- Halong Bay
- Mui Ne/ Phan Thiet
- Nha Trang
- Ho Chi Minh City
- Can Tho
- Phu Quoc Island
The French summarized the temperaments of their three Indochinese states with the pronouncement that "the Vietnamese plant the rice, the Cambodians watch it grow, and the Laotians listen to it grow." Lao is a land of Buddhist traditions where saffron-robed teens peek curiously out from wats (temples) and no one is in a hurry. And while being the world's most heavily bombed country hardly seems a ringing endorsement, Luang Prabang's World Heritage temples and mixed heritage soothe the soul, and Vientianne, the world's smallest capital, moves at the same serene pace as the Mekong river floating by its shores.
No trip to Laos would be complete without a stay in the peaceful town of Luang Prabang. Best known for its high concentration of Buddhist temples and serene location on the banks of Mekong, Luang Prabang was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995. Of Laos’ many rivers, certainly the most notable is the Mekong. It runs from the north-west to the most southern tip of Laos, forming a natural border with Thailand. You could spend several days cruising the river, providing a great opportunity to see some of the more remote areas of the country which are often inaccessible by road. The Plain of Jars in the north is also an interesting sight; the landscape being dotted with hundreds of mysterious and centuries-old stone jars.
When to go
Generally speaking, the best time to visit Laos is between November and March. During this time the country experiences the least amount of rainfall without becoming too hot.
Laos has two distinct seasons -- the wet and the dry. Dry season runs from November to April. November to February are cooler while March and April are blisteringly hot. April is the hottest month.
Wet season runs from May to October, though it may start a little early in a couple of Laos' Northern provinces. August is the wettest month.
Small and mountainous, carved with strong flowing rivers and berated by annual monsoons, travelling in Laos is sure but slow. Don't be misled by short distances on Google Earth -- getting around in Laos takes time, and usually more than you may have planned. That said, while the transportation network (aside from flying) is slow, it is comprehensive. So unless you're planning on visiting Hmong in the jungle around Long Tien, you should be able to get just about anywhere you want easily and affordably.
There are two Lao airlines operating in Laos -- the larger national carrier, Lao Airlines and a small, quite new airline, Lao Air. The former flies both international and domestic routes, the latter domestic only.
If you plan to fly domestically, chances are you'll be on a Lao Airlines flight. Their domestic routes include:
Vientiane - Luang Prabang - Vientiane
Vientiane - Pakse - Vientiane
Vientiane - Phonsavan - Vientiane
Vientiane - Udomxai - Vientiane
Vientiane - Huay Xai - Vientiane
Vientiane - Luang Nam Tha - Vientiane
Vientiane - Savannakhet - Vientiane
Luang Prabang - Pakse - Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang - Phonsavan - Luang Prabang
Buses in Laos are slow -- very slow. They're slow for a number of reasons. They're slow because they're old, the roads are narrow, they stop very frequently to pick up passengers and they stop all the time to let people pee. They are cheap though, so the adage that you get what you pay for certainly holds true here.
Minibuses also ply the more popular tourist legs, such as Vientiane to Vang Vieng and onwards to Luang Prabang, but the majority of routes are served by the larger, slower buses.
Larger enduro-style dirt bikes can be hired long-term from some travel agents. Prices are reasonable, but be sure to carefully check the bike, and whatever you do, do not use the chain and padlock provided by the shop to lock up the bike at night -- use your own.
Given how hilly Laos is, it is surprising just how popular the place is with cyclists. Nearly every town in Laos will have some lodgings, so you shouldn't struggle for a room. Things to pack include a good supply of inner tubes and patch kits, and of course, your bike -- you will need to bring your own.
As the road network has steadily improved, boat services have dropped off drastically as it is far cheaper to transport cargo, including people, by road. As it stands, the only boat routes still operating are those popular with tourists. The Huay Xai - Pak Beng - Luang Prabang trip, the Pak Tha - Luang Nam Tha route and the Luang Prabang - Nong Khiaw - Muang Khua - Hat Sa route are the most popular. Less so are Xieng Kok - Huay Xai and Sekong - Attapeu.
Despite the disappearing routes, travel by boat in Laos is highly recommended, even if your only option is the admittedly very crowded Huay Xai to Luang Prabang route.