Laos is pretty spectacular and was my favorite place in Southeast Asia for nature and local experiences. There are massive caves, huge waterfalls, beautiful Buddhist temples, and a countryside that is still relatively untouched with enough infrastructure to get you to the popular destinations. The people are incredibly friendly despite much poverty and devastation that continues today as result of the Vietnam War. Laos is also a very inexpensive place to travel. I was there around the Songkran Water Festival that lasts several days to celebrate the new year. This happens all over Southeast Asia and is a blast to experience. Just be prepared to get very wet!

Most people don't know this, at least I didn't, but Laos was heavily bombed during the Vietnam War which left much of the country along the Vietnam border from north to south extremely dangerous for living and farming. An estimated 270 million cluster bombs were dropped during bombing missions that killed or maimed approximately 50,000 civilians. The risk of accidentally setting of a cluster bomb still exists even today. For me, this was very emotionally impactful because such a lovely country and wonderful people who had nothing to do with the war suffered tremendously and still suffer. Men, women, and children have had limbs blown off that not only leaves them in many cases incapacitated, sometimes dead, but unable to support themselves. You can learn more about this at the COPE Center in Vientiane, which I highly recommend visiting. You can also read this article for more information.

I traveled through Laos with Stray Asia, a hop-on hop-off bus tour which was absolutely fantastic. Luang Prabang is wonderful and then as you continue south, passing the capital of Vientiane, you really get into the gorgeous natural beauty of Laos. I think a lot of people just go to Luang Prabang, Vientiane, and maybe Vang Vieng and skip the entire rest of the country which is a big mistake.
Last Visit: Apr 2016
Cost: $69/day
Stayed: 17 days
Suggest Staying: 2-3 weeks
English: 3/5
Safety: 4/5
Currency: Kip
Transport: Bus, tuk tuk

My Favorites

1. Kong Lor

Kong Lor Cave

Highlights: Cave, swimming
Suggest Staying: 1/2 day
Stay Around: Kong Lor
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The biggest cave in Laos, Kong Lor is a sight to behold. Water runs through the cave and it’s massive, so you actually take a 3-person motor boat about 20 minutes each way. There are also some paths to walk through the cave chambers which are beautifully lit and have some amazing rock formations. There is also a swimming area outside the cave. Unfortunately, most of my pictures didn’t turn out well due to lighting and my camera, otherwise I would have posted some more.


  • Temperature. Its gets cold in the cave, somewhere between 55-60°F/ and the breeze while on the boat can add to it being chilly, so bring a jacket or sweatshirt.
  • Footwear. Your feet will get wet. Wear sandals or waterproof shoes. You will be walking through the cave on a path, so definitely bring something.
  • Keeping Things Dry. If you’re bring electronics or things you don’t want to get wet, keeping in a backpack will be ok, but bring a dry bag if you have one.
  • Lighting. Headlamps are provided, but if you have your own that your prefer, bring it.
  • Swimming (for the ladies). Women practically have to swim fully clothed in Laos. No bikinis or super short bottoms. So bring a t-shirt and shorts you can swim in.

2. Bolaven Plateau

Bolaven Plateau

Highlights: Waterfalls, swimming
Suggest Staying: 1 day
Stay Around: Champassak
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One of the largest and most beautiful waterfalls I’ve seen and you can swim in the pool at the bottom. Supposedly there are several waterfalls in the area of Champassak, this one being the most popular. There is food and you can walk around, picnic, swim, and otherwise spend a nice afternoon or the entire day.


  • When To Go. Try to avoid major holidays if you don’t want crowds.
  • Swimming. Definitely go in the water and up to the base of the waterfall, just swim slow to avoid kicking the rocks. If you decide to climb up the waterfall, be careful, it’s very slippery!

3. Kuang Xi (Si) Waterfall

Kuang Xi Waterfall

Highlights: Waterfall, swimming
Suggest Staying: 1 day
Stay Around: Luang Prabang
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Another of the most beautiful waterfalls you can swim in that I’ve ever seen. This is a must see when in Luang Prabang. On the walk up, you will pass a bear nature reserve which is pretty cool and then you will come to a gorgeous crystal clear blue cascading series of waterfalls and swimming pools. Some of them have fish that eat the dead skin off your feet. There is even a rock to jump off into one of the pools. If you keep going up to the base of the main large waterfall, you can hike up either side to the top of the waterfall which has some wooden bridges and a lake up in a jungle area. It’s pretty cool, but very steep. There is also a cave a couple miles away you can visit.


