12 Things to do When Backpacking in Laos
Despite the absence of seaside beaches which are commonly found in the rest of Southeast Asia, the popularity of backpacking in Laos has increased. This is mainly due to the affordable transport, accommodation, and the large number of available things to do in Laos, ranging from visiting golden Buddhist temples, to hiking and caving which, by far, make up for the lack of a coastal regions within the country.
Here are 12 things to do when backpacking in Laos that you should not miss during your stay!
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1. Visit the waterfalls from Luang Prabang
Kuang Si Falls, located outside of Luang Prabang, are said to be the most beautiful falls in Laos, and an almost obligatory stop for travelers backpacking in Laos. If this is your first time visiting Laos, you should definitely include them on your itinerary, although be warned that they are very popular and hence rather busy! Entrance to the falls costs 20,000 LAK each (about €2).
Another (less) popular waterfall close to Luang Prabang is the Tad Sae Waterfall. There’s a hiking trail in the jungle set around three different cascades which can be reached by taking a boat from the opposite side of the river bank. Though the trail is easy, we strongly advise you not to wear your flipflops as it can be very muddy and slippery!
The entrance fee to the waterfall is 15,000 LAK (about €1.50) per person and the boat costs 10,000 LAK each (about €1) both ways. There’s a rather depressed-looking monkey in a small cage at the entrance to the falls which made us rather sad, and elephant riding in the region seems to be a popular activity (which we do not condone).
Although we thought that most of the waterfalls we encountered whilst biking around the Bolaven Plateau Loop were more beautiful, possibly due to their being less developed, Kuang Si and Tad Sae should not be missed if you’re in Luang Prabang!
Though easy to reach by a scooter, you may also opt to book a waterfall tour here.
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2. What to do in Laos? Visit Vang Vieng of course!
Easily descried as the mecca of backpacking in Laos, Vang Vieng offers a wide range of activities for anyone wanting to meet other backpackers and chill out, making it one of the go-to destinations if you’re looking for things to do in Laos.
Sporting a bit of a party vibe, Vang Vieng has long lost its rural heritage, but has become the place for backpackers to socialise and drink Beer Lao, although the wild parties have decreased in recent years. Kayaking and tubing on the Nam Song river are popular activities, as are relaxing at the three blue lagoons around town, which are mostly filled with party-goers nursing a hangover.
If partying is not your style, head out of town to explore this incredibly scenic area packed with karst mountains, caves and rock formations, which feels like it could be worlds away from the town’s party scene. We hired a scooter for 50,000 LAK (about €5) a day to explore the surroundings, stopping for some photo opportunities.
One of the highlights of our stay in Vang Vieng was climbing up to the Nam Xay viewpoint from where we got an incredible view over the area. Easily one of the best things to do in Laos, but try to avoid getting bitten by a Tarantula Wasp – Michelle can confirm just how painful that is!
You can rent a motorbike or even a buggy in Vang Vieng, however organised tours can be booked here.
3. Take a slow boat along the Mekong
If you’re crossing over to Laos from Thailand, you will most likely take the two-day slowboat route to Luang Prabang, which is easily one of the most unique and relaxing things to do in Laos.
The first part of the trip involves a border crossing between Chiang Khong in Thailand, to Huay Xai in Laos, followed by a two-day ride on the Mekong River. You will spend the first night in the little town of Pakbeng on the way to Luang Prabang and arrive to your destination on the second day.
You can choose to do the trip independently or via an agency. For a more comfortable experience, you can even take a private cruise which offers some luxury when compared to the more basic options, including more toilets, better seating, lunch, a private guide and some sightseeing stops on the way. A seat on the public slow boat will set you back about €25, whilst a private boat is usually hired per group.
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4. Marvel at the Temples of Luang Prabang
If you’ve been traveling in Southeast Asia for a while you might already feel ‘templed out’, but still, be sure not to miss the temples in the former capital of Luang Prabang.
Wat XiengThong is probably the most beautiful temple in Luang Prabang and the most popular among travelers backpacking in Laos, and even if we don’t enjoy crowds, we agreed that it was definitely worth visiting!
The Temple of the Golden City, as it is otherwise known, and the surrounding structures on the temple grounds, are covered in gorgeous mosaic, tile and gold, which impart elegance to the Wat, although the atmosphere felt peaceful rather than grandiose.
If you walk around the streets of Luang Prabang, you will come across several other pretty temples, which are very often sparred the noise and confusion of the bus tours visiting the more popular sights.
Guided Tours in Luang Prabang can be booked here.
5. Explore the Mysterious Plain of Jars Sites
A visit to the mysterious stone jars of the Xiangkhouang Province of Northern Laos, which are off the beaten track when compared to the more popular Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng, is surely one of the more interesting things to do in Laos, especially if you enjoy a combination of history and mystery!
Additionally, we though that the Xiangkhouang Province is rather pretty and quite undeveloped making it a great place if you want to experience backpacking in Laos without hitting the banana pancake trail!
Read our post about how to visit the Plain of Jars in Laos with tips and tricks for making the most of your visit!
Tours to the Plain of Jars can be booked here.
