Uncovering Laos – The unexplored side of South East Asia

JUAN MARTINEZ

January 18, 2024

Uncovering Laos – The unexplored side of South East Asia

From magical cultural encounters to outstanding landscapes and delicious food, Laos is a true hidden gem in South East Asia

I visited Laos back in 2014. It was part of a Southeast Asia trip I took after university, and Laos seemed to be a quick stop that more adventurous travelers were doing. From my first night in Luang Prabang, Laos felt special. It was like magic.

I left Laos with the impression of never wanting to come back. Not because I didn’t like it, but because it was so special; I didn’t want to spoil it with a second visit.

After 10 years, I decided to return and delve deeper into the country. A decision I was not 100% sure about at the beginning. Fortunately, I left understanding that the magic of Laos is real, and that first trip so many years ago was not an illusion I built for myself.

In this article, I want you to embark on a journey to Laos, the unexplored jewel of Southeast Asia. I will tell you about the country’s rich cultural tapestry, unveil hidden treasures, and discover why Laos stands out as the epitome of sustainable travel in the region.

rural landscapes in Laos
Take the new train that connects the country. You will get a glimpse of the rural landscapes of Laos.

The Enigma of Laos – A Southeast Asian Haven

Nestled within the heart of Southeast Asia, Laos beckons with a mystique that sets it apart from its more trodden neighbors. In this landlocked country, where the Mekong River meanders through lush landscapes and ancient temples echo tales of a rich past, lies the best-kept secret of the region – Laos. Often overshadowed by its more bustling counterparts, this enigmatic destination invites intrepid travelers to uncover its secrets, promising not just a journey but an immersion into the essence of sustainability.

Let’s navigate the enchanting landscapes, the ancient allure of Luang Prabang, the adventurous playground of Vang Vieng, and the vibrant capital city of Vientiane, where sustainability is not just a choice but a way of life.

Luang Prabang Temple
My stay in Laos was a combination of delicious food with incredible cultural encounters.

Off the Beaten Path: Where to Go in Laos

Luang Prabang: A mystical Retreat

Begin your Laos odyssey in Luang Prabang, where time seems to stand still. UNESCO-lauded temples, traditional architecture, and a serene atmosphere define this ancient town. Rise early to partake in the alms-giving ceremony, explore vibrant night markets, and bask in the tranquility of a place where traditions are not just preserved but lived.

Don’t miss: The Tak Bat ceremony happening every morning at the streets of Luang Prabang.

Off the beaten track: Go to the buffalo farm and try some buffalo milk ice cream and cheese.

Morning monks in Luang Prabang
Every morning, monks collect food from donors. A ceremony you can’t miss.

Vang Vieng: Nature’s Adventure Playground

For adventure enthusiasts, Vang Vieng offers a breathtaking canvas of limestone karst landscapes, caves, and lagoons. Kayak down the Nam Song River, hike to summits for panoramic views, and immerse yourself in a transformed destination that prioritizes eco-friendly practices, preserving the natural beauty that defines this region.

Don’t miss: Visiting the small cultural villages outside Vang Vieng and learn Lao traditions.

Off the beaten track: Try some “Sato” or “Lao Hai”: a fermented rice wine that is brewed by ethnic minority groups.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Ck0TyHQy9l1

Vientiane: Urban Elegance with a Sustainable Touch

As the capital city, Vientiane introduces a different facet of Laos. Urban elegance meets sustainability in this vibrant city along the Mekong River. Discover French colonial architecture, explore bustling markets, and witness the convergence of tradition and modernity. Vientiane’s commitment to sustainable development is evident in its eco-friendly initiatives and green spaces, offering travelers a dynamic urban experience with a conscience.

Don’t miss: Get a culinary treat at Kualao Restaurant

Off the beaten track: Spend an afternoon at the second hand shops of Vientiane and find a true gem to bring home.

Vientiane from the air with a drone
View of Vientiane’s Pha That Luang from the air.

Sustainability at its Core: Why Laos Shines

Preserving Cultural Heritage

Laos takes pride in preserving its cultural heritage, and this commitment is palpable in the streets of Luang Prabang, where ancient customs and rituals persist. The country’s Buddhist heritage thrives in temples and daily rituals, fostering an authentic connection with Laos’ cultural tapestry.

What can you do? : Be respectful at the temples you visit. Donate for their preservation or buy presents they sell at their entrances:

View of the vegetable and fruit market in Luang Prabang
View of the vegetable and fruit market in Luang Prabang

Eco-Friendly Tourism Initiatives

Laos is at the forefront of eco-friendly tourism initiatives. From remote mountain lodges to community-based projects, the country prioritizes responsible travel. Engage with these initiatives, support local communities, and contribute to the preservation of Laos’ pristine landscapes.

What can you do? : Try to stay as local as possible during your stay in the country. Avoid big agencies like Get Your Guide or Viator and go straight to the local operator. You will get a better price and they won’t pay any commision fees.

Bufffalo farm in Laos
Buffalo farm in Laos

Sustainable Cuisine: A Feast for the Palate and the Planet

Laotian cuisine mirrors the country’s commitment to sustainability. Embracing locally sourced ingredients, traditional dishes burst with flavors. Sample sticky rice, a Laotian staple, and explore bustling markets to savor organic produce, contributing to sustainable agricultural practices.

What can you do? : Eat local. You don’t have to go to the street food markets if your body can’t handle it, but you can support local restaurants. Avoid fast food chains or big hotel restaurants.

Every meal in Laos was a feast
Every meal in Laos was a feast

Practical Tips for Sustainable Travelers

  1. Cultural Respect: Immerse yourself in Laos’ rich culture by respecting local customs, particularly when visiting temples. This cultural courtesy fosters a harmonious travel experience.
  2. Eco-Conscious Choices: Opt for accommodations and tour operators with a commitment to sustainability. Many establishments actively engage in community development and environmental conservation. You can recognize these establishments with the Lasting Laos sticker on their entry.
  3. Wildlife Awareness: If venturing into nature reserves, choose responsible wildlife tourism activities. Avoid practices that exploit or disturb wildlife, contributing to the preservation of local ecosystems.
  4. Resource Conservation: Be mindful of resources in Laos, a country blessed with lush landscapes. Conserve water, minimize plastic usage, and opt for eco-friendly transportation options to leave a positive impact on the environment.

Read more: The importance of conservation in national parks

Untouched Lao landscapes
Untouched Lao landscapes

As you explore the enchanting landscapes of Laos, you’re not just visiting a destination; you’re becoming part of a sustainable travel movement. From the ancient streets of Luang Prabang to the adventurous realms of Vang Vieng and the urban elegance of Vientiane, Laos invites you to be a conscious traveler, leaving behind not just footprints but a legacy of sustainable exploration.

Southeast Asia’s hidden gem awaits – a destination where every journey is a step towards preserving the beauty, culture, and sustainability that define Laos.

Read more: How to be a sustainable traveler for an African safari.

You need to try the famous butterfly tea of Laos
You need to try the famous butterfly tea of Laos

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