Things To Do In Laos
Laos (pronounced “la-o” – the ‘s’ is silent). I had no idea what to expect when I went, having heard very little about the country and its people before I arrived. Perhaps I thought it would be something like Vietnam but not as busy. Or like Cambodia but not as rough. Or like Thailand but not as commercial. And even though all those are true, with the myriad of things to do in Laos, it has a beauty and quality all to itself.
It personifies serenity, peace, and tranquility. A country where the people seem content to live their lives at their own speed and in their own way, it is an amazing thing to witness and experience. Time slows down and laziness becomes a virtue in Laos, the sleepy southeast asian paradise. With so many things to do in Laos, it’s hard to pick only a few, but here’s were my favourite experiences.
1. Swimming In Kuang Si Waterfalls
One of the most beautiful and picturesque waterfalls and wading pools that I have ever seen, the Kuang Si Waterfalls is just 30kms south of Luang Prabang. Here you can swim in pools of milky waters, one of which has a rope swing you can use to jump in, if you’re brave enough. A great place to chill and meet other travellers, you can easily spend an entire day here. You can hire a tuktuk to drive and wait for you, but be prepared to pay more if you’re alone or wait for the tuktuk to fill up with other travellers. It’s best to group up with a bunch of travellers and bargain collectively with the tuktuk drivers, as there are lots around. Or you can rent a scooter and head out on your own, but even then I would suggest a riding buddy. Look out for the little fish that nip at your dead skin. Feels kind of weird and ticklish but hey, free exfoliation!
2. Visit Pha That Luang
In most cases, I would suggest skipping the sleepy capital of Laos altogether, but if you’re travelling across Laos, it’s almost inevitable that you will pass through Vientiane. Not that it’s bad, there just isn’t that much to see – except for Pha That Luang. Fortunately, Pha That Luang alone may be worth coming to Vientiane, even if just for a night. A massive gold covered Buddhist stupa in the middle of the city, it really is an impressive sight. Just ignore the local women with caged birds asking you for money to free them. This just perpetuates their capture and encourages the practice to continue.
3. Witness The Buddhist Alms Ceremony In Luang Prabang
Although the ceremony has become somewhat of a tourist attraction now, it still might be worth witnessing if you’re willing to wake up by 5:30am. And while there has been question about the authenticity of the ceremony recently, please try to remain respectful as the monks walk by and receive the alms. Dress respectfully, only give food that you have prepared yourself (not purchased from a vendor specifically for the monks as it may be spoiled and can make them sick), don’t get in their way, and don’t push your camera into their faces.
4. Take A Slow Boat Down The Mekong River
For me, nothing embodies my time in Laos more than the 2 day slow boat journey down the Mekong River. It wasn’t comfortable nor exciting but it was the first moment that I truly felt that I was really on an adventure around the world. I talk all about the amazing cruise in more detail in my blog post about the slow boat down the Mekong River.
5. Bowling In Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang’s beauty, charm, and abundance of attractions makes it deservedly a UNESCO World Heritage City. However, because of this status, they also enforce a strict drinking curfew and all bars close at 23:30. Meaning that all the fun at Utopia shuts down at 11:00pm and everybody is promptly ejected from the bar 30 minutes later. Luckily, scores of tuktuks will already be waiting outside, ready to whisk away drunken backpackers to the only place in town serving alcohol (well, technically, it’s outside of town which is why they’re allowed to remain open). Anyway, “the bowling alley” is the only place to go if you want some nightlife action. Who knows, you may even want to bowl when you’re there.
6. Tubing in Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng has a bit of a bad reputation. Years back, it was southeast asian hotspot for backpackers looking for a place to party. Set in an idyllic jungle with a relatively calm river and beautiful limestone rock formations as scenery, tubing was a wildly popular activity where you would stop at numerous bars, drink, dance, swing off a rope into the river, before hopping back into your tube and drift onto the next bar. That was until backpackers started to die while diving right into the rocks while drunk. Thankfully, things have changed now and there are only 3 bars (this was back in 2014 so things might have changed again), so while there is still a great party atmosphere, it’s not quite as out of control as it used to be. So grab that tube, jump into the river, and paddle your way to the next bar.
7. Chill Out On Don Det (4000 Islands)
Don Det is so chill, it makes the rest of Laos seem chaotic. Time has no meaning on this island, one of supposedly 4000 in the sleepy southern area of Laos. You can go kayaking on the Mekong, perhaps see a dolphin while you’re out or go tubing at sunset. Chill out at one of the many bars and cafes on the island and watch the world go by, partaking in some “happy” brownies, if that’s your thing. If you do end up going, check out Reggae Bar and look for Manny, the bar manager – it’s a super place to just chill, kick back, and forget all your worries.
8. Explore Tham Phu Kham Cave (Blue Lagoon)
One of the great non-partying highlights of Vang Vieng, you can rent a scooter and ride out to this lagoon and cave combo. A mere 7 kms west of town, the lagoon with milky blue/green waters is a great place to cool down after exploring the amazing caves nearby. Expect to be hot as you have to first climb 100m up to the cave entrance. Once inside, it’ll be a dark trek 300m to the main attraction of the caves, the stunning Sleeping Buddha. You’ll need some sort of light, either a torch or headlamp (you can rent one at the cave entrance), as the cave is completely pitch black. After you’re finished, jump off the tree or rope swing into the lagoon and spend the rest of your day relaxing while surrounded by the beautiful Laos scenery.
9. Eat Laos Street Food
I’ve had French Baguettes in Paris and Banh Mi in Vietnam, and for some reason, I think Laotian bread is still among the best. I don’t know if it’s the bread itself or all the goodies they put inside the sandwich, but do not miss a chance to have a cheap Laotian sandwich from one of the many street carts around the land. In particular, the lady right in front of the tube renting store in Vang Vieng brings back fond memories. Another great street food experience are the street buffets in Luang Prabang. For a mere 15,000 kip (about $1.50), you can load up your plate with as much food as you want (vegetarian only, meat is extra)! After a few meals, you become quite the expert at Food Jenga, building a vertical tower of food on your plate. If cold buffet food isn’t your style though, you can ask the vendors to heat it up for you and they’ll happily fry it up into an indiscernible mish mash of noodles, vegetables, and rice.
10. Drink Laos Laos
Or maybe not. Yeah, perhaps it would be best to avoid this actually, even though you will probably be asked more than once to try it. It’s basically Laotian moonshine and is sometimes offered as “free whiskey” as part of a meal. If the waiter comes out with what looks like a bottle of Nestle bottled water and a shot glass, then you know the Laos Laos is coming. It’s commonly joked that Laos Laos and gasoline share quite a bit in common – same same, but different. Drink at your own risk!
Wow, writing this article is making me extremely nostalgic. With so many more things to do in Laos, the two weeks I spent there just didn’t seem long enough. If you haven’t been yet though then book your flight now! While tourism is quite popular there, it is not even close to how commercial Thailand or Vietnam are now. Laos has so much to offer and is still as yet preserved from rampant tourism.
What stood out the most for you in Laos? What were your top things to do in Laos?