Laos is a country that most people can’t place on a map. Even less known is that it maintains the French colonial history and food in Luang Prabang and is home to the SE Asian backpacker trail party central, Vang Vieng. There is a lot to love in Laos and a few weeks spent there will never be regretted. It is most likely not a good stop for those with just a few days as the gems take a while to get to and settle in. What most visitors miss is the trekking through indigenous villages and lightly touched wilderness that shows what SE Asia was like hundreds, if not thousands of years ago. If you are lucky enough to have extra time, head north, you will be amazed.
DON’T MISS: Luang Prabang (click for things to do), representing the best legacies of French colonization with mouth watering bistros and rich traditions, seated in Buddhism.
MUST SEE: A 4000 Islands sunset, the Slow Boat (from Hua Xai to Luang Prabang with an overnight stop in Pakbeng), Vang Vieng.
MUST TASTE: A bistro in Luang Prabang. It’s a little piece of Paris in Asia.
TRIP PLANNING: Take a week or two for Northern Laos, exploring the mountains, meeting hill tribes and riding elephants. Southern Laos is backpacker nirvana with cheap liquor, late nights and loose laws. Depending on time and tolerance, some people find days turning into weeks in Southern Laos.
GETTING AROUND: The bus rides are fairly short, but will test anyone’s stomach as roads wind through spectacular mountains.
OUR COST PER DAY (2 ppl): $53.02
COST OF A BEER: $1-2 at backpacker bars, substantially more in the posh bars of Luang Prabang.
KEY MONEY-SAVING TIP: Do your trekking and elephant riding here instead of Chiang Mai for better scenery and lower prices.
YOU NEED TO KNOW: Though laws are laissez-faire in Vang Vieng and 4000 Islands, be careful and don’t spend too much time in questionable places. Police have been known to raid places and extort money from travelers breaking the law.
IF WE KNEW WHAT WE KNOW NOW: Choose the season well for trekking in Northern Laos as it gets hot and dry during the summer months.
HELPFUL LINKS TO LEARN MORE: Best things to do in Luang Prabang, Top activities in Vientiane, Travelfish, Wikitravel. Please send us any sites you found useful and we’ll add them!
WE WERE THERE FOR: 3 weeks
OUR HIGHLIGHT: Sunsets on 4000 Islands with backpacking friends
WHERE WE WENT: Huay Xai, Pak Beng (slow boat), Luang Prabang, Phonsovan, Vang Vieng, Vientiane, 4000 Islands
WE REGRET MISSING: Going even farther north to trek and see wildlife.
FEATURED ARTICLES ABOUT TOURING LAOS
- Why you will fall in love with Laos
- Mahout Training: Teaching old elephants new tricks
- Vang Vieng: A place that exists to party
- Vientiane: make a short visit spectacular with this guide
- Luang Prabang: must see sights of SE Asia’s most surprising city
- 4000 Islands: One of the most beautiful places in SE Asia
- Baci Ceremony: Reuniting souls in a traditional Laotian ceremony
Nestled between the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers Luang Prabang is the destination to visit in Laos. Luang Prabang was formerly the capital of a kingdom of the same name. Until the communist takeover in 1975, it was the royal capital and seat of government of Laos. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. well known for its numerous Buddhist temples and monasteries. Many travelers enjoy the beautiful morning collection of the alms by monks.
Phonsavan is the provincial capital of Xieng Khouang province. The beautiful countryside of this small town is dominated by green hills and pine forests. Besides the scenery the main attraction is the enigmatic Plain of Jars, which archaeologists are still unsure of what they were used for.
Vang Vieng is a two street backpacker town. The main street is full of guest houses, bars, restaurants showing re-runs of Friends and Family Guy, internet cafes, tour agencies, and tourists. The main event is inner tubing on the Nam Song River, which is lined with bars selling Beer Lao and equipped with rope swings, zip lines, and large decks for socializing. The scenery is gorgeous, but the party is what people come for.
Vientiane, known as the City of Sandalwood is the capital and largest city of Laos, situated in the Mekong river. Vientiane became the capital in 1563 due to fears of a Burmese invasion. During French rule, Vientiane was the administrative capital and due to economic growth in recent times, it has become the economic centre of Laos. There aren't many noteworthy sites, however it is worth a visit.
Don Dhet is often referred to as the Khao San Road (backpacker street in Bangkok) of the River, however it is much more scenic. Don't plan to come to this small island to experience Laos as it is built for backpackers, but the sunrise and sunsets are stunning! You can also easily visit nearby Don Khon by crossing the French Bridge, where there are great waterfalls, rusty trains, and the occasional glimpse of an Irrawady dolphin.