laos map

Laos is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia and the thickly forested landscape consists mostly of rugged mountains, the highest of which is Phou Bia at 9,242 feet (2,817 m), with some plains and plateaus. The Mekong River forms a large part of the western boundary with Thailand, whereas the mountains of the Annamite Chain form most of the eastern border with Vietnam. The climate is tropical and monsoon. There is a distinct rainy season from May to November, followed by a dry season from December to April. Local tradition holds that there are three seasons (rainy, cold and hot) as the latter two months of the climatologically defined dry season are noticeably hotter than the earlier four months. The capital and largest city of Laos is Vientiane and other major cities include Luang Prabang, Savannakhet and Pakxe.  The country is one of four in the opium poppy growing region known as the "Golden Triangle".  After years of war and isolation, Southeast Asia’s most pristine environment, intact cultures and quite possibly the most chilled out people on earth mean destination Laos is fast earning cult status among travellers. It is developing quickly but still has much of the tradition that has sadly disappeared elsewhere in the region. Village life is refreshingly simple and even in Vientiane it’s hard to believe this sort of languid riverfront life exists in a national capital. Then, of course, there is the historic royal city of Luang Prabang, where watching as hundreds of saffron-robed monks move silently among centuries-old monasteries is as romantic a scene as you’ll experience anywhere in Asia. Away from the cities, there is so much more to see; thePlain of Jars in Xieng Khuang Province, the forested mountains ofNorthern Laos, the gothic limestone karsts around the backpacker-haven Vang Vieng and in the deep south, past the market town Pakse, is Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands), where the mighty Mekong spreads out and all the hammocks are taken. The Lao wilderness is drawing travellers looking for nature, adventure or both. Kayaking, rafting, rock-climbing and biking are all available, but it’s the community-based trekking that is most popular because it combines spectacular natural attractions with the chance to experience the “real Laos”.

There is undoubtedly a growing tourist trail in Laos, but that just means there’s plenty of roads off Rte 13 where you can make your own trail. After all, half the fun of travelling here is in the travel itself – the people you meet, chickens you share seats with, wrong turns you take and lào-láo you drink with the smiling family at the end of the road less travelled.

Sightseeing

There are so many amazing things to see in Laos, including beautiful temples, natural highlights, ethnic villages and rustic towns. It can however take days of bus travel to get from Luang Prabang to Pakse, so visitors with limited time may want to concentrate on one area of Laos. Of course, you can always opt to take a plane from the north to the south if you want to see both parts.

Ban Phanom Weaving Village
Even though it has become a bit commercialised, Ban Phanom is still one of the best villages in the north to see how Laos weaving is done. A visit here makes for a fun and easy excursion from Luang Prabang, and you can pick up great deals on silk and cotton textiles.

Lao National Museum
If you want a better understanding of the colourful history of Laos, make a visit to the country’s main museum, housed in a lovely old French colonial mansion in the capital. Photos, relics and items used by both the royalty and the communist party are on display. 

Luang Prabang
This UNESCO World Heritage site was once the capital of the ancient Lanna kingdom, and remains one of the most romantic and charming places in the world. Temples, monks and French colonial architecture greet you at every turn. With dozens of nice boutiques, guesthouses and the best shopping and dining in Laos, this town is a destination in its own right. It also makes an ideal base for further explorations of northern Laos.

Luang Prabang Night Market
The most charismatic market in Laos is open every night along the main street of Luang Prabang, which is closed to traffic in the evenings. Hundreds of vendors emerge from their villages to sell handicrafts, artwork and souvenirs.

Pak Ou Caves
If you visit Luang Prabang, take the short boat ride along the Mekong to check out these natural caves carved out of the sheer limestone cliffs along the river. Over the centuries, Buddhists have come here and deposited small images of the Buddha, resulting in an amazing display of icons. Visiting this unique site is a popular excursion.

Phra That Luang
The most important stupa in Laos is a national icon rising 44 metres high in the capital. Several structures have been built on the same auspicious site since the first Khmer temple here in the 12th century. This is a great place to witness it any Buddhist event in the capital.

Traditional Lao Dancing
Traditional Lao dancing resembles traditional dancing in Thailand and Cambodia, and is one of the most graceful displays of human movement you’re likely to see. A great place to experience a special performance is in Luang Prabang at the Royal Theatre, which re-enacts the Ramayana several nights each week.

Wat Xieng Thong
One of the country’s most revered and beautiful temples is right in the heart of old Luang Prabang. The compact complex contains several temples with some of the most intricate and unusual wall decorations of any of the many temples in Laos.

Waterfalls
Laos has lots of water, and some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Southeast Asia. In the north, don’t miss a day at Kuang Si Waterfall, just outside of Luang Prabang. Aqua blue water and swimming holes make this a great excursion. The southern Bolaven plateau has even more waterfalls, as rivers roll off the plateau on all sides, resulting in the country’s highest falls among the dozens of beauties.

 

Shopping

Vientiane Shopping

Laos is an excellent destination for those interested in picking up elaborate handicrafts and Vientiane is the best place to do so. Hill tribe silk, arts, crafts, home-furnishings, jewelry and couture-quality textiles are all readily available within the city. There are quite a few markets taking place around Vientiane where fresh produce, as well as crafts and ornaments, can be picked up. The city’s main shopping streets are Samsenthai and Setthathirat, around the Nam Phu Fountain area and the Morning Market, where you can find the best deals on local silks. Visitors should note that any antique items that have been purchased in another country must be declared at customs upon arrival in Laos.  

Luang Prabang Shopping

Much like Vientiane, Luang Prabang trades in handicrafts, art, textiles and jewelry. Be sure to explore the night markets such as Thalat Sonpao or Thalat Dalat, where the Northern ethnic hill-tribe people sell handicrafts and creative textiles such as hand-sewn bedding, bags and many other distinctive souvenirs. The numerous gift shops around the town are good for picking up couture-style textiles and quaint household objects. For fresh produce like meat, vegetables and herbs, drop into the Thalat Naviengkham market. The market culture of Laos, unlike more raucous Thailand, is devoid of hard selling so don't expect badgering and bartering of the same degree. 

 

Full country name: People's Democratic Republic

  • Area: 236000 sq. Km.
  • Population: 7 mln. p.
  • Capital: Vientiane
  • Nation: Tai-Kadai language family (6 ethnic groups)--66.2%; Austro-Asiatic (Mon-Khmer and Viet-Muong) language family (30 ethnic groups)--22.8%; Hmong-Yao (2 ethnic groups)--7.4%; Tibeto-Burman (8 ethnic groups)--2.7%; other ethnic groups (including Vietnamese and Chinese)--0.9%.
  • Language: Laotian language, French
  • Religion: 60% Buddhism, 40 % Animists
  • Government: Socialist Republic