It’s hard to find the words to describe Laos, which is one of my favorite countries in South-East Asia. Laos has a mountainous landscape with green hills, the Mekong river meandering through the only landlocked country in South-east Asia. It’s inhabited by hill tribes and besides that a mostly buddhist population. I didn’t know much about Laos going into it, but the beauty of the people and the landscape blew me away. Here’s what I think would be the ideal Laos travel route. It takes you past all of my favorite places in this beautiful country.
Phongsali – 4 days
I started my trip visiting the North of the country. I knew I wanted to visit some of the hill tribes that still inhabit the country, but I didn’t want to visit a tourist village. So after some research I found this village that’s a lot more remote and doesn’t get many tourists. I’ll admit this place is hard to get to. It takes a 14 hour bus ride in an extremely uncomfortable mini van to get there from Luang Prabang. I did however think the trip was worth it! There’s only one trekking company, but I can highly recommend them. We ended up doing a 4 day trek and we stayed with the tribes in the mountains. You have to be prepared for very simple sleeping arrangements and simple meals, but you’ll get to experience life in a Mountain village! They offer several routes, with different levels of difficulty. Our trek included some very long walking days and it definitely wasn’t easy.
Muang Khua- 1 night
After the trek and one more night in Phongsali, we got onto a boat to Muang Khua. This was mainly to break up the long trip back down. It’s right at the halfway point between Phonsali and Nhong Khiaw. Unfortunately I wasn’t feeling too good, so I didn’t get to explore much before heading out in the morning.
Nong Khiaw – 4 days
You absolutely have to make a stop in Nhong Khiaw. Even if you skip Phongsali, make sure to take the trip up from Luang Prabang. There’s several impressive viewpoint to hike up to with incredible views. You can visit a cave that was used as refuge in the Indochina war that you have to squeeze into and there’s a beautiful waterfall trek, to name a few things. Check out my complete guide to Nong Khiaw if you’d like to find out more.
Luang Prabang – 5 days
I flew into Luang Prabang, before heading up North and immediately knew I wanted to spend more time there. There’s a few really cool things nearby, like the Kuang Si Waterfall, but the serenity of the town was what drew me in. The town is quiet, so if you’re looking to party, head down to Vang Vieng, but if you enjoy pretty spots by the river and nice cafe’s and restaurants it might be worth staying a little longer. Here’s an article about 10 things to do in Luang Prabang that I think you shouldn’t miss!
Where to stay in Luang Prabang?
Chitlatda Bila House: It’s not the most social hostel, but it’s cheap, quiet, clean and has a good breakfast included. The location is perfect and the owner is very nice and helpful.
Funny Riverside backpackers: The more popular hostel in town. I ended up spending some time in their social area even though I wasn’t staying there.
Moonlight Champa River view: Looking for a relaxing getaway for two, then this place might be a good option for you!
Vang Vieng – 4 days
Vang Vieng is mainly known for the crazy parties, but it has a lot more to offer. This little town that sits along the Nam Song River is surrounded by beautiful mountains, rice fields, lagoons and picturesque country side. Personally I’d skip the tipsy tubing down the river and enjoy all the beautiful nature the town has to offer. I listed my favorite 8 things to do in Vang Vieng here. If you however are looking for a party, you’ll definitely find one in the center of town!
Where to Stay in Vang Vieng? There are many really good cheap options for backpackers!
Vang Vieng Chill house : Friendly hostel, with a pool and good location.
Viengtara Vang Vieng Resort: That Picture shown right underneath here was taken at the Viengtara resort. It has luxury bungalows and a view of the mountains and rice fields. They also have an onsite restaurant.
BearlinBungalow:Luxury bungalows 15 minutes walking distance from the hustle and bustle of town. Or if you don’t want to walk. you can take a tuktuk down. The bungalows are surrounded by a beautiful garden.
Vientiane – 1 night
Vientiane is not the most inspiring city, so a quick stopover should suffice. If you want to see the famous victory monument, the arch called Patuxay, then I recommend going around sunset. We arrived there around sunset by accident and got to see the arch slowly light up with the sky turning an impressive orange and red.
Where to stay in Vientiane?
Barn 1920s Hostel A hostel in the center of town, only a 3 minute walk from the night market.
Green Park Boutique hotel: This luxury resort offers a spa, swimming pool and everything you’ll need to relax during your trip. They offer a shuttle bus to take you to and from the center of town.
Thakhek loop: 5 days
Mountainous karst peaks, the famous Konglor Cave, indigenous villages, waterfalls and countless caves and swimming holes. These are all things you’ll see on the motorcycle loop that starts from Thakhek.
The nightbus from Vientiane is advertised as arriving at 5 in the morning, but it actually arrives at 2 am. A lot of people taking this bus end up stranded in town without a place to sleep. We managed to hitch a ride to our hostel and I had previously messaged the owner so we luckily could come in. However, many backpackers end up having to wait outside. Take this into account when booking!
The next morning head out early to get your hands on some motorbikes for the Thakhek loop. There’s several rental places, but most of them didn’t have any automatic options when we came by. I wasn’t too keen on driving a semi-automatic as I’m not that experienced. Some shops will try to convince you to take a manual bike to better handle the roads, but the scooters we eventually found did just fine! The loops takes around 4 days.
Where to stay in Thakhek?
Naga Hostel: Naga hostel was clean and quiet. The owner is very friendly and helpful. I definitely recommend this place if you’re looking for a clean and quiet hostel.
On the loop there’s usually one main hostel where everyone stays. I do have a special recommendation for the day you are staying near the Cong lor Cave.
Spring River Resort: You’ll have to book in advance to obtain a spot here, because it’s very popular. You have an incredible view of the river, cute bungalows and really nice restaurant!
Pakse: – 3 days
One of the stops that a lot of people ended up skipping, because they didn’t want another motorcycle loop, but I’d say that’s a big mistake. You don’t have to do a full loop and can just drive the first part to see the most beautiful waterfalls. It would have been devastating to miss these incredible waterfalls! I wrote a guide to Pakse & the Bolaven Plateau outlining everything you need to know.
Where to stay in Pakse:
You empire: We really enjoyed this hostel. It was clean and the staff was extremely helpful. Located conveniently in town.
Luxury nature experience:
Dinfadao: We decided to do only a small loop an stay near Paksong for 1 night. We stayed in one of their amazing bubble dome tents in the middle of nature.
4000 islands – 3 days
If you’re continuing your travels to Cambodja, take a few days to relax on the islands, before crossing the border. Laos might be a landlocked country, but the island vibes are strong here! It’s the perfect place to rewind, relax and watch the sunset. During the day you can go kayaking or bike to some waterfalls and when you come back have dinner overlooking the river!
Where to stay:
We found some bungalows on the east side of the island that were nog on google maps. We just kept walking until we found something that was available for a decent price.