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Laos is one of the lesser visited countries in S.E. Asia and even fewer venture OTBT into the misty blue hills and limestone landscapes. 


All About Laos

The UNESCO town of Luang Prabang, the former Royal capital, retains much of its old-world charm. Streets are lined with wooden residences (many of which are now guesthouses or restaurants) and there are dozens of stunning temples. In the days of royal patronage, the arts flourished here and can be seen today in the nightly craft markets and theatre performances. Luang Prabang's restaurants, cooking schools and food markets are also popular with foodies. The town sits on the convergence of two rivers the Nam Khan and the Mekong with lazy boat rides up-river at sunset.  Or you can take a short tuk-tuk ride to the cascades for a swim.


For the more adventurous Luang Prabang is a great place to organise a trip into the mountainous countryside, to trek, bike, cave or kayak. Or to start a journey across the country. The Laos countryside is strikingly beautiful. There are thick forests, limestone caves and powder blue waterfalls. From the fishing villages along to the Mekong to the hill tribe villages set around rice fields it's a beautiful and tranquil place to explore.  


Much of the country is rural and lacks modern road infrastructure but this makes for fantastic journeys through little-visited regions. Small treks with local operators are easily arranged and there are a few OTBT circuits through Laos heartland where you can self ride scooters or bikes.


Laos is a fairly safe, and friendly, country to travel through, however, due to the sheer number of uncleared UXOs it is not recommended to blaze your own off-road trail - go with a local guide.


The Kingdom of Lan Xang ("Kingdom of a Million Elephants") existed from the 14th to 18th Centuries. After this, the country split into 3 separate kingdoms.  In 1893, Laos became a protectorate of France with its three separate kingdoms uniting under Luang Prabang. The nation regained full independence in 1953 as a constitutional monarchy but soon broke into civil war. In 1975, the Laos Communist Party came to power, ending the Royalist government. Laos remains a single-party, Marxist, socialist republic.


Laos is an ethnically diverse nation and the term "Laotian" is used to refer to all citizens of Laos, regardless of ethnicity. The population's ethnic divisions are traditionally altitudinal. The Lowland people (Lao Loum) are mostly ethnic Lao people while the Midland people (Lao Theung) are predominately Khmau as well as Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai. Living at the higher altitude are the Highland People (Lao Soung) who are made up of the Hmong, Yao, Do, Lua and Shan. The Lua are considered indigenous to Laos.  Many Hmong fought with the CIA on the side of the Royalists during the civil war. After the war, they were considered 'collaborators' causing many to flee or suffer human rights abuses.


Laos is a landlocked country boarded by China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar.


The Mekong River flows through the country. The damming of the Mekong River at Xayaburi to hydroelectricity will benefit people with reliable and clean energy. However, it is also expected to cause thousands of Laotians to have to relocate due to the loss of agricultural land and will have significant impacts on the ecosystem.


These issues go well beyond Laos borders. It is expected the dam will affect 60 million people downstream in Vietnam and Cambodia. The dam will limit water flow to a series of lakes, significantly reduce rice production and freshwater seafood stocks, and as a result, will redefine life for people whose identity has been intertwined with the Mekong for millennia. 


Another ongoing issue lies in the soil rather than the water.  During the Vietnam War, Laos was heavily bombed by the United States. In fact, the US dropped more bombs on Laos than they dropped globally during WWII. The indiscriminate bombing has left the countryside littered with unexploded ordnances (UXOs). Farmers and children are regularly killed and maimed while working in their fields.  As 80% of Laotians are engaged in subsistence farming this is far from a minor issue.  


Laos is a popular country for backpackers. In particular, Vang Vieng and the Four Thousand Islands are renowned on the backpacker party circuit.  There are certainly many Laotians, and foreigners, willing to support this culture, but that isn't the kind of Sustainable Tourism we like to promote.   Many locals object to their country, culture and communities being reduced to a strip of backpacker bars full of drugged-up and intoxicated foreigners.  Laos certainly has more to offer visitors than this. 

Locally owned and community-based tourism initiatives exist and are not difficult to find or book last minute. There are also numerous opportunities to attend festivals, cultural events and museums or simply indulge in the local food and craft scene by visiting vendors in stores and markets.


Laos is particularly well positioned for foodie tourists. While the nation is known for its ancient 'sticky rice" and laap, the cuisine is surprisingly broad and influenced by its diverse ethnicities, neighbours and French history.  The produce itself is predominately locally sourced and organically farmed. Cooking classes, trips to markets, and farm visits are all very accessible to tourists and will leave you understanding more about Laos culture and history.  


Laos does not have a heavily developed tourism sector in the same way as its Thai or Viet neighbours. The government is working with the private sector to realise the National Ecotourism Strategy and Action plan. This plan includes: decreasing the environmental and cultural impacts of tourism; increasing awareness and importance of ethnic groups and biodiversity; and better management of cultural heritage sites.



Laos has a tropical monsoon climate with its wet season being May-October. The cooler, dryer months (November-March) are considered the high season for tourists with a peak in December-February (mainly affecting Luang Prabang and a few of the more popular islands such as Don Det in the Four Thousand Island chain.


Given the poor state of the roads - many of which are unpaved - travel in the wet season is problematic so best left to the drier months. 



Laos' capital, Vientiane and the UNESCO town of Luang Prabang are the two main international airports. The Four Thousand Islands can also be reached via Pakse Airport.  


Getting around Laos by land may require a visit to the chiropractor. There is no rail transport and although comfortable minibuses regularly ply the roads between the main tourist centres, the roads are rough and often unpaved. A popular way for backpackers to travel between Luang Prabang and Thailand is by riverboat. It's a scenic two-day journey without potholes but usually results in a multi-day hangover.  

History & Culture
Sustainable Tourism
When to Go
Getting There & Around
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