Thank you to my readers for your overwhelmingly positive response to my post Visiting Laos where I included 8 pictures showing why I loved Laos. Visiting Laos is my second most “liked” post (second to Visiting Cambodia).
When I told people I was going to travel to Laos, I got replies which showed a real generational divide.
Among my peers and those younger than me, the consensus was it sounded like an awesome adventure trip. A few asked questions like “Where’s Laos again?” (south-east Asia) and “Is it safe?” (a heck of a lot safer than North Philadelphia) and “Is that an expensive trip?” (only if you want it to be).
Among people 10 years or more older than me, in other words those who lived during the United States’ relentless fight over communist expansion, the ugly wars in South East Asia, and the US “secret” and endless bombing of Laos – this generation was shocked anyone would willingly travel to Laos. I was told to be careful and trust no one (lingering fear of communists). I was told I was going to lose my legs stepping on unexploded ordinance (this is a real problem still). I was told I was going to get malaria, eaten by leeches, severe dysentery, gonorrhea, and a host of other “jungle diseases” (I got none of them).
Please believe me – if you want to go to an amazingly beautiful and fascinating country with kind people that is off the beaten path, add Laos to your list.
Arriving in Luang Prabang
My window seat on the Bangkok airways plane gave me stunning views of towering limestone karsts and the winding brown Mekong river. I could see how densely green and mountainous the landscape was. I was landing in a country off the typical beaten tourist path. Excitement outweighed anxiety but both coexisted.
Tourist visas are available at the airport for $36 payable in exact US currency. You can bring two passport photos or have them taken there for a few extra dollars. Immigration was friendly and efficient – nothing like the threatening and hardened US Immigration agents.
Once in the arrival hall, with the airport being on the outskirts of Luang Prabang, you will be offered taxi service or Tuk-tuks to take you into town. It is probably best to have some idea of where you want to go.
I had arranged a ride to my hotel and saw this friendly young man holding a sign with my name on it.
My Dream Boutique Resort
My Dream Boutique would be my wonderful home for the next four nights. The hotel is friendly, beautiful, and spacious with a warm and welcoming staff. I had a second story room with a deck overlooking the swimming pool.
Views from my balcony:
A generous breakfast on a relaxing open air deck is included, and the hotel is conscientious to ensure guests have plenty of clean drinking water, leaving two bottles (and fresh fruit) in the room each day plus offering filtered water in the lobby for refilling water bottles.
The other highlight of the hotel is their grounds. The property goes to the bank of the Nam Kong river which feeds into the Meekong river. After many hours in airplanes, a walk around the property felt great.
Like any good hotel, there was the hotel guard cat making sure everything was in order.
The 11 hour time difference was really catching up to me, so I decided to unpack, eat some of the fruit in the room, and call it a night early. I am a fan of excess sleep to best adjust time zones, so I was cool with a 12 hour night in bed. It worked.
Walking Into Luang Prabang
For the next day, since I was not meeting my REI group until very late afternoon, I decided to explore Luang Prabang on foot then visit the Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden.
Getting to town involved either taking a tuk tuk or walking. The walk required crossing the Nam Kong river on a pedestrian bridge.
Luang Prabang is a town of about 55,000 people. I’ll write more about exploring Luang Prabang in my next posts.
Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden
A visit to a botanical garden to learn about the native species of Laos seemed like an easy way to spend a jet-lagged afternoon and it was. Admission is 25USD and worth it.
Pha Tad Ke is the first botanical garden in Laos and is focused on surveying the flora of Laos and promoting sustainable ecological preservation.
The garden has an excellent cafe with complementary tea tastings.
On the long boat back I noticed how many vegetable gardens were planted on the steep shore of the Mekong river. I imagine the soil is exceptionally rich.
I enjoyed my day at the gardens, my walk to and from the hotel, and was looking forward to further exploring the beautiful city of Luang Prabang.