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One of my readers asked me what my top things to do in Laos were.
When I arrived in Laos, I wasn’t sure what there was to do either. 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. But here a bucket list worthy of your next trip there.
Top 7 bucket list things to do in Laos
1. Boat ride on the Mekong River
Taking a boat ride down the Mekong River is a must. 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 taking Vietnam’s Halong Bay and transforming it 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 Northern Laos
Did you know Laos is 80% rural? Taking a trekking tour in Northern Laos is a popular itinerary for adventurous outdoors tourists. Spend a few days, trudging up hills, over streams and staying in bamboo huts with village families, to learn about the daily life of a Lao village. The mountains and rivers are photogenic and the vibe laidback enough to make you want to stay forever.
Notable trekking spots in Northern Laos: Muang Sing, Luang Nam Tha. I did one from Muong Ngoi.
3. The Gibbon Experience
If you’re coming from Northern Thailand through Huay Xai, try the Gibbon Experience. Stay in a canopy treehouse and explore the Bokeo Nature Reserve by trekking or ziplining around. Maybe even spot cute gibbons!
4. Tubing in Vang Vieng
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!
5. 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 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 experienced one in Muong Ngoi for $2 USD.
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 tousled 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 ranges about $6/hour.
7. Enjoy the simplicity and beauty of Laos
Did you know that Laos is 80% rural? The unjaded landscape and village scenery are refreshing to see, divorced from overactive use of technology, Laotians are friendly and its perhaps the last Southeast Asian country to feel untouched by excessive tourism.
What are your top things to do in Laos?
Getting to Nong Khiaw (from Luang Prabang)