Laos is a beautiful country in South East Asia with a whole heap of culture and history. Still holding on to it’s communist past, Laos is one of the few country’s in the world where you will not find a McDonald’s and you really notice to disparities between the city and country. Laos’ surrounding neighbours like Thailand and Vietnam are huge tourist spots but only a small portion of tourists who choose to adventure in to such untouched territory. My time in Laos was one of my favourite memories of my expedition through South East Asia, and I can’t urge people enough to put it on their bucket list!
There’s a huge variety of things you can do and experience while traveling through Laos, from outdoor activities like tubing, kayaking, hiking, etc. to strolling through the markets, seeing historic sites, and assisting in rebuilding the country which was so damaged by the Vietnam War. I’m going to share my experiences in Laos and show you why you need to add it to your bucket list.
Vang Vieng is a small town on the Nam Song River and is hugely popular for outdoor activities and adventure trips, as the town itself doesn’t have too much to offer. You can do things such as tubing, exploring caves, hiking, kayaking, rafting, swimming in waterfalls… pretty much everything you can do outdoors you can do it in Vang Vieng! You are also surrounded by incredible scenery and beautiful landscape, and the nightlife is surprisingly good too!
The capital of Northern Laos, Luang Prabang is a strongly religious area with a high concentration of buddhist monasteries, and some of the most beautiful people you will ever meet. Although it is a rather impoverished place, I never felt unsafe and the locals were happy to talk with you and show you around their proud area. The ‘city’ itself is fantastic for market shopping and trying local foods, alongside experiencing it’s religious side.
When families in Laos cannot afford to feed their children, they send their sons to live in a buddhist monastery. Although it sounds like an extreme decision, the boys are given food, shelter, and education at no cost, and it is such a better option than an orphanage or just let them work and starve at home. Luang Prabang has one of the highest concentrations of monks in Laos and, as monks are only allowed to eat what is donated to them, every morning at sunrise you can experience one of the most rewarding things I have ever done – give alms to the monks. It involves the entire town kneeling alongside the road and the monks walking past with big empty bowls where you can put food inside. The food is then taken back to the monastery and evenly distributed and eaten. It is so rewarding to contribute to this community!
A short bus ride out of the city is the Kuang Si Falls, a popular swimming area for both locals and tourists. I traveled there in the wet season (above) so we were unable to swim, but the rest of the time it is beautiful blue pristine waters with flowing falls – but it was still wonderful to see. On your way in to the falls there is also a Bear Rescue Centre where they have rescued Sun Bears from slavery and illegal trade, and rehabilitated them in this sanctuary.
Surrounding Luang Prabang there is also an Elephant Village Sanctuary, where you are able to interact with, feed, and learn about the wild elephants of the area.
Pak Ou Caves
Off the Mekong River, and only accessible by boat, the Pak Ou Caves are packed to the ceiling of over 4000 buddha statues and is considered to be a very holy site. The statues are believed to have been left by locals and travellers over hundreds of years, so the history is deep and interesting. It is a bit of a climb to get to all the caves and see the views over the Mekong, but it was a beautiful experience and well worth it.
The capital of Laos, it is a bit of a shock to see how different it is to rural Laos. The Patuxai (pictured) is a war memorial in the centre of the city where you can catch a birds eye view. You can also head out to Pha That Luang (below) which is a gold covered temple and the most important national monument in all of Laos. The city itself is great for food, shopping, and just generally enjoying Laos. You can also see Thailand across the Mekong River from Laos, however don’t try to swim or boat across or you could potentially be shot!
COPE Visitor Centre
Going to the COPE visitor centre was one of the most educational and rewarding experiences I have ever done, and is one of the main reasons why I love this country. A lot of people aren’t aware that during the Vietnam War over 2.5 million tonnes of bombs were actually dropped in Laos in an attempt to cut of the North Vietnamese supply lines, which means that Laos is the most bombed country in the entire world (you should check out this link if you want more information or a visual reference). This was something that I did not know until I came to Laos, and I also did not know that it is still an ongoing problem to this day even though the war ended forty years ago. A lot of the bombs that were dropped were not detonated and are still in the earth where both adults and children either step on them, mistakenly play with them, and sadly end or damage their lives forever. One third of all those people affected are women and children in very rural communities.
COPE is a rehabilitation centre that provides prosthetics for those who have been severely impacted by these bombs and lost limbs or have severe disabilities. While we were there, our group raised around $100 which was able to buy 10 prosthetic legs to help those in need. What is better than traveling around the world AND helping those in need along the way?
Have you ever been to Laos? What were your favourite things to do while you were there?