Laos may not yet attract the numbers of tourists of neighbours Vietnam and Thailand but in some ways that is to the benefit of those who choose a Laos travel package because crowds are rare. While the infrastructure has yet to reach the standards of Vietnam, it makes a Laos holiday an adventure in many ways. Your itinerary will need to be flexible during the rains but there are few other inconveniences. Laos is at peace and its people are naturally hospitable. Since the fall of the USSR, Laos has gradually opened itself up to tourists who have become the most important sector of the economy of this relatively poor country. There are many historical and cultural attractions to visit as well as a relatively unspoiled environment.
Indeed, Laos is largely rural with the vast majority of people working on the land to produce their food. The mountainous regions produce less food than the fertile Mekong valley of course. It means that the lowland southern regions are by far the most populous.
An Experienced, Quality Laos Tour Operator
While Laos welcomes many independent travellers moving through South East Asia, if you are looking at Laos as a possible holiday destination, you should talk to a Laos travel agent. An experienced Laos tour operatorcan suggest the best places to visit and put together a Laos travel itinerary to cover the best of what the country has to offer.
You can look online and see the testimonials that previous clients have said about the service that they have received from Vivu Travel. At no point are you committed simply by asking questions. Once you are perfectly happy with the itinerary and all the terms and conditions, you should be ready to proceed. There is much to see and do.
Laos ‘’ Must See’’ Destinations
The ancient capital sits on confluence of the Mekong and the Nam Khan Rivers. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site with the major attraction being the many temples, and of course the numerous orange-robed monks that are so common in its streets. There is French colonial architecture as well as the traditional Laos house, made of wood.
The original Royal Palace, Haw Khan, is now a very interesting museum and during your time in Luang Prabang, you should also see its oldest monastery, Xieng Toung.
Pak Ou Caves
The national religion is Buddhism and another place where that is definitely evident is in these caves to the north of Luang Prabang. There are hundreds of Buddhist statues of varying sizes and in various states of repair, within the Caves. It is bad luck to throw any away so centuries of statues remain, and there is no reason why the numbers shouldn’t grow.
Kuang Si Falls
Heading in the opposite direction out of Luang Prabang, you should ensure your Laos tour includes these stunning Falls. If you are on a Laos family vacation, the kids may want to swim in the spectacular setting but there are leeches in the water.
Vientiane is the capital of Laos and certain to be included in any holiday to Laos. The country’s national symbol is That Luang, commonly called the Great Stupa. It looks like a fortress from the outside, but once you are inside there are two temples with gold leaf decorating the top of the main stupa which stands at 45 metres.
Wat Sisaket has thousands of small Buddha images sitting in rows. Some are wooden, others bronze and more stone. Buddha Park has a further 200 statues, each having a religious theme. The Reclining Buddha at 40 metres high is not especially old, the middle of the last century, but most impressive.
Vang Vieng was once just a place for a midpoint break between Luang Prabang and Vientiane but it developed as a place that offers a range of outdoor activities and hence has become very popular, especially with the young. You can trek, explore caves or rock climb while kayakers will enjoy its waters.
Pakse in Southern Laos is the capital of Champasak Province. It has become the hub of the region and offers a good opportunity of enjoying the traditional alms ceremony with the monks at Wat Luang because it will not have the crowds of Luang Prabang.
Close by there is another UNESCO World Heritage site, Wat Phou built on a hillside. It has similarities to Angkor in Cambodia. The views down across the surrounding area, and the Mekong River, as stunning.
While in Pakse, most Laos tour packages will include the Bolaven Plateau at 1,000 metres high, the coffee growing region of Laos which was initially developed by the French. The Tad Fane Waterfall is also on the itinerary, certainly the most impressive in Laos, if not the whole of South East Asia.
Bokeo is a rural area in Laos’ north west. There are mountains and forests with the local farmers living as they have for many generations. It is a sparsely populated province sharing a border with Thailand and Myanmar. The black-cheeked gibbon is a protected species within its National Park, having been thought to be extinct until rediscovered in 1997. It is certainly worth the effort to get there.
The Plain of Jars
Close to Phonosavan there is a region that has thousands of jars in groupings of varying sizes. One theory is that there are ancient burial sites dating back to the Iron Age. Unfortunately, American bombing during the Vietnam War caused some damage and there are still unexploded bombs around so you should not wander away from an experienced guide.
That Ing Hang Stupa
This Stupa in Savannaket in Central Laos was built in the 16th Century and is said to hold a relic of Buddha’s spine. It is a lovely carving, 9 metres high. The town is also the place where Kaysone Phomvihane, the former Laos leader was born.
Si Phan Don
If you want to relax, try Si Phan Don on the Mekong River in Southern Laos; there are 400 islands! You can see the fairly rare freshwater dolphins while you are there.
Laos Tour Package Styles
You may be thinking of travelling across the region in which case, Laos will just be part of the holiday, making up a few days. In that case, you will need to get your Indochina tour operator to discuss with you the best way to use your time. Luang Prabang is the highlight of Laos but there is so much in the natural environment that you must experience.
If you like the ‘’great outdoors’’ Laos is for you. You can explore in caves, kayak and climb, visit remote regions with small ethnic tribes still living as they always have. There is no sea and beach but relax at Si Phan Don instead.
If you think that sticky rice, laap (ground meat) and papaya salad is Thai, you would be wrong. It is a dish that originates in Laos. Laos cuisine is uncommon in other parts of the world so you probably had no means of knowing. That is not to say that Laos cuisine is isolated from influences; Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and China are all on the doorstep.
If there are two words that might be used to describe Laos cuisine, how about ‘’spicy’’ and ‘’bitter’’? That sticky rice is likely to be part of every single meal, breakfast right through to dinner. You can expect plenty of vegetables and dipping sauces. Padaek is almost as common, a paste whose main constituent is fermented fish. The smell may not be to everyone’s liking but it does provide the unique flavour of Laos food. For those who haven’t tasted fish sauce, the closest the Western palate will have tasted as a flavour is stronger version of anchovies.
In contrast, there are a number of dishes that reveal the love Laos people have for sweet things. There are several exotic fruits and sticky rice comes in a sweet version. However, unlike in other parts of Asia, ‘’sweet and sour’’ is not really common in Laos. Lemongrass, chili and galangal are common flavourings while eggplant and tomato are used for dips.
When to Visit Laos
The dry season is the best time to visit Laos. The rains finish around September so from October around until April, you are unlikely to have any problems reaching the remote parts of the Country. Don’t think however that monsoon rains are persistent and always torrential. There may only be an occasional afternoon shower on many days, certainly at the beginning of the rainy season.
Even during July and August at the height of the wet season, the rain can come through the night. Temperatures are at their height in these months however.
If there advantages of low season, it comes in prices and smaller crowds. Luang Prabang may be the place where fewer crowds are a bonus.
A Few Final Tips on Laos
• Laos has a visa on arrival system though visas can be obtained in advance and also extended while in the country at Vientiane. If in doubt, talk to your Laos travel agent.
• Credit cards are becoming more common in use as tourism grows. ATMs are in Vientiane and increasingly elsewhere. The euro is widely accepted in tourist areas.
• You should take a photocopy of your passport and carry it while keeping your original safe.
• Drugs are not tolerated under any circumstances.
• Avoid being critical of the government.
• It is important to respect religious sites. That means dressing appropriately; no shorts, bare shoulders for example and take your shoe off if you wish to enter temples.
• Do not touch anyone’s head or point with your feet, no matter how innocently.