Having overlooked Laos in the past (to the chagrin of lots of other travellers) Dylan was keen to discover what makes this country so special.
I had an amazing time on my first trip to Indochina, but on my return home, I couldn’t help feeling that I’d missed something special by not visiting Laos. So when I headed back earlier this year, I knew I couldn’t make the same mistake! After hearing no end of other travellers’ tales in the country, I was glad to finally see it for myself.
As a land-locked country that borders Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma, Thailand and China, you can spot international influences everywhere; from the culture, to the lifestyle and the food. But I discovered that Laos has quite a distinct character of its own.
Laos only opened to tourism in 1999, so its development is an ongoing project, but this lack of modernisation and infrastructure has a certain charm. The landscape appears untouched, and every person I came across was laid back and very welcoming. This is in contrast to other local regions that have, in some ways, been tarnished by tourism.
Rather than pushy market sellers and a jaded attitude towards tourists, every person I came across in Laos was so friendly, and full of beaming smiles and happy “hellos”. I felt as though I had space to peruse stalls at leisure, and start conversations without any pressure.
My experience was so positive, that I came away absolutely certain that I would be back one day.
Here are my 5 favourite aspects of Laos culture, and why you should definitely make space for it in your itinerary.
1. The people
I know I just said it, but it can’t be emphasised enough, the people of Laos are just so warm! They always wish you the best for your day, make sure that your trip is going as well as it possibly can, and find out if there’s anything they can do to make your experience of their country even better.
2. Luang Prabang
This UNESCO World Heritage town has a very special feel with lots of beautiful temples and many protected sites and buildings. Some of them are now hotels, so you can actually sleep in a building that used to house the Royal family!
3. Life on the water (4000 islands)
This remote area has a slower pace of life, perfect for lazy days soaking up beautiful scenery and wildlife. There’s also the option to sleep on an island in the Mekong.
Laos is largely a Buddhist country; in fact 95% of the population are Buddhist, so there are a lot of pagodas and temples. These range from the ancient pre-Angkor Wat temple of Wat Phou, to the newer Buddhist pagodas on some of the islands in the middle of the Mekong. You can also see an age-old ceremony called alms giving, where locals wait for monks to walk through the town with an alms bowl to collect food for the day.
5. Kuang-Si Waterfall
This waterfall is considered to be a place of spiritual importance to local Monks, and for good reason. As you wind your way up the path, you begin to see sections of the river flowing over small rocks, until it finally builds up to a large cascading waterfall. Walk up the steep path to the side and get the best view from the top.
See how the neighbours of Cambodia and Laos complement each other on our Laos and Cambodia Entwined fully tailored itinerary.