Laos is the country in Southeast Asia where traditional lifestyles remain most to the fore. Isolated for decades by war, its people clung stoically to the old ways of the past – subsistence farming, religion and family – which makes a journey here very special.
This is the place to come to see monks in vivid saffron robes filing past stone-carved Buddhas and resplendently gilded temples; or to take a ride on a cronky old bicycle through rice fields ploughed and planted by hand, by villagers dressed in old-style sarongs.
Experience the heady atmosphere of the ancient riverside capital, Luang Prabang, whose exquisitely painted monasteries and temples are home to a thriving community of monks; the tree-lined boulevards of the Indochina’s most relaxed capital, Vientiane; bucolic Si Phan Don (‘Four-Thousand Island’) region, where the Mekong River flows through a tangle of tributaries; or the extraordinary Plain of Jars in Xien Khuang province, whose grassy expanses are dotted with enigmatic ancient pots.
Wherever you travel in this enchanting country, however, one thing’s guaranteed: a smiling welcome from the Laotians themselves. Laos redefines the term ‘laid-back’. The pace of life here is noticeably slower than any other country in Indochina. People rarely seem in any kind of hurry, especially when it comes to the important business of eating and meeting.
Area: 236,800 sq km
Population: 6.67 million
Religion: Buddhist (65%), animist and others (40%)
Languages: Lao (official) and some English and French in the tourist areas
Time difference: + 7 hours (GMT)
When to go
The most congenial period to travel in Laos is between November and March, when the weather is dependably warm and sunny (albeit chilly at nights in mountain areas in December and January). Temperatures begin to mount in April ahead of the onset of the annual monsoons in late-May/early-June. The rainy season continues through September, bringing frequent disruption to transport.
The most convenient air connection from the UK is via Bangkok. Laos is also well connected with Vietnam and Cambodia. Overland and river crossings are possible from Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, although these are for the more adventurous.
The main cities in Laos are well connected by air. Changes in domestic flight schedules are frequent.
Delightful journeys are possible on the Luangsay Cruise, which runs on the Mekong, between the ‘golden triangle’ in Thailand and Luang Prabang. There is also the lovely Vat Phou cruise, operating between Pakse and the ‘4000 islands’ in southern Laos.
Laos does not have a rail network. But it is now possible to take on overnight train journey from Bangkok to Vientiane aboard the luxurious Eastern & Oriental Express.
Road travel in Laos is a good way to see the countryside but the road conditions outside the main tourist areas are poor. Private road travel is by car or minivan. The car used is generally a spacious Toyota or Honda, seating three plus the driver comfortably. It is a sturdy vehicle, ideal for local roads. For parties of 3 or 4 a bigger vehicle is used, usually the Hi Ace Van, which can seat five plus the driver.
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Total services from planning stages, to experiences on our travels were excellent, and trouble free, giving great interest, excitement and confidence that we were well looked after.Mrs Butler, Tailor-made Thailand, Laos & Burma read more comments