An Insider's Guide to the Best Things to Do in Laos

Tucked away in Southeast Asia, Laos is a landlocked country bordered by Myanmar, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. With a population of just over 7 million people, it remains one of the least developed and most pristine countries in Asia.

Laos has a long and tumultuous history, having been under French colonial rule in the late 19th century before gaining independence in 1953. After years of instability, Laos has opened up and embraced tourism, showcasing its lush jungles, meandering rivers, Buddhist temples and vibrant culture to the world.

The heart of Laos is the mighty Mekong River, which shapes the landscape and daily life. Limestone karsts and verdant rice paddies dominate the countryside. The capital Vientiane mixes French colonial architecture with glittering temples. But it's Luang Prabang that remains the jewel in Laos' crown, with its historic peninsula home to gilded wats and saffron-robed monks.

Trekking, cycling, kayaking and ziplining are popular ways to experience Laos' great outdoors. Elephant encounters, village homestays and cooking classes offer cultural immersion. From world-class waterfalls to sacred caves, Laos rewards those looking to get off the beaten path in Southeast Asia.

Table of Content

Complete Laos Travel Guide & Itinerary
An Insider's Guide to the Best Things to Do in Laos

An Insider's Guide to the Best Things to Do in Laos

Top Destinations in Laos

Laos is a country filled with natural beauty, ancient temples, and rich culture. Some of the top destinations to visit include:

Luang Prabang

This UNESCO World Heritage city is located at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. It's known for its gilded Buddhist temples, French colonial architecture, and mountainous countryside perfect for trekking. Top attractions include Wat Xieng Thong, Pak Ou Caves, Kuang Si Waterfalls, and the night market.


The largest and capital city of Laos. Key sites are That Luang, a large golden stupa and national symbol, Wat Si Saket, which houses thousands of miniature Buddha statues, and Patuxai Victory Monument. The city has a mix of French colonial mansions, temples, and lively markets.

Vang Vieng

This small town is nestled along the Nam Song River and surrounded by limestone karsts. It was once known as a backpacker party spot, but has now shifted towards more eco-tourism activities like rock climbing, caving, kayaking, and hot air ballooning over the countryside.


Often referred to as the "gateway to southern Laos", Pakse is a great starting point for exploring the Bolaven Plateau, Wat Phou ruins, and Si Phan Don. The town itself features colonial architecture, temples like Wat Luang, and the bustling morning market.

Si Phan Don

Translating to "Four Thousand Islands", this is an archipelago in the Mekong River of southern Laos. It's known for laidback riverside villages, waterfalls, and backpacker hangouts. The islands offer opportunities to relax or go on boat tours. Don Det and Don Khon are two of the most popular islands to stay.

Si Phan Don laos
Si Phan Don or "Four Thousand Islands" is one of the top attractions in Laos

Natural Wonders of Laos

Laos is blessed with incredible natural beauty and diverse landscapes. From cascading waterfalls to mysterious caves, there are many natural wonders to explore. Some of the top natural attractions include:

Kuang Si Falls

Located near Luang Prabang, Kuang Si Falls is one of the most famous waterfalls in Laos. This multi-tiered waterfall tumbles over limestone formations into bright blue pools perfect for swimming. The falls are set amidst lush jungle and there are walking trails to explore the forest. Don't miss taking a dip in the cool waters!

Kuang Si Falls Luang Prabang
Kuang Si Falls, Luang Prabang

Gibbon Experience

Get up close with gibbons at the Gibbon Experience in the Bokeo Nature Reserve. Guests stay overnight in treehouse lodges high above the forest floor. In the morning, you'll trek through the jungle with guides and fly through the canopy on ziplines. This is a great way to observe wildlife and the rainforest ecosystem.

Konglor Cave

One of the most impressive caves in Asia, Konglor Cave stretches over 7.5 miles through mountains in Khammouane Province. You can take a boat ride through the dramatic cave and observe towering stalactites, bats, and the river that flows through it. This is an unforgettable experience.

Plain of Jars

In Xieng Khouang province, there are large stone jars scattered across valleys and hillsides known as the Plain of Jars. The huge jar-shaped stones weigh up to 10 tons. Archaeologists believe they were used for burial practices centuries ago, but their exact purpose remains a mystery. It's an intriguing place to explore.

