Mention Laos and so many thoughts come to mind- from monasteries to Mekong River to the Golden Triangle. Holidaying in Laos is probably not high on your bucket list but within the only landlocked country in South East Asia lies a gem waiting to be discovered. As a product specialist at Jetabout Holidays, I get to experience some of the most amazing countries to get the best finds for our customers.
I had one of the best holiday experiences in Laos. Here are some destination highlights and tips based on my trip for when you pick Laos as your next holiday destination!
1. Tour through unbridled natural beauty
Laos’ official tagline for its country is “Simple Beautiful” and there’s no better way to put it. I saw amazing views and beautiful landscapes I never knew existed. Unlike its more affluent neighbours, Laos hasn’t been the fastest off the economic block, but it is rapidly progressing and developing. This means a good mix urbanization that brings about comfort and convenience (sanitation is no issue!) whilst allowing a more bona fide experience for the tourist (like me!) looking for a taste of the simple life.
The Mekong River is an icon and the country thrives of its popularity. Tourists flock to the 12th-longest river in the world to experience the Mekong experience – where Man and nature co-exist beautifully in harmony. I was greeted by happy faces of many Asian and Western tourists and their guide while waiting for the cruise.
The cruise upstream through the Mekong River offers a breathtaking view of the countryside and a glimpse of the 4,350km river in all its glory. Having been to other countries such as Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia, I can vouch for the vast expanse of not just the river, but the activities within. From the delta to the rapids and waterfalls, each encounter with the Mekong River is never the same.
I visited the picturesque Kuang Si waterfall – an amazing three-tier cascading waterfall that attracts thousands of tourists each year. Its mesmerizing turquoise blue pools surrounded by steep hillsides make for an amazing photo opportunity (note to self: bring extra set of clothes the next time).
A walk along the forest trails or a hike up up through its well-maintained walkways and bridges to the various pools is a must. I enjoyed the easy trail up and the view is amazing each step of the way. Here’s a fun fact about the Kuang Si waterfall: the water travels 29 kilometres before reaching its main 60-metre cascade. An amazing sight you’d definitely want to dip into!
2. Enjoy an incredible historical and cultural experience
Laos teems with tradition, history and cultural influences. It’s impossible to travel through Laos without understanding a little about the country’s social influences. The sights were enriching and humbling at the same time. I saw the way of life of some locals there and simplicity is truly bliss.
Buddhism is the main religion in Laos and you can observe how much influence Buddhism has in shaping the country’s history and local traditions. The alms giving scene above is fairly common and routine – a heartwarming sight each time.
The oldest building in Vientiane is Wat Si Saket – it holds approximately 7000 images of Buddha and also housed the Si Saket Museum. If there is only one temple you have time for, this is a must-see landmark. After 30 minutes of exploring, I stopped taking photos and started to pay close attention to the intricate building design and images on display.
This is another iconic landmark I checked off my Laos to-go list. The Patuxay Monument is the Arc de Triumphe of Vientiane. Built in the 1960s, this is a war monument dedicated to those who fought in the struggle for independence from France. You can feel the aura of serenity surrounding the monument. At the top of monument, visitors can have a panoramic view of Vientiane City. You’ve got to be here!
This majestic stupa caught the attention of everyone – the Pha That Luang is believed to have been built as a Hindu temple in the 3rd century and was rebuilt in the 16th century. The great stupa has survived multiple wars and has been restored various times. It is widely regarded as the most important national monument in Laos and a national symbol. Many tour groups make it a point to visit Pha That Luang, you’ll never miss it.
3. Language and food are no barriers
Traveling in Laos is not as hard as you think, and you are assured of a pleasant journey when you travel on our tour packages. The best way to travel around in Laos is with a tour guide, as I was unfamiliar with the language and culture. Although English, French, Mandarin, Thai and Vietnamese are understood by some, the majority of the people speaks the Lao language. Most of the locals I met may know English, but may not necessarily understand me due to my Singaporean-skewed accent.
Their popular tourist locations offer English translations, so you will have some inkling of what’s going on. I recommend traveling on a tour package if it’s your first time and you rather not figure everything out on the go.
The local Lao cuisine is very similar to Thai and Chinese food – the landlocked country would definitely have gained various influences throughout the years from its neighbouring countries. I enjoyed many foods as they were pretty close to what I love – soup and rice! Whether in Vientiane or Luang Prabang, you’ll find many food surprisingly familiar, yet with a local-flavoured twist.
It’s an interesting experience – one that would sit very well with those with sensitive tastebuds. You can always request for less spice in your food or opt for a western meal at restaurants and hotels.
4. Tips on currency and tipping
The official currency in Laos in the Kip and can be exchanged locally. If you have no plans to keep the Kip, fret not – Thai Baht and USD are also widely accepted (of course, the transactional exchange rates may not be that favourable). I transacted in US dollars most of the time when tipping, and brought my leftover Thai Baht from my last adventure in Thailand, so I didn’t have to change to Kip.
Everything in Laos is affordable and you may wish to consider the dollar difference paid in USD as your contribution to the economy.
One of the best ways to support the local community is through purchase of their unique handicrafts and souvenirs – this will encourage the sellers and you get a memento to bring home! Visit the Night Market near Mekong River where an huge array of handmade textiles by the locals and hill tribe people surrounding Luang Prabang await. You’ll definitely find something you’ll love! (I bought a couple of shawls for friends and some handmade souvenirs for family and colleagues at work!)
Tipping in Laos is generally between US$2 to US$4, depending on the service rendered to you during your tour. At hotels, restaurants and bars, tipping is generally not expected but is a gesture of appreciation that is very much welcomed. A US$1 – US$2 tip is the general guide for hotel help, and some bars have already factored a service charge on your bill. My luggage was a tad heavy towards the end of the trip, so I was grateful for the bellboy’s help!
Laos is indeed an incredible vacation spot. If you’re planning a holiday to one of the most beautiful countries in Southeast Asia, remember our tips and places we’ve highlight. Better still, ask our Jetabout specialists for recommendations, we’d be happy to share more insights to plan the this simply beautiful country!— Jetabout Holidays is a leading travel agency under the Holiday Tours Group. With over 30 years in the travel industry, Jetabout Holidays reputation as a top agent has garnered awards within the industry. Voted as the #1 Travel Agency for New Zealand and Australia (under Qantas Holidays) by Weekender Travellers Choice 2014 and 2015, you are assured of a hassle-free, personalized vacation. Jetabout Holidays is 75% owned by Qantas Airways and is the highly-regarded travel specialist for Australia and New Zealand tours. Call us at 6734 1818 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for your holiday plans!
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