Laid-back is the term often used to describe Laos. And it’s a title that’s well-deserved. Time seems to slip by more slowly here than in other parts of Asia and the quiet charm of the country and its people makes for a memorable destination to explore. Although Laos has been a feature on the Southeast Asia backpacker trail for quite some time, it’s only been relatively recently that more discerning visitors have begun to discover the undeniable appeal of Laos.
#1 photo scenery view
Tours in Laos can easily be added on to visits to northern Thailand. Across the Mekong from the Thai border town of Chiang Kong lies Huay Xai. This small Laos town is the starting point for a gentle 2-day, 1-night river cruise which is a delightful introduction to lovely Laos. The luxury boat travels through verdant valleys and mountain scenery to the UNESCO world heritage site of Luang Prabang. On the way you’ll stop at rural villages to see the local way of life and enjoy the food of the region. Witness the shifting scenery and stunning sunsets from the comfort of the boat. An overnight stay is included at the charming Luang Say Lodge in Pakbeng.
#2 photo sunset
Luang Say Lodge, Pakbeng
Set in a tranquil location backed by mountainous jungle and with panoramic views over the Mekong River, Luang Say Lodge may just tempt you to want to stay longer. With traditional Laotian architecture, the luxury teak and rosewood bungalows are well-appointed with mosquito nets, hot shower and Western-style toilet.
#3 photo Luang Say Lodge room
A Taste of Local Life in Laos
The Luang Say river cruise stops at a number of interesting locations along the route giving passengers the chance to interact with villagers and experience the way of life of the riverside communities.
The village of Ban Gon Dturn is home to Tai Lue tribe people. Originating from the Yunnan area of China, the Tai Lue fled persecution in China three centuries ago and have since established themselves in the northern valleys of Laos. Their homes are traditionally built on stilts and face the river which is considered to be good luck. Tai Lue men usually wear blue or black clothing and a distinctive scarf on their head whilst the women wear the Lao-style long skirt known as ‘sinh’.
#4 photo hill tribe children
Ban Baw village is located on the Mekong River between Luang Prabang and Pakbeng. For more than six centuries the village has been a mix of different ethnicities including Lao Loum, Tai Lue and Shan. The different ethnic groups live harmoniously and enjoy similar ways of celebrating special events such as weddings.
Caves of a Thousand Buddhas
On the banks of the river approximately 25 kilometres from Luang Prabang are the famous Pak Ou caves. There are two main caves here known as Tham Thing and Tham Phoum which were converted into Buddhist holy sites in the 15th century. Buddha images which are damaged or which can no longer be housed in a temple are brought to the caves. Over the years, thousands of such Buddha images have been brought here. During the Laos New Year celebrations, Lao people travel by boat to the caves to perform the washing ceremony of all the old Buddha images as a way of making merit.
#5 photo Buddha cave
Features of the Boat
The Luang Say river cruise utilises a purpose built luxury boat with modern safety equipment and high standards throughout. At 34-metres long the boat has comfortable seating, plenty of luggage space and clean, Western-style toilets. Relax as the experienced crew take care of you whilst you are on board. And if you can’t resist the urge to make friends and families back home jealous, the boat is equipped with Wi-fi so you can update your Facebook status or email photos as you cruise the Mekong.
#6 photo boat
Handy to Know
The currency in Laos is the Lao kip, but US dollars and Thai baht are widely accepted.
The weather in Laos can be split into three seasons and there are pros and cons to visiting in each. March to May is the hot season with generally hot and dry weather, but this also means lower water levels on the rivers. June to November brings the rainy season but there is still plenty of warm sunshine in between the tropical downpours. November to February is the cool season so be prepared for the cooler evenings with a sweater or jacket.
Different visa arrangements apply depending on your nationality. At airports in Laos and most international border crossings (including Huay Xai) it’s possible to get a visa on arrival. As a general rule, make sure you have at least 6 months validity on your passport and at least one full blank page. It’s also a good idea to bring with you at least 2 passport photos which Laos immigration will ask for to process your visa on arrival.