Laos has been gained popularity for the past years. But, still is one of the most underrated countries in Southeast Asia. Officially called the Lao People’s Democratic Republic is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia. Our Laos travel itinerary tackles the main places we want to visit according to our time. But, there is much more to see.
For us, when we thought in our itinerary through Southeast Asia, Laos was that country we want to explore from the very beginning. As nature lovers, we really were anxious to see the natural beauty of the country.
We didn’t know much about Laos. Many people even don’t know where it is. Or even if there is a country named Laos. We did some research before going, mainly about history and culture. It’s important to know something before going to this destination.
We had a little difficulty in planning the Laos travel itinerary. Our time to discover the places were limited because we were on a long trip. The main goal was to enter Laos through northern Thailand and have the experience on a slow boat. Them we decided to stay in Huay Xai (1 day), Pakbeng (1 day), Luang Prabang (4 days) and Vientiane (5 days).
We didn’t have many expectations, because we didn’t know much about the country. But, sometimes this is the best you can get on your trips. If you aren’t with high expectations about a place, you may be surprised by what you found. That’s what happens to us.
Discover everything below, with our Laos travel itinerary of 11 days.
Day 1 | Huay Xai - Entering in Laos
We enter Laos from the neighbouring country, Thailand. We catch a bus until Huay Xai, passing the border by land. The Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge 4 is the official point to cross the border. There are other friendship bridges that connect the two countries.
Huay Xai is the capital of the province of Bokeo. It was the central point for traffic opium during the war period. Now, this activity is ended and tourists fill the streets. Here we stayed only one night. Because this was our spot to catching the boat for the next place. The ticket for the slow boat you can buy in the pier, one day before departure or on the same day.
Huay Xai has many types of accommodations. From guesthouses to small hotels, some of these places have a wonderful view of the Mekong river. But, be careful, this will be sold out very quickly. So, you may have to book in advance.
We stayed in Hom Pho Guesthouse. Reasonable for staying one night. Located on the main road. There is a bar in front but, our room was in the back of the house. So, we did have a good night of sleeping, without any noise.
Where to eat:
There are a few restaurants in Huay Xai but, all of them have the same things. So, if you are staying more than one or two night you have to know in advance there isn’t much variety of food to choose.
On the day of departure, go to the pier early in the morning. The slow boat ticket cost us 480,000KIP (55 USD) in 2017.
Day 2 | Pakbeng - Travelling by Slow boat
The first leg of the slow boat trip, which takes 2 days, end up in Pakbeng. The place is small, without a lot to offer. But, at night the sky is just so incredible. There are a considerable number of restaurants and guesthouse.
Pakbeng developed as an overnight stop for cargo and passengers. It is not the place to hang around. Here is a connecting point for other destinations in the country.
Most of the accommodation in Pakbeng is generally of a basic standard. The cheaper ones leave much to be desired. So, keep this in mind. But, for one or two night in a small place, you can’t ask for much more.
The majority of accommodations are on the main road. In some of them, you can have river views like the one we stayed, Villa Sarika. Also an amazing view at the night sky. Our room was reasonable for one night and it was a good price.
Although, this is a backpacker route, at the time of our visit two upscale lodges were the recent addition for a finer tasting.
Where to eat:
The options for eating out in Pakbeng are limited. In recent years they have been making some progress. But, sometimes isn’t enough for the tourists demand. The problem is that restaurants just copy the menu. All of them are serving the same. Small places like Pakbeng you just can’t expect much.
Even though this fact, we end up eating one of the best pastries at breakfast in Laos. The place was Monsavanh Guesthouse and we did like a lot. They have also a restaurant and a bakery. We even ask for sandwiches to take away.
Since the place is small and the existence of infrastructures is reduced, on the boarding day we advise you to wake up early for breakfast. The food stalls will drain their stock fast and the coffees will be full of people.
Day 3 to 7 | Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang should be included in any Laos travel itinerary. It was our final destination. After crossing the Mekong in a slow boat coming from Thailand. It was a sensational ride. If you want to end up here quickly there is also the possibility to take a cheap flight.
Luang Prabang still retains its traits of the colonial era. We were expecting something more rural. But soon realized that the city is more developed in tourist terms, but still falls short of others in Southeast Asia.
Between temples, monasteries, ancient colonial mansions, noisy markets, Luang Prabang accents the banks of the Mekong where secrets such as Pak Ou caves are carved. No less important is all the diversity we can see here. Perhaps Kuang Si Falls is the most visited spot in this corner of Laos.
We prefer to stay in places where we can help the community. This time we stayed at Pangkham Lodge. Small accommodation run by a Laotian family. We strongly recommend, very friendly, somewhat curious about our home country.
We did enjoy breakfast. They make use of products that they grow, especially fruits. And we still had the possibility to use bikes from the accommodation.
Where to eat:
We prefer traditional food and we like markets. Therefore, we went often to the night market in Luang Prabang. We frequently also did go to the Phousi Market.
