10 top tips for Laos ๐Ÿ‡ฑ๐Ÿ‡ฆ

Laos! Where do I start? Here are 10 suggestions for this beautiful, overlooked and land locked country in South East Asia with the Mekong River, mountainous terrain and French colonial architecture.  The people are lovely and donโ€™t try to rip you off or force things on you, hassling tourists seems to be a crime! This is a safe country to visit but always check where you are travelling as there are still a lot of unexploded landmines.  Donโ€™t wander off the path! 

Top Tip:  On arrival make sure you have the exact amount of US dollars for your visa with maybe a couple of extra dollars in case the price changes while you are waiting in the queue (this does happen!)

Luang Prabang

1. Wat Xiang Thong

Also known as Temple of the Golden City, this beautiful Buddhist temple was built between 1559 and 1560.  The inside is just as beautiful as the outside.  Remember to be respectful and cover up with a sarong or pashmina.  In the rafters there is a long wooden aqueduct in the shape of a mythical serpent.  During the Lao New Year, water is poured into the serpentโ€™s tail, which then comes out of its mouth and bathes a Buddha image, housed in a wooden pagoda structure that is near the altar.  There is a drain in the floor of the pagoda that sends the water through pipes under the floor and then the water comes out of the mouth of an elephant, whose head is located on an outside wall.

Top Tip: Go early before the crowds descend on the temple

Laos
Laos

2.  Pak Ou Caves (Budha Caves)

These caves are found 25 kilometres north of Luang Prabang and date back for thousands of years.  When you enter them you will be shocked to see the vast amount of Buddha statues that have been placed inside.  At the last count there were 4000 icons!

There are 2 caves to visit, the lower one is called Tham Ting and the upper, Tham Theung.  Both caves serve as shrines to the river spirit and Lord Buddha.  It is believed that local people have been leaving these statues for hundreds of years.  It is a sight worth seeing!

It is easy to visit the caves during a tour. Most also include a tour of the local village with lunch at a local restaurant.  Check out the tour apps to book yours on my Handy Travel Apps page.

Top Tip:  Bring a torch as the top cave is pitch black!

Buddha Cave
Tham Ting Cave
Buddha Cave
Tham Theung Cave
Laos
Crossed to the Buddha Cave in this…..not for the faint hearted (there are crocodiles in the Mekong!)

3.  Kuang Si Waterfall

This is possibly the highlight of any trip to Laos.  Gaze up in awe at the beautiful waterfall which starts in the thick jungle and then throws the water into beautifully sculpted lime stone tiered pools below.  During the dry season (December – May) the water is a beautiful turquoise blue but during the monsoon months (July – October) the water is a much darker blue due to all the rain.  In both seasons it is possible to swim in the tiered pools.  During the dry season you can hike to the top of the waterfall for an amazing view.  Wear trainers, flip flops are much too slippery for this.

Top Tips: The waterfall is located 29 kilometres south of Luang Prabang, is open every day from 08:00 until 17:30 and costs ยฃ1.50 (20,000 Kip) to enter.

Laos
Monsoon Season
Laos

4.  Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre

This is located close to the waterfall and either on your way to the falls or on your return you will probably pass through it.  If not, make sure you find it before you leave the waterfall site!  The centre is run by Free the Bears and houses more that 20 Asiatic Black Bears who have been rescued from horrible circumstances, from being forced to live in cages to having their bile harvested for medicine.  The centre relies solely on donations so buy a T-shirt! They make great gifts and the money goes to an even greater cause. If you are looking for something to do during a gap year, or just taking a couple of months off work, it is possible to volunteer at the bear sanctuaries. There are also sanctuaries in Cambodia and Vietnam.

5.  La Pistoche 

This is a public swimming pool and bar situated in central Luang Prabang.  Depending upon where are you staying you can either walk or take a tuk-tuk for just a few Kip.  As most of the hotels and guesthouses donโ€™t have swimming pools, this is a perfect place to relax when you have a free afternoon.  There are two large swimming pools set amid a well manicured garden, a swim up pool bar, sun loungers, chairs and tables. 

Top Tip: Its open daily from 10am and with an entry fee of ยฃ2.30 (30,000 Kip) delicious food and 2 for 1 cocktails from 12:00 – 19:00, whatโ€™s not to like?!

Luang Prabang

6.  Mount Phousi

This can be found in the centre of Luang Prabang and it you fancy hiking up 300 steps in the heat then carry on!  There is a good view from the top looking out over Luang Prabang. It is possible to climb this high rock for the obligatory photograph.  I declined as I donโ€™t have a death wish but if you feel brave enough to do this, please be extremely careful and wear proper shoes!

