Gecko Villa's location out of Udon Thani makes it a perfect stepping stone for travel further afar to the wonders of the landlocked, hill-clad, tribal nation of Laos - a country once referred to as the Land of a Million Elephants. The country appeals to international visitors for many reasons: its slow and relaxed pace of life seemingly from another age, its wealth of architectural treasures, its many natural wonders and areas of beauty, its cuisine, traditions, handicrafts and welcoming people.
Lao Aviation offers several direct and attractively priced flights between Vientiane and the former royal Lao capital of Luang Pabang. Gecko Villa is only 90 minutes away from the Lao border at Nong Khai, where the Friendship Bridge crosses the Mekong river to the capital of Laos, Vientiane. After exploring Vientiane, you can head north to the UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang by plane, or take a car or bus on an exciting journey to Luang Prabang via the in vogue town of Vang Vieng.
On your next journey to the region, discover Laos the intelligent way, taking advantage of flights from Udon Thani that are cheaper than those on the main Bangkok to Laos routes, and in addition allow you to see and experience so much more!
Put aside all preconceptions of capital cities when you travel to Vientiane. This is not a modern metropolis such as Singapore, not a chaotic Bangkok, nor a teeming conurbation such as Ho Chi Minh. Whilst much change has come to Vientiane over the last decade, it remains a relaxed and reposing riverside town. The nation's colonial past was thrown off by the communist government, yet the town retains distinctive French elements, from street signs to freshly baked baguettes, from architectural influence to "boules" courts. It also boasts many ancient temples that shimmer serenely and many excellent restaurants.
Amongst the main sights are Wat Si Saket, the most ancient of the capital's temples and redolent of bygone times; Haw Pha Kaew, King Setthathirat's former royal temple; Pha That Luang, the symbol of the nation and the country's foremost religious monument, the Lao National Museum and the Morning Market. After a day of sightseeing however, the real spirit of Vientiane is best captured at dusk, sitting at a small wooden stall along the banks of the Mekong with a cold Beer Lao (either blond or dark) to hand.
The alluring UNESCO listed town of Luang Prabang sits at the confluence of the Mekong and the Nam Khan tributary on a riverine peninsula, surrounded by hills clad in hues of jungle green. A stroll down its "rue principale", Xiang Thong, is a leisurely affair, taking the visitor past traditional wooden houses, buildings exuding a colonial history, and the steeply pitched shimmering roofs of highly decorated temples. Coffee shops, restaurants, spas and internet cafes have sprung up, but in a measured and controlled way that does not overly detract from the town's inherent charm and beauty.
Amongst the major attractions in town are Haw Kham, the former royal palace; Phou Si, a steep climb but worthwhile for the views at dawn or dusk; Vat Xieng Thong, a stunning ancient temple, and the Night Market, where locals in tribal outfits display handicrafts, textiles, local food and other goods for sale. It should be noted that bargaining is not the art form it is in Thailand here, and often prices are non-negotiable.
Out of town, the renowned Pak Ou Caves house numerous Buddha images and sculptures, and are best accessed by a boat trip up the Mekong. The Kuang Si Waterfalls may also be accessed by boat or motorcycle, and their tiered pools, and surrounding lush vegetation act as a magnet to locals and visitors alike seeking a simple day of rest amidst nature.
Vang Vieng is somewhat of an anomaly within Laos, having been "discovered" and popularized by backpackers seemingly in search of a a modern version of Alex Garland's "Beach." Sitting as a staging post between Vientiane and Luang Prabang, life here is focussed on the river (and in particular on the belt-notching experience of floating down the river on a large inflated inner tube), the region's unusual caves and rocks, and the "affluence of incohol" in the evenings.
Once an extremely difficult country to access, Laos now offers visas on arrival, making travel to the nation much simpler. Whilst the information here is accurate at the time of publishing, we suggest you check visa requirements just prior to travel. Do remember to bring a couple of passport photographs!
For citizens of ASEAN countries and Japan, visits of under 30 days do not require a visa. Other visitors may generally obtain either a 5 day transit visa (for Vientiane only) or a 30 day tourist visa on arrival at the airports of Vientiane, Luang Prabang or Pakse, or at the friendship Bridge between Nong Khai and Vientiane. Visa costs vary depending upon your nationality and, as a result of quirky regulations, range from $20 to $42.