6. Move on to Nong Khiaw
This little village, popular in recent years for being a backpacker hangout alternative to Vang Vieng, is a laid-back destination (as most destinations in Laos tend to be), at the banks of the Nam Ou river.
The village is surrounded by magnificent limestone cliffs which beg to be climbed, and activities such as trekking, kayaking and cycling are very popular whilst tours to surrounding caves and waterfalls can be arranged.
A one hour boat ride from Nong Khiaw will take you to the village of Muang Ngoi, another backpacker favourite.
7. Relax in a cabin on the 4,000 islands – living the easy life when backpacking in Laos
Laos might be devoid of coastal areas but it is still perfectly possible to spend time on the beach! The 4,000 islands or Si Phan Don are an island group in the Mekong in Southern Laos, the most popular of which are Don Det and Don Khon.
Accommodation on Don Det mainly consists of cheap basic cabins either on the sunrise side or the sunset side of the island, whilst Don Khon has quieter and more upmarket accommodation. We found sunset side to be extremely noisy and preferred to stay on the sunrise side where we rented a basic river-front cabin with attached bathroom for as little as 50,000 LAK (about €5)/day.
There’s nothing too authentic about Don Det, which is full of shacks selling happy pizza and happy shakes but it’s a good place to stop, and relax for a few days especially if you’re on your way to Cambodia.
A bridge connects Don Det and Don Khon so if you rent bicycles (we got ours for 10,000 LAK – about €1) /day from Don Det), you can easily cycle all around Don Det and Don Khon. Places worth visiting in Don Khon include the Li Phi waterfalls and the beach close to the falls. There are some other waterfalls on the other side of the island, accessible via a suspension bridge and a short trek. We were lucky enough to watch locals flaunt their fishing skill on this north-eastern side of the island.
We also stopped at Ban Hang Khon village and rented a boat (70,000LAK, about €7 for 3 people) to try catch a glimpse of the rare Irrawaddy dolphins. We observed two sets of dolphins at different points on the river but they were incredibly shy and didn’t come anywhere close to our boat.
Don Khon is very picturesque and we thoroughly enjoyed our cycling trip around the island. Be sure to take lots of water with you though! You will be cycling through pretty deserted fields most of the time!
Accommodation in Don Det can be booked here : Booking.com
8. Motorbike the Bolaven Plateau
This was very probably our favourite destination in Laos and definitely the activity we recommend most out of all the things to do in Laos! You can take a look at our itinerary for biking the Bolaven Plateau Loop with tips and tricks if you would like to explore this area by motorbike!
9. Visit the Villages and Waterfalls on the Bolaven Plateau
Even if you’re not biking the Bolaven Plateau, we really recommend that you take some time to visit some of the villages, waterfalls and the plantations along the Plateau for some insight into this part of the world. When backpacking in Laos, it might be best to do this part via tour since using the bus might limit the number of places you can visit.
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10. Eat to your heart’s content
Laos may not be the centre of Asia’s culinary heritage, but we thought that the food here was pretty good and very affordable! The traditional Laap (a flavoured meat salad) definitely deserves a mention, whilst the green papaya salad is to die for.
Laos’ French heritage is noticeable in the range of baguettes (stuffed with anything you like) available. After spending four months traveling around remote parts of Indonesia surviving on a diet of noodle soup, rice and fish, we couldn’t get enough of Laos’ fresh bread!
Don’t miss the little alley at the side of the night market in Luang Prabang, a little road dedicated to food vendors where you can get lots of barbequed meats and sausage along with a buffet of salads and other items for very cheap!
11. Visit the Buddha Park from Vientiane
Laos’ quiet capital doesn’t have much in the way of attractions, but a visit to the nearby Buddha Park (about 25km away from the capital) might well be one of the quirkiest things to do in Laos. The sculptures do not only depict the Buddha, but include other statues such as Hindu gods, animals and demons.
Although this attraction might not be everyone’s cup of tea, we think that it is a rather odd and interesting place to visit! You can easily catch a cheap public bus to the park for about 6000 LAK (about €0.60) each way. Entrance fee to the park is 5,000 Lak (about €0.50) per person.
Tours to the Buddha Park can be booked here.
12. Take a boat ride along the Konglor Cave
One of the best things to visit while backpacking in Laos for last! This fantastic cave has a navigable river running through the entire length of it – that’s 7.5km! It is easy enough to find a boat at the cave entrance but make sure to carry your stuff in a drybag as you will very likely get wet during the ride!
Just like the Puerto Princesa Underground River, the cave is decorated with magnificent rock formations, but be aware they you might need to take a short walk in the water during your trip so wear suitable shoes. Be sure to carry a head torch – you can borrow one at the cave entrance against a deposit, but there’s no guarantee that it will work properly! The boat ride costs 65,000 LAK (about €6.50) per person and lasts about 2.5 hours.
You can take a bus to Konglor village from Vientiane: the ride lasts about 7 hours and costs 80,000 LAK (about €8)
Accommodation in Konglor can be booked here : Booking.com
Laos may be a small country when compared to neighbouring Thailand, but once you discover all the things to do when backpacking in Laos, we’re pretty sure that you’ll be wanting to extend your trip to explore more of it!