I must say that Laos was one of our favorite destinations in Asia, although we knew little about this country and the time that we spent there was indeed short. But there were too many experiences that we wanted to squeeze in the two months and a half time that we reserved for Southeast Asia and we spontaneously decided to dedicate more of it to exploring Vietnam, decision which brought us at the end of our stay in Laos to Dien Bien Phu.

Nong Khiaw was definitely the right place to end our trip in Laos and to feel even more in love with the natural surroundings of the country, but it also felt more isolated than other places and while trying to find connections with the Vietnamese border we found ourselves left with few options only. We booked a private transfer to the bus station in Pak Mong, from where we took the bus which was connecting Luang Prabang with the Vietnamese border, paying in total approximately 24 Euro per person. Another option was taking a speed boat along the Nam Ou River to Muang Khua, from where travelers can continue by bus till the border. At the time when we were there we found out about multiple construction projects for building dams, which were also threatening the river cruise industry and that will make certain routes on water not accessible anymore in the future.

The bus from Nong Khiaw to Dien Bien Phu

The bus ride itself felt long but somehow entertaining while watching the way local people travel. They usually take with them lots of luggage, including sacks of rice and even animals. Buses in Laos are always great opportunities to engage into authentic experiences. But don’t expect much comfort in return.

The bus ride took much longer than expected and we arrived late in the evening at the border, where we had to go through two border filters on both sides of it. The process on the Laotian side went smooth and fast but later on the Vietnamese side it took much longer. We were even confronted with the situation of being asked for extra money by the border officers due to the extended working hours caused by our late arrival. We protested at first against it, even if it was a small fee, but eventually felt forced to pay it as we were already very late and we hoped to still be able to catch a night bus to Sapa, in the northern part of Vietnam..

Unfortunately, the last bus left before our arrival and we had to spend the night in Dien Bien Phu, but luckily we found a very cheap room right in front of the bus station and could enjoy delicious noodles at one of the many small restaurants in the area. We did not even have to look for the accommodation as locals approached us immediately with offers.

Bus from Dien Bien Phu to Sapa

Direct buses and minibuses to Sapa leave every morning at 6:30 and 9:00 or later in the evening at 17:30 and 18:30. Most offers are for buses leaving for Hanoi or some of the main touristic destinations in the northern part of the country.

We left the next morning with the earliest minibus, arriving eight hours later in the mountains close to the Chinese border, where we hoped to spend a few days admiring the impressive rice fields that make Sapa such a famous destination. But unluckily the only impressive thing that we discovered in the three days in Sapa was the thick mist that surrounded the mountain and the cold air that convinced us to leave early towards the sunnier places of the country. The next stop on our route across Vietnam was the capital city, Hanoi, where we got to learn about the busy city life of the Vietnamese people.

Nong Khiaw was our last destination in Laos and the place where once again we felt in love with this country. Deep green valleys surround the small village hidden between mountains and hills, offering hikes to spectacular view points.


Things to do in Nong Khiaw

Apart from trekking or cycling around the village or taking a boat tour on the river, travelers can visit the historic Pha Tok Caves, which served as shelters for people to hide during the Vietnam War, or hike the limestone mountains for surprisingly beautiful landscapes.

One of the most famous activities around the village is trekking the route of the 100 waterfalls, which many sources on the internet and local tour agents recommend. But we found out that also just a simple walk in the village can turn into a rewarding experience. You can admire the beautiful surroundings while crossing the bridge over the Nam Ou River, try the local food and observe the peaceful life of the people.



While searching for coffee, unfortunately we realized that Nong Khiaw felt nothing like the coffee paradise that we discovered in Luang Prabang, but instead offered us the chance to try again some of the delicious Indian food that we always happily enjoy whenever we get a chance to.

Hiking to the viewpoints in Nong Khiaw

Our limited time in Laos allowed us to enjoy just few of the many activities that could be done in the area. So we decided to chase sunsets and in the two days that we spent there we climbed to the two main view points, that rewarded us with spectacular view over the village and the infinite green landscapes of the limestone mountains.



At the beginning of the both treks you will be asked to pay a small fee, part of which supports the local community and helps maintain the trails. Allow yourself around two hours for any of the hikes and wear proper shoes, as some parts are very challenging and steep.