The Utopia is well known. The truth is that the prices are though slightly above the markets but, the place is so worthy. Definitely, it needs a visit. Even if it is to relax as we did late in the afternoon.
What to visit
Some of the best Temples/ Monuments:
The temples and monuments of Laos may not be as magnificent as those of neighbouring countries. However, still worth a visit. There are thousands of Buddhist temples in every corner of Laos. In Luang Prabang lies a large part.
Here are some of the ones we've included in our Laos travel itinerary:
- Wat Sop Sickharam
- Wat Xieng Thong
- Wat That Luang
-Wat Mai Monastery
- Wat Choumkhong
- Wat Siphouthabath
- Haw Pha Bang
Others points of interest in Luang Prabang:
- Tak Bat (morning alms giving ceremony)
-World Heritage House
-The Living Land Company
- Ock Pop Tok Living Crafts Center
- Royal Palace
- Traditional Arts & Ethnology Center
- UXO Laos Visitor Centre
- Mount Phousi
Kuang Si Falls
We can say that the Kuang Si Falls is the ex-libris of Luang Prabang. Any traveller who is visiting Luang Prabang has to stop by these waterfalls. When we planned our Laos travel itinerary we knew we had to book at least half a day to explore these incredible place.
Kuang Si Falls is a marvel of nature. For us one of the best, if not the best, waterfall we've seen to this day. Its turquoise water is so intriguing.
The road to reach the waterfall is reasonable. We have to take into deliberation the rurality of Laos. The route passes through several villages where it is possible to see the daily life of local people. At the entrance of Kuang Si Falls, there is a car park and some food stalls. Where we ended up having lunch, we managed to get a good price.
Before reaching the waterfall we passed the Tat Kuang Si Rescue Center. This is a bears rescue center, which helps bears that were previously kept in captivity or illegally exploited. You can make a donation to support the project.
The infrastructures throughout the place are good. With bathrooms, some space with picnic tables and even a restaurant. You can swim at almost every point of Kuang Si Falls. Although some of the natural pools are considered sacred and not allowed.
There is a secret part of the Kuang Si Falls which have signals for visitors not to pass. Please be sensible, most tourists don't care. But if the rules exist it is to be fulfilled. We should not disrespect local populations.
How to get:
We preferred to rent a motorbike because it gives us more freedom to explore. Nonetheless, you should keep in mind that the roads in Laos are not the best. We recommend having good travel insurance, which can make all the difference in the case of misfortune.
Iati is our choice. They have a service in Portuguese, the insurance has good coverage and no franchises. They also offer various types of insurance according to the trip. Here you can have access to a 5% discount.
Entrance fee: 20, 000 KIP (2,30 USD)
Opening hours: 08:00 a.m - 05:30 p.m
The best time of day to visit the Kuang Si Falls is early morning. Right before all the tourists arrive and be so crowded. For shooting is also an excellent time, because of the faint morning light.
How to go from Luang Prabang to Vientiane?
In Laos, as in several Southeast Asian countries, connections between cities are slow. To go from Luang Prabang to Vientiane, the capital we use the bus via Vang Vieng. We head early in the morning to the bus station of Naluang, which connects to the south.
It was supposed to take 8 hours journey. As everything here is unclear, the bus obviously did not leave on time. Later, we arrived in Vientiane well beyond the scheduled. Anyway, the trip through the mountains of Laos was sensational. The landscapes just leave us gasping. It is a hell of a journey but, with stunning pure nature.
Day 8 to 11 | Vientiane
The capital of Laos may not be as popular as other locations in the country. For many years it was a 'sleeping' capital, but with the increasing foreign investment, it has shown its true potential.
Although the capital is more frenetic, in Laos life is relaxed, without haste. In Vientiane, at weekends, and even weekdays at night we see many people on the streets. They take dance classes or outdoor gymnastics. Improvised food stands laid out everywhere. It is a total joy.
Vientiane is often referred to as the smallest capital in Southeast Asia. Other countries have invested heavily in Laos and in the capital. However, Vientiane still preserves some of its rooted traditions.
The proximity to Thailand has helped in the connection between both countries and tourism. Perhaps the capital is one of the places in Laos where one should waste less time. Always worth a visit, even if it is just passing through.
Unfortunately, our experience of accommodation in the capital of Laos was not the best. We stayed at the Dream Home Hostel, which had nothing good. Please avoid this space. Unless you like noisy places with spoiled food. There is so much to choose from in the city. You can stay at a nice accommodation for a good price.
Where to eat:
Vientiane has grown both in quantity and quality of cafes and restaurants. We can say that we enjoyed ourselves with breakfast as simple as a coffee and a croissant. The capital offers a variety of choice. Many of the cafes and restaurants even have air-conditioning and Wi-Fi.
At the day we arrived in Vientiane, the Lao Kitchen was our choice. Cheap, traditional food, so delicious that it is almost mandatory to pass through here. They also serve a big portion of food so keep that in mind.
