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Laid-back, scenic, and completely lovely, Laos welcomes the curious with open arms. This landlocked former kingdom is a mere hour’s flight from the frenetic, round-the-clock global mega-city of Bangkok, but, in terms of pace and attitude, the two might as well be located in different hemispheres! Longer on lengthy sunsets than all-night parties and goldenrod-robed monks than camera-flashing tourists, this is a land somewhat outside time. Things here are unhurried in the best way: something magical happens when we slow down enough to discern the subtle, glorious hum of life.
Laos just may be the closest thing to an isolated outpost that one can find in Southeast Asia. A small, landlocked mountainous country nestled between the splendor of Cambodia and the high-density bustle of Vietnam, it’s easy to overlook a land that has historically been disregarded as the quiet wallflower of Earth’s most beloved backpacking and jetsetting circuit of the twenty-first century. Those who take a closer look, however, are rewarded richly, for Laos is the crown jewel in the heart of Indochina. From pretty French colonial shophouses to leafy, dew-drenched jungle trekking circuits, gilded wats to humble wood pavilions where expert Lao masseuses ply their time-honored trade beneath the sleepy whir of overhead fans, a wealth of hidden treasure awaits.
It’s true that Laos’ pleasures are simpler than those of its flashier neighbors, but it known that, sometimes, the simple pleasures are the sweetest. Simply elegant, simply beguiling, simply beautiful (which is also the country’s newest tourism catchphrase)... Laos will make your spirit sing.
Laos Top Attractions
The Laotian capital has been growing in reputation as a fashionable, cosmopolitan city for some years. The French colonial influence is felt strongly here - you’ll do a double-take at the sight of the Patuxai, which is a diminutive, Asian-inspired replica of the Arc de Triomphe! East meets west when the delicate colonial shophouses give way to elaborate temples. The natural beauty of the capital is abundant, and visitors can easily understand how this place came to be named the “Sandalwood City.” Don’t miss the chance to eat as many authentic Lao dishes as possible! Flavored heavily with herbs and notoriously spicy, this is food that will give your taste buds a mighty wake-up call! You can cool down your palate with an icy Beer Lao, the country’s beloved national brew.
While Vientiane claims the administrative distinction, there is no doubt that Luang Prabang is the cultural and spiritual capital of Laos. It’s nestled where the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers meet, fertile in both landscape and inspiration. Rife with over thirty gorgeous, gilded temples, the entire town has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you rise with the sun, you’ll see hundreds of saffron-robed monks on processional as they seek daily alms. If you are seeking the ancient spirit of Laos, you’ll find it drowsing amid the hills of Luang Prabang.
Compact, lovely Pakse is the ideal Laotian town for exploring on foot. Time seems to have stood still here, with tangly thickets of jungle close to encroaching on the lovely, historic buildings of the city center. Wat Phou is the jewel of Pakse, located in the southern part of Vietnam. Explore the World Heritage Site by day, and then sup with the sounds of the river swirling around you as you take dinner on a pleasure barge. Keep your eyes open for the rare Irrawaddy River dolphins! You can sail down to the 4,000 Islands, the route to which is graced by elegantly decaying pre-Angkorian temples.
Those desiring an authentic Laotian trek almost always end up in Tha Khaek, one of Central Laos’ hub towns. Situated on the Mekong with a stunning view of Thailand on the opposite bank, traveling the routes that snake through the riverside jungles is always an adventure, no matter what method of transport you chose. Rent a single-speed bike for a bracing backcountry jaunt, or snag a moped for a zippier tour. Walking works as well, and is more likely to get you to the region’s exquisite hidden caves and picturesque swimming holes.
