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.

 

Advertisements

Vientiane

Vientiane is the capital city of Laos and is definitely the largest in the country by far, but still does not feel like a capital city. The city and surrounding area has between 500,000 and 750,00 residents depending on which survey ou trust. The pace of the city is so slow for a metropolitan area, especially after visiting other such areas in neighbouring countries. The city has an interesting blend of Laotian and French culture, which an be found in its food, architecture, and way of life. Throughout the city, you will find Buddhist temples, located between French colonial buildings. The cuisine in the city is a very definite mix of French fine dining and bakeries and traditional Laotian cuisine serving restaurants and food carts. Located in the center of the city, at its heart is Pha That Luang, a grand historical monument, central to the identity of Laos itself. This is a large golden Buddhist tower, which sadly I couldn’t get close to during my visit for unknown security reasons. The city has some fantastic museums, mixing pre-European Laotian history with French colonial history, as well as Vietnam War and Indochinese War history. If you have a few days in the city make sure to enjoy the cuisine, visit the night markets and soak up the unique atmosphere found only in Vientiane. I still don’t believe that I’ve been anywhere with quite the same culture.

 

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.

 

Kratié

Kratie is a small town in the northeast of the Cambodian countryside, situated right on the banks of Mekong, the town is primarily farming and fishing based. The outskirts of town are home to numerous villages which give you a glimpse of daily village life in Cambodia. In the town center, is a large marketplace and several restaurants looking onto the river. There are also numerous temples throughout and surrounding the town worth visiting. The town is a great place to see local wildlife, some of which is extremely rare, such as the soft-shelled turtle and the irrawaddy dolphin, both of which are critically endangered. If you’re looking to get out of the city and see how a great number of average Cambodians live, Kratie is a great way to experience this. The locals are also extremely friendly, with my tour guide inviting me to his house for lunch to meet his beautiful family after the tour ended.

 

 

Temples

The town and surrounding area is home to some fantastic temples and temple complexes. These include depictions of the road to heaven and the path to hell and are adorned with incredible paintings and sculptures.

 

Mekong/Wildlife

The Mekong is teeming with life and if you decide to spend time on and around it, you will see plenty of it. Kratie is famous for its local dolphin population, the Irrawaddy dolphin is extremely endangered, but can easily be seen swimming in the Mekong right outside of Kratie. Make sure to take a boat ride out onto the river and go dolphin spotting, I managed to see at least four in the span of 30 minutes. Located near the town is an amphibian rescue center, housing numerous species of frogs and turtles, including the endangered soft shelled turtle.

Siem Reap

Siem Reap is the tourist hub of Cambodia for a number of reasons. Firstly, the city is the located just outside of the ancient city of Angkor Wat. Secondly, the city houses amazing markets, nightclubs, restaurants and cultural performance centers.  Thirdly and finally, the city is located right near Tonlé Sap, the largest lake in Southeast Asia. I would personally recommend spending a couple of days in the city, as there is plenty to see and do. There are several evening shows in town including the Cambodian Circus and Cambodian traditional dance show. You will need many hours to fully explore the night markets and day markets located throughout the city. Take a day and visit Tonlé Sap to see an entirely different culture living upon the lake. There are also beautiful parks and temples to explore.

 

 

Tonlé Sap

Tonlé Sap is the largest inland lake in Southeast Asia and supports countless lake-based communities, several of which are built on the lake itself. These are either on stilts on the water’s edge or floating on the lake itself. I highly suggest taking a boat tour of the lake and the village including a crocodile farm. When I was in on of the lake villages, I spent several hours teaching English to local village children, which was actually a lot more fun than I had expected. If this is something that you would like to do, then get in touch with a local tour guide when in one of the villages.

http://www.tourismcambodia.com/travelguides/provinces/siem-reap/what-to-see/76_the-great-lake-tonle-sap-floating-village.htm

 

Nightlife

Siem Reap has one of the best night-lives in SE Asia. The city has entire streets containing just pubs and clubs. If you get a chance, make sure to do a pub crawl through the city as you will visit some amazing hidden bars. There are also numerous amazing night markets, selling exotic foods such as tarantula, scorpion, snake, crickets, frogs, etc, all of which I suggest trying as they are delicious and a unique experience. For anyone who is a fan of Hard Rock Cafes, there is a fantastic one in the city with some great memorabilia. Finally, I suggest going to a cultural dance show, as it is a great experience and teaches you a bit about Cambodian culture and dining.

 

http://www.cambodianlivingarts.org/experience/see-a-show/

https://www.canbypublications.com/phnompenh/ppnight.htm

 

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is without a doubt one of the most well-known tourist attractions in the world. The ancient city complex stands in remarkable condition, mostly unravished by time. The complex is located just outside of Siem Reap near Cambodia’s western border with Thailand. I would personally suggest allocating the majority of a day to spend there exploring and taking in how truly amazing the site is. I also suggest hiring a local tuk tuk driver to take you from one site to another at the complex as the city is large and spread out over a wide area. If you are able to, I highly suggest arriving before the sunrise in order to watch it rise over the reflective pools in front of the most famous part of the city. If you are interested, there are elephant riding tours through certain parts of the city. Visiting this ancient city is, in my opinion, something that everyone should do before they die.

 

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh is a very interesting city, having such a dark history in the past several decades. The city was the center of the Khmer Rouges reign and saw the brunt of the genocide and atrocities that occurred in the country under Pol Pot. At the same time, modern Phnom Penh is very much full of life and has a culture all of its own. The city is a must visit in anyone’s lifetime. I can’t think of many other places where you can visit bustling markets, shoot an AK47 or RPG, visit a genocide museum, hit the clubbing scene and visit a silkworm farm all in one day. In saying that, I suggest spending a few days exploring the city. The center city evening food market is an amazing experience and will allow you to try all aspects of Khmer cuisine, all while enjoying a seat on the ground and listening to local live music. One of any of the city’s shooting ranges is worth visiting to be able to use weapons that most other countries will not allow.