Laos is a charming little country that shares borders with Thailand, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Myanmar. Often overlooked for more popular destinations like Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand, Laos is actually a hidden gem in the middle of Indochina, and one of the peninsula’s best-kept secrets.
Laos is an emerging destination in Southeast Asia but travellers who have ventured into the country believe it deserves more tourist attention. And we couldn’t agree more. Here’s why Laos should be your next travel destination.
1. Natural attractions abound in Laos.
With its stunning mountainous terrain, lush parklands, spectacular waterfalls, fascinating caves, green fields, inviting lagoons, and slow-moving rivers, Laos is the perfect destination for those who seek a tranquil respite from the noise and chaos of city life. Must-visit nature getaways in Laos are Kuang Si Falls,Tad Sae Waterfall, Mount Phousi, Tham Nam, Tham Chang Cave, and the Elephant Conservation Center. If you’re an adventure junkie at heart, you can also try outdoor activities like caving, ziplining, and rock-climbing.
2. The atmosphere is relaxed and laid-back.
Laos is probably one of the most relaxed countries in the world. If you’re tired and weary of the fast-paced atmosphere in bustling cities like Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok, you will love it there. Even in its large cities like Vientiane and Luang Prabang, the vibe is truly laid-back. The friendly locals, always happy and contented, go about their lives in an unhurried, easygoing pace. Laos is definitely an awesome destination for slowing down and chilling out.
3. Laos has a surging food and coffee scene.
Lao cuisine may share common elements with other Southeast Asian cuisines but what’s distinct about the cuisine is the emphasis on the use of fresh, natural, and simple ingredients and uncomplicated cooking methods. Lao dishes you have to try are laap or minced meat salad, tam mak houng or papaya salad, and klao niaw or the ubiquitous sticky rice. Now, before you erroneously assume that Lao cuisine is heavily influenced by Thai cuisine, it is actually the other way around. Popular northern and northeastern Thai dishes that made Thai dishes popular like som tam salad (papaya salad) and laarb muang moo (minced pork salad) originated in Laos.
Another can’t-miss food while visiting in Laos is the khao jee sandwich, a French-inspired all-day street food made from filling a baguette vegetables, meats, pate, and chili garlic sauce, similar to the Vietnamese banh mi. Khao jee sandwich is best eaten with a cup of cold or warm Lao coffee.
Laos produces exceptionally good coffee and the whole country takes pride in the quality of the coffee produced by the farming communities on the Bolaven Plateau of Champasak Province. For a taste of the country’s dedicated coffee culture, have a cup of rich and strong coffee at any of the coffee houses in Vientiane or Luang Prabang.
4. Laos is a culturally rich country.
For lovers of history and culture, Laos offers many cultural and historical attractions. Must-visits are Vat Phou, Si Phan Don, Pha That Luang, Patuxai Victory Monument, Luang Prabang, and the Plain of Jars.
Located at the foot of Mount Phu Kao in Southern Laos, the ruins of Vat Phou, which dates back to the 5th century, is one of the oldest archaeological sites in Laos, even older than the Angkor temples of Cambodia. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002, the Khmer temple complex offers spectacular views of the Mekong River and the surrounding landscape.
Si Phan Don (translated as The Four Thousand Islands) is an archipelago located in the Mekong River in Champasak Province that’s widely popular for its waterfalls and breathtaking scenery. A must-visit attraction near Si Phan Don is the Lee Pi Waterfalls where you can watch the endangered freshwater Irrawady dolphins.
At the heart of Vientiane is Pha That Luang, a majestic gold-covered stupa that represents both the Buddhist religion and the nation’s sovereignty. Built in 1566, it is now the most important national monument in Laos and stands beside the National Parliament. Visiting the Pha That Luang is best done during the Pha That Luang Festival or Laos’ National Holiday when people from all over the country flock to the monument for the religious ceremony and the week-long festivities.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, Luang Prabang, the ancient capital of Laos, is the country’s cultural and spiritual center. Featuring colonial architecture, temples, monasteries, palaces, and natural attractions, the town is a big favourite among tourists. In the recent years, its population swelled and the investments poured in but the town remains as charming and laid-back as ever.
Another tourist attraction worth visiting is the Patuxai or Victory Gate. One of the country’s most photographed and most popular landmarks, it is located on Vientiane’s Lang Xang Avenue. The colossal arch is a war monument dedicated to the Lao people who bravely fought for the country’s independence from France. Built in 1957 and completed in 1968, the monument features the traditional Lao architectural style.
Laos’ Plain of Jars is probably one of Southeast Asia’s most interesting attractions. The Plain of Jars consists of thousands of huge stone jars spread across ninety different sites in Central Laos. Made of sandstone, granite, or limestone, the jars are said to have been created by a still unidentified civilization that may have existed during the Southeast Asian iron age. Many theories exist regarding the origin of the stone jars and many believe that the jars were crafted using iron tools, perhaps by Austro-Asiatic or Indian tribes that inhabited the region.
Ready to explore Laos for the first-time? Create the perfect itinerary with these tours and excursions in and around Laos.
By: Brendelyn Balaga