Laos can be considered a hidden gem when it comes to places to visit on vacation or countries to set up home base in as a digital nomad or even an expat.
This (still) highly unexplored country is charming, green, and extremely welcoming, with very friendly people. Of course, there are tons of amazing things to do in Laos and in today’s article I will share the most important ones with you.
I am sure that there are plenty more – but if you manage to cover even a few of my recommendations, I am sure you’ll be really happy. So let’s not waste a single second and instead let’s check out the best things to do in Laos.
1. Tubing Down the Nam Song river
This practice doesn’t have the best reputation out there, but it sure is fun and safer due to recent restrictions and upgrades of the entire process.
Basically, it’s a nice float down the river in a rubber tube, stopping at bars along the way for a beer and maybe taking one with you for the onwards journey.
There was even one woman who lived along the river and would sell you beer for takeaway! She was in the perfect spot for when you’d finished your last beer and wanted a new one as well.
This is really a big thing, although obviously not an attraction for families. But if you’re wild and young and free, tubing down the Nam Song river is the ultimate thing to do.
It’s also an easy way to get to some of Laos’ best views, although it should be noted that many voices consider this practice quite dangerous – so only do this is if you know what you’re doing and are 100% sure you can keep yourself safe. If not – there are plenty of safer alternatives out there.
2. Sampling local food
This is definitely something that you should be doing anywhere you travel to experience the culture and also save some money.
The local food in Laos is extra-special, I would say.
Never have I had a meal so good as the one eaten with my hands from a local market in Laos. And it doesn’t have to stop here, as the country has a lot of deliciousness to offer.
I know that there are always concerns regarding cleanliness and food safety, but I was fortunate enough to have absolutely no problems during my stay. Not sure if it’s just a strong stomach that I have (probably not, since in Nepal things weren’t as good), but I really enjoyed it.
Just use your common sense and eat where the locals are eating and you should be fine!
As for what to eat, make sure to test out their national dish, “larb“. It’s prepared in various ways, with chicken, fish, pork, or duck.
This flavorful meat salad is made perfect with plenty of fresh herbs, lime juice, fish sauce, and a generous dash of ‘khao niew‘ aka sticky rice, which makes it perfect to scoop up with your hands. Messy and delicious.
Also, make sure you also try ‘tam mak hoong‘, which is a papaya salad. But this one is made from unripe papaya, tomatoes, garlic, and chilies – and this combination is simply amazing.
For soup lovers, ‘Lao khao soi‘ is the dish you should try when in Laos. A hearty noodle soup from the Northern part of the country, it’s a mix of fermented soybean paste, tomatoes, chilies, and minced pork, topped with soft, wide rice noodles plenty of fresh herbs (it’s the soup you can see in the image above).
3. Discovering Luang Prabang
Sitting where the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers meet, Luang Prabang is a city that got the UNESCO World Heritage seal.
The days start here with the Buddhist tradition of alms-giving. This is amazing to observe: it’s a traditional event, where locals are offering food to a long procession of saffron-clad monks.
While here, make sure to also visit the Royal Palace Museum. Once a 19th-century royal residence, it’s now a tourist attraction, filled with historic artifacts and exotic goodies.
Finally, you should hike up the Mount Phousi. The view from the top isn’t just a sight, it’s an experience – so make sure your phone has enough battery left, as you’ll take a ton of amazing Instagram photos.
4. Getting in depth with Wat Xieng Thong
Wat Xieng Thong is the spiritual soul of Luang Prabang. This 16th-century monastery is a must visit and it definitely deserves a dedicated place on the list.
It’s a testament to resilience, a chronicle of royal coronations, a survivor of wars, and an enduring beacon of faith.
And, most important of all – at least for us, tourists – it’s absolutely amazing. The layered roofs and intricate mosaics depict Laotian life and various Buddhist tales.
The most famous is the “Tree of Life” mosaic. It can be seen on the rear temple wall – so make sure to check it out as well.
Finally, you can step inside the temple to check out the original statue of Buddha (a few hundred years old) and let that feeling of peace that you get from any Buddhist temple flood your veins. A really unmissable experience!
I must admit that I am not the fittest person in the world, so exploring caves – especially after that accident in Thailand – wasn’t really top on my list of things to do. But even for, me these caves were accessible and very safe.
Some are just a short walk from the Vang Vieng town, other more popular caves are at the Blue Lagoon.
You can explore all the caves without shoes (best way if you don’t have proper footwear and didn’t come prepared for this – like me) or you can wear sneakers.
