From Hanoi to Luang Prabang (a love story)

The sun sets over the Mekong in Luang Prabang, LaosIt was off to a fairly underwhelming beginning, delayed in a bitterly cold and threadbare Hanoi Airport due to adverse weather conditions (airport speak for smoke in the airspace above Laos).

Dressed as warmly as possible with all the clothing I could muster from my carry-on luggage, I started to regret my decision not to travel into Laos the hard way. Shunning my backpacking roots, I had decided to splurge on a flight and thereby bypass one overnight train and two arduous bus journeys.

Oh yes, for the two hours I was stuck at that dreadful airport in Vietnam I actually wished I had travelled overland to Laos.

Me in Luang Prabang, Laos, next to the Mekong River.I arrived in Luang Prabang just before midday, only two hours after I was scheduled to arrive. As I made my way off the plane and across the tarmac, struck dumb by the sheer heat of the day, I was dreading the thought of having to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops required to get my Laos Visa.

I shouldn’t have worried. Far simpler than the rigmarole involved getting a Vietnam Visa at the border three weeks earlier, I merely joined two short lines, paid $30US and entered the country.

And at this point in the story I would just like to point out that I was delighted to find out that it’s actually $5 cheaper to enter Laos as a Kiwi citizen than on my British passport. Well pleased was I, to finally be travelling as a New Zealand citizen once more (no offence, Great Britain).

A temple in Luang Prabang, Laos.When I arrived in Vietnam three weeks earlier I had two options: catch the public bus into Ho Chi Minh City or take my chances with a taxi and face the very distinct possibility of being ripped off. Because I always do things the hard way (a running theme here at Man vs World) I chose the public bus – and I must say on that particular occasion it turned out to be the right move.

In Laos, however, I was spared the potentially catastrophic decision of deciding by which means to get into town by the provision of a ticketing system whereby I simply chose from a menu which method of transportation I would like to take me into town and then pay the designated price.

It really doesn’t get much easier than that. Before you could say “Please turn your meter on, Vietnamese taxi driver” I was cruising into town in the back of an air-conditioned taxi van.

The night market in Luang Prabang, Laos.The ease of my traverse into Laos didn’t stop there. Not only did the taxi driver not try to screw me where it hurts a backpacker most – in the wallet – but he pointed us in the direction of a swell row of Luang Prabang guesthouses.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy, as the Vietnamese sometimes like to say to Western travellers. Walking from guesthouse to guesthouse was made easy by the lack of scooters trying to maim me every time I crossed the road.

Not long later and I had checked in to a perfectly clean and nice Laotian guesthouse. To be fair, it was a little more expensive than what I had been willing to pay in Vietnam but that’s how they get you in Laos: they’re disarmingly casual about such formalities as the price of a room per night.

That afternoon I enjoyed my first, second and third ever Beerlaos while I watched the sun set over the Mekong. And after that I visited Luang Prabang’s fantastic night market and did as backpackers do and bought a singlet.

A wooden bridge in Luang Prabang, Laos.So, as love blooms between this backpacker and the jewel of the Mekong I can’t help but wonder whether this will turn out to be the special kind of love that redefines your outlook on life. Or will this be another love affair that ends in bitter divorce.

Only time will tell. But there is one thing that I do know for certain: I love Luang Prabang.

 

About Simon Petersen 320 Articles
Travel blogger, journalist, sports and movie fiend. Chronicling the life and times of a Kiwi at home and abroad.

7 Comments

  1. We went the other way – from LP to Hanoi… And also favoured flying over the bus. Unfortunately we left it so late to book everything was ridiculously expensive (around $250US per person) so, perhaps crazily we took a bus all the way back to Vientiane and then flew from there. We did hear a lot about the LP – Hanoi bus though, one person maintained it was 36hrs with no toilet on board and for 16 of them there were no rest stops either – if you needed the loo you told the driver, he stopped and you went off to the bushes

  2. And I am going back there too! I think, I would when their roads are a bit better though. Last time I was there 2009, road from Northern Thailand border crossing to Laos (was it Huay Xai?) to Luang Prabang was a dang mission I wouldn’t want to do again. The bus driver left us at the middle of the road for a bus switch that came at the weee hours of the morning (three-ish AM, I think), we have to sleep on a long wooden stool….imagine how comfy…lol

    But yeah, I still want to go back there and explore their nature. All I saw was temples and markets back then. That’s why I’m travelling solo there next time.LOL

    • Haha, sounds like a plan! I’ve heard the road is a bit of a nightmare; that’s why I flew by plane. But now I feel a little bit guilty that I missed out on a quintessential backpacker experience in Laos!

  3. Lovely story and yes, you should have taken the arduous road to Luang Prabang. I have never been to Luang Prabang which makes it my must-to-do destination from Hanoi because when I came in from the Philippines to Vietnam, I passed by directly to Ho Chi Minh City en route to Cambodia.

    The photos are impressive and the one you took below, that photo (though, with a monk in it) appears on New York Times haha 🙂 same exact place.

    I love the post you made here Simon. Keep them coming mate. You must be very happy traveling as a Kiwi citizen huh? lols

    • Thanks, Suzy! I always find it’s when I’m preparing for the worst travel day ever that it turns out to be a good one.

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