South-East Asia is a popular travel destination for Australians, and for good reason. Flights to this part of the world are generally quite reasonable & your travel $$ can really go a long way. More than that, this is a very rich & diverse part of the world, both geographically & culturally. This article looks at two neighboring regions – where the pace of life is slow, the locals friendly, the food fantastic & the scenery magical. The North of Thailand is mostly covered in lush jungles & fertile farmland, likewise the less developed Kingdom of Laos to the East is similar but a bit like stepping back in time a couple decades. In the hope of keeping this article brief, I’ve just listed a few of my favourite locations or activities to see in these regions.

Northern Thailand

Chiang Rai – This medium sized town is often overlooked for the larger capital of the north, Chiang Mai. Both have plenty to offer but Chaing Rai being smaller embodies a slower more relaxed pace. The Highlight for me was the various night markets, which seem to go on forever & have a great relaxed atmosphere.

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Wat Rong Khun –  This unusual Wat is commonly referred to as the White Temple by westerners & is definitely worth a visit. The gleaming white structure is a contemporary, albeit rather unconventional, privately owned art exhibit in the style of a Buddhist temple. Quite unlike any temple I’ve ever seen, it’s structure is adorned with both traditional iconography, plus some unexpected contemporary & popular culture references. Construction is still ongoing & is not expected to finish until 2070. Just bear in mind, this is not your ordinary temple!

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Bamboo Nest – For those looking to really unwind & kick back Bamboo Nest offers the perfect getaway. Located in the mountains outside of Chiang Rai, proprietors Nok & Noi have created a great little mountain oasis, surrounded by rice paddies & traditional hill-tribe villages. Bamboo Nest is about an hours drive into the hills & pick-up by 4wd can be arranged from town. The accommodation comprises of a cluster of traditional bamboo huts, each with it’s own bathroom & private verandah. There is a communal dining area & a bamboo fire-pit for warming up during the cooler evenings. Day’s here can be spent hiking & exploring the local hills & rivers along many well worn trails. For something less physical, visitors can try a local cooking or craft workshop, or simply spend the days swaying in a hammock & enjoying the view. For more info: http://bamboonest-chiangrai.com/

Laos

The Slow-Boat – The mighty Mekong River runs through much of Laos & is a great way to both travel and see a different side of the region. We boarded a slow boat from the town of Huay Xai, after crossing the border from Thailand. There are also roads that lead deeper into the country from here, but we opted for the far more intriguing slow boat. These boats were once just for local freight & transport, but with the rise of tourism, some have been retrofitted for passenger use. Our destination was to be Luang Prabang which is a leisurely two-day journey downstream. I’d suggest stocking up on food & drinks before departing, as the on-board options were a bit grim. Our boat was chokers of mostly other travellers, but also a few locals. The rugged scenery passing by on the banks was stunning & after an uneventful day we pulled into our overnight stop, the rather dingy one-street town of Pak Beng. The next morning we jumped back on-board (make sure you get on the same boat) & the slow journey continued. The boats stops only occasionally to pick-up & drop-off passengers, and we eventually disembarked at Luang Prabang just on nightfall.

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Luang Prabang – This small city is the capital of the Luang Prabang Provence & previously of the whole country. It’s a splendid mix of Laotian & french influences, with a beautiful location next to the Mekong river. Wide streets, french architecture & great food make this a travellers paradise. There is an abundance of great markets & restaurants, but for me the standout meal was definitely the famous Luang Prabang sandwich. The old town is picturesque, with plenty of great temples to visit. At dawn each morning young monks collect alms (offerings) in the streets & the town has a strong Buddhist tradition. One must-do is a visit to the old Royal Palace, which eerily has been preserved since the communist takeover of Laos in 1975. Accommodation & food in Luang Prabang is a bit more expensive than other places, but the quality of both more than justifies the prices. If you’re looking for an overall view of the city, try heading up Phoi Si hill. Just be warned, it gets rather crowded up there at sunset!

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Kuang Si Falls – Not far from Luang Prabang are the iconic Kuang Si waterfalls. Getting there is easy via tuk-tuk, or you can hire bicycles in town. Tourism means that this isn’t an isolated spot anymore, but luckily the natural beauty hasn’t been spoiled too much. There is a big car-park with food & souvenirs available outside the park & a nominal entrance fee is required for entry. Once inside you’ll pass a series of turquoise pools before coming to the main 60m high cascade. My tip would be to head up to the top via the steep walking track, followed by a refreshing dip in the lower pools afterwards.

Vang Vieng – Once known as the party capital of Laos, Vang Vieng has thankfully become a more desirable destination in recent years. Nestled beside the Nam Song river, this small town is the perfect gateway for exploring the beautiful karst hills of the surrounding area. These steep jutting limestone formations house endless labyrinths of caves & walking trails to be explored by the more adventurous traveller. I’d suggest either hiring bicycles or motos & heading out into the hills for the day. One popular spot is the Tham Poukam Cave, which also has a great blue lagoon alongside for swimming. After a long day of exploring, the town itself has plenty of restaurants & bars to relax at and refuel. There’s still a bit of partying, but not at the detriment to other travelers.


For those looking for a cultural, culinary & adventurous travel experience, this part of the world has a lot to offer. My final tip would be to avoid flying internally once you arrive & to take various forms of land or water transport – from dodgy buses over mountain passes, to Tuk-Tuks, Moto taxi’s, slow boats, ferries & overnight trains – these are the best ways to get around SE Asia! Happy & safe travels .

 

 

 

About The Author

Lachlan Gardiner

Lachlan works as a freelance photographer, writer and videographer. He loves spending time in the outdoors whenever possible - be it hiking, mountaineering, climbing, or just being on the road - He'll take any excuse to get into the mountains! He also works in our Paddy Pallin store in Fortitude valley, Brisbane. Drop in and say hi!

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