Laos might not be your go-to place when heading away for your holiday, but it should be! A hidden gem of this world, this (still) highly unexplored country is charming and beautiful. And today, we’re going to talk about the top 9 things to do in Laos.
And in order to make sure that we give you the best advice to experience Laos and get the most out of it, we’ve asked Nomad Not Mad Luciano to share the list with us, following his latest trip to the country after taking a break away from his family. And you can always read more about his experiences as a digital nomad on his blog here.
But make sure to read the list below first – this is why you’re here. So without further ado, here are the top 9 things to do in Laos:
This practice doesn’t have the best reputation out there, but it sure is fun and safer due to recent restrictions and upgrades of the entire process. Basically, it’s a nice float down the river in a rubber tube, stopping at bars along the way for a beer and maybe taking one with you for the onwards journey. There was even one woman who lived along the river and would sell you beer for takeaway! She was in the perfect spot for when you’d finished your last beer and wanted a new one as well.
This is really a big thing, although obviously not an attraction for families. But if you’re wild and young and free, tubing down the Nam Song river is the ultimate thing to do. It’s also an easy way to get to some of Laos’ best views, although it should be noted that many voices consider this practice quite dangerous!
2. Sampling local food
Although this is something you should be doing anywhere you travel to experience the culture and save money, it’s something extra special in Laos! Never have I had a meal so good as the one eaten with my hands from a local market in Laos. And it doesn’t have to stop here, as the country has a lot of deliciousness to offer.
I know that there are always concerns regarding cleanliness and food safety, but I was fortunate enough to have absolutely no problems. Just use your common sense and eat where the locals are eating and you should be fine!
I must admit that I am not the fittest person in the world, so exploring caves – especially after that accident in Thailand – wasn’t really top on my list of things to do. But even for me these caves were accessible and very safe.
Some are just a short walk from the Vang Vieng town, other more popular caves are at the Blue Lagoon. You can explore all the caves without shoes (best way if you don’t have proper footwear and didn’t come prepared for this – like me) or you can wear sneakers. The caves even have small shrines in them for you to place incense if you are so inclined. A surprisingly delightful experience!
4. Kayaking in Luang Namtha
I loved kayaking in Luang Namtha! The township itself was small and more multicultural than other places in Laos. Being in the far north with many visitors from Vietnam, China and Thailand passing through, you could have conversations with people from these countries at the pub rather than just the usual backpacker crowd (who were nowhere to be seen when I was there!)
I signed up for a kayaking trip on my first day in town with an American guy I met on the bus and it was amazing! We had a local guide who spoke seven or eight languages (he was very modest about it despite our constant awe) and who had a great sense of humor. And he took us to some areas that were something I have never seen before.
You can do too – visit actual tribes in Laos who had very little interaction with the outside world. They were extremely curious about us – especially the children who used our kayak as a launching board into the water. Simplicity at its best – and seeing those people smiling and enjoying life, while having so little compared to the Western world can be a true eye opener for anybody.
This is something you must do even if you only spend a few days in Laos!
I’ve swum in many waterfalls, but the ones here were truly unique. For example, the one accessible from Luang Probang is the most frequented by travelers, don’t worry about working out how to get there – tuk tuk drivers see you wandering around Luang Prabang town and ask you if want to go to the waterfalls for a dip all the time.
I loved the cool water on my skin, how you could just climb the waterfall and jump right in and the fact that there were so many new people there to talk to. There are also little cleaner fish who will give your skin a clean if you stand still long enough, a free extra for those who need to exfoliate – and done for no cost!
6. Motorbiking from town to town
You can’t go to Asia and not jump on a scooter to explore the surroundings! And you’ll be surprised to find out that Laos is just as spectacular – if not more so – than better known destinations in SE Asia! If you’re looking for some raw nature and truly Instagramable picture spots, jump on a scooter and bike and start driving!
7. Exploring the Plain of Jars
Asia’s Stonehenge is also a must visit when you get here. Although a little out of the way, everyone should see the Plain of Jars! I visited Stone Henge while in England and enjoyed it myself but this is just as old and as curious as it and no-one is there. This will probably change as Laos becomes more and more interesting for tourists!
8. COPE center in Vientiane
My visit to the COPE center in Vientiane opened my eyes about what horrors the people living there had to endure and go through. During the Vietnam war, American aircrafts were sent to bomb Laos with small cluster bombs. A bomb about the size of a golf ball that would explode upon impact into a bunch of shrapnel, killing people nearby and damaging infrastructure.
Upon being asked about American movements within the country, Nixon was quoted as saying, “There are no American troops stationed in Laos” (because they weren’t stationed there, right? They were flying over the country bombing it). The American people had no idea what was happening. Ask an American today about the war and they just shrug, not knowing it happened.
Although the reasons for the bombings were to stop the spread of communism into Laos from surrounding countries (which failed) and to damage the Ho Chi Min trail which was supplying weapons to the North Vietnamese who were fighting the Americans in the South of Vietnam, aircraft would often dump their bombs anywhere if they couldn’t find their target as they weren’t allowed to return to base with any bombs.
The devastation of the war can be seen in the COPE center, as well as what is being done to help those affected by the XO still littering the Lao landscape.
9. Pub crawling in Laos
I wanted to finish on a lighter note after mentioning the emotionally-heavy COPE center. I thought that mentioning Laos drinking culture was a good finish as it’s a little quirky and I haven’t come across something similar anywhere else.
Although in Vang Vieng, there are jungle parties (which are fun, you should go if you are wandering down the road and a tuk tuk driver offers you a free ride there as one offered me – and didn’t end up murdering me as I started to fear shortly afterwards), Luang Prabang has the famous bowling alley.
Laos had a curfew. People are to be indoors between midnight and five am daily and anyone found walking the streets is questioned (never heard of it happening to a tourist though). For this reason, all of the bars close at 11.30pm, which is an early for most party goers out there in the world.
And this is how the Bowling Alley in Laos was born – it’s a real bowling space that sits outs of the town in Luang Prabang, which takes in all the drunks from 11.30pm until 3am, allows them to throw balls at pins and supplies them with the best local whisky money can buy and offers no free rides back home. But it’s totally worth it! Plus, it gets extra points for its novelty – and once you try drunken bowling, you will love to try it again.
And these would be the top 9 things to do in Laos. This is a surprising, exceptional country that you will definitely love if you decide to visit. And if you have other favorites not listed in this article, let us know!