Looking for adventure, luxury, culture, and natural beauty? Look at Laos, one of the most memorable destinations in Southeast Asia. Laos is blessed with wonderful scenery like high mountains and wide rivers, beautiful cities, and tiny towns, plus plenty of cultural and other highlights. Laos is one of the undiscovered gems of Asia but visit soon as it won’t stay “undiscovered” for long….
When you have seen all you want to see of the highlights of Thailand, take a trip to the lesser-visited destination of Laos. This landlocked country is the perfect spot for backpackers but it also offers luxury options for travelers who like to see the world in style.
Laos opened its doors to tourists in the 1990s and has seen a strong growth in visitors since then, although it still retains many off-the-beaten-track locations that are ready to be explored by those that like an adventure. As well as the rugged adventurous destinations, there are luxury hotels and guesthouses, and mainstream tourist attractions ranging from adventure sports to temples and museums. The north of the country contains more of the tourist attractions, but the south is equally as attractive.
Highlights of Laos
Vang Vieng: This is a well-visited place around 155 km north of the capital Vientiane and it attracts many visitors because of its natural beauty – limestone cliffs tower out of the river, and the landscape is magical. It also attracts backpackers to a lively party scene.
Luang Prabang: The city of Luang Prabang was previously the capital of Laos and it is now the spiritual and cultural heart of the country. It boasts a rich blend of French, Buddhist, and Indochinese architecture and culture. You’ll find cozy guesthouses, welcoming bars and cafes, and plenty to do here.
Vientiane: The capital of the country, Vientiane is growing and developing but it still retains its slow, friendly charm. It’s a small place so is easy to explore, and you’ll find some lovely temples here.
4,000 Islands: Whether there are actually 4,000 islands here is questionable, but these islands certainly do warrant a visit even if you only visit the most popular few – Don Khong and Don Dhet.
Popular Places in Laos
Nong Kiaow: This is a small settlement on the edge of the Nam Ou River and it has some wonderful limestone mountains as well as excellent views out over the river. It is a friendly and laidback place.
Pakse: A charming town, Pakse boasts two rivers that both offer marvelous views and the opportunity to eat and drink while relaxing by the water.
Luang Nam Tha: If you like trekking and adventure sports, take a trip to Luang Namtha, a small town in the mountains of northern Laos. This is a good spot for visits into the Nam Ha National Protected Area.
Muang Ngoi: The tiny, sleepy town of Muang Ngoi is one of the most laid back, charming, and friendly places in Laos. There’s not a whole lot to do, but that just makes it even more special.
Outdoor Activities in Laos
The Gibbon Experience: Take the opportunity to experience the intense natural beauty of Laos with the Gibbon Experience, which takes you directly into the heart of the lush rainforests in the country.
Hiking in the Nam Ha National Protected Area: When you really want to see the natural beauty of the country, go to Luang Namtha for trekking.
Phou Khao Khouay National Park: This National Park has some amazing scenery including dense jungles, misty forests, waterfalls, and rivers. You can visit here on a day trip from the capital or spend more time exploring.
Kayaking in Vang Vieng: Kayaking is one of the most popular pastimes in Vang Vieng. This is one of the best ways to spend your time here, and it is a great way to see the beauty of the countryside from the peaceful vantage of the water.
When to Go to Laos
November to February is one of the best times to visit Laos as there is less rain and it is not too hot, and the rivers are high. The rainy season goes from May through October and April is a hot month. If you are visiting Laos you can do it in a quick trip of a few days, but you really need longer – at least a week – to explore all the country has to offer. If you want to go to both the north and the south of the country then it is best to plan for three weeks or more. Overall, Laos is a very budget-friendly country but you can spend much more than backpacker budgets if you stay in luxury hotels and eat out every night.
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Photo credits: Jean-Marie Hullot and Samnang Danou via Flickr