1. Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang is a particularly great place to start your journey into the Land of One Million Elephants, especially for those searching for enchanting and atmospheric destinations during their travels. Listed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, and frequently considered the most charming city in South East Asia, Luang Prabang has something to offer for everyone. Travelers will find the city to be easily discovered by foot or bicycle, whether meandering along the Mekong or Nam Khan Rivers, or catching a glimpse of saffron-robed monks heading to one of 32 centuries- old temples still left standing today. The cultural heritage, from the architecture to the alms-giving ceremonies occurring at 5am each day, and the simple beauty of bougainvillea-lined streets, makes Luang Prabang the most romantic destination in South East Asia, where you will enjoy a simple promenade with your partner.
2. Vibrant and Diverse Heritage
From the glittering golden roofs of Buddhist temples in Luang Prabang to the little French cafes in antique colonial buildings in Vientiane, from the glass-tile mosaics on monastery walls to the red Chinese lanterns hung outside houses for luck and prosperity, Laos possesses some of the most stunning examples of heritage and history in what was previously known as the French Colony of Indochine.
3. Untouched Scenery
History and cities aside, Laos is also well-known for its wild and largely untouched scenery. Despite severe forest degradation in the past decades, Laos is still primarily covered in jungles and forests, which have been largely unexplored. In the mountainous Northern Laos, it is possible to take the “100 Waterfall trek” to explore some of these hidden locales, while renting a motorbike to discover the Bolaven Plateau in Southern Laos is also an amazing way to experience the landscape.
4. Ethnic Minorities
Laos is a small country, with a population of nearly 7 million inhabitants. Despite this rather small number for a South East Asian country, Laos has 130 ethnic minority tribes, divided into four language groups. Some of these tribes only contain a few hundred members and can only be found within Laos. These clans have a very specific way of life, which is something that is not easily understood or seen in many homogenous western societies. This makes for great opportunities to catch a glimpse of disappearing cultures, and really feel as if you are off the beaten track!
5. Adventure Activities
Laos is an excellent place to visit for those who love to be in nature, or to participate in adventure activities. A popular choice for many tourists is trekking in the unexplored mountains or jungles to remote villages, cycling in the surrounding countryside, or kayaking down one of the many rivers in the country. Perhaps the famous tubing of Vang Vieng or visiting an elephant village is more to your liking. Whatever the case, Laos has it all.
6. Rest and Relaxation
On the flip side, if the mention of adventure trips and thought of arduous labor does not sound like a vacation to you, don’t worry! While the full name of the country is “Laos People’s Democratic Republic” or “Laos PDR”, many smiling locals will tell you that ‘PDR’ actually stands for ‘Please Don’t Rush’. Laos has a very laid-back vibe, which permeates through everything, including bus schedules, opening hours, and every other aspect of a traveler’s potential itinerary. Although Laos is a landlocked country, there are still occasions to visit the beaches and islands of Si Phan Don, a Mekong River archipelago nicknamed “the 4000 islands” in English. Here the only activities available are watching the sunset from your hammock, swimming, lying on the beach, and drinking the famous “Lao Lao” Whiskey and Beer Lao.
7. River Life
With nearly 40 rivers within the country, Laos has many excellent rivers that cross impenetrable jungles, deep gorges, and sometimes flow through extensive cave systems. Lao rivers can range from wild and dangerous to smooth and mild depending on the season, and while some can be navigated all year round, others reveal riverbeds of rocks when the water level is low. As it does in most societies, rivers equal life, and the same can be said in Laos, as most of the people have settled along the Mekong River and its many tributaries. Taking a cruise on the Mekong or a small boat trip up the Nam Khan or Nam Ou River is a great opportunity to watch local life unfold on the banks of the river. When all else fails, catching a Mekong River sunset is nothing short of breathtaking.
8. Hmong Artifacts and Night Markets
Laos is a great place to shop for traditional Hmong (one of the local tribes in the country) handicrafts, such as jewelry and fabrics, especially in Luang Prabang. An especially good place to find small treasures is the Night Market, which comes alive from around 5 pm each day, with the entirety of the street blocked off to traffic. If the crowded night market is not your thing, a small shop called Naga Creations in the city frequently stocks exquisite Hmong crafts for sale.
9. Affordable Location
Although Laos is a well-known destination for budget travelers, the country also offers everything posh travelers would expect of accommodation, service, activities, and exclusivity. Picturesque restored hotels in colonial buildings abound along with countless bed and breakfast options.
10. Gateway to South East Asia
Laos is a great destination all on its own, but can also be combined with other countries for those who wish to experience even more on their trips. Luang Prabang and Vientiane are connected via flights to the neighboring countries of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. For adventurous travelers with ample time on their hands looking for cheaper transportation, Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia are also accessible via road by bus or car. In addition to buses and cars, Thailand can also be reached by train or slow boat.