Despite the short time that we spent in the country, Laos conquered our hearts and easily made it to the list of our best places to travel. We spent the last day in a local bus that brought us to the border with Vietnam, the last big adventure of our journey in Asia. Read more about it here.

See more pictures of Nong Khiaw here.

Luang Prabang is best known for its well preserved architectural, religious and cultural heritage which made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site, attracting more and more tourists each year. Located at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers, it is one of the most important cities in Laos and the heart of the Laotian culture.

Visa for Vietnam in Luang Prabang

We ended up staying a whole week in the city, as our plans to continue overland till the northern border of Laos and cross after into Vietnam forced us to extend our stay while having to wait for the visa applications to be processed. We could have gotten our passports stamped earlier but we opted to wait and pay the smaller price, which helped to cover for the expenses of the extra days in the city. Besides the financial aspects, Luang Prabang didn’t feel like a place that we wanted to leave too early. The visa process went smooth and fast, although it was a pricier option than applying for the visa on arrival. But the latter option would have forced us to arrive in Vietnam by air and we wanted to continue our journey overland.


What to do in Luang Prabang?

Laotian cuisine enchanted our taste buds and we enjoyed every opportunity to try new local dishes and snacks. Various noodle soups, grilled fish, fried Mekong River moss and tasty fresh fruits were our favorites. And because Laos is a famous destination for coffee lovers, we spoiled ourselves with delicious coffee at some of the terraces in the city center.



The place had a warm and welcoming vibe that we could continuously feel throughout our stay. We enjoyed walks along the riverside, hiking to the Buddhist temple at the top of the Phou Si Mountain and cycling around the city. After watching the sunset from the peak of Phou Si, visitors can climb down to the city’s main street and explore the colorful night market and the evening view over the Haw Kham Royal Palace Museum.



Travelers that like to wake up early can watch the procession of Buddhist monks at sunrise, collecting alms offered by locals.

Another spot that we found interesting, mainly for its story, is the bamboo bridge across the Nam Khan river. The bridge is being washed away every year by the rising floods and rebuild later by a local family that also charges a small fee for walking to the other side of the river.



If you are interested in history, you can visit the UXOLAO Visitor Center to find out about the devastating events that marked the country since the time of the Vietnam War till the present day.



The Kuang Si Falls & the Tat Sae Waterfalls near Luang Prabang

We reserved one day for exploring the Kuang Si Falls. The place can be reached by tuk-tuk or van, but we decided to rent scooters as prices were low and we had more fun driving by ourselves. We arrived at a busy parking space in an area crowded with people, restaurants and kiosks selling snacks, drinks and souvenirs. After paying the entrance fee we walked along multiple shallow turquoise pools and later hiked up to the source of the stream, where we chilled for a while and where Miriam even went for a swim.



The place is large and we found many quiet spots away from the more crowded areas. We went there to see one big waterfall but saw also many beautiful smaller ones and enjoyed the cooler air in the shadows of the surrounding jungle after driving under the hot sun of the afternoon.

At the end of the day, we realized that we could have spent much more time at the waterfalls because of the large area that they cover, but the early sunset and the long ride home forced us to leave before dawn, as we wanted to reach the city during daylight.

But instead, we started early on the following day and cycled to the Tat Sae Waterfalls that were closer to the city, but equally beautiful to the Kuang Si Falls.


The Tat Sae Waterfalls near Luang Prabang

The area where the waterfalls are located is reachable only by boat, after crossing the river and we found it to be very well organized.



Visitors can swim in the water or enjoy a drink with a view over the turquoise landscape. It is also a spot to watch elephants which, unfortunately, are used as an attraction for tourists that fancy elephant riding.

We decided to rent bikes that day and cycle to the waterfalls. The distance was short but the ride quite challenging due to the many slopes and the hot temperatures. Still, we enjoyed the views along the way and rewarded ourselves with a swim in the refreshing waters at the destination and a coffee before we cycled back to the city.

Luang Prabang has been a place that we enjoyed very much and just the first stop on the route that brought us one week later to Nong Khiaw.

See more pictures from Luang Prabang here.

