The ultimate highlight of this landlocked country is most certainly the former capital, Luang Prabang. Here is 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.
- A local farmer to teach you the unique rice growing process
- A Laotian potter for a hands-on pottery experience
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 enjoys celebrating the start of the monsoon by soaking each other with 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. Maison Dalabua also has royal connections and is another favourite of ours.
Luang Prabang Outskirts
Base yourself 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 then of course there is 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’ll 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 aboard.
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. Some of our favourites include La Folie Lodge, River Resort and Muang La Lodge.
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. We can also arrange a private visit to Wat Phou temple at sunrise.
Travel the mekong
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, The capital
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 ‘silkworm poo’ tea. There are several excellent textile shops in Vientiane and Luang Prabang which you can find with the help of our personal shopper.
Off the beaten track
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 various 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 onboard your very own private sampan from northern Thailand to Luang Prabang (or vice versa). This will include an overnight on the Mekong’s banks away from other visitors, with only a native elephant trumpet call to be awaken you. We can arrange this for one person or as many as 40 guests.
In Luang Prabang, we can organise spiritual blessings – ideal for a wedding celebration or anniversary, interactions with monks, and picnics; all with the ideal backdrop of the Mekong’s secluded locations for your laid-back birthday party.
Find out more about Events by Wix Squared
Laos has two distinctive seasons.
October-May for dry and sunny weather, when December-February is slightly cooler.
May-September are wetter but quieter months with May and June experiencing the hottest temperatures.
- The mountainous regions go below freezing in early January, but the rest of the country is at its peak when it is dry and sunny. Travel from 5th January onwards to avoid the inflated hotel rates over the festive season.
- Sunshine with clear blue skies and a low chance of rain, encourages wonderful sunrises and sunsets over the Mekong and the temples in Luang Prabang.
- Temperatures start to rise as the water levels on the Mekong drop. Crop burning also starts towards the end of the month when the air becomes hazy in rural areas.
- Cool off with a water-fight to welcome the Lao New Year when humidity increases, and temperatures can rise dramatically.
- This is the beginning of the rainy season which tends to be warmer with short rain showers in the afternoon. A haze often forms in the air because of the slashing and burning of countryside crops.
- The monsoon hits Laos with short sharp showers and the higher you are, the heavier the rain. The rocket festival tends to occur in June to encourage more rain bursts.
- High humidity with continued rains and some dry days, means Laos’ landscape is green and lush with some great deals attainable from the hotels.
- More frequent and heavier rain sees August as the wettest time to be in Laos. The waterfalls and 4,000 Islands in the south are full in time for the approaching dry season.
- Avoid the crowds in September as the rains begin to subside towards the end of the month. The countryside is green and lush particularly in Vang Vieng and in the north.
- The rains fade, so aim to travel at the beginning of the month to avoid the tourists and take advantage of the beautiful landscapes post monsoon.
- High season has begun in Laos with lovely dry days, ideal for sightseeing and exploring the Mekong, particularly in the mornings and late afternoons.
- December is one of the best times to be in Laos. We advise booking with plenty of notice so we can secure the best hotel rooms and guides.