View over Luang Prabang

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)

Laos

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LAOS VIENTIANE CHAMPASAK 4000 ISLANDS PAKSE KONG LOR PAKBENG SAYABOURY VANG VIENG PHONSAVAN NAM ET PHOU LOUEY NPA NONG KHIAW SAM NEUA MUANG LA LUANG PRABANG
Laos

Si Phan Don, or the 4,000 Islands, is landlocked Laos’s answer to the coast: laid-back, palm-fringed, and lush beyond belief, this riverine archipelago is the ultimate place to relax.

Laos

You’d never guess it now, but Champasak was once the seat of an independent royal kingdom that thrived for over 200 years. Today, this tiny, sleepy, riverside town is best-known as the gateway to the lush and laid-back 4,000 Islands.

Laos

Hidden in the mountains of central Laos, the vast chambers, twisted rock formations, and glowing emerald pools of Kong Lor Cave are a geological wonder accessible only on a wet-and-wild sampan ride through the darkness.

Laos

Luang Prabang is Laos’s Shangri-La: sweeping golden roofs and colonial shophouses against a lush backdrop of jungle-covered mountains, and a laid-back atmosphere of peace and serenity.

Laos

Gently rolling hills and picturesque farmland dotted with ethnic minority villages and hot springs: Muang La is a place to unplug and sync up with the rhythms of countryside life.

Laos

A visit to Laos is all about the wild and untamed beauty of the mountains – and it doesn’t get much wilder and more untamed than this. Covering nearly 6,000 square kilometres, Nam Et-Phou Louey provides a haven for endangered animals.