In our opinion, Laos is one of the most charming countries to travel in Southeast Asia. It really left an impression on us, perhaps because we didn’t know what to expect? There are no beaches, no major landmarks and no large cities, yet, for us, it was a backpacker’s paradise and a true breath of fresh air.
Laos isn’t a large country, but it’s very spread out. Perhaps that’s why some travellers miss parts of it. We crossed the southern border from northern Cambodia, so we spent a glorious week in the 4000 Islands region and Pakse before catching a night bus up North. While it’s a long journey between the north and south, the northern highlights – Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiane – are all relatively clustered together.
Besides the serene Buddhist culture and the rugged, mountainous landscape, another constant in your journey through Laos will be the magnificent Mekong River. Not only is it a lifeline for Laotians, providing their food and livelihoods, but it’s an inescapable way of life. Spend chilled afternoons sipping BeerLao on riverside beaches in the 4000 Islands region, or float on a tube as the sun dips below the horizon in a red fiery haze.
The official name of Laos is the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and people affectionately claim PDR stands for ‘please don’t rush’. We think they must be right! Everything travels at a snail’s pace in Laos, nobody seems to worry about anything or rush from A to B.
Laos is a very poor and undeveloped country, in part due to the turbulent withdrawal of colonial French powers in the 1950s, the subsequent civil war which lasted from 1959-1975 and a horrific bombing campaign carried out by the US during the Vietnam War to disrupt communist supply chains. Did you know that Laos is the most bombed country in the world?
Nowadays, most Laotians live in rural areas relying on farming to sustain themselves. Tourism is steady, and if anything, it’s calmed down in recent years. Vang Vieng for example was once an infamous backpacker haven where countless travellers died in water and drink-related accidents. Once a notorious activity, tubing is now a much safer affair, catering to a rather small group of travellers. Generally, people seem quite happy to just chill out and experience nature.
Highlights for us included Don Det and Don Khone in the 4000 Islands region, climbing to Pha Ngeun and Nam Xay viewpoints in Vang Vieng and the ridiculously charming UNESCO World Heritage Centre Luang Prabang
Laos is one of those countries that has something to offer any traveller. Its slow pace of life suited us down to the ground, but so did the endless opportunities for adventure and exploration. You can either chill out or get moving. Or both. Either way, you won’t want to leave.