When looking for things to do in Laos, the avid traveller is well positioned to have an incredible, diverse and memorable holiday. This country is a veritable treasure trove of all things exotic, extraordinary and exciting. It can be difficult to determine the absolute best things to do in this wonderful country. The following list is by no means exhaustive, but it provides an excellent snapshot of the true beauty of this part of the world.
Laos is easily accessible via plane to numerous airports scattered about the country. There are fourteen in total and four accept international departures and arrivals.
Travel while in Laos itself is quite varied. The Mekong River offers the opportunity to travel via boat along and across the tributaries. There are buses and some trains that traverse the land between the cities but they can be somewhat inconsistent – if you can tolerate a shifting timetable, then this is your best option for travel. There is the option of bike and rickshaw travel once in the tiny towns.
When should you visit? May is the hottest month in Laos with an average temperature of around 30 degrees Celsius. January is the coldest but only gets down to about 22 degrees Celsius so there is definitely an average temperature that’s balmy and mild. The wet season is mid-year. Ensure that you follow travel warnings and heed temperatures when planning your visit.
The people of Laos are endlessly giving and forgiving. This is a culture that has only recently opened up to tourist dollars (particularly in Luang Prabang) so there is a real focus on pleasing the tourist and creating a ‘client delight’ scenario.
Historically, settlement and civilisation in Laos can be traced back to around the 14th century. There are French Colonial influences everywhere, as evidenced by the architecture, and a real ‘cultural mish-mash’ in certain areas. There has been a focus on maintaining the old ways which is evidenced both by the way the River is utilised for lifestyle and trade and by the selection and variety of wares that are always on sale everywhere you go.
Laos is a fairly safe country to travel in. While there are occasional reportings of a bag snatch or petty crime, for the most part, you will be no more in danger than you are at home. Taking caution and behaving in a way that does not encourage attention are good ways to ensure you, your belongings and your precious holiday are safe.
As previously noted, it’s difficult to narrow this list of things to do in Laos down to just five. These are subjective (as any travel documentation is!) and your own personal circumstances must be brought into consideration. Some of the items to be discussed will have limitations in terms of accessibility so bear this in mind.
What has NOT been mentioned below is the Mekong Delta river. This wonder of the world is in the backdrop to every picturesque site and city in Laos. One could get lost (and people have) traversing up and down the river to take advantage of the on-river stores, fishing and adventuring that takes part on this beautiful, pulsing hub. Ensure that, upon travel to Laos, you take the time to investigate this incredible feat of nature.
Here are the top five things to do in Laos.
The Luang Prabang Night Markets are an incredible feast for the senses that simply must be experienced in order to be believed. There is something magical in the air, a sense of human poetry, and these incredible markets are a spectacle of human connection and trade.
These are some of the most famous night markets in all of the world. Sellers and buyers dance together in an exchange of words, colour, light and emotion, the likes of which you’ve never seen before. Luang Prabang is relatively new on the scene in terms of being a travel destination and the pace of life is slow, peppered with ramshackle neighbourhoods and gorgeous laneways. The markets are held every night and it’s as if the city holds its breath between sittings. A truly wondrous and never-to-be-forgotten experience.
The market sells some of the following wares:
You’ll soon see that this is no ordinary market, nor is it an ordinary city. Though small, one could easily become lost in Luang Prabang and want to stay forever. Luang Prabang forms somewhat of a ‘base camp’ for the following two things to do in Laos that are listed below. You can stay in any of a number of gorgeous little boutique hotels and extend your visit in this small but charming city.
You’ll stay within (or close to) Luang Prabang for the next item – a visit to the Kuang Si Falls Bear Sanctuary. If you’re a conservationist, animal lover, environmentalist or you’re concerned about the treatment of animals, then this is a must-see for you.
The bear sanctuary itself can be found inside the gate at the Kuang Si Falls Park (there are many swimming holes around here as well that are waiting to be enjoyed!). There are bears being rehabilitated here after cruel poaching practices have rendered them nearly extinct. The Sun and Moon bears are often poached in order to access their bile, mistakenly thought to have powers to increase male virility and sexual function.
The revenue brought in by tourists who come to visit the bear sanctuary helps to continue the good work being done to address their plight. There are plenty of opportunities to make a donation and you can also purchase tourist items like t-shirts and calendars. It’s a popular spot so be prepared for crowds. It’s heart-warming to see the bears happy and healthy after such a perilous existence.
Allow your responsible eco-tourism to continue while you continue to haunt Luang Prabang. A visit to the Elephant Village Sanctuary and Resort will open your eyes not only to the beauty of these wonderful creatures but the unimaginable cruelty visited upon them by so many other tourist traps.
People who are local to the area are given employment in an establishment that supports animals living in a natural environment. These animals have often been rehabilitated from abusive situations where they were put to work under cruel masters. Laos was known as the Land of a Million Elephants but, horrifically, only around 1000 remain and around half of that number are put to work in the timber harvesting industry.
Walk alongside these gorgeous creatures, hear their stories and soak up their gentle, wise nature as you are led through this peaceful and picturesque piece of the world. It’s life-changing.
This is a country of temples and places of worship, both man-made and natural. However, the That Luang (Vientiane Great Stupa) is a must-see in terms of awe-inspiring structures and places to appreciate local religion and culture.
This is the most sacred monument in the entire country (the current version of it being built in the 1500’s) and it takes on the appearance of a fortress, surrounded by the highest of walls. The two temples within the main stupa are at 148 feet tall and covered in gold leaf. All of the architectural points throughout can be traced back to a true Laos style that has been influenced by Buddhist teachings. Look for the Buddha images, the flower and animal motif, and the detail found in doors and walls to be inspired and awestruck.
The temple was restored in French Colonial times to capture the beauty and workmanship that went into the original, thought to be created as early as the third century. This structure can be found about four kilometres north-east of the city of Vientiane.
Finally, head to southern Laos to find the Bolaven Plateau – an area rich in culture, hidden treasures and unimaginable natural beauty. Here you’ll find jaw-droppingly beautiful waterfalls that take advantage of being up to 1350 metres above sea level and enveloped in a milder, cooler air than is found in the rest of the country.
The cascading natural beauty, the roar of the water and the lush peace of the surrounding rainforest will stun you and your travelling companions into silence. It’s almost like looking at a piece of artwork – it is difficult to believe that something so beautiful could be real.
The falls themselves go 100m down into a gorge near the Champasak Province. They are part of a larger national park filled with animals like monkeys, elephants and big cats.
The five things to do in Laos listed above are sure to tantalise and surprise even the most seasoned traveller. But they don’t cover all of it.
The most important thing that you need to do whilst in Laos is to travel with an open mind and an open heart. This is a culture and a lifestyle that is much removed from the ones we are most likely accustomed to. There are different ways of living, interacting and conducting business that we may, on occasion, find jarring and unfamiliar.
The best thing to do when travelling in an environment foreign to your own is to ‘leave no trace.’ Engage with the environment the way that the locals do and work peacefully to ensure that you have either a positive or a neutral impact on the culture and environment that surrounds you.
When you see locals selling wares or artisan crafts, engage with them and purchase the pieces that you enjoy. Ensure you are paying them appropriately and that they are rewarded for their talent and skill. If you do nothing else in Laos, make sure that you work with the villagers to pay them a fair and just price for the gorgeous items that they produce.
Check out the story behind the LOVEbomb collection of jewellery here- what was once a symbol of war in Laos is now a symbol of beauty and peace,
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