The landlocked country of Laos receives millions of travellers each year, drawn to its relaxed lifestyle, unforgettable sunsets over epic landscapes, and historical towns. It’s an unmistakable destination for anyone who thirst for true adventures and splendid scenery. So, if you’re already planning to make your first trip to this “forgotten” country, consider these recommendations:
1. Travel in Backpacking Style
Laos is best experienced through backpacking. There is nothing more liberating than having absolute freedom to chart your own course on how you want to explore its natural wonders. Backpacking through Laos gives you the flexibility to choose the places you want to see and decide how much time you want to spend in each of them.
Whether you are backpacking alone or with your friends, it’s guaranteed that you will have some unforgettable unique experiences and meet some new mates to share memories with along the way.
2. Start from the South then head to Northern Laos
Speaking from my own experience, I entered Laos by bus from its southern border, coming from Cambodia, and slowly travelled north. A little bit of Googling about this path will probably expose you to some blog posts with horror stories of travellers being scammed at its border. I am happy to report to you that I did not experience this when I travelled in February 2018.
Travelling south-north from its plains to its sleepy capital city Ventiane, and past the historical town of Luang Prabang in the north, the scenery only gets better and better.
3. Visit These Must-See Places
There are many interesting places to visit in Laos, but here some places you can’t miss:
- Don Det (4,000 Islands) – Get on one of the 4,000 idyllic river islands of Si Phan Don dotting the mighty Mekong River in southern Laos. Here, you can have a relaxed time sitting by a riverside restaurant with a beer and book in the hand, watching the sun slowly descend on the horizon. During the day, you can also rent a motorcycle to explore its village and see the Khone Phapheng waterfalls, to kayak, or to try your luck in seeing the rare irrawaddy dolphins.
- Champasak (Vat Phu temple) – Explore the centuries old Khmer Hindu temple complex of Vat Phu, a UNESCO Heritage Site, located at the foot of Mount Phu Kao near Champasak. If you go, don’t miss the enthralling views of the temple complex and the surrounding plains from the upper terrace.
- Pakse (Bolaven Plateau) – The city of Pakse in southern Laos is the gateway to to Bolaven Plateau, known for its breathtaking waterfalls and coffee fields. Don’t miss to visit the Big Buddha for some amazing sights of this relaxed city and to watch the sunset at the mouth of Xe Don River where it meets Mekong River.
- Vang Vieng – Located 3 hours away by bus north of Ventiane, Vang Vieng is famous for its scenic karst mountains, river tubing and epic party scenes. Although it’s not as crazy as it once was, Vang Vieng continues to attract many young backpackers from around the world.
- Luang Prabang – Your trip to Laos won’t be complete without a visit to the historical, quaint town of Luang Prabang. Discover its French colonial influences, pay a visit to its old temples and night markets, and see the breathtaking Kuang Si Waterfalls. A breakfast by the Mekong River whilst seeing the locals cross the river is a memory you’ll remember for life.
4. Rent a Motorbike When You Can
Renting a motorcycle/scooter is the best way to see the sights scattered throughout Laos. They’re cheap! If you can’t drive (like myself), you can use its local transport options for a more adventurous experience. There are affordable night sleeper buses available in between major cities (e.g. between Pakse and Vientiane).
5. Stay at Hostels
Staying at hostels in Laos lets you meet new connections whom you will likely share stories or adventures with throughout your trip — and they make your trip cheaper! Of course, I suggest that you read the reviews on sites such as Booking.com to make sure you pick the right one that fits your preferences.
How long should your trip to Laos be to enjoy it?
If your main intent is to relax, I recommend that you spend a week or two. This country has a lot to offer to adventure-seekers. If you’re entering Laos from Cambodia, Thailand, or Vietnam, you’ll immediately notice how the Laotian towns seem to be locked in time. Make no mistake, as this is exactly what makes Laos special.
Have you been to Laos? Tell us about your experience and your favourite place in the comments!