  • Hiking. If you go up to the top of the waterfall, there isn’t really a path and it’s steeper on the right side. There is a bit of a path that’s more windy on the left side. You can go up one side and down the other or back the way you came.
  • Getting There. Find a driver in Luang Prabang and try to go with a few people to split the cost. Typically the driver will wait a couple hours for you and then take you back.
  • Time To Go. Morning is less crowded with tourists.
  • Food. There is a restaurant if you get hungry.

4. Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

Highlights: Culture, temples, food, nature, waterfalls, swimming, caves, hiking
Suggest Staying: 3-4 days
Stay Around: Mount Phousi
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Luang Prabang is the most popular tourist destination in Laos offering a wide range of things to see and do. I hopped off and spent about 5 days here. There are temples, good Lao food, the river, caves, waterfalls, hiking, and friendly people all around. There is a street of tour companies that can help plan day excursions. Activities include temples, elephant parks, waterfalls, and a rice farming experience. The town is small and easy to walk around in 1-2 days. Depending on what you want to do outside of the town, add another couple days.

I met my Stray Asia tour the border town of Huay Xai where we took the 2-day slow boat along the Mekong River. You can also do this on your own without a tour. It sounds boring, but was actually great, especially with a good group. Much smoother than a bus, so you can enjoy the scenery, read, relax, socialize, or sleep. There is no development along the river so you can see what nature used to be like before man. There are wild animals coming to drink along the river nestled against the trees and even the occasional villager or fisherman will make an appearance. You will likely be able to stay at homestay in a village which is a very cool experience. I did this with the group and it was awesome. We played soccer (football) with the village kids (beware of rocks on the playing field) and were welcomed in the evening by all of the villagers with a ceremony, food, and of course homemade Lao Lao (liquor). On the way into Luang Prabang, you will stop at Pak Ou Cave.

See & Do

  • Phousi Hill. In the center of town, a Buddhist monastery, temple, and shrine atop a hill that offers nice views of the area.
  • Wat Xieng Thong. The “main” temple in the central area along a street of several small temples.
  • Phosy Market. Main market for food and souvenirs.
  • Pak Ou Cave. Temple with many Buddhas inside a cave along the Mekong River, just outside the town.
  • Kuang Xi Waterfall. Amazing waterfall with swimming and hiking about 1 hour outside the town.
  • Tad Sae Waterfall. Another waterfall, but not much water in the dry season. About 30 minutes from town.

Food & Drink

  • Street Food. In the center of town there are several sandwich and smoothie stalls which are cheap and fantastic. It’s by a small “shopping center.” A few minutes walk nearby is a night market where you can get very cheap, local street food.
  • L’entranger Books & Tea. Neat spot where you can find books, drink amazing tea, grab a sandwich, and relax. Try the green mulberry tea. I liked it so much I brought some home.
  • Laos Ethnic. Fantastic Japanese restaurant with fresh sushi flown in from Japan. The owner is from Osaka and is a great guy. This place is off the main streets and may be a bit tricky to find, but is definitely worth it.
  • The House Restaurant & Belgian Beer. If you like Belgium food and beer and/or want some good Western food, check this place out.
  • Tamarind. Popular local Lao cuisine.
  • Joma Bakery. Popular bakery and cafe.


  • Getting There. If you are coming from northern Thailand (likely Chiang Rai), take the bus to Huay Xai (Laos border town). You can catch a bus or slow boat from here.
  • Tea. Laos has some great tea if you want to take some with you. With the local teas, you may just get it in a plastic bag with no label. It’s not a bad idea to ask for a receipt, company brand sticker, or what I got, which was steeping directions, just in case you need it for customs. It would be a shame to open it and ruin the freshness just to prove it’s tea. Check your country’s guidelines on bringing back tea from other countries though to make sure it’s allowed.

5. Buddha Park

Buddha Park

Highlights: Buddha statues
Suggest Staying: 1-2 hours
Stay Around: Vientiane
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This was not part of the Stray Asia tour, but I ended up back in Vientiane after the bus tour was over. This was the last thing on my list to see in Laos and it was so worth it. Very bizarre. It’s kind of hard to describe, but it’s basically a bunch of statues, some of which are modeled after Buddha, but most of which are just kind of weird. You can get some hilarious pictures. Go up into the big circular object (there are steps) to get an overarching view.


  • When To Go. I went on the my way to the airport around 7 or 8am and there was literally no one there which was awesome. Much easier to take ridiculous pictures of your self.

