Laos is undoubtedly one of Southeast Asia’s best kept travel secrets, probably a result of its undeniable qualities being overshadowed by its more established neighbours, Thailand and Vietnam. Compared to those two, life in Laos is calm and serene, with the country’s historical isolation presenting travellers with a rare glimpse of traditional life in Southeast Asia.
After its doors opened to foreign visitors in the 1990s, Laos has seen a steady but relatively small influx of tourists arriving, hoping to enjoy one of the region’s few remaining off the beaten track destinations. Those who do make the journey will find Laos a nation of quite staggering natural beauty, sleepy villages dot its verdant countryside while mist-veiled mountains, the mighty Mekong River and pristine forests provide a stunning backdrop to any visit.
For much of its history Laos was free from foreign control, until being absorbed into French Indochina in the latter part of the 19th century. However, remnants of a long-forgotten past can still be found throughout country, particularly at the mysterious ‘Plain of Jars’, a vast stretch of land scattered with countless prehistoric stone jars of varying sizes and shapes. The Khmer temple complex of Wat Phu meanwhile is one of the oldest archaeological sites in Laos. Spectacularly located close to the Mekong river, it has monuments to both Laos’ Hindu and Buddhist heritage, and whilst much smaller than Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, it has the advantage of receiving a fraction of the visitors.
Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and former royal capital, is a major centre of Laotian Buddhist architecture. Its Buddhist monasteries are at the centre of a sacred alms giving ritual that is a privilege to witness - each morning saffron robed monks wander the quiet streets receiving alms from devout locals. Only a short drive from the city lie Kuang Si Falls, a little piece of paradise set amidst lush jungle where locals and travellers can embrace clear turquoise waters to escape the heat of the day.
Those seeking some exercise should head out into the foothills of the Annamite Mountains and support local guides and community projects by trekking in these enchanting surroundings of quite astounding natural beauty. Wild Frontiers also work closely with Lone Buffalo, a non-profit organisation that provides support and education to young people in some of Laos’ least affluent communities. Close to the Cambodian border the sleepy 4,000 islands region is a great place to relax. These tiny islands in the Mekong Delta offer great walking and cycling opportunities as well as fantastic spots to enjoy dazzling sunsets.
An often-overlooked aspect of Laos’ culture is its fantastic cuisine. Using a combination of ingredients and flavours familiar to lovers of Northern Thai food, alongside a distinctive Laotian twist, dishes like Or Lam – a thick meat, bean and aubergine stew – and Larb – a delicious meat salad that is considered Laos’ unofficial national dish. Although reminders of French colonial influences are still very evident, just ask the many purveyors of freshly baked baguettes on the streets of Vientiane or the customers of the Parisian style cafes found in most towns and cities!
Wild Frontiers prides itself on offering a wonderful array of exciting group tours and tailor-made holidays to Laos. Helping you to get under the skin of this fascinating destination by meeting local people and getting off the beaten track