The only country in South East Asia without direct beach access attracts visitors for it's authenticity and rural charm. It is worth coming to Laos for laid back experience since it's a coutry not overrun by tourism as it's direct neighbours.
Laos vivid history as a french protectorate and the modern socialist system along with terror of the Vietnam war created a controversial yet unique soil for the way modern life floats. As of today Laos remains one of the poorest countries in South East Asia facing environmental problems and low economy rates. I'm not going deeper in these topics, but keep this information in mind when crossing the border.
Traveling in Laos is easy and relaxed - a perfect place to clear your mind and devour all the pleasures of slow traveling.
If you made up your mind of coming to Laos, hope my bucket list post is going to help you planing your itinerary.
thai-lao friendship bridge
We have crossed the border to Laos from Nong Khai in Thailand taking a drive through the Thai-Lao Friendship bridge over the Mekong river. It is not a particular beauty - just a regular concrete structure, but it has a lot of meaning to both nations being the first bridge connecting the lower Mekong area.
If you are planning on crossing to Laos from Thailand, Nong Khai is worth spending a day - it has some good eateries with delicious northern Thai food (papaya salad mmm-h) as well as a relaxed atmosphere and good views over the Mekong.
We had a good experience having lunch at เรือนแพชมโขง (Nai Mueang, Mueang Nong Khai District, Nong Khai 43000, Thailand).
For crossing the bridge you have to arrange a transportation vehicle, since Vientianne is located about 20 km from the bridge and I won't advise you on walking the distance. Here is more info on crossing the Thai-Lao border over the Friendship bridge.
Laos capital is actually a relaxed and laid back town. Noone is in a rush here and life goes at a slow pace. Nevertherless it's a capital where you will find all attributes a regular capital has - museums, bars, clubs, fine restaurants and art objects, a national university and a couple of broadcasting stations.
Located ashore Mekong river with views over Thailand, Vientiane is home to many temples and Buddhist monuments. There are also some remnants of the French colonial influence left across the city such as street names starting with 'rue', but it is not on a comparable scale as in Cambodia or Vietnam. French restaurants and cafes are popular too, Annabelle Cafe (Quai Fa Ngum, Vientiane) being one of the prettiest.
Vientiane gets busy on weekends with locals sipping beer and devouring delicious hot pots and green papaya salads in outside cafes. Noy's Fruit Heaven (Heng Boun Rd. | Ban Haysok, Vientiane) offers some of the best fruit shakes and smoothies in town.
For great authentic food and local flair experience be sure to check the Ban Anou Night Market (Rue Phai Nam, Vientiane).
Les Artisans Lao (Inpeng Road, Chao Anou Road, Vientiane) is a nice store for stocking on some locally crafted souvenirs.
One of the most popular sights in Laos, That Luang is a golden Buddhist stupa serving as a Buddhism symbol for Laos. It is frequently visited by pilgrim monks.
Unesco Heritage Site the old town of Luang Prabang is as charming and peaceful as a Lao town could get. French colonial buildings covered in greens, cafes and restaurants, cobble stone streets, pagodas and Mekong river make it a perfect place for a retreat. It has been renovated and is kept mostly for tourists with most of the houses given for shops, restaurants, massage studios and cafes - it is too pricey for locals and most of them live outside the city premises.
Compared to other Laos towns, Luang Prabang indeed hits the budget by offering western standards at western prices.
Best explored by bike this is a place to spend lazy days with a cup of coffee at one of the towns terraces with the views over Mekong or visit a massage session.
In terms of food it is also quite west oriented, so you will have to go outside the town walls to find something authentic. We had some great Lao food at Dyen Sabai Restaurant (Ban Phan Louang).
Apart from Pagodas and old buidlings, Luang Prabang also has great markets which are not ot miss - the Morning Market sells food and local prodcuce and the Night Market sells textiles and souvenirs. It's a lot of searching and bargaining, but there are hidden gems involved.
tad sae waterfalls
Located in Luang Prabang Province about 45 min drive from Luang Prabang old town these waterfalls are great for a day trip. Turquoise water cascades are usually busy with backpackers and tourists cooling down in their icy waters. On the way to the waterfalls you will see a sanctuary with moon and sun bears cheerfully playing and entertaining visitors.
To come here you'd need to organise your transportation - but there are plenty of eager bike drivers in Luang Prabang who will take you to the waterfalls and wait until you are ready for a very reasonable price (don't forget to bargain).
mekong river boat cruise
We would have loved to do a Mekong River Boat cruise but we ran out of time and had to take a plane instead. But this is an experience not to miss - I've heard so many opinions from the fellow travelers and they were all positive ones. Luang Prabang is a popular point to board a boat. There are many different routes, you can go all the way to Cambodia or hop off in Vientiane, it all depends on your time and budget. The most popular ones are the 3 days/ 2 night sets where you live on the boat and get stunning sunsets and sunrises over the Mekong river.
I won't suggest any service providers here, since I haven't done the trip. I hope one day I will though.
Safe travels and feel free sharing your own tips on visiting Laos!
other posts you might like