The Ultimate Guide to Laos
Arts & Culture
Digital Nomad Travel
Laos is an exquisite country in Southeast Asia that is not well known and visited by very few tourists. This region is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, endless waterfalls to chase, a relaxed city life and wondrous rural landscape and some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. If you are a coffee lover, enjoy beer for a buck and ready to indulge in heaps of sticky rice, your palate is in for the most marvelous treat.
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Day 1: Luang Prabang
You're likely to arrive in Luang Prabang in the afternoon. Check into your hotel and then head down to the Night Market to explore the area as the locals begin to set up shop. If you can't wait to eat until 5pm, grab a Banh Mi right up the street at "Break for a Bread." They have the best Vietnamese sandwiches!
The Night Market can be somewhat of a tourist trap and a little pricey for what you are getting. I recommend window shopping and when you are ready to order dinner, head down the side street of tents set up across the street for the best Khao Soi for only $2.
Day 2: Kuang Si Waterfall
But first, Laos coffee! Laos is famous for their sweet condensed milk style coffee and it is a must-try while on your trip. Head to any nearby cafe for some caffeine and a snack before your scheduled tour ride to Kuang Si Waterfall. It is one of the most beautiful attractions in Laos and a perfect way to cool down...the water is rather chilly! We spent a couple of hours here before heading back to the downtown to visit the Royal Palace. If you are a history buff, this is a very interesting piece of architecture and history of Laos culture.
Only on Tuesdays and Saturdays, a brick oven pizza place called Secret Pizza, is open to guests in a residential area tucked away from the crowds. They have amazing pizza if you need a cheat day and it has a very romantic setting.
Day 3: Tour to Living Land
Another morning, another coffee stop. Then await your scheduled tour ride to Living Land for a 14-step immersive walk through the rice paddies to learn how rice is made. This is a must-do experience and the company we went through went above and beyond to let us get our hands dirty while enjoying a celebratory feast at the end. This tour ended in the early afternoon, so we continued into the evening exploring the UNESCO downtown area before hopping on a 6pm train to Vang Vieng. I highly recommend booking through the Vang Vieng Railway Station. It is a brand new, high speed train that will get you to your hotel in Vang Vieng within an hour.
Check into your hotel. If you haven't eaten dinner yet, I suggest trying Green Restaurant. It has an extensive menu, lively vibe and great prices.
Day 4: Exploring Vang Vieng
Start your morning with breakfast at Kiwi's for some excellent coffee and sweet or savory breakfast...they have plenty of options and a great view on the back deck to relax.
Since many of the activities in Vang Vieng cannot be accessed by foot, I recommend renting a motorbike or a buggie (so much fun!) to get to the hikes and Blue lagoons.
First stop, bike about 30 minutes outside of town to Nam Xay Viewpoint. It is a steep and exhausting 1-hour trek up, but once at the top, you will be blown away by the beauty from above. They even have two motorbikes planted at the top for you to take your Instagrammable photo that will make everyone jealous of what you've conquered today.
If you have some time to explore a couple of the Blue Lagoons, go for it! I found that they were a little underwhelming and seemed to all be manmade, but can be a great way to cool down after a long hike. If you don't like crowded touristy areas, Blue Lagoon 3 is the best option.
Head to the lively Walking Street for some local food and shopping at the end of the day.
Day 5: Go Tipsy Tubing or Hot Air Ballooning
Grab yourself a morning snack before biking over (or walk 30 minutes) to the spectacular Tham Chang Cave just outside the city. There are many Buddhist-related structures and features a spring, also holds some important historical charm to it.
The afternoon depends on your mood (and budget):
1. Go tipsy tubing ($10)
2. Go hot air ballooning ($90)
Both are incredible experiences, but depending on the type of person you know you are, many people lean towards one or the other. But if you have an extra day to do them both, I highly recommend it!
Tipsy tubing in the Nam Song River is a tourist highlight here that has been around for decades. Many packages include a whiskey bucket, transportation and free zip line at the end. For about 4 hours, you are floating down the river in a black tube and stopping at about 2-3 bars for a dance party in between. So be sure to stay hydrated while mingling with other travelers and wear sunscreen!
Hot air ballooning at sunset is magical and for 30 minutes up in the air, the photos are endless! Comes with a glass of Champagne to toast at the end.
Day 6: Exploring Vientiane
Wake up and bus 1.5 hours to Vientiane (the capital of Laos.) There is not too much to see here, but upon checking into the hotel, be sure to visit the COPE Museum for a deep dive into a dark history between the U.S and Laos. It was a heartbreaking, but captivating museum that taught me so much I has never been aware of before.
Take some time to walk along the river and enjoy the peaceful streets before the mile long night market opens up. This was one of the biggest markets I have seen and has something for everyone.
If you are in the mood for more of a sit down dinner, 525 Eat and Drink is an outstanding cocktail bar and restaurant around the corner that serves up delicious drinks, food and ambience all crafted by an English owner.
Day 7: Eat & Drink in the Capital Vientiane
Take the time to explore some more cafe's, Patuxay Monument and Wat Ho Phra Kaew. Hop on a sunset Mekong River Cruise and grab a cold BeerLao to take in the last couple views of the city before hopping on an overnight bus to Pakse. (Yes, I said bus!) It is a double bed, one-of-a-kind experience that every traveler should do with their friend or partner to bump themselves to sleep and be ready for a big coffee to start the next morning in Pakse.
Day 8: A day at Pakse
Check into your hotel and grab that coffee quickly before getting picked up by your tour guide for a full day tour through the Bolaven Plateau. Visit local villages, tea and coffee plantations, and experience the natural beauty of various waterfalls.
Day 9: Tour of the 4000 Islands
Today, another tour guide will pick you up bright and early for a tour of the 4000 Islands. (If you have more time to spend on the islands, I highly suggest staying at one of the guesthouses in Dondét for very cheap.)
However, on the day tour, the guide will bring you to two of the most popular islands, Dondét and Don Khone via scenic boat ride.
You will also get to visit Khone PhaPheng — one of the world's widest waterfalls. Nothing short of impressive!
If you haven't tried Black Bean Pudding yet, treat yourself to this after your trip...it is delicious!
Day 10: Visit Vat Phou
On your last day, rent a scooter (or book a tour) to Vat Phou, one of the oldest places of worship in SE Asia. I spent about 2 hours here to appreciate the old architecture and hidden scripts based on the brochure I was given.
On your drive back, make a pit stop at Thongna Cafe. It is a picturesque gem of huts on rice paddies serving up some excellent lattes and traditional Lao cuisine.
Need to Know
For more travel tips, check out Fora Advisor Rajitha Bearden’s guide, Family-Friendly Guide to Exploring Luang Prabang, Laos.
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This guide is part of our ongoing series on Travel to Asia & Southeast Asia.