The following is a review of Stray Asia by Helen Wooldridge from Covent Garden branch of STA Travel.
Describe your trip in one sentence
My trip to Laos was beer-filled and beautiful, crazy but chilled!
How easy is it to get there and how long does it take?
We flew to Bangkok with Jet Airways and started our adventure in the easy-to-find Stray office – what backpacker or tuk tuk driver doesn’t know the Burger King at the end of Khao San Road?! (the office is just round the corner, on the big main road, along from 7Eleven).
It was an overnight train journey up to Laos and the normal 12 hour trip took an extra 3 or 4 hours because of the floods, but the sleeper trains are a great way to travel as you just relax on your bunk bed.
Where did you stay and what was it like?
Following the Stray routes, we stayed in different places each night and accommodation varied from guest houses and hotels to camping and homestays. Most of the guesthouses were fairly basic but comfortable, the camping was well catered for in terms of equipment (although some people had their own sleeping bags anyway) and the homestay provided the same kind of floor mattresses and sheets that the family themselves use.
Accommodation cost on average about £4-5 per night and was pay as you go, which our guide booked for us. Whilst sometimes there were a couple of options to choose from, everyone usually went for the same (cheapest) rooms and stuck together. You could book your own if you really wanted to, but we didn’t have any choice for some nights – like camping at the Tad Leuk waterfall or staying in the village homestay – and just paid a few pounds (or thousands of kip!) to stay there and put in a few pounds in the pot for group meals that our guides shopped for and cooked up.
What were the 3 top things you did and why?
- Tubing in Vang Vieng: No trip to Laos is complete without experiencing the mad riverside bar crawl that is tubing. Turned out to be a lot less actual tubing than I’d imagined but so much fun!
- Chilling in Don Det: A gorgeous place to hang out in hammocks, take leisurely bike rides and just eat and drink loads (yummy fruit shakes – but know what you’re ordering if you go for the ‘happy’ version!)
- Wat Phou: Set in the hills, the ruins had a kind of mythical feel with the rolling mist and serene setting. Climbing the ridiculously steep and crumbling steps was an experience in itself and worth the views. It’s not quite Angkor Wat, but it’s certainly a lot less crowded.
What sort of traveller is this destination best for?
Laos may not be all glamour and luxury, but it’s still exotic and enchanting. The sort of traveller this destination is best for is someone adventurous, sociable, enjoys simplicity and is keen to experience a new culture. Lots of the stops that Stray makes would be places you’d overlook and wouldn’t think to stop if you were making your own way around, so it’s great for people who really enjoy going to places a bit off the well-beaten backpackers’ track.
What should you pack and why?
Pack light for a lighter life (main towns have laundry services!), torches for camping and trainers for climbing up slippery mountainsides and waterfalls! Plenty of mosquito spray, they’re hungry bugs over there!
What surprised you most about this destination/resort?
Laos was even more chilled out and laid back than I thought. A really varied landscape made for some excellent photo opportunities. The 7km Cave at Kong Lor is amazing with endless waterways that somehow the boat guides navigate with just the light from their head torches, making you feel like you’re exploring unchartered territory.
What other things could travellers do before or after taking this trip?
So many people work their way around all the Indochina countries, as were most people I travelled with, and the Stray network allows you to link them up. A group of people who met on our bus all travelled on from Don Det, leaving Laos and Stray, over to Cambodia. As the route is hop-on hop-off, anyone on a pass that finished in Bangkok could just save it for a later date. Talking to each other and the guide made planning their onward travel really easy.