Laos – Why I Went and What I Thought

Luang Prabang, Laos

When I put together the itinerary for our vacation in Asia, I had some difficult decisions to make. We knew we wanted to return to Bangkok; it’s one of our favorite cities and a few days in the Thai capital sounded perfect. But we also wanted to visit some new places and after a lot of waffling, the two finalists were Laos and Cambodia. In the end we chose to travel to Laos with the sole intention of relaxing. I knew if we went to Cambodia I would push us to see ruins and World Heritage sites from dawn to dusk but in Laos we could take it easy and enjoy more of our vacation. So armed with very little information, I booked a flight on Bangkok Airways to Luang Prabang.

Luang Prabang

When I told people we were going to Laos the most common response was confusion. Most people have at least heard of the country, but that’s usually where the awareness ends. Laos hasn’t exactly bent over backwards to promote itself and, as a result, many people have never gone or even considered visiting. Tourism is slowly coming into its own in Luang Prabang, a World Heritage city, but still most of the tourists are backpackers in search of cheap travel. Laos, like Vietnam, is a communist country and foreign direct investment in the nation is limited and still a bit of a novelty, at least where we were. In Luang Prabang, where we spent all of our time, there are only a couple of hotels that I would consider patronizing, the best being the Orient Express property La Residence Phou Vao, my hotel partner for the stay.

But that’s also one reason why life is slower in Laos and why we ultimately decided to visit. I don’t think I was prepared though for just how slow life really is in Laos.

Luang Prabang night market

Our first exposure to the center of town in Luang Prabang was at the night market. Night markets are great, they’re fantastic places to find interesting food and trinkets of every size and shape. We selected a restaurant and sat outside in the unusually hot evening and just watched everyone walk by. It was clear that this was the touristy part of town, just about everyone who walked by was foreign, mostly European with a few American and Australian backpackers in the bunch.

Luang Prabang

Over the course of a few days I got to meet more of the city as we walked through countless temples and got lost in residential neighborhoods. The temperatures were the hottest of the year and combined with palpably thick humidity, we restricted our sightseeing to short bursts. But luckily there’s not that much to see or do in Luang Prabang, not really. There are temples, a palace and a couple small museums, but the real draw to Luang Prabang is the city itself, more than any single attraction. That was fine with me, as we were indeed able to relax and take things slow.

La Residence Phou Vao was the perfect place to stay to realize our goal of doing little. Every day I spent some time at the tranquil infinity pool and walked around the grounds which seems like a little private heaven in the sea of chaos that fills so much of the town. It was nice to sleep in, have some coffee on the veranda and listen to the sounds of the city as people went about their daily lives.

La Residence Phou Vao

On our last evening, we finished dinner and decided to walk the length of the night market so I could enjoy one last Oreo milkshake when all of a sudden the lights went out. Everywhere in town all power had been lost. It was strange, one doesn’t usually see blackouts that are citywide and with the assistance of our phones we navigated the market to return to our hotel, which enjoyed the benefit of a generator.

I noticed though that during the blackout no one was panicked or even worried really. I asked a shopkeeper how long the power would be out and she said “Oh usually it comes back in the morning,” spoken with such calm confidence that I had to grin. Instead of sirens, alarms going off and people yelling, the entire city was just quiet, except for the occasional motorbike. No one was worried and instead just waited for the lights to come back on. Ultimately, I think that’s why I enjoyed our time in Laos so much, that attitude of taking things as they come is infectious and for the first time in a long time allowed me to actually relax while on vacation.

I have lots more to say about our time in Laos, the good, bad and ugly, but wanted to offer the reason for our visit and my initial thoughts which I also touched upon briefly in this post about my traveler’s guilt. There are a lot of sensitive issues concerned with visiting Laos, and I look forward to exploring them all with you.

Have you ever been to Laos? What did you think?

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

20 thoughts on “Laos – Why I Went and What I Thought”

  1. We visited Laos on the spur of the moment when we travelling through Vietnam and China. Absolutely loved it and really want to go back and visit the south as we only did the LP-Vientiane usual route. Lovely people and they really need the positive of tourism. We found some great opportunities to give something back to the local communities as they were so welcoming – I even donated blood to the Lao Red Cross and got a t-shirt to prove it!

  2. The Laotians certainly have their priorities right. Life is about taking the time to appreciate what you have. We loved Luang Prabang when we visited (although we went during the rainy season so it was much cooler!) and can’t wait to go back some day. They’re some of the friendliest people we’ve ever met!

  3. Laos was one of our favorite places in Asia, and we can’t wait to go back and explore more of the country. We especially loved the little villages and country life – coming to Luang Prabang after a few days in tiny villages made it feel much grander than it actually was. Btw – Laos might not be on a lot of American’s radar, but we met bus loads of older European tourists who were visiting Laos on a ‘package’ vacation… even very remote places, which surprised us.

  4. I absolutely loved Laos, one of my favorite countries from last year. A lot less tourism than in surrounding Thailand and Vietnam. And people are really relaxed and usually nowhere as pushy selling you things as people in the neighboring countries. Luang Prabang is excellent for relaxing, and if you head to South Laos, you’ll find even less tourists.

  5. You can’t get much more relaxed that Laos – formerly known as Lao PDR. Whether the PDR stands for People’s Democratic Republic or Please Don’t Rush, is still open for debate! Great photos.

  6. I think I stayed at that resort a few years ago. Luang Prabang is one of the nicest places I’ve been to in Lao. I really like Luang Namtha and Udom Xai as well. Unfortunately, the wrong kind of tourism is beginning to set in in certain places of Lao, like Vang Vieng.

      1. Vang Vieng is such a beautiful place but the bulk of it now is being destroyed by middle class european backpackers insistent on dressing inappropriately, drinking lao lao buckets until they vomit, throwing neon paint around, abusing cheap drugs and generally behaving disgustingly. Laos will always have a special place in my heart but watching this is painful.

        That said, I would encourage anyone to visit Laos- with the right attitude and respect I think it is one of the most beautiful places in the world :) Just avoid the tourist trail!

  7. I loved Laos I recommend you rent a scooter and go a few miles out into the country and meet the non tourist Laos the people were soft spoken and very polite every restaurant I went to everyone offered me some of there food and always topped off my beer after ever drink.
    Vang Vieng was Beautiful but the drunk westerners were very rude to the local people and culture I was embarrassed to be American in that city. I dont care if you live it up but the no reason to be an ass. I have heard they stopped tubing in Vang Vieng

  8. Seems like you had interesting time in Laos. And blackouts are common in developing countries and even here in India we have to face long hours of it especially during summers due to shortage of electricity. Pictures do look good. Taking it easy during travel add so much fun to it. Keep traveling and keep sharing :-)

  9. Well thought out post — Though I heard great things about Luang Prabang, my friend and I never made it past Thakek, Laos. The slow pace of things (and great rock climbing) was definitely infectious and I’m happy we made it to sleepy, laid-back Laos as well!

  10. We recently went to Laos, as my husband is from there, and we loved it! Like you said, they have a very relaxed attitude, which is much different than Americans! It is such a beautiful country, and they all work so hard for what they have!

  11. Asia as a whole besides Japan aren’t on my top 10 list to visit but these images make me re-consider. Just looks amazing! When we plan a trip it’s typically to places where it snows not hot and humid like this.

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