What to visit
- Lao People’s Army History Museum
- Lao National Museum
- Sisaket Temple & Museum
- Phat Tich Temple
- Black Stupa (That Dam)
- Pha That Luang
- Patuxay Monument
- Wat Ong Theu
- Wat Ho Phra Kaew
- Wat Mixay
- Wat That Phoun
- Wat Si Muang
- Chao Anouvong Park
- Phou Khao Khouay National Park
Locally known as Xieng Khuan is a sculpture park. It is located 25km from Vientiane. Its local name means 'spiritual city'. Inside it contains more than 200 Buddhist and Hindu statues.
To get to this park is a real adventure. As always we prefer to go on own on way. This means, going by motorbike. But for the less adventurous you can rent a tuk-tuk. The first part of the road is quite good. Maybe, a little bit tiring because it is still a considerable distance.
As for the second part of the road, near the park, the same can not be said. It is a dirt road and it is common people pour water into the road. We did not realize why. But, after a few minutes, we understand. When the road is dry, with the transports passing the dust is like hell. Wear masks, we had to improvise and wear sunglasses for eye protection.
In our point of view, the park was not one of the attractions we liked the most. We would probably pass the trip to this place if we were to visit the capital.
COPE Visitor Centre is a non-profit organization that runs rehabilitation centers. Its primary purpose is to provide assistance and support to survivors of unexploded ordnance, including orthopaedic appliances, prosthetics, and physiotherapy.
The impact and struggle that the survivors face and the work that COPE does is the hope for a better future. Facilities include a permanent exhibit, a small cinema to watch documentaries, a shop, and a café. At the entrance, there are small round bombs hanging from the ceiling.
It is important to note that due to the dense vegetation of Laos often prevented the bombs from detonating. Nowadays, contamination threatens 25% of villages across the country. It is estimated that since the end of the war in 1973 more than 20,000 people were killed or injured, half of them children. Many of them have injuries, lost limbs, and blindness. For families, it is a financial burden.
The COPE Centre helps in self-esteem so these people can be independent and become active members of society. As his motto indicates 'helping people move on'. The center also helps people who are victims of traffic accidents, polio, and other diseases, with specific services for children.
They are fundamental support for young victims when families can not afford to pay for their care.
The work that is developed here is sensational. This center is undoubtedly a place to visit in the capital. It is important to know the history of the country we are visiting, even if it is bloody. This is something we must not forget.
Opening hours: 09:00 a.m - 06:00 p.m
Others places to visit in Laos
This Laos travel itinerary was adapted to the time we had. You can use this guide and adjust whatever is necessary. Of course, if we went back to the country today and had more time available, we would include other locations, such as those listed below.
A small village situated in the province of Luang Prabang, only 1 hour by bus. Crossed by Nam Ou River, and protected by mountains. Nong Khiaw is synonymous of perfect photography from sunrise to sunset.
Here everything is still very rural. Although in recent years it has grown because of tourism. Trekking through the jungle with local guides, renting a bicycle and exploring the waterfalls is another option. Initially, we had Nong Khiaw in our Laos travel itinerary, but the shortage of time made us make drastic decisions. Unfortunately, we were unable to visit this little village.
Vang Vieng is known by parties. It was common for tourists to gather on the banks of the river for tubing. That is, going down the river in buoys, stopping along the bars on the banks. Today it is still practised but, on a smaller scale. The government has closed many of the bars since some incidents occurred.
To explore there are lagoons of turquoise water, caves, and monasteries of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Activities such as rock climbing, kayaking, and even cycling tours are quite popular.
Situated on the banks of the Mekong, Champasak is a charming town between the river and the mountain. Nearby is Wat Phu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Champasak is still outside the more touristy areas, as a result, makes it even more unique.
The sensational landscapes, history, and architecture are something to consider in the city. No doubt that when we return to the country, Champasak will be in our Laos travel itinerary.
Some important facts about Laos
- It is the most bombed country in the world;
- The capital of Laos, Vientiane has French colonial remains. Just like a little all over the country;
- The mountains of Laos are rich in minerals. Gold, sapphire, amethyst, marble, slate, coarse salt and granite are just a few you can found;
- Khone Phapheng waterfalls in the northeast of the country are the largest series of falls and rapids in Southeast Asia. They extend for 10 kilometres along the river;
- The country's jungle is a refuge of immense biodiversity. You can find tigers, leopards, bears, civets, slow loris, and many others;
- The caves of Tam Pa Ling (Caves of the Monkeys) were the site of an important discovery. In 2009 a skull and a jawbone were found. Making the oldest modern human fossil found in Southeast Asia;
- The economy of Laos is one of the fastest-growing every year;
- Laos has more than 900 endemic species of orchids;
- The country was nicknamed 'The Land of a Million Elephants'. Today they are in less quantity due to exploitation;
- Vieng Xai Caves hid an entire city. A network of more than 450 caves housed 20,000 people, including the communist Pathet Lao.