Whenever I tell people I’ve traveled Southeast Asia, they always assume I only mean the usual backpacker route – Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. But believe it or not, one of my most memorable destinations isn’t any of those.
Often overlooked in favor of its neighboring countries, Laos was virtually unknown to me until a friend of mine found out about my plan to travel and told me I should go there “before everyone else finds out how awesome it is,” he said. Intrigued and ready for awesomeness, I set my sights on Laos which turned out to be one of the best impulsive decisions I’ve ever made.
Here are just some of the reasons why:
1. The infinite tranquility of Bokeo
Most backpackers who enter Laos from Thailand don’t stay here for more than a day, choosing instead to head straight to Luang Prabang, but after some research, I found out about The Gibbon Experience based in Nam Kan National Park and I just had to try it. It might be expensive but it’s definitely worth every penny. Hiking in the forest, ziplining from tree to tree, sleeping in a tree house and seeing such rich wildlife make up one of the best travel experience I’ve ever had in my life. I couldn’t ask for a better way to start my journey.
2. The charm of Luang Prabang
I didn’t feel it right away. I didn’t get there and all of a sudden get hit by a wave of excitement and fascination. The charm of Luang Prabang crept into me as I walked along its streets and took in the beauty of the French-Indochinese architecture. It slowly seeped into me as I stared in amazement at the marvelous design and structure of the Haw Kham Royal Palace and the Wat Xieng Thong monastery. It snuck up on me as I woke up at sunrise and stood in reverence as the Buddhist monks walked the streets to accept the locals’ offerings during the Alms Ceremony. It was only as I stood at the very top of Phou Si Hill on my last day there that I realized just how much of an impact Luang Prabang had on me – I didn’t want to leave yet.
3. The mystery of The Plain of Jars
Standing in the middle of all these 2000-year-old megalithic stone jars, I was in complete awe of how odd and unexplainable this sight was. I felt like I was in the Stone Age or in the world of The Lord of the Rings, half expecting to see hobbits or goblins jump out of those jars. While there’s not much to do, the sight is worth seeing simply because of its peculiarity.
4. The appeal of Vang Vieng
Once dubbed the ultimate party destination for young backpackers, Vang Vieng has become less crowded (and less deadly) after the government clamped down on the bars that once lined up along the Nam Song River. That doesn’t mean it lost its appeal. Tubing along the river is still allowed and there are still some establishments where you can take a swig of Lao-Lao or a slice of “happy” pizza. I spent my time in Vang Vieng rock climbing and then cooling off at the Blue Lagoon. And while my stay there wasn’t the crazy party Vang Vieng once offered, it’s definitely worth future visits which I intend to make happen.
5. The enchantment of Vientiane
Ah, yes, the capital of Laos. No visit to the country is complete without coming here. Everywhere I turned I saw a rich abundance of Lao culture and heritage – from the stunning and marvelous temples like the golden Pha That Luang and Wat Sisaket to the quirky roadside attractions like the Buddha Park that’s absolutely perfect for a photo-op.
7. The mystical beauty of Wat Phou
Wat Phou is a ruined temple complex at the base of Mount Phu Kao. One look at its picturesque landscape and I was overcome with wonder. It was foggy on the day of my visit which made for a spiritual, almost supernatural atmosphere. It may not be as grand and popular as Angkor Wat but it can definitely hold its own.
8. The natural wonders of the Bolaven Plateau
Coffee and waterfalls are two of my favorite things so imagine my delight when I finally set foot on Bolaven Plateau. Comprised of waterfall upon waterfall, it’s the perfect place to just sit back and think about life. There’s just something about these waterfalls – how they sound so wild and intense, yet look so peaceful and serene. One of the tallest and most breathtaking in Laos, Tad Fane is my personal favorite. Drinking coffee from a jug while looking at Mother Nature’s best creation? I could’ve stayed there forever.