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Despite being just across the border from Vietnam and Cambodia, Laos is hugely underrated. Having been captivated by its charm, we’re looking beyond the guidebooks and encouraging travellers to take the road less travelled, meet local experts and embrace the culture in unique ways.
Cultural experiences in Laos
1. Luang Prabang: Behind the scenes cultural tour
It’s rare to visit Laos without spending a night or two in Luang Prabang; the magical UNESCO World Heritage Town is everyone’s favourite, drawing visitors from far and wide. With an insider’s view of the town, you’ll look beyond the gilded façade with exclusive access behind the scenes.
There’s nothing like meeting local people to get to know a place but being introduced to specialists in local culture and heritage is a real privilege. As well as navigating the town you’ll meet the head monk at one of the most revered temples, the director of the Buddhist Archive of Photography and the founder of the Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre.
2. Vang Vieng: Course at Riverside Boutique Resort
While Luang Prabang is famous for pretty streets and rich culture, in Vang Vieng natural beauty is the star of the show. While it looks the picture of serenity, unfortunately its reputation precedes it as a heavy partying backpacker hangout.
In recent years, efforts by the government have seen many bars close and eco-tourism initiatives flourish. It isn’t the town, with its stray remaining watering holes that draw people here these days, it’s the spectacular scenery. The Riverside Boutique Resort is symbolic of Vang Vieng’s changing image with a range of activities including a cookery course at an Organic Farm 4km north of the town, a cycling and caving day through the karst range and world class rock climbing. Not a beerlao in sight.
3. Muang La: Resort Experience
If few people travel to Laos, even fewer make it to the remote northern mountains; a jungle-clad area that could offer stiff competition in Laos’ beauty contest. On the banks of the Nam Pak River awaits Muang La with swish accommodation, thermal spas and top-class restaurant – so far, so luxury resort? Not so. As well as being a stunning place to stay, the resort has access to unique cultural experiences with local guides taking guests to nearby villages to learn about the Khmu, Hmong and Ikhos communities.
4. Vientiane: Private audience with a traditional weaving expert
If your flight is touching down in Laos’ quiet capital, Vientiane, set aside a day to acclimatise and explore this unassuming city. As well as exploring colonial architecture and temples, arty types can learn about the country’s rich textile history at Carol Cassidy’s workshop.
Having arrived in Laos in 1989, she has been honing her unique style for nearly 30 years creating incredible unique contemporary art, decorative furnishings and accessories – many of which take months to make. Meet some of the local artisans before retiring to the garden for cocktails and canapes.
5. Luang Prabang: Mindfulness in the Garden
It can be easy to pack holidays with back to back action, so find time to slow down and start the day right with a morning mindfulness and yoga session at the Pha Tad Ke Botanical Gardens in Luang Prabang. Fully refreshed, you’ll sip tea whilst taking in the beauty of your surroundings, ready for a busy day of sightseeing ahead.