After the long journey in Asia, we thought that we’ve seen enough and had little expectations when we booked our flights to Southeast Asia. Of course, each country always had something different to offer and we experienced new flavors in each individual land, but we need to say that Laos and the Mekong River impressed us in a particular way.

As we weren’t forced anymore by visa regulations to flight to the future destinations, as it happened between Thailand and Myanmar, we happily took the bus from Chiang Mai towards Chiang Khong, a small village at the border with Laos, where we spent our last night in Thailand.



The following morning we embarked on a boat that brought us along the Mekong River to Luang Prabang.

River cruise on the Mekong River

We applied for a visa on arrival when we crossed into Laos and the immigration control went fast and smooth. The tour company that we booked the river cruise with assisted us during the border crossing process and organized our transfer to the pier, from where we started the two days long cruise through some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes.



We were happy to travel in a different way, which allowed us to admire more of the natural wonders that would be more difficult to explore by traveling overland by bus or car. Apart from the colder wind in our second morning on board, the warm weather helped us to enjoy the journey to the fullest. Comfortable four-seat tables and long benches along the front part of the boat, as well as a small terrace with few chairs at the front allowed us to admire the surroundings from different angles and take many beautiful pictures.



We shared the table with the “dutchies”, our friends for the Netherlands which we got to know in Myanmar and with whom we met after also in Chiang Mai when we decided to continue the trip together for a few more days. Having them with us surely made the whole experience on the river more pleasant and enjoyable.

Lunch, snacks and drinks were served on board, so we had little to worry about as the personnel of the boat took good care of everything and everybody. We spent the whole first day on the river, with a short break in between, when we visited a local village.


At the end of the day, we got transferred to our accommodation, from where we could admire the beautiful valley stretching along both sides of the Mekong River at sunset.



During the second day, the boat personnel organized more activities for us, including visiting another village.



Short before arriving at our destination we also stopped for a visit at the Pak Ou cave temple, which is hosting more than 1000 statues of Buddha.



Late in the afternoon, we arrived in the port of Luang Prabang, where we planned to spend a few days, which became some of our best in the country and in all Southeast Asia. Read more about it here.

For more pictures from the cruise on the Mekong River click here to access the gallery.

Yangon felt very different from Mandalay and Bagan. It is the biggest city in Myanmar and, apparently, also the busiest. The urban landscape is dominated by tall concrete structures, a few large pagodas and colonial buildings that clearly don’t receive much attention.



Street food vendors populate almost every street corner and local markets spread along many roads, selling everything, from culinary products to electronics and antiquities.



Religion here seems to be as important as in other parts of the country, but the atmosphere feels less religious due to the busy lifestyle of the citizens and the less obvious spiritual sights. The city felt like an infusion of international elements. Western brands are easily discoverable, but Chinese and Japanese products clearly dominate the local market, which was a perfect opportunity for us to try again some of the Japanese food that we always miss.


What to see in Yangon

Yangon might seem a more interesting destination for those arriving for the first time in the country, while for us it felt like being in another crowded city. The heat didn’t seem to add to the pleasure of discovering the city, so we kept our wish list for visiting touristic spots short. Pagodas we’ve seen too many already till that point of our journey in Myanmar, but we still wanted to find out if the experience feels different in Yangon, compared to the rest of the country. So we decided to visit the Botahtaung Pagoda, a religious complex where we could admire large walls covered in gold and a big Buddha statue.



There are several large pagodas in the city, some of the most important being the Sule Pagoda, the Chauk Htet Gyi Pagoda, the Kaba Aye Pagoda and the most famous of all, the Shwedagon Pagoda, which we visited in our last day. The Shwedagon Pagoda is considered to be the oldest pagoda in Myanmar, legends saying that it is more than 2500 years old.

But what we appreciated most about the city was meeting friends, work colleagues from the past and new friends that we got to know at the beginning of our trip into Myanmar.

On the last day, we treated ourselves with a few hours at the rooftop pool of a hotel from where we got also a beautiful panoramic view of the city.



The two weeks that we spent in Myanmar ended at the airport in Yangon, from where we took the flight back to Thailand, where locals were getting ready to celebrate the upcoming Buddhist festival of light. Read more about it here.

