The ultimate highlight of this landlocked country is most certainly the former capital, Luang Prabang. Home to some of the best kept gilded temples in south-east Asia, where the laidback approach to everyday life, can be understood through our expert guides and intimate interactions with local monks.
Laos only opened its doors to visitors in 1990, making it still relatively untouched by tourists. The slow pace of life, dusty streets, beautiful lush landscapes and spiritual influence makes you feel like you are stuck in a time warp and inevitably that is the allure of Laos.
The capital, Vientiane, is modest and relaxed with some interesting Wats and a riverside market. It is however overshadowed by the ancient capital, Luang Prabang – a UNESCO world heritage site, for its stunning gilded temples, French colonial architecture and impressive monasteries. Early morning, the streets are adorned with saffron robed monks receiving alms, whilst in the evenings a buzzing and atmospheric night market takes shape selling ethnic handicrafts and knickknacks.
The Mekong is Laos’ lifeline, flowing from north to south and if time is on your side, fly down to Pakse to see an even more unspoilt part of the country on the banks of the southern part of the Mekong. From here you can also explore the coffee plantations on the Bolaven Plateau and the striking Si Phan Don (4000 islands) home to the Irrawaddy dolphin. Alternatively head east to the mysterious Plain of Jars or to the dramatic karst hills of Vang Vieng.
Wix Squared has some exceptional guides to get you under the skin of the country including:
- A local Buddhist monk from Wat Sibounheuang
- A member of the uplander-tribe
- The owner of a local coffee brewery
- The owner of the ethnology museum who can offer you a private tour
- The founder of the Ock Pop Tok weaving centre on the banks of the Mekong
- A specialist architectural guide-come-UNESCO consultant in Luang Prabang who also writes books in his free time.
Itinerary Starting Price
From £700 per person, for 5 days including accommodation, private guiding, entrance fees and private transfers (not including flights).
Laos has the highest per person consumption of sticky rice in the world. The average person eats over 345 pounds per year.
Laos New Year (13th-17th April). When the harvest has finished, the nation enjoy celebrating the start of the monsoon by soaking each other in water.
What to Eat
It’s all about rice and the stickier the better. Salty, sour, sweet or spicy, it is best eaten with your fingers. Larb salad is also popular with finely sliced meat and you must try Kaipen (fried seaweed from the Mekong).
What to Read
‘Another Quiet American: Stories of Life in Laos’ by Brett Dakin. The tale of an American man working in Laos.
What to buy
Lao Arabica coffee beans harvested from the Bolaven Plateau. or silk textiles hand-woven in Luang Prabang.
Central Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang is home to some beautiful royal homes and residences that have now been converted into boutique hotels. The striking Amantaka used to be a hospital and a prison, whilst the charming Satri House and Maison Souvannaphoum were former residences of Prince Souphanouvong.
Luang Prabang Outskirts
Base yourselves on the perimeter of the city and take a tuk tuk or bicycle into the centre from the contemporary Sofitel Luang Prabang which used to be a French fort, or the colonial style Luang Say Residence and not forgetting the luxurious Belmond La Residence Phou Vao and Rosewood glamping experience with stunning views of the surrounding hills.
Mekong Lodges / Boats
Take the journey between northern Thailand and Laos along the Mekong and you will come upon Pakbeng Lodge or Luang Say Lodge for a night’s stopover. There are also some other boutique hotels on the banks of the Mekong in Luang Prabang that we can recommend as well as private boats to sleep on board.
The accommodation in the rest of the country is reasonably basic but we know the best authentic places to stay in Vientiane, the Plain of Jars, Pakse and further north, along the Nam Pak River. All with good traditional Laotian ethos and a friendly approach.
Luang Prabang was made a UNESCO world heritage site in 1995 because of its beautiful well-preserved temples and over 30 are still in operation. Some of our favourites include Wat Xieng Thong (the Golden Temple), Wat Mai and Wat Visoun. Visit a number of monasteries and temples on foot or by bicycle with our architectural specialist who can explain the workmanship behind the majestic structures.
The part of the Mekong which runs through Luang Prabang is incredibly picturesque. We can organise a private sampan to take you on a journey to the Pak Ou Caves and en route back to Luang Prabang stop at local villages as the sun sets over the surrounding hills. We can also arrange overnight excursions on the Mekong aboard private or shared boats.
Luang Prabang is famous for the alms giving at dawn. An early start will mean our guide can navigate you to a prime position, away from other tourists, to offer alms to over 1000 saffron robed monks parading the streets. This is a great photographic opportunity as the mist rises above the ancient temples and the morning market traders prepare their goods. We can also arrange private Baci ceremonies and meetings with local monks in select monasteries.
Vientiane succeeded Luang Prabang as the capital of Laos in 1560 but having been involved in many wars, there are now only a few historical sites left. Pha That Luang is Laos’ national symbol where we can arrange a traditional water blessing or Baci ceremony. Spend an evening visiting the night food markets by tuk tuk before being dropped at a quaint riverside restaurant for dinner.
Learn how to weave and dye silk on the banks of the Mekong at Ock Pop Tok. This women’s weaving centre was the vision of Joanna Smith, whose lectures you can enjoy here, or we can organise for a private session with her over some ‘silk worm poo’ tea. There are a number of excellent textile shops in Vientiane and Luang Prabang which you can find with the help of our personal shopper.
Visit the remote fishing communities and dense jungle of the south or travel north to bathe in hot springs and cascading waterfalls. There are internal scheduled flights, or we can charter a helicopter for the day to reach Pakse, the Plain of Jars and Si Panh Don (4000 islands). There are also a number elephant interactions we can arrange on the banks of the Mekong.
The beaches of Thailand make a wonderful combination with landlocked Laos or travel from northern Thailand to Luang Prabang aboard our private sampan along the Mekong.
There is a direct flight from Luang Prabang to Siem Reap or from Vientiane to Phnom Penh making it easy to explore this incredible cultural destination with one of our specialist guides.
With direct flights between Laos and Hanoi, this is a logical combination. From here we can arrange a seaplane to Halong Bay to take a private junk around the lime karst islands or take the overnight train to Sapa.
Experience the Mekong aboard your very own private sampan from northern Thailand into Luang Prabang (or vice versa) with an overnight on the banks of the Mekong away from any other tourists only to be woken by a local elephant trumpet call. We can arrange this for just 1 person or up to 40 guests.
In Luang Prabang we can arrange spiritual blessings – perfect for a wedding celebration or anniversary, interactions with monks and picnics in secluded locations on the banks of the Mekong – the perfect setting for a relaxed birthday party.
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