Mekong River Cruising
The Mekong is the artery through which Laos’ lifeblood flows. No Laotian adventure is complete without a cruise on a traditional slow boat. Borne atop the rushing breast of the river, you’ll be dazzled by roseate sunsets, dine on fresh-caught fish, and take in unforgettable vistas of the countryside. Many routes are available. Travel from Vientiane to Patse and soak up Lao culture at its purest, then see incredible waterfalls near the Cambodian border, or sail to the heart of the Golden Triangle, right through Luang Prabang. On the Mother of All Waters, every journey is unforgettable.
|Primary Airports: Wattay International Airport (VTE), Luang Prabang International Airport (LPQ), Pakse International Airport (PKZ)|
|Government: Communist state|
|Currency: Kip (LAK)|
|Population: 6,695,000 (2012 est.)|
|Language: Lao, French, English|
|Electricity: 220V/50Hz (Euro and US plugs)|
|Time Zone: UTC +7|
Laos Travel Reviews
I spent 4 nights in Luang Prabang in late 2014, and I cannot wait to go back!!! I stayed at the Lotus Villa, a small hotel in the UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was in easy walking distance of the temples, Lao massages, restaurants, museum and the night market. I was able to watch the Buddhist monks during their morning alms walk in my pajamas just outside my room. The food is amazing! There is an alley that lots of backpackers eat as the food is plentiful and inexpensive. There are also many nicer places to eat bot Lao and Western food. I took a terrific Lao cooking class through Tamarind which including a visit to a market to discuss the ingredients and taste snacks. I definitely recommend the Lao massage, which is similar to Thai massage in that you wear pajamas, but it was such a wonderful experience that I went back the next day for a second one!
Visit Laos before everyone else does
With the booming tourist destinations of Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, and the newly emerging ones like Cambodia and Vietnam, Laos is one of the few truly undiscovered countries left in Asia. Tourism has only been encouraged since 1998, and even today, there are still probably more Buddhist monks than tourists on the streets.
Because we had a limited amount of time to spend in the country, we spent all of our time in Vientiane, the former French outpost and current capital. Although very lively, Vientiane is happily missing the smog and congestion found nearly everywhere else in Southeast Asia. What you will find in abundance are smiles and genuine friendliness. Although our best experiences were spent just walking around, there are a few places that are worth a special effort to experience.
The Pha That Luang is the most important religious monument in Laos, located about 4km NE of Vientiane. It is magnificent. A few minutes by tuk-tuk will take you to The Spa, which is undoubtedly one of the best spas on the planet, and most certainly the best value. Don't go on your first day, because you may not go anywhere else. Finally, save your memorable dinner out for La Signature located in the Ansara Hotel. (Ask for a table on the terrace if possible.) The restaurant is located in a beautifully restored colonial French villa, and the superb food, exotic location and romantic ambience make it the perfect place to hand over that little square box you've been carrying with you for weeks.
A Peaceful and Calm Trip to Laos in the Heart of South East Asia
Laos. Few countries are as mysterious and irresistible for certain travelers. After making the boarder crossing at Nong Khai, Thailand, over the Friendship Bridge and into the country I took a small tuk tuk taxi to the city of Vientiane. A former colony of France, Laos has many features that you may notice from a trip to Paris. Parisian architecture line the streets and local shops sell baguette sandwiches for $2 each. I wasn't with a tour company but finding a place to stay is very simple due to the large amount of travelers who come though South East Asia, and subsequently Laos, every year. But as far as excitement goes, Vientiane isn't exactly Tokyo. As the only land-locked country in SE Asia, Laos has always had a laid-back feel to it, even in the heart of its major city. Other destinations in Laos, like the infamous Vang Vieng known for its rowdy backpacker bars and riverside restaurants and hostel, may offer a little more excitement for more adventurous travelers. Yet Vientiane has a very chill vibe. When you're there it's surprising that it is the capital city because, as a westerner, I'm used to the New Yorks and Londons of the world. One thing no one should ever forget about Laos is the beer. While selection is not something you see a lot in Laos, Beer Laos is a celebrated beer among backpackers and travelers from all over the world.