While it used to be all about Thailand and Vietnam, Laos is becoming one of the hippest and popular places to visit in South-East Asia. And though it may not be as cheap as some of its South-East Asian cousins, it certainly has a lot to offer. Here are our top tips for visits to the capital Vientiane and UNESCO World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang.
1. Visit the COPE Centre
Did you know that over 270 million cluster bombs were dropped in Laos during the Vietnam War? And that still today 100 people die in Laos ever year because of the 30% that didn't explode at the time?
The COPE Visitor Centre in Vientiane is a must-visit to understand the often dubbed “secret war” in Laos and the ongoing legacy for its people. It not only acts as an education centre for the public, but it plays an active role in assisting those who have lost limbs as a result of cluster bomb and other accidents. Check out their website to watch the videos available at the centre online and ways in which you can support the centre’s activities.
2. Get high in Luang Prabang
The short climb to the top of Mt. Phousi, which is more of a hill than a mountain, is well worth it for a different perspective of Luang Prabang (20,000 kip entry, US$2.50). Go there for the sunset and then head back down the path straight into the night markets where you can pick up some great fresh juices. Venture down the little side street for all-you-can-pile-on buffet plates for just 10,000 kip (US$1.25). Great value, especially if you have a big appetite.
3. Wake up early
Getting up at the crack of dawn is an opportunity to see something quite special in Luang Prabang. The distinctive orange-robed monks leave the temples and walk the streets in single file collecting food donations in their alms bowls from locals wanting to attract good karma.
While anyone may participate in the alms ceremony, please only do so if it is meaningful to you and that you respect the rules such as not speaking, not making eye contact with the monks, not using camera flash and not getting too close as an observer, amongst others. The monks are in a meditative state and any of these actions may disturb them.
Head to the night market area for fewer people and unobstructed views of the monks passing through, although there are also fewer people offering alms there, especially on rainy mornings.
4. Get a massage for a cause
If you’re thinking about getting a massage in Luang Prabang, head to the Red Cross for pampering with a purpose. There you can get a one-hour oil massage for just 40,000 kip (about US$5) or try a traditional steam bath with 27 herbs for just 10,000 (US$1.25). All the money raised goes to supporting Red Cross community activities. Ask about their blood donation service to see if you are eligible. After visiting the COPE Centre, the urgent need for blood in Laos will take on even greater meaning.
5. Give yourself time
During the wet season especially, don’t travel on a tight schedule. Don’t be surprised if your early morning arrival turns in to a lunch-time one, or later. Bus delays of a few hours are usual, in fact expect them.
As a nice bonus, sleeper bus tickets include a food coupon stub which you can use to exchange for certain food or drink products at the dinner stop. Although we would recommend eating dinner beforehand or bringing food on board as the stop may not be until 11 or 12.
Try the VIP sleeper bus for an interesting experience and hope you’re traveling with someone you don’t mind getting close to!
Travel Tips For Laos | ck
Wednesday 23rd of August 2017
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Saturday 17th of December 2016
Hi Jessica - followed you for Borneo, Mt Fuiji. Back for Laos! Do you have any recommendations for somewhere to stay in Luang Prabang? And did you get to the Plain of Jars at Phonsavan? We are heading to Nong Khaiw for the 100 Waterfalls Trek after Luang Prabang. Any of your excellent tips would be super appreciated. Kirstie
Saturday 31st of December 2016
Hi Kirstie! Glad to see you back! How was your Mt. Fuji climb?
We just stayed at a random hostel in Luang Prabang. Hai just looked through our old Hostelworld and Booking.com bookings to see if we could find the name of it, but unfortunately couldn't find anything. I think we may have just walked in off the street and enquired. I also had a quick search online to see if I could find it from my memory of the exterior - there was one that kind of looked like it but I really can't be sure. In any case, it wasn't a place that I would highly recommend so you are not missing out. There are quite a lot of options and hopefully by reading some reviews, you'll be able to find a good place.
Unfortunately we also didn't go to the places you are heading to so can't offer any advice this time around. Sorry about that! I do hope that you can find some other resources online to fill in the gaps.
Wishing you a wonderful trip and Happy New Year!
Thursday 6th of February 2014
I'm in Luang Prabang now, so I'm going to make use of your tips! And I'm going with the VIP bus option en route to Vientiane. ;)
Thursday 6th of February 2014
Awesome - I just tweeted you a photo of the princess bed that awaits you. Hope you're travelling with your man ;)
Have a fantastic time in Laos!
Tuesday 17th of September 2013
Great tips guys. It's true to wake up in the morning as you can see an amazing sunrise - simply stunning! We have not been to COPE center, so there is still something we need to catch up with when coming back to Laos :)
Tuesday 17th of September 2013
Thanks, Agness! It's so worth getting up early for the sunrise, isn't it?! Even if the actually getting out of bed is painful! :)
We also just love seeing a city in a different light. Sometimes the early morning is the only time the streets are quiet, especially in big cities. It's so interesting to see the city "waking up". You can see our post about just that in Shanghai if you are interested: https://notesofnomads.com/waking-up-with-shanghai/
Yes, you should definitely get to the COPE Centre. Some of the statistics were so astounding that we wondered how on Earth we didn't know about the situation there before. Very worthwhile visit.