5 places you absolutely must visit in Laos
For no particular reason when planning our trip, Laos was one of the first countries to make our list. Why? We’re not quite sure. It could have been the stories we’d heard from friends that sparked our interest; maybe intrigue; or perhaps we just really wanted to go and see it for ourselves
Laos is often forgotten on the Southeast Asian tourist trail as it’s slightly harder to get to than its more famous neighbours Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. It’s also landlocked, meaning no pretty white sand beaches or azure waters that would normally call hordes of travellers to its shores.
Yet despite this, after spending three weeks touring the country we realised that Laos. Is. Amazing.
We can't emphasise enough - don’t let a little more time on transport, or less chance to work on your tan dissuade you. If you’re after a chilled place with friendly locals keen to chat, colonial architecture that puts Hoi An to shame, steamy jungles to explore and hill tribes to visit, and an abundance of wildlife including elephants and tigers, Laos is your place.
Have we started to convince you? Good! Here are the places to visit in Laos; the ‘land of 1 million elephants’.
where to visit in Laos: our favourite 5 PLACES
#1 THE WONDERS OF LUANG PRABANG
We had read about how beautiful Luang Prabang was before we arrived yet words don’t do her justice. LP is the best looking honey in all of Southeast Asia.
A UNESCO-protected city and for good reason, Luang Prabang has a brilliantly preserved French colonial architecture downtown which includes 33 active gold covered temples. Weaving your way through the quiet grounds and intricate deep burgundy and golds of the monasteries really is soothing for the soul.
Probably the most iconic image of Luang Prabang is that of the saffron-robed barefoot monk on the daily morning alms collection rounds, so it is important to get your backside out of bed to see this incredible sight. Just remember to follow a few simple steps to make the most of morning alms.
Luang Prabang also puts on an epic sunset and there's no better place to take it all in than 100 metres above the town centre at Phu Si Hill. Offering up 360-degree views of the town, temples, and the fog rolling in across the distant mountains, it’s also extremely popular with the sunrise/sunset worshippers. If you’re there in the late afternoon prepare to watch part of your sunset through the screen of someone else’s phone or camera.
At night, the streets come alive with the famous night markets. Make sure you visit street food alley and chow down some Khao Soy (kind of like a bolognese noodle soup!) and top it off with Beerlao.
Destination inspiration: the 10 things you absolutely can't miss in Luang Prabang
# 2 THE UNBELIEVABLY BEAUTIFUL KUANG SI WATERFALL
Located just outside of Luang Prabang is the absolutely stunning Kuang Si Waterfall. How many waterfalls have you seen that boast a 50-metre cascading drop into three-tiered azure swimming holes? Probably not many, if any.
We recommend getting there early, before the hoards of tourists arrive, and enjoying the watering holes all to yourself. Then, as the sun starts to peek through the forest canopy, make your way up to the top tier and admire the views from above.
Planning a trip to the falls yourself? Check out our ultimate guide to Kuang Si Falls here
PLAN YOUR TRIP TO LUANG PRABANG'S #1 ATTRACTION: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO KUANG SI FALLS
#3 THE ADVENTURE CAPITAL OF VANG VIENG
After seven hours on a bus from the Laos capital of Vientiane, you won’t believe your eyes when you first arrive into Vang Vieng. In short, it's stunning. Rainforest adorns the karst cliffs, caves lie hidden, waiting to be explored and the river is invitingly clear. Swoon.
Don’t be put off by all that you’ve read about her past, Vang Vieng has matured into more than a hedonistic party paradise.
Most of the activity centres around the beautiful Nam Song river which meanders through the centre of town, including kayaking and tubing. Learning from the past, the infamous tubing of days past - floating down the river on an inflatable tyre tube - is possible albeit in a far more sedate fashion.
Grab your tube around midday and take in the surrounding countryside as you make your way down the river all afternoon. Finish off your day with a well earned Beerlao or two at one of the few riverside establishments still remaining.
The maturing Vang Vieng is evident in the centre of town, where most of the riverside bars have been replaced by newly completed high rise hotels and more refined restaurants now sit alongside rickety cafes. The food here is actually quite good and you can still pick up a roadside banana pancake if you’re that way inclined (they’re really good!).
If adventure is your jam, Vang Vieng is your kind of town these days! Visit one of the many main street tour companies which offer adrenaline fueled activities including zip-lining, kayaking, caving, rock climbing, hiking, ballooning; the list goes on. We did the zip-lining tour and can assure you it is the ultimate rush!
If you’ve got a few days up your sleeve explore the surrounding villages. You can hire a motorbike, quadbike or bicycle and make your way out into the countryside where you’ll stumble across friendly locals and stunning scenery at every turn. Make sure you visit the Blue Lagoon which is beautiful despite being overcrowded!
INSPIRATION: FIVE REASONS TO VISIT LAOS NOW
#4 THE 4000 ISLANDS OF DON DET
It’s out of the way and requires an overnight bus ride from Vientiane to Pakse, but once you arrive on Don Det, one of the 4000 Islands situated in the middle of the Mekong River, you’ll automatically be lulled into a major level of chill.
Don Det is split into two main areas; the sunrise side and sunset side, both equally relaxed. Hammocks hang outside most of the riverside bungalows which straddle the Mekong allowing you to read that book you’ve been carrying your whole trip in next to no time. The best time of day is sunset, where you're treated to the ultimate show from Mother Nature. Set yourself up at one of the many riverside establishments (or your own hammock), grab a Beerlao and watch the show.
If you’ve chilled too much (is that even possible?) there are a number of things you can do to get your heart rate up. The most popular activity is to kayak down the Mekong. The easy day tour allows you to see the river in all its glory and finishes with a visit to the Cambodian/Laos border to see the rare Irrawaddy Dolphins, which make an appearance during sunset. It’s a pretty cool tour to do and we highly recommend it. Alternatively, hire a bike and take in the surrounds of the Island at your own pace!
Honestly, we found Don Det's beauty and totally chilled out vibe the perfect place to finish our time in Laos.
MORE ON LAOS: SUNSETS AND CHILL - OUR TIME ON LAOS' DON DET ISLANDS
#4 GET LOCAL IN NONG KHIAW
Keen to find somewhere as beautiful as Vang Vieng without the tourists? Then visit Nong Khiaw, a small town 3 hours from Luang Prabang on the banks of the Nam Ou River in Northern Laos. It boasts a gorgeous backdrop of imposing limestone mountains, picturesque river views and genuine local colour; sound familiar?
We love our trekking and Nong Khiaw offers up some great opportunities to get into the mountains and breathe that fresh air. Similar to Vang Vieng, you can also go caving, rock-climbing and cycling. And yes, you can go tubing here too, but nothing like the former Vang Vieng days; party central this is not.
Like most places in Laos, Nong Khiaw is developing tourism infrastructure quickly, and it’s probably the right time to visit if you’re after something slightly more authentic and underdeveloped.
We absolutely loved our time in Laos, and will definitely be back one day. Hopefully these tips will assist you in planning your own adventures in this gorgeous little country!
Have you been somewhere that took you by surprise before? Share your story in the comments below!