Top Tip: Go just before dusk to get views in day light and at night

Laos

7.  Giving of Alms Ceremony

This is a long standing, peaceful and spiritual tradition in Lao Buddhist culture and takes place daily as the sun rises.  It starts on the main street of Luang Prabang and then spreads out to the side streets.  It consists of about 200 monks who form a procession and receive offerings from the local people.  Usually these offerings are home cooked food.  Sometimes there are children who kneel by the side of the procession with outstretched baskets.  The monks will share some of their alms so the children can take the food back to their families.  If you would like to give an offering, buy it in advance (rice, fruit or local snacks) and make sure to arrive extra early for the ceremony as it is considered rude to arrive once it has started.  Follow the guidance of the locals and kneel down to offer your alms.  

In keeping with the ceremony you should cover your shoulders and knees, take your shoes and socks off and place your feet under you, take photos from a distance with no flash and stay in absolute silence!

Top Tip: Take note of the route as you might not have to get up too early

Laos

Where to eat:

  • Utopia Restaurant – A beautiful chilled out restaurant and bar overlooking the Mekong River. You can also take a yoga class here!
  • Lao Lao Garden – A lovely open air restaurant with tables set in a candle lit garden. These candles also come in handy as Luang Prabang has frequent power cuts. Try the buffalo dish!
  • Night market – There are some amazing food stalls here, you can see the food as it’s being cooked and its all fresh and tastes delicious! It’s also a chance to do a bit of shopping as the Lao people don’t try to force you into buying things when you just want to browse
Night market
Night market

8.  Vang Vieng

This used to be a party hot spot, unfortunately culminating in lots of serious injuries and deaths.  The idea was to go tubing peacefully down the river but lots of bars started springing up all along the river banks offering alcohol for as little as 0.30p.  Alcohol induced accidents started to happen, resulting in helicopter flights to the nearest hospital in Bangkok and other forms of entertainment were also added such as the โ€˜Death Slideโ€™ (hence the name this resulted in death) and deadly rope swings.  People donโ€™t watch and collide on the slides, come off the swings in deep water and are too intoxicated to swim or hit their heads on hidden rocks.

Now the party bars have all been shut down and you can once again tube peacefully down the Nam Song river, admiring the beautiful view and without worrying that you might sustain an injury!

Vang Vieng is set high in the mountains with absolutely gorgeous surrounding countryside with streams and limestone mountains.  In the fading light, the mountains give Vang Vieng a rather mystical air.

Vang Vieng

9. Vientiane

This sleepy little city set into a curve in the Mekong is the Laotian capital that boasts beautiful French architecture, lovely temples scattered throughout the capital and delicious food (as does the rest of Laos!). A prefect place to spend a quiet few days.

  • Lao textile museum.  All over Laos there are beautiful silken scarfs and textiles of beautiful quality, colour and design.  What better way than to spend a couple of hours getting a closer look by visiting the museum, having a guided tour and seeing how its done?  The entry fee of 30,000 Kip (ยฃ2.30), will usually include the guided tour and refreshments.

Top tip: Open daily 09:00 – 16:00

Laos
  • Patuaxi Victory Monument.  As Vientiane has a large French influence, this victory monument in the centre of Vientiane, built to commemorate the Lao soldiers who fought in the battle of independence against the French and other wars, looks rather like the Arc de Triomphe!  It stands near the Presidential Palace.
  • Wat Si Saket. This is a Siamese style temple built in 1818 that has managed to survive the war. It is famous due to over 7000 Buddha icons and images that are nestled into the walls.  There is a daily morning Alms ceremony ( A Lao tradition that I have mentioned earlier) but please be respectful if you go along to watch.

Top Tip: Open daily from 08:00 – 12:00 and 13:00 – 16:00 with an entry fee of 5000 Kip (ยฃ0.40)

  • Chao Anouvong Park. This gorgeous park is the perfect place for a late afternoon stroll and then to find a seat for a sundowner and watch the sunset over the Mekong River.  If youโ€™re feeling energetic you could always join in with an aerobics group!
sunset

10. Plain of Jars

This is one of those weird and wonderful sites that has to bee seen to be believed.  Throughout the Xieng Khouang plain in the Lao Highlands lie these jars made from sedimentary rock, ranging from 1-3 metres in hight and weighing up to 14 tonnes.  It is believed that the jars were used nearly 2000 years ago and may have been used as funeral urns or food storage.  Another belief is that the jars were used to collect monsoon rain water for travellers during the dry season.  Travellers would use the water and in return leave behind prayer beads or other offerings in the jars.   There is a local legend that says that the jars were made by Khun Cheung, a king of giants, who after finding a long, arduous and eventually victorious battle created the jars to brew large quantities of Lao Lao rice wine.

Top Tip:  Be very careful visiting and make sure to stay with your guide as there are still unexploded land mines around and this area is one of the most dangerous archeological sites in the world.  Only sites 1, 2 and the quarry are currently open, so do not venture off the path!!

Laos

Transport:

I found that the best way to get around was by using a tuk-tuk. They are very cheap per journey about ยฃ1, and always around so easy to flag down. They don’t seem to go very fast and there isn’t much traffic so much happier taking them in Laos than in neighbouring Thailand!

C.King

Brit girl on a bummel. A solo female traveller accompanied by her camera, aiming to see as much of the world as possible and sharing what she's learnt along the way!

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