Plain of Jars laos
Plain of Jars in Laos is Southeast Asia's archaeological wonder

Cultural Experiences in Laos

Laos has a rich cultural heritage that visitors can experience through its ancient temples, traditional villages, and lively night markets.

Ancient Laotian Temples

No trip to Laos is complete without visiting the country's magnificent temples. Wat Xieng Thong in Luang Prabang is one of the most ornate temples in Laos, with an intricately decorated exterior and golden tree of life mosaic set against red walls. Other notable temples include Wat Phou, an ancient Khmer temple complex in Champasak, and Wat Phra That Luang, an iconic temple in Vientiane with a towering golden stupa. Wandering through these ancient sites offers insight into Laos' Buddhist heritage.

Wat Xieng Thong
The ancient Wat Xieng Thong in Luang Prabang

Traditional Laotian Villages

Visiting traditional villages in Laos provides an intimate look at the country's local cultures. In northern Laos, Khmu and Hmong hill tribe villages allow visitors to see traditional stilt houses and handicrafts being made. Down south, villages along the 4000 Islands showcase traditional Lao lifestyles among serene riverscapes. A visit to Kuang Si Butterfly Park near Luang Prabang also provides an opportunity to learn about silk weaving and other crafts from local artisans.

Night Markets

Night markets throughout Laos reveal the country's vibrant street food and shopping scenes. The famous night market in Luang Prabang stretches along Sisavangvong Road, where vendors sell handicrafts, textiles, and street snacks well into the evening. Vientiane's night market along the Mekong offers similar wares, from woven textiles to barbecued meat skewers. For shoppers and foodies, Laos' night markets encapsulate the country's captivating mix of culture, crafts, and cuisine.

laos markets
Street food and night markets in Laos

Adventure Activities in Laos

Laos offers numerous adventurous activities for thrill-seekers and nature lovers to enjoy. Some of the top adventures in Laos include:


Trekking through Laos' lush jungles, rice paddies, and rolling mountains provides an up-close experience with diverse landscapes and glimpses of rural village life. Top treks include a 3-day trek from Luang Namtha with overnight stays in hill tribe villages, and a 2-day trek through Vang Vieng's karst scenery with cave exploring and village visits.


Kayaking down the Nam Ou River from Muang Ngoi to Nong Khiaw is a peaceful paddle past towering limestone mountains, rushing rapids, and riverside villages. Kayaking day trips are also popular in Vang Vieng, weaving through farm fields and jagged karst islands along the Nam Song River.


Several ziplining adventures await in Laos, offering bird's eye views over lush forests. Top ziplining spots are the Gibbon Experience in Bokeo Nature Reserve with 10 ziplines, and the 7 zipline courses in Vang Vieng with scenic views over the Nam Song River and karst mountains.

Hot Air Ballooning

Drifting over Vientiane's temples and the Mekong River in a hot air balloon at sunrise is an unforgettable experience. Hot air balloon rides typically last 1 hour, rising up to 1,000 feet for panoramic views over the capital and countryside. It's a peaceful, scenic way to admire Laos from above.

With mountainous landscapes, expansive jungles, and winding rivers, Laos is an adventure lover's paradise. Ziplining, kayaking, trekking, and hot air ballooning allow for active exploration of the country's natural beauty and cultural treasures.

