Sitting in the shadow of jagged mountains, Laos is a land of blooming lotus flowers, well-trodden elephant tracks, and a slow burn spirituality that even seeps into the capital.
THE BEAUTY OF LAOS
While neighbouring Southeast Asia countries can be a whirlwind of mopeds, street hawkers, and chaos – Laos delivers a different pace. Follow the flow of the Mekong River until it reaches the saffron robed city of Luang Prabang, marvel at Vientiane – a capital still brimming with stilt houses rather than skyscrapers and get well and truly off the beaten track as you disappear into the rare and remote highlands.
Here are some reasons why Laos should be on your bucket list.
Adventure is Everywhere
When you have a landlocked country composed of rich mountains, rivers and waterfalls, there is nothing to do but turn it into a wet and wild playground. Laos may have a laid-back side, but those intrepid travellers seeking a sense of adventure will find it here. From whooshing through the jungle on a zipline, boating through the complex cave of Kong Lor, and swimming in the waterfalls of Kuang Si, Laos invites you to turn up the volume.
Venture Far Insight: Head 3 hours north of Vientiane until you meet the town of Vang Vieng, famed for its afternoons of fun tubing with other travellers. Rent a tractor tube and get a tuk tuk to run you upriver where you can settle into your tyre and let the sweet flow of the river carry you back down.
The Street Food is Unreal
Luang Prabang serves up dishes that are sure to make you weak at the knees. The ancient capital caught between the meeting place of the Mekong and the Nam Khan is a sight to behold with its splendid gilded watts and its penchant for non-processed, healthy and delicious street food. You won’t find gloopy noodles in Laos, here you will find coconut pancakes cooked on hot coals, lashings of Lao Laap, beautiful barbequed bananas, and crunchy salads scattered with fistfuls of fresh herbs.
Venture Far Insight: Before the clang of morning is out, head down to the market near the National Museum on Sanasongkham Road. Amid the woven baskets spilling over with fruit, the buckets wriggling with snakes and insects and the lively chatter, you will find Lao coconut cake stands.
The Souvenirs are to Die for
From the rural highlands to the regal cities, the crafts and textiles you find in Laos set a precedent that few other Southeast Asian countries can match. From the beautifully embroidered Hmong story cloths woven with folktales and myths to geometrically cut Sinh skirts, dark coffee beans from the Bolevan Plateau, and wondrous wood carvings depicting the Buddha, you can leave those cheap beer t-shirts and plastic trinkets behind.
Venture Far Insight: Luang Prabang is a city brimming with artisans. Be sure to swing by the Ockpoptok shop that has organically grown from small shop to one of the most important textile institutions in the whole of Southeast Asia.
Luxury Comes for Less
Living the good life in Southeast Asia is always easier thanks to low costs and a lush jungle setting. But Laos seems to up the ante, especially in Luang Prabang where boutique villas, epicurean delights, and heritage tours make for an intoxicating itinerary. Luxury cruises down the Mekong are another formidable experience, especially for those moving through Laos on longer journeys through Southeast Asia.
Venture Far Insight: Rosewood Luang is making quite a splash; the lavish tented camp set on the jungle clad hillside of Luang Prabang is a heavenly hideaway curated by Bill Bensley and makes for an idyllic backdrop for those seeking first-class spa treatments to the soundtrack of flowing waterfalls.
The Festivals Are Intoxicating
Throughout the year – Laos is laced in the festival spirit. Being a land full of spiritual sojourns, travellers will find places where pilgrims gather beneath the full moon, and events where elaborate floats set sail down the Mekong River as offerings to the mythical sea serpents. Pi Mai is one of the biggest and brightest festivals on the calendar– held in April to celebrate the New Year, the streets turn into a frenzy of water-fights and the dancing lasts all night. That Luang in November is the place to see the thousands of monks who make the procession to the house that holds a piece of the Buddhas breastbone. Whichever festival you choose, the sights and sounds are soaked in cultural splendour.
Venture Far Insight: Animal lovers wanting to get up close with wildlife in an ethical way may find that February’s 3 day Elephant Festival provides the perfect opportunity.