For more photos from Yangon follow this link.

While having to choose few travel destinations from the generous number of beautiful places that a traveler could add to his bucket list, I knew since the beginning of our big adventure that Bagan will be one of our stops. I knew it because of a picture that caught my attention, showing the sun rising over a valley filled with old temples, surrounded by perfect morning light. It looked beautiful and it felt mysterious and welcoming.



Bagan, the Burmese archeological treasure

Bagan is one of the most notorious archaeological sites in Asia and a symbol of a country whose earlier history was shaped by the permanently increasing interest for the Buddhist religion. Modern times instead are described by sad events: civil war, an aggressive military regime and poverty. But despite these facts, we found many kind people in Myanmar and in Bagan probably the kindest of all the ones we met throughout the country.

Bagan used to be the center of Buddhism culture in Southeast Asia, which led to the construction of over 4000 (10000 according to other sources) temples that populated a large area along the Irrawaddy River, out of which more than 2000 survived till today. It is most probably a stop on every traveler’s route in Myanmar.



We kept our itinerary in Myanmar short, but planned here a longer stop, in order to have the necessary time to enjoy Bagan to the fullest. While there are different options to travel to the ancient city, we chose to take a bus from Mandalay that brought us to our destination in less than six hours. All buses, as train and airplanes arrive in Nyaung-U, in the northern part of the archaeological area, from where access is only granted upon paying the entrance fee of 25 000 Kyats for a three days ticket.


Where to stay in Bagan?

While many people prefer to stay in Nyaung-U, we decided to go to New Bagan, a small village where we hoped to find less noise and we happily did. When traveling from Nyaung-U to New Bagan, be aware of taxi drivers that will try to rip you off and note that prices are indicated on a board at the office entrance of the bus station.

We found New Bagan to be more quiet and pleasant. While it is not very close to the more interesting part of the archaeological area, the prices for the accommodation are definitely a convincing argument for travelers on a budget. Most parts of the village were constructed between small temples, making it feel nice to wake up in the morning and already be surrounded by so much spiritual history.


Moving around in Bagan

Due to conservation efforts, traffic is limited to the use of electric vehicles that are largely available for rent. For the same purpose, also access to most temples is prohibited due to the damage done by mass tourism in the previous years.



But there are a few locations that are well marked on mobile apps, from where travelers can admire the valley. These are small hills that attract fewer crowds. We tried to go to all of them in one single morning and met with less than 10 people at all the viewpoints together. Where do the crowds go than? you might ask. Apparently, the highest interest is still for climbing temples and, if you don’t mind the crowds, you can join them at a few specific locations.



We recommend using the app Maps.Me where they are better marked, including updates on which ones are still open to tourists. There are also a few small pagodas that you can climb and finding them is not hard. The valley fills with locals in the morning that would happily show you the “secret” spots in return for a small tip.

While some people book private tours to go to the attraction points, most visitors rent electric scooters. It is definitely the fastest way to move around, leaving you the freedom to discover the surroundings without a time limit. We tried to see the area by scooter but also by bike and we can say that taking the bikes felt like the best option. Some parts are very quiet and can be explored in peace.



But if you still don’t feel like organizing the tour by yourself, note that you can negotiate a cheap private tour with local tuk tuk drivers that will bring you to the right spots.

We went three times to the main part of the archaeological area, the Old Bagan, which is hosting the biggest and most impressive temples. We went there on our first day to admire the sunset and three times in a row for the sunrise. The sunrise is obviously a better time to go, because of the cool air in the morning but also because only in the morning visitors can see the sky filling up with hot air balloons, which add to the magic of the moment.



Daytrip to Mount Popa

Travelers who have a bit of extra time in Bagan can book a half-day tour to Mount Popa. The mountain hosts a large pagoda that looks beautiful from far, but while climbing the stairs of the temple to the top we found it less attractive. It felt like a very dirty place, populated by a large community of monkeys that manifest aggressive behaviors. Although some of them look cute, visitors are advised not to approach them.