The caves even have small shrines in them for you to place incense if you are so inclined. A surprisingly delightful experience!
And if you are into exploring caves, make sure to read about the Naka Cave legend from neighboring Thailand.
6. Kayaking in Luang Namtha
I loved kayaking in Luang Namtha! The township itself was small and more multicultural than other places in Laos.
Being in the far north with many visitors from Vietnam, China and Thailand passing through, you could have conversations with people from these countries at the pub rather than just the usual backpacker crowd (who were nowhere to be seen when I was there!)
I signed up for a kayaking trip on my first day in town with an American guy I met on the bus and it was amazing!
We had a local guide who spoke seven or eight languages (he was very modest about it despite our constant awe) and who had a great sense of humor. And he took us to some areas that were something I have never seen before.
You can do too – visit actual tribes in Laos who had very little interaction with the outside world.
They were extremely curious about us – especially the children who used our kayak as a launching board into the water.
Simplicity at its best – and seeing those people smiling and enjoying life, while having so little compared to the Western world can be a true eye opener for anybody.
7. Venturing into Vientiane, the Capital City of Laos
No visit in Laos can be complete without at least a short stay in the country’s capital city, Vientiane.
An amazing place where tradition is still present, while modernity is engulfing more and more of it, Vientiane perfectly marries its past with the present.
The city’s landscape is a mosaic of golden temples, wide boulevards adorned with French colonial architecture, and bustling markets, with the friendly locals present everywhere and ready to help or just offer a smile if nothing more.
There are plenty of things to visit while in Vientiane and I believe that you could spend at least a couple of weeks and still not cover all the beauty and attraction this city has to offer, but make sure to at least check out the Pha That Luang, the national symbol and the most revered Buddhist stupa in Laos.
It’s not always that you see buildings literally covered in gold – so take advantage of this opportunity!
8. Hiking in Nam Ha National Protected Area
This is a designated ASEAN Heritage Park since 2003. Stretching across 222,400 hectares, the park is a vital sanctuary for over 300 species of birds, and plenty of amazing flora and fauna, including rare clouded leopards, and Asian elephants.
The park has developed community-based eco-tours, which include guided jungle treks ranging from 1 to 7 days.
These treks are managed and led by local villagers – make sure to opt for these, in order to support the locals. It’s also a lot more fun, as they really know the best spots to visit.
While hiking in Nam Ha, you’ll navigate through tropical evergreen forests, cross bamboo bridges over burbling streams, and even visit remote villages.
9. Exploring the Blue Lagoon of Vang Vieng
One of the top natural attractions in Laos, the Blue Lagoon in Vang Vieng is simplay amazing and breathtaking – exactly as the name suggests.
Fed by natural springs, the lagoon boasts striking turquoise water that remains cool and inviting year-round.
But it’s not just for swimming – the lagoon also offers practical amenities for visitors, including changing facilities, picnic tables, and a restaurant serving local cuisine.
You can also do a bit of exploring around the Blue Lagoon too, including visits to nearby local villages where the traditional Laotian life goes by day by day (and it’s impressive to observe too).
If you’re into caving – as recommended above – you have nearby the Tham Poukham Cave aka the Golden Crab Cave. Go all the way to the deep pool that lies inside the cave, if you are prepared!
10. Visiting Waterfalls
This is something you must do even if you only spend a few days in Laos!
I’ve swum in many waterfalls, but the ones here were truly unique.
For example, the one accessible from Luang Prabang is the most frequented by travelers, don’t worry about working out how to get there – tuk tuk drivers see you wandering around Luang Prabang town and ask you if want to go to the waterfalls for a dip all the time.
I loved the cool water on my skin, how you could just climb the waterfall and jump right in and the fact that there were so many new people there to talk to.
There are also little cleaner fish who will give your skin a clean if you stand still long enough, a free extra for those who need to exfoliate – and done for no cost!
11. Motorbiking from town to town
You can’t go to Asia and not jump on a scooter to explore the surroundings! Well, you can if you are me and you can’t ride a bike – but hopefully you’ve got this skill on your card.
And you’ll be surprised to find out that Laos is just as spectacular – if not more so – than better known destinations in SE Asia!
If you’re looking for some raw nature and truly Instagramable picture spots, jump on a scooter and bike and start driving!
12. Exploring the Plain of Jars
Although a little out of the way, everyone should see the Plain of Jars! It’s called the Asian Stonehenge, so you can imagine that it’s pretty impressive.
I visited Stone Henge while in England and enjoyed it myself but this is just as old and as curious as it and no-one is there.
