Many people visiting this part of the world for the first time naturally start their explorations in Thailand, as Bangkok is the easiest place to reach on a direct flight from Europe. However, for a more leisurely introduction to the delights of South East Asia, we suggest starting your adventures in Laos. While its neighbours are developing at a furious pace, the Laotian nation remains a place where time genuinely feels like it is standing still, and has been doing so for quite some time.
Where to Go in Laos
The most logical place to start your exploration of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic is in the capital Vientiane. There are direct flights from Bangkok or you could book a seat on an overnight bus if you are travelling on a budget. Whilst Vientiane itself is neither the most atmospheric nor the most exciting of cities, it will provide you with a more gentle introduction to the country than if you were to head straight for the interior, where lush green valleys with dense rainforests compete with cloud-topped mountains and the coffee-coloured waters of the Mekong River, as it winds its way through the picture-postcard scenery. Three of the places we feel you must see while here are:
- LuangPrabang – Whether you plan your itinerary without any professional assistance or book one of the tailored tours of Asia by Backyard Travel and other agencies that specialise in trips to this part of the world, LuangPrabang should definitely be near the top of your list of places to visit while in Laos. Most of the popular attractions can be found on a small peninsular of land between the Mekong and Nam Khan River, which makes it a great place to start your journey in earnest. Highlights include the royal palace, numerous Buddhist temples and the Mekong River itself.
- VangVieng – The other big draw in the country for travellers from all over the world is the small town of VangVieng. As it is situated about halfway between Vientiane and LuangPrabang, it makes sense to fly to LuangPrabang, then make your way back to Vientiane by road, taking in VangVieng along the way. Whether you simply want to laze around and take in the stunning scenery – limestone cliffs, rice paddies and traditional wooden houses on stilts, or try tubing on the Nam Song River, this is a great place to unwind and forget all the pressures of life back home.
- Paksong, Bolaven Plateau – Around a 10-hour bus ride from Vientiane, or just over an hour by plane via Pakse Airport, Paksong, which lies at the heart of this plateau of land in southern Laos, is within easy reach of the spectacular Tat Champee and Tat Fane waterfalls. The national park in which they are located is also home to exotic wildlife such as tigers, leopards, elephants, and numerous monkeys.
From Pakse, you can continue your South East Asian adventures by boarding a bus to Vietnam, Cambodia, or Thailand.