After writing my Top 5 things to do in Luang Prabang, you’d think I’d be done; but then one of my readers asked me what my Top 5 things to do in Laos were. For a country you don’t often hear about, you can never have too many lists.
The truth is, when I got there, I really wasn’t sure what there was to do and even now, after having had the most wonderful time, I’m still uncertain. So for this post, I’m going to grab a little help from other travelers. You won’t be bowled over by a checklist of itinerary activities to do there; that’s not the point. Laos is largely rural; it has marvelous beauty, nice treks and subtle charm. Simply put, traveling Laos is to get lost and take your time soaking in the experience of it.
Top 5 things to do in Laos
1. Boating on the Mekong
To say a boat ride down the Mekong River is a “must”, is an understatement. Your eyes will be popping and all your brain wants to register is, “My God, I’ve never seen anything like it in my life!” The karst landscape, dotted with mini islet formations jutting out of the river, is vast, intimidating, delicate and stunningly picturesque, all at once. It’s like transforming Vietnam’s Halong Bay into a Laotian riverside signature. You’ll feel like you’re in a painting. The view is exquisite even if an hour later your ass is hurting from the stern, unforgiving wooden bench seats!
2. Trekking & the Gibbon Experience
Laos is 80% rural, so why not see it? Take a trekking trip up in northern Laos. Spend a few days, trudging up hills, over streams and through forests, to learn about the daily life of a Lao village. Notable trekking spots in Northern Laos: Muang Sing, Luang Nam Tha. I did one from Muong Ngoi.
If you’re coming from Northern Thailand through Huay Xai, try the Gibbon Experience. What is it? Just think of treks in the jungle and ziplining through the trees like Tarzan. Stay in a a canopy treehouse, get unlimited freedom to explore the Bokeo Nature Reserve and maybe even spot some cute gibbons. I’ve not tried it yet, but I’ve heard nice things about it. Check out Wandermom (here) and Scott & Kenna’s Excellent Adventure (here) for the good and the bad of the experience.
If cheap buckets of beer, bikinis and rope swings are your thing, then read further. Amidst the magical karst gems of cliffs and caverns, Vang Vieng is better known by twenty-something travelers as the party-happy watering hole for tubing. What is tubing? Inner tubes carrying alchoholic-laced tourists, drift down the Song River in the formation of a pub crawl. Free shots, beer pongs, dancing and much more fun awaits you!
4. Experience an herbal sauna
It may not look like much more than a wooden shack, but if you’ve been trodding on your feet the entire day, this will be a sweaty heaven. Wrapped only in a sarong, provided by the premises, enter the sauna’s boarded darkness and feel around for a seat. Feel the perspiration roll while you’re swathed in ascending vapors, from a concocted herbal brew boiling underneath. Inhale deeply and let your body unwind and open to your senses (Read about Bohemian Traveler‘s Vientiane sauna action here). Leave the sauna in 10-15 minute intervals to cool down and sip on some herbal tea before returning for more. Done? Rinse yourself off by dipping a cup between cold and boiling water, for a warm mix. Then breathe out, ahhhh…
Cost can range but is still low. I found one in Muong Ngoi for $2.
5. Get a Lao Massage
Are Thai and Lao massages the same? It may feel so. They both take a firm hand, utilize pressure points and meridians and pull on your body as if it were taffy! The Lao traditional massage torques your body as if you’re doing yoga postures; the masseuses stick hands, feet and knees, into your tight spots to give you a good pull. I actually liked it. It’s not as painful as it may sound, although you may feel toussled and a bit roughed up. It felt more rigorous than a Thai massage, but offers a good stretch, some bone cracking and blood circulation. A good workout of a massage!
Cost is cheap, ranging about $6/hour.
What are your top things to do in Laos?
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