One of southeast Asia’s most underrated destinations, Laos is a true dream for travellers who love nothing more than leaving the beaten track behind. More peaceful than its Thai and Vietnamese neighbours, and with a luxe edge over the backpacker haven of Cambodia, this sleepy and largely rural country is impossible not to love. With glorious leafy scenery, fine dining and super polite people it’s a true R&R paradise.
What’s more, as it’s unlikely your friends will have been yet, you’ll get all the travel kudos for going the extra 6,000 or so miles before they do. It does mean that planning a trip to Laos takes a little bit more work than a traditional fly and flop, especially as there are experiences and places you won’t want to miss. Not to worry though – the Flexicover team has got your back with its top tips on where to stay and what to see, eat and do on that once-in-a-lifetime trip to beautiful Laos.
Planning your trip
Compared to southeast Asia’s other nations, Laos’ climate is blessedly simple, with just two seasons. Dry season runs from October to late April, while the weather is wetter from May to late September. That said, the rain is often light and it’s warm all year round, hitting its lowest average temperature of 20C in December. The national currency is the Laos Kip - but no banks outside the country will exchange Kip. However, many places in Laos also accept USD and Thai baht, and it’s worth noting that £100 comes in at roughly 1,093,000 Laos Kip. The easiest way to secure your Laos visa is to do so on arrival at the airport. You just need one passport photograph and $35 or 1,500 Thai baht in cash. Carriers that fly from the UK to Laos include Emirates, Vietnam Airlines, Thai Airways and Singapore Airlines - although all are indirect.
What to do
Luang Prabang, Laos’ UNESCO-verified former royal capital, is the country’s most unmissable destination. Located along the mighty Mekong, the relaxed city is peppered with luxury bars and restaurants. The buildings are undeniably charming: ornate teak houses reflect the fusion of traditional Laos and French colonial architecture. A peaceful market opens on the walking street every night, selling gorgeous artworks, handicrafts and trinkets. While Laos is landlocked you can still achieve that waterside holiday vibe at the so-called 4,000 islands, or Si Phan Don, a riverine archipelago where tiny islands are created by breaks in the Mekong. The scenery here is unbelievable and you can choose the atmosphere that’s best suited to you: Don Det is popular amongst backpackers, while Don Khong is more relaxed even by Lao standards.
What to see
Laos contains some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world. While in Luang Prabang, jump on a minibus to the nearby Kuang Si Falls - and don’t forget your swimwear. While not huge these falls are some of the prettiest in the world, with eye-catching turquoise water and plenty of natural pools perfect for swimming. Before you reach the falls, set in an idyllic forest, visit the bear sanctuary to watch some of the adorable moon bears at play. Luang Prabang is also just down the river from Pak Ou Caves: historic caverns packed with more than 4,000 Buddha statues. Take a tour here and you’ll also stop at a village where you can sample the local whisky often brewed with a snake, or other creepy crawlies, floating in the liquid. Yum.
Where to stay
Opt for the luxury treatment in one of Luang Prabang’s riverside five-star options such as The Grand Luang Prabang or the city’s Sofitel. Alternatively stay in one of the mid-range hotels or guest houses which are often located in the charming teak structures: even in lower-priced options Laos is brilliant at hospitality so you’re guaranteed to feel both welcome and super comfortable. Heading to Don Det? Go authentic with bungalow-style accommodation looking over the Mekong. If you’re keen to avoid that party-loving backpacker crowd opt for a grand guesthouse like Little Eden, or embrace hostel life at the lively Crazy Gecko.
What to eat
The cuisine in Laos is similar to that in other Southeast Asian nations with plenty of noodle dishes on offer, such as Laos noodle soup which is reminiscent of Vietnam’s Pho. Another local speciality is minced pork salad - Laab Moo - and green papaya salad. Fans of spring rolls will also be in heaven. However, thanks to Laos’ French colonial history, the country’s food also has a European twist. You’ll see Khao Jee vendors standing with carts full of baguettes traditionally filled with pork liver pate, Vietnamese sausage and vegetables which cost roughly £1. Unlike in much of Southeast Asia you’ll also find a smattering of bakeries selling sweet treats and cakes and there are plenty of international restaurants too.
Wherever you plan on heading to this year it’s good to know that Flexicover Travel Insurance is committed to providing you with the highest level of protection to ensure you are safe and secure 24 hours a day when away.