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What’s a Trip to Laos Really Like?

What’s a Trip to Laos Really Like?

Landlocked between China, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, Laos is a country full of river towns, temples and natural wonders. It’s one of the most laid-back places I’ve been — so many lazy days hanging out on balconies overlooking beautiful river scenes. I’ve written heaps about Laos before but this post is a little different — not a lot of practical information but hopefully it gives you an insight into what to expect from a trip to Laos!

The Land of River Towns

Tourist towns in Laos tend to be located on the banks of the country’s many rivers — you won’t struggle to get a room with a view. They’re often very basic huts (cheap!) with just a bed and a mosquito net, but that’s often all you’ll need.

Don Det, a tiny island in southern Laos, is home to my favourite river town of all. It spreads out along both coasts from the main village/ ferry port — a sunset side and a sunrise side. It’s easy to walk or cycle around and there are dozens of restaurants, cafés, bars and guesthouses, most with views of the river. It’s one of the most relaxing places I’ve been — I can’t wait to get back there for a third time!

A restaurant on the sunset side of Don Det, 4000 islands, Laos

Other river towns include Vang Vieng, Muang Noi, Nong Kiaw and the biggest city in the north; Luang Prabang. The first three are similar to Don Det, small towns you can walk around in 30 minutes or less and with stunning pieces of nature a walk or bike ride away.

Highlights of 3 years in Southeast Asia - Best village - Muang Ngoi, LaosBoats in Nong Khiaw, Laos

Luang Prabang, nestled between two rivers, has more of a city atmosphere. It’s one of the prettiest cities in Asia and there’s heaps to do nearby — plan a day or two extra if you prefer a bit of bustle over small towns.

The view of the Nam Khan River from Phou SiWhere the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers meetblue pools at Kuang Si Falls, Luang Prabang, Laos

A Place to Ride Bikes

Most tourist towns in Laos are located within beautiful natural landscapes. Bikes are the best way to explore the surrounds and you don’t usually have to cycle far to see the best stuff. Rent a bike on Don Det and ride to a waterfall, an old French bridge / village and a port where you can do a tour to see river dolphins.

Do the same in Vang Vieng and you’ll find swimming holes, caves, mountain hikes and more. If you love the kind of scenery you’ve seen in this post so far you need to plan a trip to Laos!

A dirt road on the outskirts of Vang Vieng, Laos

Off the Tourist Trail

Despite being close to Vietnam and Thailand, Laos sees a lot less tourist traffic than those more popular countries. Visitors to Laos tend to be travelling the region, often for months at a time, rather than a quick two week holiday like you’d see more in Thailand, Vietnam and even Cambodia. It’s partly because Laos doesn’t have the iconic sights like those countries do (Cambodia would be the same if not for Angkor Wat).

It’s also not the easiest place to get around and is landlocked, so no beaches (unless you count river beaches). I reckon it’s easier to meet other travellers in places like Laos, especially if you’re a little older than the typical early 20s backpackers you’ll often find in Thailand. Sit outside your river hut or in one of the restaurants nearby and you’ll get talking to all sorts of people.

A Little Bit of History

Laos doesn’t quite have the ruins that Thailand, Cambodia or Myanmar boast, but it does have Wat Phu, an impressive Khmer temple complex near Don Det.

For something more unique head for the Plain of Jars. Hundreds of ancient jars strewn across an otherwise nondescript area — no one knows who built them or why!

The jars at Plain of Jars site 2 in Phonsavan, LaosA jar full of water at site 1, the Plain of Jars in Phonsavan, Laos

The Most Relaxing Place on Earth?

While travel between towns and cities in Laos is often the opposite to relaxing (crowded minivans / rough roads), that all changes once at your destination. Quiet towns, sunsets by the river, very friendly locals and DIY bike tours and walks on the outskirts of most towns allow you to find your own balance of relaxation and activity. Laos might not be at the top of your travel wish-list, but hopefully you’ve bumped it up a few places after reading this post!

Are you keen to visit Laos? Let me know in the comments below!

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who hates talking about himself in the third person and has no imagination when it comes to naming websites.