Landlocked between better known Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and China, Laos does not get much attention from travelers and therein lies its immense charm. If you're of the opinion the fewer the people, the better the travel experience, then Laos is the place for you. The country's isolation, for reasons of war and politics, has preserved an older, slower, and traditional way of life: an older and bucolic Asia, without the crowds.
The impossibly beautiful landscapes and tranquility of northern Laos are exceptinal, and in sublime Luang Prabang one discovers the last Shangri-la of Asia. The splendid old capital, featuring a cluster of shimmering royal temples, palace, administrative buildings, remnants of the faded grandeur of the Lao monarchy and French colonists, blend majestically with gilded temples. The serene town remains one of the most well-preserved in Asia bypassed in the rapid development that has seized the rest of the region. Delicious cuisine, authentic markets, and gentle residents round out one of Southeast Asia's most remarkable places. Let us plan a few remarkable days away from the crowds, discovering the natural beauty, peaceful people, wildlife, and charm of northern Laos.
Luang Prabang, a little city of 80,000 or so people, neither teems with excitement nor seethes with intrigue. Life flows slowly here, like the muddy Mekong. The people are gentle and unassuming. Two lazy rivers happen upon each other in their wanderings through Luang Prabang — the Nam Khan and the swirling brown Mekong.
The landscapes of northern Laos are impossibly beautiful and tranquil and it is in sublime Luang Prabang one discovers the last Shangri-la of Asia. The splendid old capital features a cluster of shimmering royal temples, palace, and administrative buildings, remnants of the faded grandeur of the Lao monarchy. Small and compact, the town is encircled by peaks and camouflaged by palm trees and dense tropical foliage. From a distance, only golden-spired stupas can be seen, flashes of gold among the greenery. The serene town remains one of the most well-preserved in Asia bypassed in the rapid development that has seized the rest of the region. Delicious cuisine, authentic markets, and gentle residents round out one of Asia's most remarkable, and for now, secret places.
The busy capital city of Laos is situated on the Mekong River just across from Thailand. Since 1563, Vientiane was a sleepy backwater capital of an equally backwater state, but as Laos has slowly opened up to foreign investment and tourism, and Vientiane has undergone vast changes and continues to expand.
Highlights include French-colonial architecture with golden temples such as the golden, 16th-century Pha That Luang, wthe country's national symbol. Along broad boulevards and tree-lined streets are many notable shrines including Wat Si Saket, filled with thousands of Buddha images, and popular Wat Si Muang.
The Plain of Jars, a drive from Luang Prabang, should be of interest for any archeology buffs. The purpose of the enigmatic giant stone jars of unknown ancient origin dot the rolling plains over hundreds of hilly square miles around Phonsavan, Laos. Surprisingly, though studied for over a century there remains very little known about the civilisation that produced the jars.
Archaeologists estimate the jars date from the Southeast Asian iron age from 500 BC to AD 200 and suppose the stone vessels appear have been used for elaborate burial rituals, perhaps simply as coffins.
French colonial meets modern Laos, sleepy Savannakhet is an important trading hub on the border of Thailand. The rustic historic quarter is a highlight of stopover, with its impressive display of decaying early-20th-century architecture. These grand French villas of Indochina's past now are worth a glance. Only waypoint, there's little else of the town but to refresh along riverfront and cool off in one of the newer restaurants and cafes before moving on.
Where the Mekong and Xe Don rivers meet lies Pakse, the capital of Champasak Province and the gateway to southern Laos. A conevenient stopover, its Wat Luang is a richly decorated temple worth viewing and the Champasak Historical Heritage Museum explores the region's culture featuring crafts, jewelry, textiles and other displays. The city's past is featured in its rustic French colonial architecture, especially in the old quarter near Xe Don River.
Don Khong is actually an island in the middle of the Mekong River, in an area known as Si Phan Don or "4,000 islands."
Don Khong features an authentic glimpse of Lao life, in a tranquil and picturesque river setting. Don Khong offers a relaxing destination for teen and young adults, with activities including cycling and kayaking.
If you're traveling overland on our very remarkable off-the-grid journey from Hanoi to Luang Prabang, or vice-versa, then Vieng Xai will be our first stop in Laos. Compact Vieng Xai is far away from anywhere, quiet and remote and the perfect place to experience local life in Laos.
Significantly, Vieng Xai is was the location of the Pathet Lao rebels during the Vietnam War, who lived and administered their movement from within a large network of cave formations, which we will explore in addition to the town's local charms in this remote and untrammeled corner of Indochina.
Only a couple hours from Luang Prabang, our hiking, boating, and biking trips will transport you into another world, away from anything that exists in most of Southeast Asia—dense cloud forest far, far away from any other travelers. These logging trails are only accessible by boat, distant from from any town. High up here in the Annamite Mountains, spires of rocky outcrops are clothed in dense tropical vegetation.
The landscape, as far as the eye can see, is made up of forest and spectacular limestone cliffs that rise up like jagged teeth above the ridges. A handful of hilltribe villages down river cling to the dusty red slopes of the mountainside, their plumes of smoke tapering off into the distance. Nothing else moves on this wild and glorious terrain. We can organize hiking and cycling for all abilities, from a couple of hours to several days.
