Life potters along with a shrug and a smile, the river drifts by, and the warmth of another day seeps into evening.
Relaxing into the tropical splendour of Laos is easy. Nothing seems to move much faster than the meandering Mekong and the famously friendly, laid back people will put you at ease. It’s a peaceful, green and rural destination, a fertile land of ethnic minority hill villages, waterfalls, unhurried towns and small scale farming. Take time to explore some of the steamy, dreamy landscapes and to discover indigenous tribes, timeworn temples, fine food, and a simpler way of life. Experience the culture up close when you take part in a cookery class, a homestay or a craft workshop.
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Top things to do in Laos
There are many wonderful experiences to be had in Laos. For further inspiration take a look at the trip ideas put together by our trusted local experts, but in the meantime here are our top things to do in Laos.
Taking a night safari at Nam Nern is the best way to explore the Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area, getting close to the wildlife and generating income for the local communities. Boats are skippered by former poachers, fishermen and hunters who are now using their tracking skills to help visitors spot the animals who call this area home. The experience involves a trip upriver during daylight hours, a riverbank campfire dinner and a peaceful drift back downriver in the darkness, looking for wildlife en route.
Enchanting Luang Prabang
The Asia of your daydreams comes to life in this charming riverside town that has long been the cultural and spiritual hub of Laos. With a magical setting in a wooded valley at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers, Luang Prabang is an easy place to while away a few days. A clutch of historic Buddhist temples are colourful, intricately embellished feasts for the eyes, and a busy calendar of festivals and events keeps things lively.
Learn from the experts when you take part in activities such as farming, cooking, handicraft workshops or village homestays. Try your hand at rice farming, either planting the seedlings or harvesting the grains depending on the season, then learn how to make Lao’s staple of sticky rice. Have a go at creating your own natural dyes and use them to tint skeins of silk, or test your reflexes when you join in a Muay Lao (kickboxing) class.
Vientiane like a local
Take advantage of true local knowledge with a tour of the Laotian capital guided by those who live there. They can take you to the little local eateries where the food is great but few tourists know about, or to the neighbourhood market where residents do their food shopping. Get under the skin of the city by spending a day in the company of someone who knows its every corner and can share with you what makes the city tick.
Lesser known things to do in Laos
Discover the secrets of the Bolaven plateau
Leave the heat of the lowlands behind you and head for the cooler climes of the Bolaven Plateau, which sits at 600 metres above sea level in the south of Laos. Named after the Laven, one of the ethnic minority groups who have lived on the plateau for generations, this oasis of fertile land is used to grow coffee, tea and cardamom. Explore the verdant plantations, rural villages and the many waterfalls on foot or with a guided jeep tour.
Enter if you dare!
The caves of Kong Lor are a hidden wonder of Central Laos, deep inside the Phu Hin Bin National Protected Area, where forests, limestone cliffs and rivers all combine to make a stunning wilderness landscape. An exciting excursion is to take a sampan trip on the river Hinboun which disappears into a small cave opening, only just big enough for the boat to squeeze through, before following an astonishing 7 kilometre course through the caves.
A megalithic mystery
The intriguing riddle of the Plain of Jars has never been satisfactorily solved. The upland region of the Xiangkhoang plateau right in the centre of Laos hosts thousands of stone vessels ranging from 600 kilos to 6 tonnes in weight and 1-3 metres in width, some with lids, arranged in groups of varying sizes. Archeologists have studied the site and hypothesise that they are part of stone age burial rituals.
When is the best time to visit Laos?
Laos is a year-round destination where the main factor to consider is wet versus dry season. Temperatures are generally balmy all year with heat and humidity the norm. The slightly cooler dry season runs through November to January, and offers settled fine weather and the busiest period for tourism. The rest of the year sees more rainfall, which could in theory be disruptive to travel at times, but is considered the better season for river adventures as the waterways will be in full flow and the scenery at its most vigorous. Obviously some mountain areas will feel markedly cooler than the lowlands depending on your elevation.
Interesting facts about Laos
- The French influence can be felt in Laos, particularly in the colonial architecture, the crunchy baguettes and the readily available wine.
- Laos is home to the largest system of waterfalls in Southeast Asia. The 10 kilometre stretch of the Mekong known as the Khone Phapheng falls are situated near the Cambodian border in the south of the country.
- There is a midnight curfew in Laos but it applies predominantly to businesses rather than individuals. It is observed particularly closely in Luang Prabang.
- Sticky rice is a national institution in Laos. There aren’t many menu options which don’t come with a little basket of sticky rice, or ‘kao niaow’ which you roll into small balls and dip into accompanying dishes.
- Beerlao is renowned in Southeast Asia as one of the best brews in the region, and has won a succession of awards. Cheers!
What to read before you go to Laos
If you're looking for something to get you in the mood before you set off on your travels to Laos, we've gathered a list of our favourite books to inspire you.
'A Dragon Apparent' by Norman Lewis
Written with a lively and animated flair for adventure, this book gives a thorough insight into the life of Laotians in the 1940’s, in the run up to huge change.
'One Foot in Laos' by Dervla Murphy
Chronicling her explorations of Laos in 1997, not long after the country opened its doors to travellers, Murphy details the state of the nation at the time of her tour and outlines the pressures it faced from modernity.
'Ant Egg Soup' by Natacha Du Pont De Bie
A foodie pilgrimage to Laos by an intrepid author who will go the extra mile to find authentic and exciting local cuisine. The book comes complete with illustrations and recipes to inspire.
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