Hot air balloon Vang Vieng
Hot air ballooning over the countryside of Vang Vieng

Traditional Laotian Cuisine

Laos has a unique and flavourful cuisine that reflects the country's diverse cultural influences. Rice is a staple ingredient, and many dishes feature herbs, vegetables, fish, and meat flavored with lime juice, lemongrass, garlic, chili peppers, and fermented fish sauce. Some foods to try in Laos include:
  1. Larb - This spicy meat salad is one of Laos's most popular dishes. It's made by mincing meat (usually chicken, pork, duck or fish) and tossing it in a mix of lime juice, fish sauce, herbs, chili, and toasted rice powder.
  2. Papaya Salad - Known as "tam mak hoong" in Laos, this refreshing salad is made with shredded unripe papaya, tomatoes, long beans, lime juice, fish sauce, sugar and chilies. It's a great balance of spicy, sour and sweet flavors.
  3. Khao Poon - A comforting rice noodle soup that's often served for breakfast. It features chewy rice noodles in a coconut milk-based broth with chicken, pork or fish. Lots of fresh herbs are added on top.
  4. Sticky Rice - This glutinous rice is a staple in Laos and often served alongside main dishes. Locals use it to soak up sauces and curries.
  5. Lao Sausage - Sai oua is a grilled pork sausage seasoned with lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and shallots. It's commonly served with sticky rice.
To try authentic Lao dishes, head to the street food stalls in places like Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Pakse. For a sit-down meal, restaurants like Tamarind in Luang Prabang and Makphet in Vientiane serve excellent local cuisine. Don't miss this delicious part of the Laos experience!

Laotian Cuisine
Traditional dishes in Laos on a platter, featuring Hung Tam Maak or Papaya Salad and grilled fish.

Laos Itineraries

Laos is a picturesque country with cultural and natural wonders to explore. Here are some suggested itineraries for 5-7 days in Laos to help you plan your visit.

5 Days in Laos

  • Day 1 - Arrive in Luang Prabang and explore the night market and Royal Palace Museum.
  • Day 2 - Visit the Kuang Si waterfalls and Pak Ou Buddha Caves outside Luang Prabang. Enjoy the beautiful scenery on a longboat cruise down the Mekong River.
  • Day 3 - Travel to Vang Vieng, stopping at scenic viewpoints along the way. Go tubing, kayaking or hiking around Vang Vieng.
  • Day 4 - Make your way to Vientiane, the capital city. See highlights like That Luang, Patuxai Victory Monument, and Buddha Park.
  • Day 5 - Depart Vientiane or extend your stay. Consider a day trip to the ancient capital of Xieng Khuang.

7 Days in Laos

  • Day 1-3 - Follow the above 3 day Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng itinerary
  • Day 4 - Travel from Vang Vieng to Vientiane.
  • Day 5 - Spend a full day exploring Vientiane. Consider taking a cooking class.
  • Day 6 - Take a day trip from Vientiane to Xieng Khuang to see the mysterious Plain of Jars.
  • Day 7 - Depart Vientiane or spend more time discovering southern Laos destinations.

With a week in Laos, you'll have time to see top highlights while also venturing off the beaten path. Slow down and take in the natural beauty and cultural sights of this charming country.

Getting Around Laos

Laos offers various transportation options for getting around the country, though road conditions can be poor in rural areas.

By Air

Several domestic airlines operate flights between major cities in Laos, including Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Pakse, and Oudomxay. Flights are a quick and convenient way to cover long distances. The two main domestic carriers are Lao Airlines and Lao Skyway. Book flights in advance for the best fares.

By Bus

Buses connect most towns in Laos. Public buses are very affordable but can be overcrowded and make many stops. For longer journeys, consider VIP buses with air conditioning and more space. Private minivans are also an option for quicker point-to-point service.

By Boat

Boat journeys are a popular way to travel in Laos, especially along the Mekong River. Slow boats, speedboats, and river cruises are available between major towns like Huay Xai, Pakbeng, Luang Prabang, and Vientiane. Boats can also be arranged for visiting river islands like Don Det.

By Tuk Tuk and Songthaew

Within towns, tuk tuks (auto rickshaws) and songthaews (pickup trucks with bench seats) offer inexpensive shared rides. Agree on a fare before getting in. These should be safe during daylight; exercise more caution at night.

tuk tuk laos
Tuk tuk in Laos

Road Safety

Road conditions in Laos range from decent highways to unpaved rural roads. Drive cautiously, as local driving culture can be erratic. At night, be wary of poor lighting and livestock on roads. Wear helmets on motorbikes. Seat belts are advised but not always available in buses, tuk tuks, songthaews.

Travel Tips & Tricks

When traveling long distances, bring snacks and water. Expect delays from breakdowns or bad weather. Research routes in advance rather than relying on locals' advice. Consider hiring a driver or guide who knows the area well. Avoid overnight buses for safety. Keep valuables secure and watch belongings at bus stations.

