Essential Experiences: Things to Do in Laos
Planning a trip to Laos? In Laos right now and trying to figure out what to do? Look no further! The list below goes beyond the typical tourist recommendations, offering slightly offbeat attractions, unique experiences and 10 of the best things to do in Laos. Don’t worry, visiting wats is not included.
1. Try Local Lao Lao Whiskey in Luang Namtha
Not as frequented by visitors as some other spots in Laos, Luang Namtha is a cute little town up north with lots of local villages and vibes, and some stunning wats walkable from the small downtown. But our favorite part of this stop was its proximity to the local Lao Lao distillery — and enjoying the local rice whiskey made there.
2. Stay in a Bungalow in a Rice Paddy in Kong Lor Village
Quite far off the beaten path and nestled amoungst yellow-green rice paddies backed by imposing karst limestone mountains, Kong Lor (or Konglor) is a small village with only a few hundred permanent residents. Known for the awe-inspiring Kong Lor Cave, the highlight for me was staying in a small wooden bungalow in the rice paddies (and staying for only $10/night – Thongdam Guesthouse). It’s a bit of a pain to get to transit wise, but worth the trip.
3. Behold the 4,000+ Buddhas in Pak Ou’s Cave
Brimming with buddhas, this cave is a short 2-hour boat ride upriver from Luang Prabang. Although it’s more touristy than it used to be, the cave is still cool in that it offers a glimpse at a variety of buddhas – over 4,000 to be exact. The buddhas here are a different variety than the massive ones scattered in temples around the country. Pak Ou’s Cave is less visited than some other Luang Prabang sights (ahem, Kung Si Falls), so it’s kind of sort of unique. There is an upper and lower cave, offering much to explore.
Read More → A Few Days Too Long in Luang Prabang
4. Visit the Massive and Mysterious Plain of Jars in Phonsaven
Also a bit off the backpacker route, Phonsavan in eastern Laos is known for its mysterious archaeological marvel: 90+ sites where huge, ancient stone jars were found littering the fields. No one knows quite what they’re for, but [educated] guesses include storing bodies, alcohol, and salt. Many of the sites are inaccessible to visitors as they haven’t been cleared of UXO yet, and many are surrounded by bomb craters from the war, making the whole experience feel authentic.
5. Meander Along the Mekong in Vientiane
Located on the Mekong River straight across from Thailand, Vientiane has much to offer. For me, most of the best times in the city occurred along the Mekong. From the night market, to the night [drinking] street, to the boardwalk, to the riverfront restaurants and bars at sunset, to the park, there is no shortage of things to do. Vientiane’s laid-back pace manages to make the meandering relaxing, too.
6. Visit a UXO Museum (or 2) and Learn About the ‘Secret War’
I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t know anything about UXO or how Laos was impacted by the Vietnam War until I set foot in this museum. I didn’t even know what a “UXO” was (unexploded ordinance). I don’t think I’m the only one ignorant to this, so checking out a museum is essential for all travelers to Laos. There are several museums around the country educating visitors on the history of UXO, the awful casualties they still impose, and efforts to find and remove them and make the land safe for those living there. A few of the standout places to visit include the UXO Laos (Luang Prabang), COPE Visitor’s Center (Vientiane), UXO Survivor Information Centre (Phonsavan).
7. Ride a Motorbike Around the Thakhek Loop
Or, if motorbikes scare you as much as they scare me, take a slightly-long and very dusty tuk tuk ride to some portion of it. The Thakhek Loop is just that – a loop you drive that stops by numerous amazing caves and passes through numerous amazing and remote villages. It can be completed in a few days with stop offs in the villages to sleep, depending on your pace and how many days of motorbike rental you feel like paying for.
8. Join a Group Workout Session in Chao Anouvong Park
There are group workout sessions all over Asia, and one of my favorites is in Vientiane, Laos. Occurring before or after the sun goes down (around 6am and 6pm), these classes take place in public areas like parks and there are several in Vientiane’s large Chao Anouvong Park. For a few thousand kip you can join along and get quite a workout. Groups vary form a few participants to hundreds.
9. Take a Bus Ride, Any Bus Ride
The bus journeys in Laos were some of the most harrowing I’ve been on yet — and after hundreds of bus hours in South America that’s saying a lot. However, each bus journey – no longer how long/painful/annoying/weird – proved to be quite an experience, and one I think any traveler to Laos should have. So jump on at least 1 bus ride! But, if you don’t like packed spaces, roads in disrepair, sharing a bed with a stranger, waiting on the side of roads in the heat, people throwing up next to you, children peeing on you, puppies in the trunk, or delays, you might want to make that ride a short one.
10. Eat Some Rice Cakes. Then Eat Some More Rice Cakes.
Only because I love them and they are my favorite snack in Laos. And because I ate 3 packages of the massive cakes within 3 days. They are a good bus snack.
Don’t Read More → No, I did not write an entire post on rice cakes.