Where to go
In Vientiane, visit the temple of Wat Sisaket and the golden stupa of That Luang. Drink Beer Lao at the riverside restaurants along the Mekong River. See the reclining Buddha of Xieng Khuan, and party with backpackers in Vang Vieng. Atmospheric and tranquil Luang Prabang offers the historic Wat Xieng Thong and the Royal Palace Museum. Climb up the sacred hill of Phousi, escape to the Kouang Si waterfall, and explore the Buddha caves of Pak Ou.
See the giant stone urns of the Plain of Jars, the limestone caves of Vieng Xai, the temple ruins of Muang Khoun and the ethnic villages near Muang Kham. Go hill-tribe trekking around mountainous Phongsali; explore the dramatic limestone cliffs surrounding Nong Khiaw; view the spectacular scenery along the Nam Ou river; visit Luang Namtha to access Nam Ha conservation park, and Houayxai for the Gibbon Experience.
Visit the Mahaxai Caves near Thakhek, the colonial shophouses of Savannakhet and the stupa of That Ing Hang; kayak through the underground river of Tham Lot Kong Lo Cave and explore the Khammouane limestone formations; relax in laidback Champasak, spot dolphins off Khon Island and explore the gorgeous Bolaven Plateau near Pakse! In the archipelago of Si Phan Don, explore idyllic tropical islands and see Khon Phapheng- the largest waterfall in Southeast Asia.
Laos' slow and somewhat chaotic transport system requires patience and an adventurous spirit.
Flights link major cities but book ahead and double-check your ticket before departing. Road conditions vary from newly paved asphalt to dirt roads that get washed away during rainy season. Buses link larger towns and range from crumbling and crowded, to special airconditioned VIP buses that pick you up at your guesthouse. Buy your tickets from a bus station or travel agent. In more rural areas, sawngthaews (pickup trucks) replace the buses.
Do's and Don'ts
Do dress modestly when entering places of worship. Cover your shoulders and knees.
Do wear at least a swimsuit, and preferably t-shirts and shorts, when swimming in waterfalls or rivers.
Don't touch or pat people on their heads (even the children). This is considered an insult.
Don't shout or raise your voice, as locals are usually calm, patient, and dislike disruptions of the peace.
Did you know…?
Lao cuisine uses large amounts of fresh vegetables, flavoured with herbs such as mint, garlic, galangal, and ginger. The national dish is probably larp (also spelled laap or larb), a heavily-spiced, room-temperature "meat salad" made up of minced chicken, beef or fish, and often eaten with khao niao, or sticky rice.
At around a dollar for a full-sized bottle, lao-lao is one of the cheapest whiskeys in the world. Made from rice, it has an alcohol content of at least 40%, and a mild flavour that mixes well for cocktails. Find it in bars everywhere; but better yet, drink with the locals - in more remote areas, their lao-lao will usually be home-brewed! Be careful to not get too drunk as this whiskey is highly intoxicating.
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