While the most popular destinations in Southeast Asia are Thailand and Vietnam, if you want to experience pure, unspoilt Asia, the place you want to head to is the Kingdom of Laos. This small nation is still untouched by modern demands, offers beautiful and unspoilt nature, and the people of Laos are charming.
If you feel that it's time to get off the beaten path and start exploring a truly unique destination then Laos is the place! Get your passport, ensure you have up-to-date travel insurance for Laos, and head to this simply beautiful hidden gem of Asia.
Where to go in Laos:
The capital of Laos is the city of Vientiane. The first thing most travellers to Laos will notice is that it is a lot more relaxed than its neighboring countries. This holds true in the capital city as well. This city is not only famously relaxed, it’s also known for its many temples and pagodas. A good place to visit while you’re in town is the Lao National Museum, which has some interesting historical exhibits that give you a good sense of the country's history.
Most of the city center can be explored comfortably on foot - one or two of the temples do merit a bus or tuk-tuk ride though. While not in the city itself, Buddha Park offers quite a unique attraction: it contains a remarkable collection of concrete sculptures of Hindu and Buddhist deities, as well as imaginary beasts.
North of the capital is the former capital city of Luang Prabang, which in its entirety is one UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It’s notable for its combination of traditional and colonial architecture and is often referred to as the most charming city in Asia, and once you see it you will understand why. It’s a true pleasure to randomly walk through the city, as there is something to discover and see at every corner.
Once you have seen enough of the city, there are many areas out of town that are nice to explore. Kuang Si Falls is a great day trip (be mindful of leeches in the water though), and a fun place to meet other travellers. Alternatively, you can explore Pak Ou Caves, also known as the famous Buddha caves, and finish your trip at the local village where Laolao, the local rice spirit is made. There are also two elephant sanctuaries and a butterfly park outside of Luang Prabang.
If this area of the country just feels a little bit too crowded for your taste, the best place for you will be southern Laos. This is probably the least visited area in the country, and while it can be tricky to get around, it’s well worth exploring. The city of Pakse is the capital of this part of Laos and the ideal (and only) base for exploring the Mekong and Sedone Rivers.
From Pakse you can catch a bus to Si Phan Don, the famous 'four thousand islands'. This area is home to a beautiful range of islands set in the dramatic Mekong River.
There is something wonderfully low-key about this place, and if you hike around a bit you are as likely to come across the largest waterfall in Southeast Asia (which is here, by the way) as you are a local farmer and his cows. Many travellers come to relax and just enjoy the beautiful scenery.
A great way to experience the local culture is to locate the nearest temple that offers a herbal sauna - a refreshing and wonderful experience.
While Laos is a safe country for travellers, you do want to ensure you bring anti-malarial medication with you, as certain areas of the country are known as malaria hotspots. It also pays to bring mosquito repellent, as dengue fever is common. As with most places in Asia, avoid drinking the tap water and opt for bottled water instead. Also, organise travel insurance for Laos before you set off on any adventures here.
The food in Laos is strikingly similar to the cuisine of northern Thailand. You will generally find wonderfully flavorsome food combinations, although sometimes a bit on the hot side.
Laos is particularly known for its spicy green papaya salad, which is delicious even though the fermented crab meat and the strong fish sauce may need a bit of getting used to. Another famous Lao dish to try is laap, which is a minced meat and herb salad dressed with chili and lemon juice.
Laos is gaining in popularity, but remains largely undiscovered by most western travellers. It truly is a great place to come to explore a different, less developed side of Asia.
For more information on Laos, visit the Laos Tourism Website.