Often overlooked in favor of its more “famous” neighbouring countries, the mountainous landlocked country of Laos offers a stunning respite from the development and crowds of Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites are spread throughout the country, while you are never too far away from eco-friendly activities, thick jungles, adrenaline-pumping activities, and mysterious sites. If you’re wondering where to choose for your next holiday to Southeast Asia, let us tell you why an adventure in Laos will never disappoint.
Immersive Natural Beauty
Laos is renowned for its wild rugged scenery. The northern regions are covered by steep mountains, rushing rivers, raging waterfalls, and lush, thick rainforests. As the Mekong River snakes through the country, a swirl of golden and brown hues, rice fields stretch as far as the eye can see while karst limestone formations harbouring hidden caves shoot upright out of the earth. The 100 Waterfalls Trail out of Nong Khiaw is a very popular day-trek in Northern Laos, where as the name suggests, takes travellers past hundreds of cascading waterfalls to remote villages deep in the jungle.
In the south, the Bolaven Plateau, a highland area created from an extinct volcano, is an emerald green world rarely visited by international tourists who seldom journey past the capital of Vientiane. Rent a motorbike for a few days and make the famous Bolaven Plateau loop, stopping at small villages to drink a cup of earthy local coffee and admiring the beauty of Tad Lo Waterfall. It’s also possible to organize homestays here to get to know the way of life in this southern region of Laos.
Lastly, the archipelago of Si Phan Don, known by the more famous international name of the 4000 Islands, welcomes nature lovers and honeymooners to enjoy the quiet beaches and island life in the middle of the mighty Mekong River. Spend the day cycling around Khong Island or just work on your tan while reading a book on the river bank.
Outdoor Adventure Activities
Outdoor enthusiasts will love Laos for its sheer volume of recreational activities. Just 3 hours north of Luang Prabang is the small town of Nong Khiaw. Here all manner of adrenaline-pumping activities exist, from zip-lining and kayaking to white water rafting and trekking through jungles, mountains, and bamboo forests.
Vang Vieng, a popular destination between Luang Prabang and Vientiane, is likewise well known for all manner of adventure activities. Try your hand at abseil rock climbing the enormous limestone boulders scattered throughout rice paddies and lush valleys.
Eco-friendly Initiatives and National Parks
Deforestration has reduced 70% of the country’s jungles to 40% in the last 60 years. However, many protected rainforest areas exist in the forms of national parks which are also home to endangered animals like wild elephants, black gibbons, moon and sun bears, cloud leopards, and the rare Indochinese tigers.
Those looking to support tourism-based conservation projects need look no further than the original Gibbon’s Experience found deep within the Nam Kan National Park along the Thai-Lao border. Sleep in the world’s highest treehouses as you zip from station to station through the rainforest canopy on gravity-defying ziplines in search of the endangered Black Gibbons who are protected here.
Laos used to be called “Lane Xang” which roughly translates to the land of a million elephants. Due to the effects of mass tourism, war and bombs, and deforestation, many elephants have been killed or mistreated, leaving many to wonder what is to be done to protect these exquiste creatures. Elephant conservation projects like Mandalao, an hour away from Luang Prabang, and the Elephant Conservation Center in Sayaboury (2.5 hour drive away from Luang Prabang) are ethical ways to interact with rescued animals in respectful and responsible ways.
Ethnic Minority Encounters
Despite its small size and population, Laos contains an unparalleled ethnic diversity due to its location and mountainous landscapes. While the government of Laos officially recognizes 49 different ethnic groups, groups like the United Nations Development Programme believe the number to be around 240 different ethnic groups based on language alone.
Laos proves the perfect place for travellers to experience authentic encounters with indigenous peoples, whether by day hikes or village visits, to understand more about the culture, cuisine, and religious beliefs of cultures rarely exposed to Western influence.
Muang La Lodge, situated deep within northern Laos, is an excellent place to take your time exploring these diverse, remote communities. With a little bit of luck you may even have time to access the villages of the Ikhos, Akha and Hmong peoples, frequently built at locations more than 1,000 metres above sea level.
Laos is a country full of spirituality, whether it’s through the predominant religion of Theravada Buddhism or animism and shamanism belief systems held by the many ethnic minorities inhabiting the region. The country’s spiritual vibe can be felt pulsating through the streets of major cities while admiring the beauty of temples and pagodas designed with a delicate blend of French and Laotian motifs, or when participating in the sacred tradition of giving alms to monks at sunrise.
Cultural heritage sites are spread throughout the country, from the mysterious plain of jars in Phonsavan to the pre-Angkorian Khmer ruins of Vat Phou and Phou Asa in Champasack Province. Indeed, a journey to Laos is never complete without a stop in Luang Prabang, the most romantic and charming town in all of Southeast Asia.
The epitome of romance and antiquated charm, Luang Prabang’s small city center surrounded by the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers is filled with UNESCO World Heritage Sites, luxurious accommodations, and exquisite dining and shopping opportunities. Stroll down the bougainvillea covered streets and watch monks wrapped in robes dyed in shades of turmeric and saffron amble towards any number of gleaming golden temples and pagodas or simple sip on a coffee while watching the rivers flow by.
Further south, the sleepy capital of Vientiane boasts wide French-inspired boulevards covered in floating frangipanis, charming colonial architecture with old world charm and extravagant spas with refined services.
We hope we’ve been able to put Laos on the map for you. When you’re ready to start planning your next adventure, get in touch with your Mundo Asia travel designer to start creating the adventure of a lifetime!