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Laos is often overlooked by its more popular neighbors. A visit to Laos is, in many ways, a trip back in time. Travelers are drawn here by a laid-back lifestyle that has disappeared elsewhere in the region. The forested mountains of Northern Laos, the gothic limestone karsts of the south and the mystic city of Luang Prabang are all worth a visit. For us the highlights of Laos were found in less visited places further north, in quiet riverside villages overlooked by craggy green mountains.

Discover the serenity of Luang Prabang, wander the tranquil monasteries and experience the French colonial influence while sipping a coffee at a café. The French influence is still present: you smell freshly baked bread in the morning and coffee mingles with exotic local aromas.

As Laos is covered with thick jungle-covered mountains which in the north rise to a maximum elevation of almost 3.000 meters, it is a perfect place for nature lovers and adventure seekers. Laos is home to over one hundred species of large mammal. Many of these are familiar Asian species such as Tiger, Asian Elephant and Gaur (a species of wild cattle).

For such a small country, Laos is surprisingly diverse in terms of its people. Colorfully dressed hill tribes populate the higher elevations, while in the lowland river valleys, the ethnic Lao. Lao people are frank, open and friendly, and they possess a strongly developed sense of courtesy and respect.


Laos has a lot to offer. Below we made our own selection of places we think are definitely worth a visit.

  1. Luang Prabang – this charming city is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visit the various temples, stroll the local markets and see the French influence that is still present.
  2. Kuang Si waterfalls – dip in the turquoise pools or take a walk along the forest trails.
  3. The mysterious Pak Ou caves - crammed with Buddha images of all shapes and sizes, these two caves stand in the lower part of a limestone cliff overlooking the river.
  4. Huay Xai – spend some time in this sleepy river town and relax there for a few days.
  5. Luang Nam Tha –nowhere in Laos offers a better range of outdoor activities and meeting local hill tribe families. The treks are far less touristy and better run than the ones you find around Chiang Mai in Thailand.
  6. Vang Vieng - Vang Vieng is a riverside town about a 4-hour bus ride north of the capital. The main street is full of guesthouses, bars, restaurants, Internet cafes, tour agencies, and tourists. The area’s main attraction is the dramatic karst hill landscape surrounding Vang Vieng.
  7. Si Phan Don – mysterious islands set against a scenic section of the Mekong River in Southern Laos.
  8. Wat Phu - is a ruined Khmer temple complex located at the base of mount Phu Kao. It has a mystical atmosphere and is similar to the Angkor-era sites in Cambodia although way smaller.

What to eat

Simple, natural ingredients are the backbone of Lao cuisine. With fragrances including galangal, lemongrass, kaffir, ginger, tamarind, and coriander, Lao cuisine shares similarities with Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai food.

  1. Oh Lam - it is a stew mainly made from vegetables like beans, eggplants, gourds, black mushrooms, then seasoned with lemongrass, chili, and coriander and finally thickened with sticky rice.
  2. Khao Piak Sen - this top-notch noodle dish is probably the most common of Lao food and is a staple not so different to Pho which is synonymous with their Vietnamese neighbors.
  3. Tam Mak Hoong - green (unripe) papaya are crunched together with a handful of basic ingredients including palm sugar, lime, fish sauce, peanuts and chillies. It is really similar to the Thai papaya salad.

When to go

The best time to visit Laos is between November and April. The hot season from March to May is very dry and certain river trips are not possible. From June to October it is rainy season.

What to know

Unless you hold a passport from Japan or one of the ASEAN member states, you will need a visa to enter Laos. The good news is that you probably won’t need to arrange it in advance; thirty-day visas are now available on arrival at most international borders. Read more about the visa procedure here .

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