Our guide to Laos' top places, plus our lesser-known favourites
Hemmed in on all sides by big names like Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and China, landlocked Laos is used to being overlooked by travellers – and yet this mountain nation is among the most enchanting countries we’ve ever visited.
Laos is all about getting into the great outdoors – and, most of all, about mountains. Laos has all kinds of mountains. Whip along dirt tracks on a volcanic plateau dotted with waterfalls and with slopes planted with coffee and bananas. Criss-cross massive, rocky ranges on hiking trails to remote minority villages. Traverse grassy, wide-open plains scattered with ancient stone jars, and explore jagged and jungle-covered karsts riddled with limestone caves once used as a refuge from US bombing campaigns.
Most visitors begin and end their encounter with Laos in the World Heritage city of Luang Prabang. It’s a magnificent place to start, but this is one of Asia’s best adventure travel destinations – the real fun begins beyond those charming colonial-era shophouses and golden-roofed wats. Laos is, first and foremost, for wanderers, hikers, boaters and bikers. You don't need to be a dyed-in-the-wool adventurer, but you do need to have a certain desire to get away from it all, and a readiness to accept a pace of life that’s so laid-back it’s practically prostrate.
This is not a place for late-night partying – and it’s certainly not a place to get anything done quickly. But that's the beauty of the people’s republic of “Please Don’t Rush”: it’s all about taking it slow.
“I usually don’t throw around the word ‘fabulous’, but how else to describe buildings decorated with mirrored water dragons, serpents tiled in coloured glass, and hundreds – no, thousands, no, tens of thousands – of gold-leaf Buddhas? Luang Prabang has more than 47,000 residents, but its Buddha population must be ten times that.” - David Ebershoff, author of The Danish Girl)