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Why Laos is the underrated South East Asian country you need to visit

Laos

There is a stunning natural beauty in South East Asia that flies completely under the radar, and often people don’t even know how to pronounce it. When you think of South-East Asia, you might picture the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, the insane full-moon parties in Ko Pha-ngan in Thailand and the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. For some reason, Laos is often overlooked by travellers and just passed through.

But my trip to Laos on Contiki’s Cambodia and Laos Uncovered tour proved it was worth a trip of its own and has the best of everything for all traveller types, here’s why…

 

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Laos is arguably the party capital of South East Asia

Laos may be small in size, but it is mighty in party vibes. Located deep in central Laos, you may have heard of the infamous river-tubing town of Vang Vieng. Once notorious for its ‘tubing parties’, this serene farming village is still the epicentre of partying in Laos.

Vang Vieng is a similar party scene to Thailand’s full-moon parties, except the party in Vang Vieng never ends. If a laidback vibe is more your style, then Utopia is a must visit. Rated the top choice bar by Lonely Planet, Utopia is a lush riverside bar located in Luang Prabang – it’s the Laotian Mecca for backpackers, making it the perfect destination to swap travel stories over a drink.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Laos is the perfect destination for any history buff

Your visit to Laos will also give you insight into some of the country’s troubled history. Laos was heavily bombed by US forces during the Vietnam War. Up to 80 million of these bombs did not explode, leaving large parts of the country unliveable. 

Many are still affected today, and that is why the COPE Centre is a must-visit. COPE is a local charity which provides prosthetic limbs and rehabilitation services to those who have lost their limbs as a result of unexploded land mines. The experience here is unforgettable.

 

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Laos is rich in culture

Laos is renowned for its extraordinary monasteries found in the towns of Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Apart from seeing the beauty of Pha That Luang Stupa (the golden stupa) in Vientiane, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang is also home to plenty of of ornate buddhist temples. 

A sacred Laotian ritual to take part in whilst in Laos is offering alms to Buddhist monks, there’s nothing quite like seeing these peaceful locals gathering their daily meals.

A French colony from 1893 until 1946, French legacy is still evident in Laos. The French inspired capital, Vientiane is considered the Paris of Laos and even has its very own ‘Arc de Triomphe’. Food is also inspired by the French, with an abundance of French bakeries and even baguettes sold on the street in the country’s capital. However, sticky rice is still considered the staple food and no trip to Laos is complete without trying it. Also look out for wacky options such as snake whisky (NOT for the faint hearted or the weak stomached).

Monks in orange robes standing in front of a building.

Image source:@rhikb / Contiki

The opportunities for adventure are endless

Hike the Nam Xay or Phangern Viewpoints in Vang Vieng for sweeping 360 degree views of rice fields and jagged limestone cliffs. Kayak down the river and cave tube through limestone caves. Or grab a pushbike and stop at sublime swimming holes. 

Better yet, ignore TLC’s advice and be sure to chase the Kuang Si Waterfalls in Luang Prabang. These three-tiered, turquoise blue falls are jaw-droppingly beautiful and the perfect swimming spot. While you’re here, be sure to visit the Bear Rescue Centre. Free the Bears has helped rescue over 950 bears from the world’s most vulnerable bear species and provide ongoing care to rescued sun bears and moon bears at the sanctuary. 

Contiki’s Cambodia and Laos Uncovered tour will have you experience all of this, exploring deep into these two amazing countries. Each day is different, and downright amazing!

 

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