Other Considerations

Wat Phu


A really impressive set of ruins that is similar in style to something you might see in Cambodia or Thailand, but a little bit different. There are rock carvings up in the hills along with a sacred water spout for spiritual cleansing. You can walk around the ruins which is always a plus. Very nice views from the top of the hill. Plan an afternoon. Near Champassak.

Si Phan Don (4000 Islands)

4000 Islands

The archipelago is a perfect place to go and relax. Also makes a nice stop if on the way to Cambodia. Very chill set of islands, only a few of which are inhabited. You can swim in the fresh water river and may even be lucky enough to see dolphins. You can also rent a tube and float down the river. The best part getting over to Don Det was the wooden raft that transported our mini bus and group of 20 across the river.

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  • Getting There. Located at the southern tip of Laos at the border of Cambodia, it’s easiest to catch a bus in Pakse or Champassak.


Pha That Luang

Vientiane is the capital of Laos is is similar to other Southeast Asia cities. There is a large stupa that is quite impressive and the amazing COPE Center which explains some of the history and hardships Laos has faced with particular focus on the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

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See & Do

  • COPE Center. Incredible museum that explains the effects on Laos as a result of the Vietnam War. Must see!
  • That Luang Stupa. Famous stupa in Laos, sometimes used for special occasions.
  • Victory Monument. Looks like the Arc de Triumph.
  • Setthariat and Samsenthai Streets. Shops and food.
  • Night Market. Pretty large and popular market for souvenirs and street food.
  • Mekong Riverside. River view.
  • Xieng Kuan Buddha Park. Strange and interesting statues. Located about 45 minutes outside the city.


  • Emergency. If you get sick or have a health emergency while traveling in Laos, Vientiane is pretty much the only place in the country with adequate medical facilities. That said, if it can wait, Thailand would be a better place to go. I actually went to the hospital in Chiang Mai a few days before leaving for Laos because of an issue I wanted checked out before entering Laos since I didn’t know what the conditions would be like there. Someone in our group needed to go to the hospital in Vientiane. Turned out fine, but not like facilities around cities in more developed countries.

Vang Vieng

Blue Lagoon

Vang Vieng has a reputation for being a popular backpacker spot to party, drink, and smoke weed. Generally this is true, but there is also amazing nature. Sadly, I think Vang Vieng has been ruined by backpackers and tourists. The popular spots are overcrowded and people basically just go there to get drunk and go tubing down the river. There used to be no restrictions until a few years ago when someone actually died from tubing down the river. Drunk of course. It was the only death from my understanding. So it’s a bit tamer now, but people are still crazy. So, if you’re looking to go party with a bunch of crazy backpackers this is your spot in Laos. Alternatively, if you want to go just to check out the nature, there are caves and even some hiking in the area that are worth checking out, especially if you want to break up the trip between Luang Prabang and Vientiane.

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See & Do

  • Blue Lagoon. Very popular spot that gets very crowded and plays loud music. Kind of like being in a club, but outdoors. The lagoon itself is very pretty and has rope swings and tree branches to jump off.
  • Tham Puokham. Cave of the golden crab. If you walk past the Blue Lagoon, there are steps leading to this magnificent cave. You can go pretty deep as you are led by arrows spray painted on the rocks. Be careful not to go too deep where you can no longer see the light from outside. It’s easy to get lost towards the back without a beacon and I didn’t see any signage.
  • Tham Nam (Water Cave). Small cave where you float on a tube along the water into the dark.
  • River Tubing. This is the most popular thing to do, and there are bars along the way to hop off and have a drink if you want. It takes 3-4 hours depending on the water level, so wear sunblock and stay hydrated, especially if you’re drinking alcohol!
  • Sakura Bar. Super popular bar for nightlife in Vang Vieng, and in Laos. They give out free t-shirts and you will likely pass other travelers sporting them on your travels through Southeast Asia.


  • Getting Around. Look for a private driver in town to take you around to any places you want to go. It’s best to do in the same day and also negotiate a price ahead of time, as this will make things cheaper. The driver should wait for you wherever he takes you. Getting others to go along will make it cheaper.
  • Headlamp. If you have one bring it to the Blue Lagoon, Water Cave, or any other caves you visit if you prefer to have your own. They are usually provided otherwise.