Elephants and TemplesAvoid the crowds in Thailand, let us plan private time with elephants and monks
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Bordered by China, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia, Laos is not often thought of as a destiantion for families, but therin lies its charm—ancient, untouristed, with authentic and immersive encounters and experiences. In Asia's most off-the-beaten-path town, we'll take you that much further out to explore the magnificent landscape of northern Laos beyond the ordinary trip and experience local cultural in unforgettable family activities and encounters, all carefully-planned and led by the most experienced and knowledgeable guides in the region. Meet with child monks, explore waterfalls, visit an award-winning elephant sanctuary, bicycle remote villages, while enjoying newer luxury hotels that have arrived in this most tranquil of countries.
Those that have cycled and hiked with us in Laos will tell you it is the undiscovered gem of Asia, with untrammeled small towns, sublime landscapes and centuries-old traditions largely still unaffected by the massive changes in other parts of Asia. Enjoy short rides and hikes, suitable for almost anyone, to longer tours of one to two weeks, such as our terrific Hanoi to Luang Prabang cycling trip.
Laotian hilltribes are fascinating, colorfully-costumed, and living largely traditional lifestyles. Witness village life in Hmong villages where women thatch woben mats and shell rice, then pounding it in mortars for food while farmers harvest banana trees. Around the farms and villages, hike over trails into the surrounding hills and jungle following the foot falls of generations before you.
Experience the finest of Laos, whether just the busy capital Vientiane and sublime Luang Prabang, or longer trips into remote, tranquil places like Nong Khiaw, or overland journeys such as our Luang Prabang to Hanoi trip.
Laos has become a comfortable destination, with several luxury hotel chains opening in recent years including an Aman and Rosewood, complimenting long-time favorite La Residence Phuo Vao. Enjoy VIP immigration, private touring, exclusive encounters and activities, and fabulous dining during your travel in Laos.
Vietnam, Laos & Angkor with Thailand Over three weeks, explore Thailand's four kingdoms, bucolic northern Laos, magnificent ruins of a Khmer Empire at Angkor, and everyone's favorite—Vietnam. World-class accommodations feature the legendary Metropole in Hanoi, the Nam Hai, the region's premier beach resort, and the renowned Mandarin Oriental along Bangkok's Chao Praya River. With pre-arranged visas, VIP immigration, exclusive personal encounters, dining arrangements, dedicated tour manager and premier escorts, you may relax and enjoy this journey to the fullest.
Unlike neighboring Thailand, the small selection of elephant sanctuaries in Laos offer far less tourists and authentic encounters in the wild. Explore jungle landscapes, leading your new friend to the Mekong River for a bathing followed by feeding and learning all about the care of these gentle giants. Note: Indochina Travel organizes only non-riding elephant experiences in Laos.
Unlock the secrets of lap and other Laotian specialties, enjoying street food, market tours, cuilnary dinenr cruise on the Mekong, and half- to full-day cooking classes in Luang Prabang.
Baci is a traditional Lao spiritual ceremony to celebrate a special event such as a marriage, a homecoming, birth, or welcoming. Baci predates even the arrival of Buddhism into Laos, and is a celebration of life, family and friends, of forgiveness, renewal and reverance to divine beings. The term commonly used for baci is su kwan, meaning “calling of the soul.” This baci experience is marked by a warm welcome by a local family and friends, with ritual greetings, blessings, sacred flower arrangements, sharing of food and other aspects, such as the tying of charm bracelets made of string.
Enjoy this charming ritual in the home of a local family, performed by a senior member of the community who has been a Buddhist monk at some point in life. Special arrangements are made for the ceremony, such as flowers elaborately arranged according to custom. During the ceremony, as a guest of honor being welcomed, white silk or cotton thread are tied on the right hand wrist as a blessing for well being and good luck. The white thread is also symbol of peace, harmony, good fortune, good health and human warmth and community and is to worn for a minimum of three days, or until the thread wears off. No visit to Laos should be considered complete without this spiritual blessing and opportunity to meet a local family.
One of Asia's least populated and undeveloped counties offers lush mountain, jungles and river valleys that are among the most scenic and untrammeled in all of Asia. Mountain bike through hilltribe villages and farms, hike trails into cloud forests, and explore caves where Laos rebels operated during the war.
Laos features some of the most authentic hand-crafted goods in Asia, including one-of-a-kind Ikat textiles. During this crafts explorer, witness firsthand fine wood carving, visit silk farms and learn the art of Ikat textiles.
Traditional Buddhism still holds sway over Lao culture. Witness firsthand sacred religious rituals and lifestyle of monks that few other travelers ever experience.
Located within blocks of downtown, the Amantaka is a rnovated hospital featuring the chains typical stark and elegant design.
A restored French-colonial teak mansion, the Belmond's (formerly Orient Express) is one of favorite properties in all of Asia. From this tranquil tropical retreat enjoy expansive views over Luang Prabang and surrounding mountains.
The Xiengthong Palace is the only luxury hotel located within town yet features a quiet location situated upon the Mekong River. The property was the last residence of the Laos Royal Family and is now operated by the long-time Victoria chain. All highlights of the town are within a short stroll.
Luang Say Residence is a sublime French-colonial-era collection of 24 sumptuous luxury residenced situated in six stand-alone bungalows. With the lush tropical foliage, gardens and mountainous views. Located only a block from the Mekong and a short stroll to the central town.
Opened in May, 2018, the Rosewood provides a luxurious option along with the Amantaka and Rosewod. Hidden in the lush green jungle that surrounds the historic royal settlement of Luang Prabang, a river—emanating from a flowing waterfall—runs through the heart of this exotic retreat. Taking its cue from the French-Lao architecture for which the town is known, the interiors reflect the influences of ancient temples, while luxurious tented villas celebrate the explorer spirit.