Best Time to Visit

Laos has a tropical monsoon climate with a distinct rainy season from May to October. The best time to visit depends on your interests and tolerance for heat, rain, and crowds.


  1. Dry Season (November to April) - This is the most popular time to visit. Days are mostly sunny and temperatures are comfortable. However, the peak months of December-February can get quite crowded, especially in Luang Prabang.
  2. Rainy Season (May to October) - There's a good chance of rain most days. Temperatures are hot and humid. Fewer tourists visit, so attractions are less crowded. Keep in mind some rural roads become impassable.
  3. Shoulder Seasons - March-April and September-October are good times to travel. You'll find decent weather with smaller crowds and lower prices compared to the high season.


  1. Boun Pi Mai (April) - Laos New Year is celebrated with water fights across the country.
  2. Boun Bang Fai (May) - Rocket Festival has traditional rocket launches in Vientiane and other locations.
  3. Boun Khao Salak (July/August) - Boat Racing Festival in southern Laos.
  4. Boun Ok Phansa (October) - Boat processions mark the end of Buddhist Lent.

Best Times for Activities

  1. Trekking - The best conditions for trekking are during the dry season from November to February. Temperatures are comfortable and views are clearest.
  2. River Activities - River levels are highest between August and October during the rainy season for kayaking, tubing, and rafting.
  3. Motorbiking - Ride northern Laos during the dry winter months when the landscape is lush and green. Avoid the monsoon rains.

Budgeting & Cost of Travel in Laos

Laos is one of the most affordable destinations in Southeast Asia, making it very budget-friendly for travellers. Below are some average costs and money saving tips:
  1. Accommodation - You can find basic guesthouse dorm beds for as little as $5 per night, while mid-range hotels generally cost $20-40 per night. Luxury hotels in cities like Luang Prabang can cost over $100 per night.
  2. Food - Street food and local restaurants offer very cheap meal options, with main dishes costing $2-5. At tourist restaurants you'll pay closer to $5-10 per meal.
  3. Activities - Trekking, kayaking, rock climbing and other adventures generally range from $10-30 per activity. Entrance fees to attractions are usually under $5.
  4. Transport - Public buses are very affordable, with Vientiane to Luang Prabang costing around $10-15. Slow boats down the Mekong cost $20-25.

Money Saving Tips for Laos

  1. Eat street food - The tastiest and most authentic food is found at local markets and street stalls for a fraction of restaurant prices.
  2. Stay in dorms - Opting for dorm beds instead of private rooms saves a lot on accommodation costs.
  3. Take slow boats - While less comfortable, the slow boats along the Mekong are much cheaper than faster boat options.
  4. Avoid packaged tours - Joining organised tours is more expensive than doing activities independently.
  5. Get a tourist visa - 30-day tourist visas on arrival are cheaper than purchasing multiple visas.
  6. Haggle respectfully - Bargaining is expected at local markets and shops. Politely haggle for 10-30% off.
  7. Withdraw kip from ATMs - Getting local currency from ATMs gives better rates than exchanging money.
  8. Travel off-season - Visiting during shoulder or low season means fewer crowds and lower prices.

As the Laotian sun dips below the verdant mountain ranges, painting the Mekong in hues of fiery amber and tranquil jade, it's hard not to be utterly enamoured by this country's raw charm. From the mystery-shrouded ruins of Vat Phou to the vibrant night markets of Luang Prabang, each experience is a tale waiting to be told.

To wade through the waters of the Si Phan Don archipelago is to understand serenity, and to savour the depth of a simple Laap dish is to dance with the complexities of Southeast Asian flavours. In Laos, adventure and tranquillity coexist – a delicate balance that invites you, the discerning traveller, to step off the familiar trails and embrace the pulse of a land that time cherishes.

The untamed heart of Laos is a mosaic of untold stories, and yours awaits amongst the laughter of the river and the whispers of the temple stones. Recall this, always: to travel here is not merely to visit, but to partake in a legacy of epicurean delights and hidden treasures, wrapped in the grace of a culture that beckons with a kindly gesture and a smile as warm as the dawn breaking over the highlands.

Your adventures are waiting to be discovered! Share them with us on Instagram using @rollinggrace or #RollingGrace. Enjoy every moment!


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