly popular tourist destination, the island has yet to be developed to the level of its counterparts in Thailand. Here you will find beautiful beaches, lush jungle terrain, mangrove swamps, mountain terrain and plenty of wildlife. I highly recommend taking a couple of days to spend on the island as I personally wish I had stayed longer myself and not booked a return trip ferry ticket from Georgetown.

 

 

Islands Day Cruise

This tour can either be done in a chartered boat or in a shared boat for a fraction of the cost. Its a fantastic way to spend the day both seeing the islands and relaxing. You’ll get to experience SE Asian motor-boating if you have yet to do so, which is an experience in itself, as well as seeing some beautiful scenery. You will be able to swim on tropical beaches and see some forest areas with local wildlife up close, particularly native sea eagles. Finally you will get to visit an island lagoon that you are able to swim in.

https://www.viator.com/tours/Langkawi/Island-Hopping-Tour-from-Langkawi/d338-3705LGK12

 

Cable Car

The Langkawi cable car is the longest distance free-spanning cable car in Malaysia and takes you from the base of the island to one of its highest peaks. This will give you a fantastic view of the area surround the mountain. Once at the top of the mountain, after taking in the view, you will begin your descent to the starting point. On the way down you will be able to cross over the sky bridge, a glass walkway built between two peaks overlooking jungle area. Sadly when I was there it was in the process of being repaired. The trek will take you down through the jungle back to the starting area, with a guide explaining the terrain around you on the way down.

http://www.panoramalangkawi.com/

 

River/Nature Reserve Day Tour

This day tour in my opinion lets you see more than the island hopping tour. While the scenery is not as spectacular, this tour will take you through mangrove forest areas allowing you to see plenty of monkeys and eagles up close, and to feed tropical fish by hand. The tour will also take you through a bat cave where you will see numerous sleeping bats in their natural habitat, as well as visiting a fish farm and a floating restaurant.

https://www.viator.com/tours/Langkawi/Private-Half-Day-Tanjung-Rhu-Beach-and-Mangrove-Forest-Boat-Tour-in-Langkawi-Including-Eagle-Watching/d338-29580P19

 

Sunsets

If you decide to spend no money on tours in Langkawi, then the sunsets on the island alone will make it worth the visit. The view of the sun setting over the ocean from the islands beaches is spectacular and draws a large crowd every evening.

 

Monkeys

If you have yet to see monkeys in their natural habitat, Langkawi is the place to do it. There are PLENTY of monkeys spread across these islands and you can get pretty close to them on several occasions throughout any tours taken or just walking around the island yourself.

 

Sea Eagles

The island of Langkawi itself and the surrounding islands and mangrove forests are home to vast numbers of sea eagles. Luckily the island has been declared a UNESCO protected ecosystem and as such the habitat of these animals has been protected, accounting for their vast numbers.