Laos is an undeveloped, landlocked country that’s pretty much been ignored by the world at large since the Vietnam War, yet is usually adored by visitors who pass through. Today, the country is reputable for its chill vibe and cheap rates. I am one of those who love Laos – I love the quiet, the scenery, even the hairpin turns that the bus driver refuses to slow down for. Okay, maybe not the last one, but I definitely love Beer Lao, which is so good many neighboring countries won’t sell it (I’m looking at you, Thailand). But after the excitement of Southeast Asia’s major cities and ancient monuments and debaucherous nights, what is there to do in Laos?
Okay, that’s a bit of a misnomer, since Laos’ biggest city, the capital Vientiane, has a population of barely 750,000, and feels nothing like a capital city. However, there are still plenty of things to see in Vientiane and other cities. Vientiane’s offerings include the free and must-see COPE Visitor Centre, which focuses on the still-unexploded bombs littering Laos and helping people who’ve been affected by them. Visitors can watch screenings of documentaries while there. The capital is also the beginning of pagoda and temple overload, including Pha That Luang and Ho Pra Keo. Break it up with a visit to Patuxia, Laos’ answer to the Arc de Triomphe. Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where you can binge on temples and get up at dawn to make offerings to the parade of monks. Break that up with a visit to the National Palace. Overall, though, the main point of these cities is to just surrender to the peace and calm while watching the sunset.
Vang Vieng is ground zero for adventuring around. It’s probably best-known for drunk tubing down the Mekong, which you’ll either love or hate, depending on how you feel about twenty-somethings playing out their “I really don’t have to grow up!” fantasies. I had a friend get all her cash stolen from her hostel while she was tubing as well, so take the necessary precautions if you do go. A better water-soaked way to spend a day is swimming in the gorge under the Tad Fane waterfall near the town of Pekse. Other quieter but way more adrenaline-inducing activities are rock climbing, renting mountain bikes for a dollar or two and riding past rice paddies and lagoons, and caving in the Pak Ou and Phu Kam caves. The caving may or may not come with a guide, and staying on course while biking is solely up to your sense of direction, so it may be adventures layered on top of adventures!
The Gibbon Experience is amazing. It’s only open in the dry season, and you stay in a canopy tree house and zipline and trek through the forest, getting stunning views of waterfalls, flora and fauna and, of course, gibbons. At the Bolaven Plateau, you can ride an elephant and then visit the breathtaking waterfalls in the rainy season. If you visit in the dry season, check out the coffee harvest. There’s also the unforgettable Elephant Conservation Center where you can visit or volunteer.
What do you like to do in Laos?