Laos, or the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, is a Southeast Asian country that shares borders with China, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. Unlike some of its more famous neighbors, Laos is relatively quiet in terms of tourism, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of reasons to visit.
Full of charming historic towns, impressive temples, lush jungle scenery, and mouth-watering cuisine, you’ll discover a host of things to fall in love with in Laos. Just be sure to check the Laos visa requirements before you read on to discover the top reasons to visit the country.
The Capital, Vientiane
Vientiane is the largest city in Laos and the capital of the country, but it has the vibe of a much smaller town. The city’s French Quarter is chock-full of gorgeous colonial architecture, and there are also a number of impressive historic temples to explore.
The most notable of these is That Luang. This vast complex encompasses 2 Buddhist temples and a 45-metre-tall stupa coated in gold leaf, surrounded by fortress-like high walls. The intricate designs and the large number of Buddha statues at the Wat Si Saket temple are also well worth checking out.
Vientiane also boasts a vibrant nightlife and is probably the best place to experience the Lao New Year celebrations.
Luang Prabang and Van Vieng
Two smaller towns you should definitely consider visiting while in Laos are Luang Prabang and Van Vieng.
The former is a charming UNESCO World Heritage site in the north of the county, nestled among forested hills and surrounded by nature. Full of historic and cultural heritage, Luang Prabang offers a mix of French colonial buildings, former royal palaces, and over 30 temples to explore.
Similarly, Van Vieng is surrounded by some of the most impressive natural landscapes you can hope to find in Laos. Located on the banks of the Nam Song River, it is also an ideal place to do some tubing- a popular water sports activity among visitors to the country.
Some of the Most Dramatic Waterfalls in Southeast Asia
In addition to tubing, Laos is a magnet for lovers of all sorts of outdoor pursuits, including biking and trekking. If you’re keen to get out into the Laotian countryside and explore the vast wilderness areas, then you should definitely consider a hiking trip to the Bolaven Plateau. Here you’ll find some of the most spectacular waterfalls in Southeast Asia, including Tad Fane and Dong Hua Sao.
You can also find many of the country’s dramatic waterfalls on the Si Phan Don “Four Thousand” Islands, an archipelago in the Mekong River near the border with Cambodian border.
The Delicious Cuisine
Although it shares some similarities with Indian and Thai food and can be just as spicy, Laotian cuisine stands apart due to 3 unique local dishes that are a must-try during your stay:
- Larb – Also known as laab or laap, this spicy dish consists of marinated meat or fish (sometimes served raw) combined with a mix of green vegetables, herbs, and spices.
- Tam mak hoong – Translated as “green papaya salad” in English, this popular dish is made with shredded unripe papaya, a fruit you will encounter a lot in Laos. Other vegetables such as eggplant and green beans are often added to the mix, and it is usually seasoned with fish sauce, shrimp paste, garlic, and lime.
- Sticky rice – Known as khao niew in the Laotian language, locals use sticky rice as the base for nearly every meal, Made from a type of glutinous rice that has a high sugar content, the grain becomes sticky when it is steamed.
It’s worth mentioning that the food in Laos is incredibly cheap, so you don’t need to worry about spending heaps of cash on eating out if you’re traveling on a tight budget.
The Opportunity to Stay in a Treehouse
If you’ve ever added ‘spend a night in a treehouse’ to your travel bucket list, then you’ll be able to cross that particular item off during your stay in Laos.
The Nam Kan National Park, located close to the border with Thailand, is home to the world’s tallest treehouses, which are perched roughly 30 to 40 meters above the jungle floor.
The treehouses are managed by a local conservation project called the Gibbon Experience, which aims to protect the native forest and population of black-crested gibbons while promoting ecotourism that benefits the local community.
While staying in the treehouses, you’ll be able to observe the gibbons up-close in their natural habitat, and take trekking tours through the surrounding jungle scenery. However, if you’re not a fan of speed or heights, you might want to give the experience a miss: the only way to reach the treehouses is via a network of zip lines suspended high up among the trees!
Laos is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, and while the lack of coastlines mean that a beach holiday is off the cards, it’s incredibly easy to cross the border to any one of the numerous neighboring territories.
If you are planning to visit Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Thailand, or Vietnam from Laos, just remember that you’ll likely need an individual visa for each country unless your nationality is visa-exempt. Luckily, many of these countries offer visa on arrival facilities at the border, meaning that you don’t need to worry about organizing travel documents in advance.