Laos — Overview
Laos is a small land-locked country known for its tranquility and laid-back atmosphere. Visitors will enjoy traveling and exploring Laos on a leisurely pace, from the Plain of Jars in the north to beautiful mountains surrounding Pakse in the south. Vientiane, the capital is also the largest city nestled along the banks of Mekong; a great place to enjoy Lao food, sticky rice, a Beer Lao, and watch the sunset.
Most visitors will spend a day or two in the capital and longer in Luang Prabang, the UNESCO World Heritage site, before heading off to the northern part of the country. Visit the temples and take a river cruise on one of the many speed boats available for rent. The beauty of the Mekong River is captivating, but so are the many caves along the way. The most interesting is the Pak Ou Caves, also known as Buddha caves, full of statues dedicated to the god. In Xieng Khouang province, just south of Luang Prabang, find the intriguing Plain of Jars – which remains a mystery as to their use and origin.
Surrounded by China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand, Laos has had a colorful history. Regularly invaded by its neighbors, especially the Thais and Burmese, most of the temples in Vientiane were destroyed. Laos was a French colony from 1893 to 1945 and remnants of its colonial past can be seen in Luang Prabang. Unlike other parts of Asia, excellent French and European cuisine can be found for reasonable prices. In fact, the French baguette has become part of Lao cuisine, served up as a khao chi sandwich, with paté and hot sauce on almost every street corner.
Finding accommodations in Vientiane even during the peak season is not difficult and a range options from inns to five-star boutique properties are present. The limited number of hotels in Luang Prabang means that booking ahead is a must, especially during Laos New Year, summer and winter months. The southern part of Laos is still fairly undiscovered so it’s easy to explore without feeling too touristy.
The main gateway into Laos is Wattay International Airport, with the national carrier, Lao Airlines, offering domestic connections. International flights primarily come from Thailand and Vietnam, with most Western visitors requiring a visa. It is also possible enter Laos via the Friendship Bridge from Thailand at Nong Khai, as well as a few other overland routes from Thailand, Vietnam and China.
Domestic travel is best done via plane, as most of the roads are not well-maintained and in some cases can be dangerous. Once in the cities, it is easy to get around by foot, taxi or three-wheel motorized rickshaw. Renting scooters is popular with visitors, but does lead to accidents, so it is better to opt for bicycles instead. Otherwise, flagging down a taxi or rickshaw for a half-day or full-day is a cheap and easy option.
- Enjoy the sunset along the Mekong River, sipping a Beer Lao and eating sticky rice
- Bargain and shop to your heart’s content at the Morning Market in Vientiane
- Take in the tranquility and beauty of Luang Prabang and its many beautiful temples
- Wake up early to give alms to the monks
- Try the French baguette that has become a Lao staple in a khao chi sandwich
- Head to Vang Vieng for a fun day out in nature and some tubing
- Explore the mysterious Plain of Jars in Phonsavan