Laos Travel Guide
A landlocked Asian country of mountainous wilderness in the north, dense jungle in the east and the mighty Mekong River in the west and south, Laos is an unspoiled, largely rural country. Although this communist land remains among the world’s poorest nations, Laos offers a glimpse into a timeless and forgotten Asia.
Precious hidden gems including temple-clad Luang Prabang and the old-fashioned capital city of Vientiane as well as many historical and natural wonders make Laos a cheap and newly popular destination for adventurers. The busiest tourist hotspots have seen old colonial mansions come back to life as boutique hotels while restaurants have cashed in on the French connection.
Travelers wishing to get off the beaten track of this slow-moving country can head for the mysterious Plain of Jars, a protected landscape dotted with huge jars carved out of stone, the origin of which is debated. Adventurous travelers should think twice about straying too far off the tourist track however, as unexploded ordinance from the Vietnam War era still plagues the nation.
Why You Should Go
Floating down the Mekong on an inner tube, Luang Prabang’s hundreds of temples, the mysterious Plain of Jars, French style baguettes and Lao coffee, boating around the 4,000 Island, Vientiane’s Morning Market, the lush forests of the Bolaven Plateau, the slow pace of life.
Old and unreliable buses, pot holes the size of a car, towns that seemingly go to bed at sunset, dust, scorching temperatures in the hot season, unexploded ordinance, poor food hygiene.
Getting There & Away
There are flights connecting Vientiane’s Wattay Airport to Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh, Yangon and Kunming . Alternatively there is a service from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang. Vientiene is also easily accessible by bus and train from Bangkok via Udon Thani. Catching the boat down the Mekhong from Northern Thailand is a popular adventure. Within the country buses are the only transport options, they are slow and hardly comfortable but usually make it over the mountainous terrain.
Things to Do
- Luang Prabang
Charming former capital, now a unesco world heritage site boasting many beautiful buddhist temples, french-era colonial houses and must-visit spots such as phusi - a steep hill overlooking scenic views of the town - the royal palace museum and wat xieng thong, a fine example of lao architecture.
Low-key capital city features an array of historic buildings including that luang chedi and temple complex, (the national symbol of laos), the pataxi - a neo-arch de triomphe, wat sisaket and wat haw pra keo.
- Champasak Province
Cruise down the mekong and explore the ‘four thousand islands’ at the river’s widest point, or hire a three-wheeled tuk-tuk to explore the town which was once a part of the khmer angkor empire.
- Vang Vieng
Cool stopover en-route south to vientiene, popular with backpackers for its free-spirited atmosphere, impressive hilly backdrop, lazy river and exciting caving.
- Muang Sing
Home to laos’ most colorful hill tribe people as well as several opium dens.
- Plain of Jars
In the country’s centre is scattered with bizarre massive ancient jars, the origin of which has baffled many.
- The Bolaven Plateau
In saravan, boasts gorgeous waterfalls and lush forests, the small market here is worth a visit.
- Mekhong River Ride
Entering laos from northern thailand via a two day slow-boat down the mekhong to luang prabang is the proverbial laos experience. switch off and enjoy the rural scenery of one of the world’s great rivers.
- Bird watching
Many national parks in laos are home to an array of birds of various species.
- Elephant Trekking
This activity is also a ‘must-do’ when in laos. elephant trekking can be arranged at numerous tourist spots across the country, it’s the proverbial asian souvenir activity but hardly comfortable!
Don khon, an island in the mekong river, is great for walking trails - a chance to discover secret spots, meet the locals and spot rare irrawaddy dolphins in the late afternoon (between december and may).
- Whitewater Rafting
The terrain is made for it! many rivers flowing through the rugged north offer exciting rafting experiences. floating down any of the fat muddy rivers on rubber tubes is a popular more sedate alternative.
- Motorcycle Tours
Motorcycle tours are the ideal, and sometimes only, way to visit the rural mountainous wilderness of the north. popular with germans ja!
- A Visit to the Morning Market
A lively cornucopia of edible and almost inedible traditional eats. the talat sao morning market in vientiane boasts a variety of local products such as silk and cotton weavings and all kinds of food.