There are so many people squawking about Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam but poor Laos is often overlooked and no particular reason. Thailand has famous beaches, Vietnam has incredible street food and Cambodia has stunning ancient ruins but what does Laos have? What DOESN’T it have?
Laos is a land covered in 50 shades of green, thick jungle and I love the general air of ‘under dog’. It’s managed to soak up a little bit of the best of everything about Southeast Asia and displayed it all in one mountainous, thrilling, spiritual, homely compact country.
Please Don’t Rush – PDR
Locals and traveller alike joke that the People Democratic Republic of Laos should be changed to Please Don’t Rush. They’re not wrong. In Laos you’re on Laos time, breath a little slower, take less strides and just go with the gentle flow.
*Queue TLC humming*. There are many waterfalls dotted throughout the jungle and a trip to Laos wouldn’t be complete with some wild swimming all those freezing cold bubbling pools. The most popular waterfalls are the Kuang Si Falls just 29km outside of Luang Prabang. Just because they are frequently visited shouldn’t put you off, just make a priority of coming early and enjoy the privacy of the pools to yourself. The main falls are 60 feet tall and totally hikeable.
The humidity and mountainous terrain of Laos means that you’re pretty much surrounded by green jungle everywhere you go, yeah, you’re literally inches away from glossy green jungle all the time. Budding Tarzan and Jane’s may consider The Bokeo Nature Reserve, just outside of Huay Xai close to the Thai and Myanmar borders. The nature reserve become slightly well known thanks to the Gibbon Experience.
Vang Vieng in particular is the home of Laos’s heart pumping activities. Caving, quadbiking, tubing, hiking, mountain biking and river swinging are all readily available at the drop of a hat. Personally I spend my time in Vang Vieng in a Kayak; tanning, enjoying the solitude of me, a paddle and the river – not so heart pumping but it’s so wonderful.
There is no doubt that Vietnam and Thailand have the upper hand when it comes to regional food, having said that, the food that Laos serves is fresh, delicious, cooked beautifully and very colourful. The skinny, smoke filled street food market of Luang Prabang is lined with fresh meat, fish and rice dishes, noodle salads and chunky tropical fruits. $2 will leave you in a sleepy food coma for hours. Lap/Larp/Laap is a particular favourite of mine and never fails to give me food smiles. A fresh, meaty, herby, limey dish with the hint of chilli is best served in rolls of lettuce leaves and dunked in fish sauce or sweet chilli sauce.
Local indigo can add a lovely dark blue to your wardrobe, cute hand embroidered scarves, books, notepads make a delightful and well received homecoming present.
If you’re into temple hopping then Laos will blow your head off. At 5am across this beautiful country, hundreds of saffron cladded monks will be doing the Alms Walk where they collect local donations of food from locals. Every town will have several golden, shimmering temples with the scent of incense streaming out, it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing to behold.
Laos has some BEAUTIFUL sunsets. I know lots of people will argue but, just, *sigh* trust me here. Chilling with a Beer Lao along the river of Vang Vieng as the sun disappears behind the mountains is the embodiment of why you should be in Laos.
Laos has had some traumatic times and they hide it very well but behind those cheeky smiles and giggles is the fact that Laos is one of the hungriest countries in the world and over half the population is food insecure in a land where there are 500’000 unexploded bombs completely hidden from sight which kill and injure hundreds of Laotians every year. There are some brilliant charities that have popped up over the last few years to combat these difficulties. COPE in Vientiane is a hard-hitting visitors centre helping those people damaged by UXO bombs by providing them with artificial limbs and also support other charities to remove unearth bombs. It’s a really important place to start your education of Laos. Big Brother Mouse in Luang Prabang is aimed at bringing new books in Lao and gives you the chance to help teach children their English language skills and donate books their libraries.. Another worth while charity is Friends which can be found in a handful of places in Asia but Khaiphaen in Luang Prabang opened in 2004, in partnership with the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare to address the needs of street children and young people in Laos.
So what is the point of going to Laos, well hopefully these 9 reasons are enough to convince you. I normally spend a week at a time here but 10/14 days would let you explore the whole country at a slow and steady pace.