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Northern Laos

news_295waterfallNorthern Laos
Northern Laos is better approached in a one-way trip. It is possible to enter from Thailand to Huay Xai and then to continue to Vientiane through the main attractions, or to do the way in the opposite direction. However, if this is your first trip to Laos, entering from the north may be too much of a shock. A trip beginning from Vientiane, leads gradually into the wilderness and allows to visit on the way the northeastern part of the country before leaving it from the north. Short trips to the north, mainly to Vang Vieng, Kasi, and Luang Prabang are available from the bus terminal next to the Morning Market in Vientiane. Long distance lines depart from the northern terminal, in the northern outskirts of the town.


Northern Laos
Northern Laos is better approached in a one-way trip. It is possible to enter from Thailand to Huay Xai and then to continue to Vientiane through the main attractions, or to do the way in the opposite direction. However, if this is your first trip to Laos, entering from the north may be too much of a shock. A trip beginning from Vientiane, leads gradually into the wilderness and allows to visit on the way the northeastern part of the country before leaving it from the north.

Short trips to the north, mainly to Vang Vieng, Kasi, and Luang Prabang are available from the bus terminal next to the Morning Market in Vientiane. Long distance lines depart from the northern terminal, in the northern outskirts of the town.

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang was the former capital of the northern principality and the center from where this nation was born; however, it feels like a cobblestoned village. The town sits at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, and is 1km long and 0.25km wide. The streets are much narrower here than those in Vientiane, and the distance between the houses is smaller; hence, the place imparts a sense of compactness that the capital, as other cities in the country, lacks. It was the capital of the last king; hence, it specializes on souvenirs from the royal era.

The main attractions are the historic temples, mainly the Royal Palace Museum, Wat Xieng Thong and Wat Wisunlat, and the gorgeous scenery encircled by mountains. Along the Mekong River are the Buddha images filled Pak Ou caves, and the striking Kuang Si waterfalls. Seen from far away, at the town's center is the steep Phou Si ("Holy Hill"), with a Buddhist stupa at its top. Crossing the Mekong to Xiang Men, allows seeing amazing views of the city at sunset. Other attractions are the markets, which sell silver ornaments, royalist regalia and hill tribes clothes.

Luang Prabang is the place for traveling decisions, you can continue to the north or to head northeast to Phonsavan and Xam Nua.

Udom Xai

Although it is a small town, it is the most important traveling center in the north of the country. From here it is possible to reach any one of the arms in the north of the Laotian territory. Phongsaly, Xam Nua, Luang Nam Tha are directly accessible. Muang Sing and Huay Xai can be reached passing through Luang Nam Tha. From the nearby Boten, there is an open border cross to China. Beyond its connectivity, the town has little to offer beyond a beautiful temple on a hill near the town's center; it provides a good look of the town and the green hills around it

Luang Nam Tha

Northwest of Udom Xai, Luang Nam Tha is the main trekking and rafting center in northern Laos. The Luang Nam Tha Provincial Museum (Mon-Fri 8.30am-noon & 1-3.30pm; 1000K) is worth a visit, but the main attractions are the Nam Tha NBCA and the nearby Hmong and Leten villages. A curious sight is the solar panels operated Internet shop.

Muang Sing

Sixty kilometers northwest of Luang Nam Tha, Muang Sing is a small town trying very hard to transform itself into a tourism center. It's a hill tribes trading center, an excellent place from where to book treks to the surrounding villages and a very friendly place to spend a couple of days. Trucks connect it hourly to Luang Nam Tha. A border cross with China is nearby, and can be visited with a rented bike, though cannot be crossed even if you have a visa to that country.

Huay Xai

Isolated from the rest of Laos, the town looks and feels more like a Thai one. Trucks from Luang Nam Tha arrive daily, but on the wet season, the travel is dangerous and can be delayed for days if fallen trees block the way. Slow boats connect it to the south, but they are overpriced and more expensive than flights within the country. However, the option to cross the river to Chiang Khong in Thailand creates an excellent opportunity to exit Laos and save extra trips. Chiang Khong is close to the Golden Triangle and has many buses to Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai.

Don Sao

This island-market in the Laotian part of the Golden Triangle is accessible from Ban Sop Ruak, in Thailand, and is not connected with roads to the rest of Laos. More details about how to reach it are in my journal about the Golden Triangle.

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