On this episode of Talk Travel Asia podcast, we get Laos travel tips from legendary travel guidebook writer Nick Ray, who has written about traveling to Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar for Lonely Planet travel guidebooks.
Laos, a landlocked country sandwiched between Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and China, is a bit unknown, sleepy, and largely undiscovered by travelers. Many know of the former royal capital Luang Prabang and some have heard of the capital Vientiane, but beyond that, it’s largely a mystery to most travelers.
But all this can be good news for visitors, as outside of those spots, it’s mostly void of tourists, teeming with welcoming locals, and largely off the traditional travel grid. On this episode we welcome back writer Nick Ray for his third appearance on the show to share the magic about travel Laos, including his work crafting the 10th edition of the Lonely Planet Laos travel guidebook, which came out in June 2020.
Introduction: Laos Travel Tips from Nick Ray.
Trevor’s first impressions from his first visit: I went to Vientiane in 2002. Kinda cool. Pretty sleepy. Not an overwhelming first impression. That didn’t come until a few years later when I updated the Fodors travel guidebook content for Laos and spent a bit more time in the city. Vientiane still never really hooked me, though. I had a much greater affiliation for Luang Prabang, which back in those days was suuuuper chilled out.
I loved shopping at the Luang Prabang night market. The shops at the night market then were just mats on the ground covered with textiles. A series of electrical cords with light bulbs hanging from wooden holders ran from maybe the old palace all the way down the street from mat to mat. Back then you could spend 30 minutes looking through all the unique textiles and, even if I didn’t buy any, they were so happy that I spent time with them and enjoyed what they made and hung out with them. Usually I bought things. I still have Laos textiles here and there amongst my things.
Scott gives his first impressions of Laos and shares the first time he travelled to Laos in 2000 as well as the time he updated the Groovy Map travel map for Laos.
“I love Laos.
I need to get another t-shirt that says that.”
Trevor: I started going to Luang Prabang in 2003 and then I went back almost every year after that for at least ten years, spending weeks at a time up there, mostly writing and relaxing. I grew up in Vermont, and Luang Prabang is obviously very different from Vermont, but the pace in Laos about the same. I felt very comfortable there. It was good for my soul.
I almost moved to Luang Prabang towards the end of that ten year stint. And then I got the Cambodia Nat Geo book offer and the rest is history. I’ve only been back to Luang Prabang once since then, probably eight years ago. I was always afraid of what tourism would do to the town and haven’t been back since Air Asia started flying to Luang Prabang.
Scott: I went to Vang Vieng once back in the crazy days. That was pretty interesting. Weird town but beautiful surroundings. Stunning. I met some really nice people too. Those are two things that really stick out in my mind about Laos: wonderful people, some of the nicest I’ve ever met, and stunning beauty across the natural landscape. Scott then shares his experiences when he first travelled to Luang Prabang, which he’s visited a few times, and his more recent trips to 4,000 islands and Vat Phou, the ancient Khmer temple in Laos.
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Guest Intro: Nick Ray
Nick Ray is about as well-versed in Southeast Asia as one could be, including his expertise in travel to Laos. He’s the longtime author of the Lonely Planet Cambodia, Myanmar, and Laos guidebooks, among others. In addition, he helps run a travel company, Hanuman Travel, based in Cambodia, with his wife and team, as well as working as a fixer with their other business, Hanuman Films. He joins Trevor in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Listen to Episode 121 to hear Nick Ray answer the following questions and give his expert Laos travel tips.
- For listeners who aren’t familiar with you Nick, can you give us a real quick background and how you ended up writing about travel and living in Cambodia?
- When did you first visit Laos and what were your initial impressions?
- Can you give us a broad overview of the country and what makes it special?
- Is it ‘Laos’ or ‘Lao’ (no ‘s’ sound)?
- What are some things you really enjoy about travelling to Laos?
- Outside of the main tourist sites of Luang Prabang and Vientiane, what are some of your other favorite spots travelers should consider visiting?
- One of my biggest take-aways from traveling Laos is how challenging it can be to get around: Lots of mountains, not very new busses, questionable road safety. Has Laos made any major improvements in their infrastructure the past ten years or so that makes it a bit easier to get from A to B, especially away from the main tourist destinations?
- On a similar note, our friend Andrea, who lives in Luang Prabang, is frequently seen on social media exploring by motorcycle. Did you have any opportunity to explore by bike and how easy or hard is that for visitors to do?
- Could you share one of your favorite experiences while researching this latest, 10th edition of the Laos travel guidebook?
- What does the future of travel in Laos look like with the coming high-speed train?
- Why do you think Laos is so unknown and under traveled?
- Nick Ray on Twitter
- Lonely Planet interview with Nick Ray
- Lonely Planet Laos guidebook (10th edition)
- Hanuman Travel
- Hanuman Films
- Talk Travel Asia Episode 72: Northern Myanmar with Nick Ray
- Talk Travel Asia Episode 30: Up and Coming Cambodia with Nick Ray
- Talk Travel Asia Episode 85: 4,000 Islands & Vat Phou, Laos
- Free the Bears
- Ock Pop Tok, Lao Textiles in Luang Prabang