While less travelled that some of its neighbours, Laos is no stranger to tourism. It used to be a popular destination for partying but, it’s since turned into a more relaxed, outdoor-oriented country. Laos is steeped in nature, food, history, and Buddhism. It’s not the cheapest country in the region, (everything is imported) but it’s a must visit! We loved our time here and, while the country is no longer a “secret”, it’s a lot less visited than Thailand and Vietnam.
The first port of call for many first time travellers to Laos is the city of Luang Prabang which is along the hills of the Mekong River. We arrived on the Luang Say Residence, after reading the reviews from TripAdvisor that rank it #1.
From the arrival, we were so impressed with everything about the hotel; the greeting we received was friendly and nothing was too much of an issue. The Luang Say Residence is built to look like an older French colonial hotel with polished wood floors but it has all the modern facilities.
The English from all the staff at the hotel was impeccable – I always try and learn a bit of the language of the country I’m visiting, but I found my conversational Mongolian to be terrible so it was lucky that they could relieve me of my embarrassment.
They could not have been more helpful and gave us lots of information about the town and told us about the shuttle service that the hotel has to get us into the centre of town. They were also kind enough to recommend some tours and the ones we did, we thoroughly enjoyed.The rooms were massive; the bed was extremely comfortable and complete with mosquito netting, good lighting and a TV with many channels. The air conditioning was a godsend and the bathroom had two separate sinks, and both a bath room and a shower. Everything was spotless. My favourite aspect of the room was the balcony which was incredibly spacious and the perfect place to eat my breakfast every morning.
The swimming pool was lovely and had plenty of space so you didn’t get under the other guests’ feet. The bar is one of the old colonial-type bars in a library where you can drink in comfort. The restaurant is actually considered one of the best in town! And the breakfast is included with the room rate which is an added bonus.
Laos’ nightlife has undergone dramatic transformation in its past. From the opium culture that infiltrated the country in the late 60s, to the curfew that was enforced in the late 70s. Now, it has found its happy-point, known as the “sleepy town” of the region with South East Asia’s best beer.
The odd “happy” shake can still be found in Vang Vieng, but the rest of the country has cleaned up its act and the most outrageous night out you’ll find is in Vientiane, where a selection of nightclubs stay open past midnight. The country is fun, but it isn’t the chosen destination for your lads or girls holiday if you’re expecting wild night followed by wild night.
Lazy riverside bars and wine venues, with a handful of clubs, is the range of nightlife in Laos. The relaxing charm of Laos can reset your appreciation of the simple things.
Explore the temples
Like its neighbours, Laos has no shortage of temples to be explored. We wanted to escape the touristic crowds and appreciate the architecture so the temples are a great place to hide for some genuine peace and quiet. A popular place to visit is the Golden City Temple (Wat Xieng Thong) in the old quarter of Luang Prabang. We listened to the monks at prayer which was such an incredible experience. I definitely recommend spending a full day in Champasak – take a boat ride down Mekong River, climb to the top of the hill and take in the stunning views of Wat Phu.
Shop at the Luang Prabang night market
There are thousands of stalls selling everything and anything you can imagine. We spent a good couple of hours here looking, buying, exploring and getting lost. You’ll stumble upon something you like, whether it be hand-made clothing or rice vodka. They have restaurants and food stalls close by too, which are lovely.Venture through the underground river caves
It’s easy to spend hours of your day exploring the caves in Laos, but if you do go, you have to visit Kong Lor Cave! It’s a part of the Khammouane Khast National Protected Area and a newer region for tourism which makes its beauty unspoiled. We took a boat trip through the pitch black cave with only flash lights to guide us! Do keep an eye out for the spiders and bats though! When we got to the other side, we jumped of the cliffs and spent the day swimming.The Alms-Giving Ceremony of the Monks
We got up bright and early to experience this local and humbling experience. Just buy boxes of rice of biscuits to participate in the ceremony or you can sit back and watch in awe. The procession started on the main street near Wat Xieng Thong, where hundreds of monks will walk through the streets lined with local people and their offerings. What the monks get from the people is their food for the day, but most of it goes to poor people who are sitting along the way. I found it to be a really moving experience, regardless of religion, and I really can’t emphasise how it is not to be missed if you’re in Luang Prabang.As a forewarning: remember it’s a local ceremony and be respectful. Dress appropriately and don’t take pictures unless you ask permission!
Tubing in Vang Vieng
Known as the party destination of Laos, Vang Vieng was somewhere we had to visit! It is a lot more controlled now than it used to be; you can now go there to float down the river on a tube, hike around the mountains or explore the caves. It’s a small, tourist town which is rebranding itself to make the most of its surroundings but tubing is still very much part of it.
There’s a good mix of things to do in Laos – it’s a country full of culture and adventure. While most places are still untouched by tourism, now is the time to explore! We will definitely be re-visiting in the near future.