Originally from the US, Jenn has lived in Laos for years. Here are her top five experiences.
Slow boat journey down the Mekong, gliding into Luang Prabang
Without a doubt, a leisurely cruise down the Mekong on a traditional wooden slow boat is the best way to overcome jetlag and settle into the laid-back vibe that is so loved by visitors to Laos. Crossing the Mekong in northern Thailand, the Lao border town of Huay Xay still has a ‘frontier’ feel to it that has long been lost in much of the modern world. Pass through the small immigration station, board your boat, and allow yourself to completely relax as you float downstream past the endless stretch of forested hills and riverside fishing villages. My preferred time of year for this cruise is from roughly June to November, when the rainy season has allowed the trees to blossom into rich shades of green blanketing the landscape.
A game of Petanque over a round of Beer Lao with the locals
A game of Petanque
One of my favorite recreational activities in Luang Prabang is a game of ‘petanque’ with our local Laos tour guides. Similar to bocce or lawn balls, petanque is a national pastime in Laos (and France), with ad hoc courts tucked away in every corner throughout town. If you head a couple kilometers from the town center, there are a number of spots with up to a dozen courts and local stalls selling snacks and cold bottles of the ubiquitous Beer Lao. Lao people are very welcoming to visitors, and they absolutely love to see foreign tourists embracing this sport which they are so fond of. Head over to a court with a sense of curiosity and a smile on your face, and you are guaranteed to be invited for a game and a round of beer (or three!) before you know it!
Overland drive from Luang Prabang to Phonsavan (Plain of Jars) and Vang Vieng
Sunset over Luang Prabang
This trip has to be one of the most stunning drives I have ever taken in Asia. The road snakes through the mountains of central Laos, revealing stunning panoramic vistas of the valleys below, carpeted in lush foliage and dotted with banana trees, blooming wild flowers, and small rural villages of thatched bamboo homes. As you descend towards the town of Vang Vieng, the limestone mountain range takes on a jagged shape, piercing the blue sky with its soaring peaks. Once in Vang Vieng the limestone peaks are an ever present feature and you may well find yourself wanting to stay for a day or so longer!
Taking in the karst limestone peaks of Vang Vieng from the perspective of a kayak Luang Prabang to Phonsavan (Plain of Jars) and Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng, Laos
While Vang Vieng has become a popular stop for the backpacking contingent, it is still rather easy to enjoy the stunning beauty of this small riverside town’s surrounding scenery. A gentle kayaking trip down the Nam Song river allows you to be dwarfed by the surrounding karst limestone mountains as you glide along, listening only to the sounds of nature and your paddle dipping into the emerald green water. Once back in town, a riverside drink as the sun sets over rice paddies and the limestone peaks is a perfect way to end the day.
A leisurely bicycle ride in the 4,000 islands
4,000 Islands, southern Laos
Possibly my favorite region of the country, the 4,000 Islands (or ‘Si Pan Don’ as it’s known locally) still sees few foreign visitors and takes the relaxed nature of Laos to a whole new level – I could spend a week here just reading a book and lazily watching the Mekong flow by! A bicycle is the most pleasant way to get around each of the small islands, pedaling along dirt roads, dodging chickens and cows as you pass colorful Buddhist temples en route to waterfalls that are positively gushing during the wet season. A local boat trip in this region also affords you the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the rare and endangered Irrawaddy River Dolphin.
Experience Laos for yourself
All of these experiences can be enjoyed on our Inside Laos with 4,000 Islands small group tour.