Laos

Spend a week in Southeast Asia’s most fascinating country

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Laos may be a landlocked country without a tropical coastline, but it makes up for it with stunning mountain scenery, lush rice fields and the mighty Mekong River flowing through its territory. It remains wild and largely untouched, offering a fascinating array of cultural attractions, outdoor experiences and timeless charm.

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang’s mix of Buddhist temples, colonial architecture and jungle fauna is one of Southeast Asia’s overlooked gems. First inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995, its heritage has been preserved in time and its traditions still have an enduring appeal. Every morning around 6am, it is still common for locals to give monks alms: sticky rice, biscuits or biscuits are given as an act of charity to monks who depend on these expressions of kindness.

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Orange Robe Tours, one of the many social enterprises in town, hires ex-novice novices and monks to lead tours of Luang Prabang. These cultural immersion experiences provide a unique insight into the life of a Buddhist monk and facilitate the transition from temple life to lay life.

The Traditional Arts and Ethnology Center (TAEC) is another entity that helps preserve and share Laotian traditions with the public. Through its museum exhibitions, educational activities and livelihood development programmes, TAEC introduces visitors to Laos’ major ethnic groups and empowers local communities to actively steward their own cultural heritage.

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The center currently supports more than 600 craft producers of more than 20 different ethnicities, showcasing their elaborate textiles, jewelry and musical instruments. TAEC’s boutique also sells a range of gifts and accessories, with 50% of proceeds going back to the artisans.

Cultural heritage is a recurring theme in Luang Prabang, and over the past few years, a number of new boutique hotels have taken over the historic buildings of the ancient city. Avani+ Luang Prabang is located in the heart of the city, just a stone’s throw away from the bustling night market and Phousi Hill.

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Housed in a French colonial building dating back to 1914, this modern hotel features local architecture combined with modern elements such as bright teak and stylish furniture. This is an intimate hotel spread over two floors with 53 rooms with private balconies and a central courtyard with a striking swimming pool.

The bright and cheerful Main Street Bar and Grill overlooks the town’s main thoroughfare and offers all-day dining. Sample Lao classics such as turmeric tilapia in banana leaves or duck curry with local vegetables and lychees. The town and hotel can also arrange a number of experiences for guests, including day trips through its partner Mekong Kingdom.

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Take a longboat to explore the emerald-colored Kuan Si Waterfall, or sail to the Buddha statue-filled Bai Ou Cave. Laos Buffalo Dairy, a sustainable farm that aims to improve the welfare and nutrition of the rural population of Luang Prabang, is the perfect place to stop for a scoop of ice cream to cool off after a day of adventure.

Vang Vieng

The new Laos-China Railway makes traveling across Laos much faster than before. In just one hour, you can start from Luang Prabang and reach the mountain city of Vang Vieng. Surrounded by limestone mountains, stalactite-lined caves and sparkling lagoons, the town has an otherworldly feel and offers plenty of outdoor activities: hiking, kayaking and zip lining are just a few .

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The town is notorious for its backpacker culture, but the railway is expected to bring more investment to the town in the coming years. It goes without saying that where you stay in Vang Vieng can make or break your trip, so be sure to book a room at Riverside Boutique Resort for a relaxing getaway immersed in nature.

Nestled on the banks of the Nam Pine River, this intimate oasis features 34 rooms overlooking an incredibly photogenic swimming pool that reflects the majestic mountains beyond. The hotel’s charming Restaurant du Crabe d’Or offers the perfect interpretation of Lao cuisine through its 5-course tasting menu.

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Try a spicy mince salad with fresh herbs, a chilled salmon salad with lemongrass and mint, and steamed vegetables seasoned with ginger, sesame and chilli. Riverside Boutique Resort also has a wonderful open-air spa where you can enjoy a traditional massage immersed in the surroundings.

The hotel can arrange sunset cruises down the river (you might spot some bathing buffaloes!), hot air balloon rides over valleys, and hikes to Vang Vieng’s most beautiful spots. The hike to Pha Ngern and Nam Xay can be a bit steep, but you’ll get unforgettable views of the Laotian countryside.

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vientiane

Taking the same high-speed rail, it only takes an extra hour from Vang Vieng to Vientiane, and the feeling of the two destinations is completely different. Vientiane, the capital of Laos with a population of 1 million, has a cosmopolitan vibe. The city is home to hundreds of international restaurants and victory monuments, such as the Patuxai War Memorial, erected to commemorate its independence from France. By the way, it was inspired by the Arc de Triomphe.

A short drive from town, the gilded That Dam Stupa stands 150 feet tall and is arguably the most important religious site in the country. Worth a short stop on the way to Buddha Park, an hour’s drive east of the capital. Established by a shaman in the 1950s, this sculpture park features more than 200 concrete Hindu and Buddhist statues set amidst lush trees and flowers. The 130-foot-long reclining Buddha is the main attraction.

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In town, Vientiane has many small galleries and social enterprises that promote local communities and traditions. The Lao Textile Museum offers informative displays and demonstrations of looms to explain the production process of silk and other textiles. T’Shop Lai Gallery, an art gallery and boutique, is a great place to pick up coffee scrubs, organic butterfly pea shampoos and lemongrass face creams made by the local community.

Vientiane is also a great value place to eat and drink. Overlooking a 19th-century stupa, That Dam Wine House serves Laotian and Western dishes, paired with an extensive French wine list. Cage du Coq is a quirky French bistro with a relaxed atmosphere and comfort food—watch out for the duck, casserole and blue cheese spinach quiche with honey on the menu. It also serves brunch.

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Undoubtedly the best place to stay in the city, the Crowne Plaza Vientiane is a modern hotel with first-class services, including an endless breakfast buffet, an intimate spa and an outdoor cocktail bar. Its 198 rooms and suites are designed in soothing neutrals to suit both leisure and business travelers: You’ll find pillow menus and free-standing bathtubs in every room, as well as fast Wi-Fi and dedicated workstations. Dining options are excellent, ranging from a wide range of sweet and savory dishes at the market-style Mosaic, to more formal South East Asian cuisine at the elegant 3 Merchants restaurant.

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