The Gibbon Experience (Huay Xai)

There is one interesting thing to do in Huay Xai, the Laos border town in the north with Thailand, which is to experience a couple days through the eyes of a Gibbon. I didn't do this myself, but heard it was a pretty fantastic experience. You hike a couple days through the jungle, do some zip lining, and sleep in a giant treehouse. Usually you will encounter monkeys. It's a bit pricey and fills up, so it is recommended to book in advance.

Cost Breakdown

  • Lodging: $281 (hotels, guesthouses)
  • Transportation: $27 (driver to Buddha Park)
  • Activities: $44
  • Food: $255 (estimated $15/day)
  • Tours: $566 (Stray Asia)

Total: $1,173

General Tips

  • Song Kran Water Festival. If you are in Laos around April, the place to be is Luang Prabang. But really anywhere will be fun. Don't go out with anything you don't want to get wet, you and everything with you will get drenched. Bringing a dry back will help. Fun time to visit Laos, or anywhere in Southeast Asia.
  • Transportation. Consider slow boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang. You can make arrangements in Huay Xai.
  • Vaccinations. Check with your doctor and the CDC website. Figure out which ones you need in advance for those that take time to become effective or require multiple doses.
  • Weather. In March/April when I went, was very hot reaching up to 95+°F/35+°C. Be sure to wear a hat, sunscreen, and even long sleeves/pants if you can bear it. Drink plenty of water. Bring a jacket.
  • More Info. Travelfish has the best in depth information about Southeast Asia.

Stray Asia (Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus)

When I first started traveling abroad, I joined Trafalgar tours. I very much enjoyed them, but have since graduated to planning myself. While in Bangkok, I serendipitously stumbled across Stray Asia. I was asking about bus tickets in Thailand when I noticed a sign about a hop-on, hop-off bus. There was a map that showed several itineraries around Southeast Asia, identified with places you could "hop off" and catch the next bus in a few days. They promote off the beaten path travel and the opportunity to meet other like minded people. After traveling for a couple months I thought it would be nice to meet some people.

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While I really didn’t want to do any tours this trip, I have to say that traveling with Stray was an amazing experience. It’s a bit pricey, especially if you’re on a strict backpacker budget, but they have sales on occasion which really brings the price down. But, you get your own private bus with guide who makes all the arrangements and takes you to places most other people don’t go or even know about. Pretty much all of the guides I had were fantastic. The group sizes range anywhere from 6-20 depending on the bus and who signed up. There is a lot of flexibility to do your own thing and to stay in a place longer if you really like it. Stray can make lodging arrangements for you and usually will receive a discount, or you can book on your own. Even better, we went to some places I had not heard of that were great and off the beaten path. The majority of the travelers on the buses were really great as well. It’s mostly a younger demographic on a gap year or something similar, but ages range anywhere from 18-80. It’s not a party bus, most people were very down to earth, and although the majority of people were from England, there was a range of people from all over Europe and North America. Tours include a guide, bus, and some entrance fees. Things like lodging, food, and optional excursions are extra.

I’m am not affiliated with Stray in any way, I just really like the company. After traveling with them through Vietnam and hearing my fellow travelers rave about how Laos with Stray was the best, I signed up. I found it easier and more interesting traveling through Laos with Stray because the group was great and we saw things I otherwise would not have know about or seen.

Laos Visa

I got my visa at the northern boarder coming fro Thailand. You could probably get it at an embassy, but I wasn't able to. It's pretty easy at the Thai-Lao border and super quick. No one else was even there except the 5 other travelers on my bus! You can pay in U.S. Dollars or Thai Baht. Bring cash, but there is an ATM there as well. I forget if you need a passport photo, but may not be a bad idea to have one on hand in case.

Mosquitoes, Malaria, and Dengue

While not really a problem in the popular tourist destinations, some of the more rural areas in Laos have a risk of malaria. In urban areas there is a risk of Dengue. The best you can do is cover up with long sleeves, long pants, and socks that cover your ankles. Also, be sure to wear bug spray on exposed skin, especially at dawn and dusk. You may want to bring bug spray with you from home or a country with more options like Thailand or Vietnam.

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Regarding malaria tablets, I brought a bunch with me, both Malarone and Doxycycline, but I didn’t end up taking any of them. I talked to quite a few people about malaria tablets and a few of them who took medication had some awful stomach issues. Others, however, were not affected. I decided for me that covering up and wearing bug spray was best, especially since I needed to protect against Dengue anyway, and I didn’t want to risk the potential side effects of the pills. This is just what I did. I’m not a doctor so you should consult yours before deciding what do about malaria medication.

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