Where to eat in Bagan

One of the things that you don’t need to worry about in Myanmar is finding food. And because Bagan is such a touristic destination, you will easily find many restaurants and bars everywhere. Burmese food was one of our best culinary experiences in Asia. It was cheap, the portions were always big and it tasted great. One thing to be aware of is that they like garlic, lots of it, so you might need to mention if you prefer less or none in your food. The same goes for coriander, which I unhappily discovered in my food many times, despite the efforts to avoid it.


One of our favorite dishes – seaweed salad


Bagan was on top of our wishlist before we traveled to Asia and it remained one of our most pleasant memories when we left the ancient city behind us and traveled to our last destination in the country, the city of Yangon.

See more photos from Bagan here.

We left Thailand and we started a new adventure in the old royal capital of formerly Burma (today Myanmar), Mandalay. Myanmar was for a long time on our list, but as our time in Asia was coming slowly to an end we only reserved two weeks for this country.

Arriving in Mandalay

We arrived in Mandalay on a small airport and went fast through the immigration control as we already applied online for the visa before our arrival. We took a bus towards the city center for 4000 MMK ( around 2€ per person) that dropped us directly at our accommodation, close to the Grand Palace.

We spent our first afternoon together with a lovely Dutch couple who stayed at the same hotel as us and with whom we would meet more often during our trip. We had lunch in a local restaurant and got a first taste of Myanmar cuisine, which we found very similar to other Asian countries, but offered new flavors that made it one of our favorites.

The approaching darkness at the end of the day forced us to rush up the stairs of the amazing temple on Mandalay Hill as we wanted to reach the top for the sunset. We found a beautiful vibe up there and the last traces of daylight covered the valley in a mystic atmosphere.


As we were climbing down the hill we took more time to admire the big Buddha statues. Some of them were standing which we found different from others that we’ve seen before, after visiting many temples where Buddha was represented lying down or in the lotus position.

The town of Mingun and its ancient treasures

The following day we planned to do a lot of sightseeing. We left towards Mingun Jetty, where we boarded a boat that brought us to the other side of the river, in Min Kun, northwest from Mandalay. The boat ride took around 1 hour and cost 5000 MMK for a return ticket. The ticket can be purchased directly in the port. The entrance ticket of Mingun costs the same price and is valid for the whole day and can be used in Mingun and Sagain Hill where visitors can see a lot of other pagodas.



There are many ancient pagodas and temples that can be admired in Mandalay, but Mingun hides some of the most spectacular ones. Mingun Pagoda was our first stop, a structure that was planned to become the biggest Pagoda in the world, but after the initiator of the project, King Bodawpaya died, the construction stopped. A few decades later, a heavy earthquake affected the area and also damaged the Pagoda, causing huge cracks to appear on the face of the huge stupa.



Another ambitious project of the same king was the Mingun Bell, a 90 tons heavy bell that was supposed to be used for the big stupa, being considered nowadays to be the biggest functional one in the world. There is one in Moscow that is bigger but it is damaged.

The beautiful Hsinbyume Pagoda

Another ancient treasure of Mingun is the Hsinbyume Pagoda, a place of worship painted in white that was designed after the physical description of the Buddhist mythological mountain. Visitors are free to roam on the circular terraces of the temple and admire the landscapes from the top, including a view of the Mingun Pagoda.



Like many other constructions around the area, the pagoda was affected by the same earthquake that damaged the Mingun Pagoda but was restored later by one of the country’s kings.

Sunset at the Ubein Bridge

After our launch in Mingun, we decided spontaneously not to take the boat back to Mandalay but arranged a transfer with a local driver to take us along the Irrawaddy River, where we visited the Umin Thonze Pagoda.



Later we drove till Amarapura, from where we walked on the Ubein Bridge. The bridge is one of the top highlights around Mandalay, a long structure of wood and concrete that allows locals to easily cross over the Taung Tha Man Lake, although it seemed to us that there more tourists crossing the bridge than locals.



Visitors can opt for a ride on the lake on colorful small boats or to just chill on a terrace with a fresh coconut while admiring the sunset.



It was already dark when we reached our hotel in Mandalay. We went for a portion of noodles at a nearby family restaurant and ended the day with a beer later on the hotel’s terrace and later fighting the mosquitoes that invaded the room during the day.

The last day we spent exploring the streets of the city and getting ready for our most awaited destination in Myanmar, Bagan. Read more about it here.