Travel Laos: Southeast Asia’s Hidden Gem
Why You Should Travel To Laos
The small country of Laos in Southeast Asia isn’t high on most American travel bucket lists. Yet, maybe it should be!
This summer we spend almost 4 weeks in Southeast Asia.
Our perspective highlights were to be Thailand and Vietnam. However, in the planning stages, we decided to spend 5 days traveling through Loas, instead of skipping over it by plane.
The country of Laos is nestled between Thailand and Vietnam, with Myanmar and China on the northern border, and Cambodia to the south. It is completely landlocked.
Laos is roughly the size of Oregon, with approximately 7 million people in the entire country… Keep in mind, both Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok (to the east and west) have over 8 million people within the city limits.
Travel Laos: Southeast Asia’s Hidden Gem
Why the comparison? While both Thailand and Vietnam have wild rugged terrain scattered across their countryside, they also have a lot of people, and a lot of tourists.
Laos, on the other hand, is raw. Untouched. With vast wilderness everywhere you look.
The largest city in Laos is home to less than 200,000 people.
So that means if you want to go somewhere with authentic cultural experiences, stunning natural beauty, and not a lot of other tourists, Laos might just be for you!
Who Should Travel To Laos?
Do you consider yourself adventurous? Wild at heart? Then you may love a Laos vacation.
Laos attracts adventurers, backpackers, and average travelers who have hit all the more popular hotspots and are ready for something new and exciting.
Laos offers many places to hike, climb, kayak, and cave. Or you can simply lay back and cruise down the Mekong River on a longboat!
Most of the tourists coming to Laos are Korean are Chinese. There is also a sprinkling of American and European backpackers. These adventurers come to explore the wilderness, jump in natural blue lagoons, and live like kings on a budget.
What To Do In Laos
If you’ve got a good pair of legs and a tenacious spirit, there are so many fun things to do in Laos…
- Swim in waterfalls and lagoons
- Cruise the Mekong River
- Rock climb
- Mountain or road bike
- Go cave rafting
- Visit hidden temples
- Explore the ancient village of Luan Prabang (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
- Spend a day on a living rice farm
- And eat, eat, eat!
Our Laos Travel Experience
We started our Laos adventure on the northern Thai-Laos border. Our first stop was to board a longboat for a 2 day trip down the Mekong River.
The first two days were very relaxing. We lounged on our private open-air boat, took in the lush mountainous scenery, lunched on beef lemongrass kebabs and curry dishes, and stopped to peruse tiny villages.
Our first night we stopped in the little village of Pakbeng, the halfway point between the Thai border and Luang Prabang. This little village offers two elegant mountaintop hotels, a couple dozen backpacker hostels, expansive views of the grand Mekong River basin, and a true taste of rustic Lao culture.
The second day we stopped at small riverside villages to purchase hand-woven fabrics and Loa whiskey… Which is basically moonshine.
Then we headed onto Luang Prabang, the most elegant stop in our Laos travels. Luang Prabang was once a French colonial village, now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are beautiful homes along the riverfront, quaint shops, tons are great little restaurants and lounges, and luxurious hotels.
Our second day in Luang Prabang, we visited a living farm and learned how to grow and harvest rice. This was MUCH more fun than it sounds. The kids absolutely loved it!
We hiked to the top of the famous Kuang Si Waterfalls. Our final stop was Vang Vieng, an old backpackers village which has the feel of a wild west saloon town… In Asia.
Vang Vieng is known for its surrounding outdoor adventures. Here we tubed and climbed through caves, kayaked, hiked, and visited crystal lagoons.
Laos Vacation Planning
We entrusted all our travel experiences to Sens Asia Travel. They booked our hotels, transportation, excursions, english-speaking guides, private air-conditioned van with a driver, and even some of our meals.
Sens Asia did a much better job booking these things, than I could have done on my own.
For example, when we arrived at the dock to get on the longboat, every other traveler headed towards the public boat. Yet our guide, who picked us up at the Thai border, took us to our own private boat. We had two days of peaceful family rest and adventure, while the others were packed together in tight seats.
Traveling with Sens Asia is more affordable than you might think. This small company works hard to give you all the best experiences for much less than many large American tourism firms can offer.
We were in really good hands the entire trip!
Is Laos Safe To Travel?
Yes. Compared to many neighboring countries, Laos is pretty safe. Violence and crime rates are fairly low.
However, you should always be careful when traveling no matter where you go.
Is It Easy To Travel In Laos?
Not really. We were fortunate to have the help of Sens Asia Travel to set up all the transportation.
You can buy inexpensive tickets to board a public longboat down the Mekong River. Yet our private boat experiences was definitely the way to go!
When traveling over the mountains, some of the roads are questionable, and large buses might not be able to make the trip. Due to this, small public van transports can be booked in each city.
If you have plenty of time and are not on a tight schedule, these things might not be issues. Nevertheless, we were very pleased to have Sens Asia book all our private transportation.
How Long Do You Need In Laos?
We stayed 5 days. I would have liked to stay one more day in Luang Prabang. We also didn’t make it to the southern half of Laos.
Sens Asia offers tours that hit most of the places you would want to visit in 11 days.
If you were taking your time, two or three weeks would also be nice!
Do You Need A Visa To Enter Laos?
Yes. You can get a visa at any Laos border with your American passport and $35 cash.
Please note, Laos is very particular about the foreign currency they collect. The bills need to be new and completely unmarked. If there are any small tears or pen marks on a bill, they will not accept it.
We were pleasantly surprised by our time in Laos. It was a place I would want to visit again.
Make sure to check out our post on Thailand and watch for our post on Vietnam next week!