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Laos Travel Guide

February 26, 2015

laos

Today is a good day, ladies and gents, hence let me tell you a few words about a very underrated travel destination: Laos!

Even if this is not the richest country in the world, Laos makes for a very interesting realm to pay a visit to if you’re into “forgotten” places, because that word defines Laos very precisely.

Even if it still has a communist form of government, just like China, Laos is changing fast, both its economy and its tourism.

Being a landlocked country and very mountainous, Laos is located in southeast Asia and it’s bordered by Cambodia in the south, Vietnam in the east, Myanmar and China on the northern border and Thailand on the west.

With a land area of 236,000 square kilometers and a population of 6.7 million souls, Laos is a very divers (ethnically speaking) country and boasts with three official languages, with English being one of them (So, you’re safe).

Being swamped by jungles, just like the ones in Indiana Jones, Laos is one of those “ultimate travel frontiers” kind of thing.

Even if it has a rugged terrain and outlook, Laos’s capital Vientiane is actually pretty cosmopolitan and boasts with its café culture, an old reminiscence from Laos’s colonial past (from when it was part of the French Indochina).

The atmosphere is laidback, the cities/the country itself are relatively unspoiled as they lack our modern day and age development, making for one of the last authentic places to visit among southeast Asia countries.

Laos mountains

What to see, what to do in Laos

Let’s start with a visit in the Boloven Plateau, located in Champassak province, where you’ll have the time of your life : here you can enjoy  riding elephants and trekking. The main city in the region is Pakse, a very diverse (from an ethnical point of view) place and from here you can explore the plateau in all directions.

While in Pakse, you can cruise the Mekong river, in an idyllic way (on a teak barge) and you can see the whole country while you’re at it, ancient temples and villages and what not.

Boloven Plateau

With Laos being a hill /mountainous country, go climb Mount Phousi and you’ll enjoy the splendid panoramic view over Luang Prabang and as an extra, take a peek to the beautiful surrounding hills and rivers.

Luang Prabang

Four Thousand Islands is an unspoiled archipelago on the Mekong river and here you can admire some of the most beautiful creatures in the world in Khone Phapheng : the irrawaddy dolphins, an endangered species.

If you’re visiting the capital Vientiane and/or Luang Prabang you can learn to cook some of the traditional Lao dishes, i.e. take a crash course in Laotian cuisine.

Vientiane

Luang Prabang, the place aforementioned, is a highly cultural/religious center in Laos, actually an old royal city which is part of UNESCO World Heritage since 1995. There are 33 big temples here, at the intersection between the Khan and Mekong rivers and approximately  one thousand monks are doing their “thing” every day in this place.

Pak Ou Caves

Pak Ou Caves are simply fascinating (there are two of them : Tham Phun and Tham Ting) featuring splendid pictures of Buddha drawn inside for hundreds of years by “fanboys”.

The highly mysterious Plain of Jars is located near Phonsavan and here you can admire dozens of stone jars, huge ones actually (up to 6  tonns) and the legend says that they were used by giants in the past for fermenting wine that was the traditional drink for celebrating military victories and what not.

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Riding elephants, trekking and swimming are national sports in Laos, you don’t want to miss that folks! The hot spots are Kuang Si Waterfalls, Bo Noi and Bo Yai for swimming, Tad Sae waterfall for riding elephants and Muang Xing for trekking.

Wat Phu temple offers tourists a breathtaking view over the Mekong Valley, as it was raised on the mountain top, very close to a spring water by the Hindus (the Khmers). Another magnificent temple to visit is Wat Xieng Thong, one of Laos’s most impressive structures, decorated with gold and colored glass.

Traditional street food in Luang Prabang

Food and Drink

Laotian cuisine is an epic blend of Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese, with a traditional spicy touch.

Specialties include sticky rice, rice noodle soups, minced meat tossed with garlic, onions, lime juice and flavored with chilies,  Lao-style salads with papaya called Tam Maal hung, weed from the Mekong and for drinks, rice whiskey and Lao Beer (a very popular brand).

 Visa Requirements

Being a communist country, you’ll require both a visa and a valid passport if you want to travel to Laos, but they are relatively easy and cheap to obtain.

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