Reasons why Laos should not be overlooked
1) Off the beaten track
Want to really get off the beaten tourist trail and have some real good travel cred to brag about? Consider going to Laos. And No, tubing in Vang Vieng does not count towards getting off the beaten track. In Laos, it is incredibly easy to find yourself in places where there are no other tourists as far as the eye can see. Places where you will be stared at as an oddity, and where the local life does not cater to Western expectations. Of course, there are the tourist meccas in Laos, like Vang Vieng, but even then, it is still not that difficult to get lost in what will seem like another world, read about motorcycle tours here.
2) Plain of Jars
History and archeology buffs will have their minds blown at the plain of jars. This is definitely off the beaten path, and most tourists do not make it out there. But those who do, will be greeted by a tiny little village with one main tourist attraction. The plains of jars have been confusing archeologists for decades.
Scattered across the landscape are thousands of megalithic stone jars. Some are small, while others are more than 6 feet high. To visit the jars you will need to go on a guided tour as unfortunately, the area is still heavily affected by land mines.
3) Luang Prabang
Many backpackers arrive in Laung Prabang by slow boat, and rave about the calm and beauty they experience as the multitude of temples first come into sight. I arrived by bus…overpacked motion sickness inducing bus…. so I didn’t have the same first impression. But despite that, I grew to love this little city. In fact, the thought of leaving (and perhaps a little bit of the thought of having to take another bus again…) induced me to stay an extra week more than planned!
The town is fairly small, but it is well set up to deal with the influx of tourists, without being overly “douchey” like Vang Vieng can be. There are plenty of restaurants with English on the menu, and a colourful night market springs up on the main tourist street every evening. My backpack definitely became bulkier after spending too much time at these night markets.
There are also plenty of opportunity to day trip outside of Luang Prabang. Popular options include day hikes and waterfall tours, but if you want to go a little further afield, you can also have a trip to the Plain of Jars arranged for you.
4) The Loop
If just being in Laos is not ‘off the beaten path’ enough for you, then the loop might be right up your alley. The loop is a 2 – 4 day motorcycle trip which starts and ends in the central Laos town of Ta Khek. There are no formal guides for the loop, just a lopsided stack of scrap books in the Ta Khek Travellers Lodge where other travellers have written their experiences and hand drawn maps of the route they took.
The only way to find out current conditions for the loop, are to refer to the more recent entries in these scrap books. As I flipped the pages of these albums, I really felt like I was about to go on a real adventure into uncharted territory.
The loop will take you past three very different landscapes : well kept highway, twisting mountain roads, and (at the time) a horrendous mess of potholes and dust. (read more about my adventure on the Loop at the Planet D)
Laos food blows my mind. Less spicy than their western neighbour of Thailand, but more flavourful their easten neighbour of Vietnam, Laos food is confortably in the middle. The star of the show definitely has to be laap. Laap, which comes in several different varieties. Laap is a type of meat salad which can be made out of anything, but is commonly found as chicken, beef, or fish. The meat can be either cooked or raw, and is served minced with an abundance of fresh herbs and spices. Chicken laap quickly became one of my favourite things to eat in Laos, and is one thing that I have never tired of. Laap can also commonly be found in Thai restaurants in the Western world, and I definitely recommend giving it a try.