Laos – Southeast Asia’s Forgotten Little Pearl
Laos, the least-known of all Southeast Asian countries, is a bit of an enigma to most people looking to visit Southeast Asia. The key question being: Is it worth the visit or not? If this is your first time visiting Southeast Asia, there’s no question that Laos should be part of your trip. Here’s why: It’s the most authentic!
Laos, with its rugged mountain scenery, amazing bio-diversity, ancient temples, charmingly picturesque hillside villages, small tribes of always smiling locals, laid-back local life and majestic sunsets is the only country in Southeast Asia that is least influenced by western culture. Here, the nights are early, the pace of life is slow and the sweet scent of frangipani wafts in the air. Life is indeed beautiful!
What to See in Laos
There’s just so much to see in Laos that it’s incredible this country is one of the least visited in Southeast Asia! Let’s see what you should check out now before Laos becomes the most sought-after tourist destination in Southeast Asia!
- The Mekong River. The river of life for Laos, the Mekong River has formed stunning limestone karsts over the years that are yet to be seen anywhere else in the world! To check them out, start off from Vang Vieng in the North.
- The Laos Way of Life: To get a glimpse of the hill tribes and villages, opt for a short stay in Luang Namtha and experience what it is to be one of the Lao people!
- The Temples: Laos is a Buddhist nation from top to bottom, which explains why there exist a myriad of temples and traditions in this country! Some of the temples to visit include: Pha That Luang (the national symbol of Laos) in Vientiane, Wat Phu (which is an ancient Hindu temple of the likes of Angkor Wat), Wat Xieng Thong (Luang Prabang), Wat Pha Kaew and Wat Sisaket.
- The Plain of Jars: This is a landscape in Northern Laos in close proximity to Phonsavan that is home to thousands of stone jars, right from the Iron Age! It’s shrouded in mystery, and thus perfect for explorers!
- Luang Prabang: This exotic city is known for the alms giving ceremony with saffron-robed monks, the gilded temples and the French colonial architecture. The entire city is a UNESCO world heritage site, which makes it worth a visit!
For an overview of what to see and do in Luang Prabang, check out our article: Luang Prabang, Laos
What to Do in Laos
Laos, a mountainous country with a huge river, massive forests and hill-side tribes with exotic traditions offers varied opportunities to tourists to go all out and have fun! Here are a few things to do in Laos:
- Trekking: For hikers, trekking in the Northern mountains of Laos is a must! Try out the Ban Nalan Trail where you not only get panoramic views of Northern Laos, but also a chance to stay in the Khmu villages and enjoy life as a local Lao person!
- River Activities: The Mekong River offers a fascinating array of choices for the adventurous tourist! Try your hand at Kayaking in the Mekong River (option available in both Vientiane and Luang Prabang) and tubing your way down Nam Song in Vang Vieng: this is so big an experience it needs a page to itself! Other places where you can tube down the river include Mung Ngoi, Nong Khiaw and Si Phan Don! Another interesting river activity is the River Cruise! Take a river cruise up the Mekong River, and take in the sights and sounds of the local villages on the banks of the river!
- Rock-Climbing: Try your hand at rock-climbing on the limestone karst formations, especially in Vang Vieng!
- Herbal Sauna and Khmu Massage: There’s just no way you can leave Laos without a herbal sauna and Khmu massage! Most temples offer them, so go ahead and indulge yourself in the steaming hot, herbal essence-infused wooden shack sauna and massage experience!
Where to Stay in Laos
Since Laos is the least visited of all Southeast Asian countries, accommodation in Laos is harder to come by. Tourists usually visit Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Vang Vieng, which is why it’s easier to get a place to stay in these cities as compared to other destinations in Laos.
The government has now seen that Laos is coming into the international limelight as the perfect eco-tourism destination, which is why it has now built eco-lodges in some spots such as Laopako, Luang Namtha and Nam Mgum!
Since a visit to Laos is not complete without visiting the essence of Laos, you might want to check out some hotels in these destinations:
- Luang Prabang: Nam Songai Eco-Lodge, Apsara Hotel, Mekong Moon Inn and Chanthavinh Resort and Spa.
- Vientiane: Ansara Hotel, Aroon Residence, Salana Boutique Hotel and Chaleunehoung Hotel.
- Vang Vieng: Hotel Vilayvong, Inthira Vang Vieng and Villa Nam Song.
What to Eat in Laos
For a country that is remarkably Asian, Laos offers culinary delights that, quintessentially, use plenty of spices! The Lao people can tolerate spicy food to a deeper level than most people, so beware! When in Laos, try out the following:
- Laap: Also known as Larb, this dish is a concoction of herbs, spices, lime juice, minced meat and plenty of chilli! If you’re eating Laap in villages, you might want to make sure the meat is cooked (suk) rather than raw (dip)!
- Rice: Lao people use rice with everything! Khao Niaow, which stands for sticky rice, is generally eaten in small baskets known as Tip khao.
- Tam maak hung: There’s no way you can visit Laos without trying out this specialty! Tam maak hung is a hot green papaya salad dressed with pa daek (fish sauce) and fermented crab.
- Mok Pa: This is fish that has been steamed in a banana leaf with herbs. The flavours burst on the tongue, giving you a true culinary orgasm!
Moving About in Laos
The Mekong River offers the key mode of transportation in Laos. Like Venice, most Lao people use speedboats to get around, while others use the road network. For tourists, river transport can be a more expensive option as compared to the buses. You can also opt to rent a car, but it’s best to get a driver too!
When to Go to Laos
Head to Laos when the month of November is upon you, and you’ll have a grand time! November all the way to February is the best time to visit Laos if you’re looking to avoid the dry season heat as well as the tropical rainfall showers! Another cool time to visit is in the month of April when the New Year Festivities are in full force! Start planning your trip to Laos here and now!