Last week I have been to Laos, cross overland from Vietnam. I was at Oudomxay for a night transit, and spent 2 days one night at Vang Vieng.
Based on my short journey there, i want to share few things that I learnt and observed during my backpacking trips in Laos.
1) Oudomxay (pronounce Udomsai) is a nice and small town. There’s not much things to do here. It is not a famous tourist spot. However, there are a lot of guest house and motels here. I guess, it is very famous for a transit because most of the guest house and motels are near to the town, where an old bus station located. But you can find a nice temple here called Phoutat Temple. I found a signboard to museum too, unfortunately I don’t have enough time to drop by.
2) There are two bus stations at Oudomxay. The old one is very near to the town. There are restaurants and fruit stalls just next to it. The new one is bigger and looks more modern. All domestic and international bus depart from here. I bought ticket and depart to Vang Vieng from here. From old bus station to the new one, you can go by ‘tuk tuk’ (local taxi). I managed to get a tuk tuk for 50,000 kip (USD 6.15) for a return trip. If one way trip, you can negotiate for 30,000 kip (USD 3.70). Remember to ask the fare and negotiate the price before you get into the tuk tuk.
3) Do take travel sick pills if you have tendency to feel dizzy on the road. The road condition from Vietnam crossing Laos is a nightmare. It is a mountain road, no nice pavement, curvy road, zig zag along hills and mountain. Once it depart from Oudomxay, the bus attendant distribute plastic bags to all passengers. I bet you know for what purpose. I saw passengers in front of me threw away the plastic bags with the vomiting waste outside the bus window.
4) Vang Vieng is a small town. Among most famous things to do here are tubing, kayaking, or enjoy the scenery over a boat trip along the Nam Song River. The river water is so clear to the extend that you can see what beneath the water. Swimming at Blue Lagoon is a must here. Plus, there are lots of cave for you to explore.
5) Road at Laos are dusty. If you choose to ride a motorcycle or bicycle to Blue Lagoon at Vang Vieng, please bring and wear your face mask.
6) Tubing at Vang Vieng is so popular. To do tubing, we need to go to the tube shop located at the town. The fee is 55,000 kip (USD 6.80) but you need to pay 60,000 kip (USD 7.40) deposit. So total you need to pay 115,000 kip (USD 14.20). During returning the tube, we will get back the deposit. However, if we return the tube after 6.00 pm, a penalty of 20,000 kip (USD 2.50) will be deducted and we will only get 40,000 kip (USD 5) back. The price also include transportation (tuk tuk) from the shop to the starting point of tubing and a life jacket. However, we need to wait until at least 4 people to go there. For my case, I came a bit late. It was already 2.45 pm and it was raining. I don’t see any people will come and I don’t want to waste my time waiting and end up being penalty if I reach the finishing point after 6 pm. Therefore, they offered me to charter a tuk tuk for 20,00 kip (USD2.50) and immediately brought to the location. In order to avoid penalty, I’d rather go tubing earlier then 2.00 pm.
7) Some articles online said tubing at Vang Vieng are dangerous and thrill. I’ve tried it and I found that the activity was sooooooooo boring! It took about almost 3 hours from the starting point to the finishing point. I imagined, woww.. 3 hours of excitement, adrenalin rush and adventure. But it turned out differently, it was a 3-hours of very slow motion journey. Nam Song river water flows very slow. So slow that you feel like the tube almost motionless. The view is stunning though. There are 3 cascades where water flow faster but it is quite shallow that your tube or your butt will stuck on the rocks at the riverbed. Unless you do tubing with your loved one or your crazy friends that will makes you enjoy the companionship or the sweet talking time, else you end up like me. I was paddling with my both hands for almost 3 hours to speed up the tube with boring feeling. I believe I was not the only one. I saw another guy from Hong Kong also paddling with his hand covered with slipper speeding to reach the point. About 4 km from the finishing line, one tuk tuk driver already waiting and offered me a ride, even 2Km from the finishing line I saw the same scenario too. This indicate that it not unusual to some visitors to find tubing as boring and just get the tuktuk to finish off faster. Looking at how boring and slow the tubing explore the river, I couldn’t understand how did people have died here. Did they drunk? If the answer is yes, still, the water flow is super slow and you won’t hit your head to the rock. Ridiculious to me.
8) You can get a tuktuk to Blue Lagoon. But if you know how to ride a motorbike or a bicycle, you can rent one. The rent for a motorbike only cost somewhere around 50,00 kip (USD 6) for 12 hours and 70,000 kip (USD8.60) for 24 hours. On the other hand ,bicycle’s rent start from 25,000 kip (USD 3) for 12 hour and 40,00 kip (USD 5) for 24 hour. No driving license needed to rent a motorbike. No deposit too. However, they will keep your passport. Therefore, be careful on which shop looks reliable before giving your passport to them. Normally they will give you a free copy of map for your reference.
9) Cycling to Blue Lagoon takes about 1 and half hour. Unless you are a professional cyclist, maybe you can reach faster. The road is dusty and not paved nicely. You will pass through villages and mountains. The view is awesome.
10) Ticket to enter Blue Lagoon is 10,000 kip (USD 1.20) per person. The pool is deep. If you are not a good swimmer, you can rent a life jacket at 10,000 kip (USD 1.20) for 2 hours. The water here is bluish, cold and refreshing. There is no charge for toilet for you to use and change your clothes.
11) Snacks are a bit expensive in Laos. For a potato chip in a normal size packaging , like the normal packaging of twisties, , it cost 10,000 kip (USD 1.20). If you convert to RM, it is about RM4.50! The cost of 3 snacks can get you a tuk tuk ride to bus station at Oudomxay.
However, you can find halal snacks here.
12) If you are heading to anywhere in Laos or even to cross border to Thailand, you can buy a bus ticket from your hostel reception. They can arrange for you and the van from the bus company will take you from the hostel prior departure. Easy.
13) Public toilet in Laos is not free. Normally it cost 2,000 kip (USD 0.25). But it is very clean and water hose is provided. So, for muslims, you do not need to worry. To have a free toilet, just have a drink at a restaurant or cafe that provide toilet fot its customer, and wallah! You save your money.
14) Change your kip money before you leave Laos, else, you have to keep it for the rest of your life. The money cannot vonverted back to your currency except in Vietnam and certain money changer in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
15) Before convert the money or finish everything, make sure you have 10,000 kip (USD 1.20) note in your wallet. You need to pay 10,000 kip as a fee upon departure at the imigration post.
I hope my 15 tips can help you a lot and give you understanding about Laos before you travel there, especially to Vang Vieng. It is indeed an awesome place and i hope you enjoy your trip there.