Laos or the Lao People’s Democratic Republic is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia with a population of approximately 6.5 million. A third of the people of Laos live below the international poverty line, meaning that they live on less than 1.25 US$ per day. Although it is a country with one of the lowest annual incomes in the world, Laos has so much beauty to provide and it would really be a shame to pass on the opportunity of seeing some of them. This small Asian country has stunning scenery that will take your breath away, limestone mountains, dense forests and spectacular waterfalls. If you are the adventurous type this is a great place for adventures and don’t get discouraged by the difficult access to some of these places as it will be all worth it once you get there.
A trip to the Bokeo Nature Reserve will make your time worth it. The reserve was created in order to protect its population of black-cheeked gibbon rediscovered in 1997 which was previously thought to be extinct. You can even stay at the Gibbon Experience, an eco tourism conservation project in the form of tree houses. Because of the high altitude the place is a good spot to watch birds and you mind even encounter elephants, tigers and wild buffalos.
A popular destination in Laos is the rustic village of Nong Kiau in Luang Prabang Province. It has many walking paths, mountain climbing and biking opportunities. One of the attractions is perhaps the bride across Nam Ou River built by China. The bridge connects the two parts of Nong Kiau and the backdrop scenery of the river and the mountains will make your trip all worthy.
Located on the Phu Hin Bun River the Tham Kong Lo, also known as Kong Lo Cave, is a limestone cave often described as a geological wonder of Southeast Asia. The karst cave is more than 6.5 km long and up to 91 meters high. It contains an emerald-coloured pool which is said to be sacred as it reflects the skin colour of the Hindi God, Indra. The great attraction of the cave is the boat ride that goes along the entire space.
The largest city in northwest Laos is Luang Namtha, a popular destination among backpackers because many usually stop here while hiking from China to Laos. Around the city are many hiking tracks into the hills and you might even have the chance to visit ethnic tribes in the nearby villages and the beautiful waterfalls.
At the base of mountain Phu Kao there is a ruined Khmer temple complex, Wat Phu, in the Champasak province. This Hindu structure dates back to the 11th century and it was part of the Khmer empire centred on Angkor to the southwest in Cambodia. Although quite small compared with the monumental sites in Angkor, Wat Phu temple displays tumbledown pavilions, enigmatic crocodile stones and tall trees giving the place an out-of-this-world vibe.
Si Phan Don is a beautiful set of islands set against a scenic section of the Mekong River in the southern part of the country. The river is impassable due to the Khone Falls, a series of rapids that stretch 9.7 km of the Mekong’s length. The three principal islands that cater to tourists are Don Det, Don Khon and Don Kong with simple, family-run lodges.
Another popular destination in Laos is Phonsavan which literally means ‘hills of paradise’ and where you can experience the US’s Old West, only with Laotian characteristics. The city main’s business is cattle raising so don’t be too surprised to see ‘cowboys’ wearing violet and brown cowboy pants. During Hmong New Year the city hosts bullfights. The plain of jars is the landmark of the place thanks to its megalithic structures that resemble jars.
Best known for its limestone karst hills, Vang Vieng is a tourist city located about four hours away from Vientiane. Thanks to its location on the Nam Song River there are many things you can do as a tourist, including kayaking and tubing. Vang Vieng is also a popular destination among adventurers because of the hiking opportunities and the caves that wait to be explored.
Of course, I couldn’t leave the capital of Laos outside of the-must visit places. Vientiane is located on the Mekong River and was once a French colony which is clearly seen throughout the city. There are plenty of attractions in Vientiane like the Buddha stupa, Pha That Luang which dates back to the 1586. The stupa is 49 meters high and is believed to contain relics of Buddha.
The most popular place to visit in Laos is Luang Parabang, a historic city that once served as the capital of the Kingdom of Laos. The city is located at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers and features numerous Buddhist temples and monasteries. In the morning you will see monks collecting alms in the morning and there are even some waterfalls nearby and if you feel like riding an elephant to them, it’s up to you. When night falls the market at the end of the town’s main street opens and is a great place to buy souvenirs from.