This will probably change as Laos becomes more and more interesting for tourists though – but you still have the chance to be among the first to experience it.
13. COPE center in Vientiane
My visit to the COPE center in Vientiane opened my eyes about what horrors the people living there had to endure and go through.
During the Vietnam war, American aircrafts were sent to bomb Laos with small cluster bombs.
A bomb about the size of a golf ball that would explode upon impact into a bunch of shrapnel, killing people nearby and damaging infrastructure. Horrible!
Upon being asked about American movements within the country, Nixon was quoted as saying, “There are no American troops stationed in Laos” (because they weren’t stationed there, right? They were flying over the country bombing it).
The American people had no idea what was happening. Ask an American today about the war and they just shrug, not knowing it happened.
Although the reasons for the bombings were to stop the spread of communism into Laos from surrounding countries (which failed) and to damage the Ho Chi Min trail which was supplying weapons to the North Vietnamese who were fighting the Americans in the South of Vietnam, aircraft would often dump their bombs anywhere if they couldn’t find their target as they weren’t allowed to return to base with any bombs.
The devastation of the war can be seen in the COPE center, as well as what is being done to help those affected by the XO still littering the Lao landscape.
14. Pub crawling in Laos
I wanted to continue on a lighter note after mentioning the emotionally-heavy COPE center.
I thought that mentioning Laos drinking culture was a good one as it’s a little quirky and I haven’t come across something similar anywhere else.
Although in Vang Vieng, there are jungle parties (which are fun, you should go if you are wandering down the road and a tuk tuk driver offers you a free ride there as one offered me – and didn’t end up murdering me as I started to fear shortly afterwards), Luang Prabang has the famous bowling alley.
Laos had a curfew. People are to be indoors between midnight and 5AM daily and anyone found walking the streets is questioned (never heard of it happening to a tourist though).
For this reason, all of the bars close at 11.30pm, which is an early for most party goers out there in the world.
And this is how the Bowling Alley in Laos was born – it’s a real bowling space that sits outs of the town in Luang Prabang, which takes in all the drunks from 11.30pm until 3am, allows them to throw balls at pins and supplies them with the best local whisky money can buy and offers no free rides back home.
But it’s totally worth it! Plus, it gets extra points for its novelty – and once you try drunken bowling, you will love to try it again.
15. The Hidden City of Muang Ngoi Neua
Muang Ngoi Neua is a remote village in Laos, one that can only be reached by boat, after a charming ride on the Nam Ou river.
Due to the fact that it is pretty secluded, it’s as traditional as it can get. And surprising for many, as there are just dirt roads there and basically no cars or other modern vehicles roaming the streets.
It’s a serene, spectacular place overall, with scattered stilt houses, paddy fields and raw nature.
Adventure seekers can explore the network of caves used as hideouts during the Second Indochina War, but even a hike up Phadeng Peak for a panoramic view over the region is really nice.
16. Night Market Shopping in Luang Prabang
South East Asia as a whole is a place where you must experience night market shopping, and one of the best places to do it is in Luang Prabang.
From as early as 5PM, the popular Sisavangvong Road starts filling up with stalls offering a variety of products, from local handmade ones to street food and everything in between.
It’s nothing but dreamlike to let yourself go with the flow of people, and explore the labyrinth of colors, stopping to take a look at all the goodies on display – and spend some money too.
My tip is to enjoy the famous coffee there and pair it up with some local snacks too. But don’t forget to bring up your bargaining skill, as most prices are open to negotiation and almost certainly well above what locals would be expected to pay (that is, if you are a foreigner).
17. Unwinding with a Traditional Lao Massage
Finally, after all this walking and exploring around Laos, you can enjoy some supreme relaxation with a traditional Lao massage.
Unlike its Thai counterpart, which might feel like you’re becoming a punching bag, a traditional Lao massage is performed without oil and focuses on gentle, rhythmic kneading techniques.
The treatment usually starts with the massager using their fingers, palms, and elbows to apply pressure along the body’s energy lines, or ‘sen’.
The aim is to remove ‘lom’ or ‘wind’ from the body, thought to cause physical ailments when blocked.
Stretching movements similar to yoga poses are often incorporated, enhancing flexibility and releasing muscular tension. It’s really nice and revitalizing.
And these would be the top things to do in Laos. This is a surprising, exceptional country that you will definitely love if you decide to visit. And for sure, one with even more amazing places to visit and attractions to explore.
But for starters, ticking the ones above should be your priority. And if you have other favorites not listed in this article, let us know!