Laos is nicknamed the land of 1000 elephants, aka the land of 1000 reasons why you need to visit this beautiful country. It is nestled between the more popular neighbors of Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Laos is too often left off the itinerary of travelers throughout Southeast Asia.
Tourism in Laos
Although a less popular destination in comparison to its tourist-packed neighbors, Laos is still very easy to navigate as a tourist. Hostels and tourist information centers are in every town and you will never struggle to find what you are looking for.
The best part is that when you visit the most popular attractions, you won’t be packed in with hundreds of other tourists like you would be in the busier neighboring countries. You have a better chance of exploring the best destinations in Laos without the chaos.
Taking the Slow Boat to Laos
The slow boat is becoming increasingly popular for tourists traveling from Thailand into Laos. You cross the border from northern Thailand to Laos in Huay Xai and have a short drive North to the slow boat docks. The boat cruises along the Mekong River, the river that divides Thailand and Laos alongside the majority of the border, except for when it snakes into Northern Laos to Luang Prabang.
The slow boat from Huay Xai takes two days to reach Luang Prabang. Along the way, you make an overnight stop in Pak Beng, a small touristy village on the banks of the Mekong, a fantastic place for some cheap Laotian cocktails.
Activities in Laos
There is so much to do in Laos for the adventurous spirits, ranging from kayaking, tubing, hiking, mountaineering, waterfall swimming, and even hot air ballooning! The larger rivers flowing through the towns are generally brown, but the secrets lie within the smaller rivers.
You can find waterfalls and lagoons in shades of blue and turquoise you wouldn’t imagine possible for water. The tuk-tuk drivers know all the best destinations that tourists want to visit and you can book a huge variety of tours and activities at the tourist information centers scattered through the towns.
Free Alcohol in Vang Vieng
You would not believe the amount of free alcohol that I consumed in Laos, particularly in Vang Vieng. I’m not exaggerating when I say that there’s an hour of free shots at the hostels, followed by an hour of free drinks at the bar every single night! It is safe to say that I did not have a sober night during my week in Vang Vieng.
The Rock Backpackers Hostel is just one of the several hostels in Vang Vieng that serve free shots every night. There was no limitation on how many shots you could take, if the bottle of rum gets finished, a new one gets put on the table. You could knock yourself out with as many shots as you wanted, literally!
The hostels are only the pre-drinks. The party continues with free drinks from 10 PM to 11 PM at Viva pub and nightclub every night. The bar becomes a beer buffet, they put cups on the bar filled to the brim with beer, rum, and vodka drinks and will replace any cups that are taken.
You can return to the bar for free drinks as many times as your heart desires (or your stomach can handle) within the hour.
On top of the bottomless free drinks, purchasing alcohol costs a whopping $1 for 750ml of hard alcohol. I hope you’ve prepared your liver.
Laotian Morning Markets
If you’ve been traveling Asia for some time now, you know all about the street markets that pop up in the evenings with food and goods to buy at crazy cheap prices.
What makes Laos so unique is that it not only has the evening markets full of handmade goods, but it also has morning markets every morning with streets of fresh produce, chopped meat, and even live animals for sale!
The morning market is essentially the grocery store in Laos, you see all the locals browsing and choosing their ingredients for the day. It's incredible to see the way of life for the locals.
Cost of Living in Laos
While in Laos, I spend no more than $15 a day, including accommodation, meals, alcohol and daily tours. The cost of living in Laos is unbelievably cheap, we were eating huge foot long subway sandwiches stuffed full of goodies for no more than $1 or 10,000 Kip.
As mentioned earlier, alcohol in Laos either comes free or at prices guaranteed to ruin your liver. The hostel we stayed in was 40,000 Kip per night, including tea, coffee, a baguette and egg breakfast the next morning, and free shots every night.
Tour prices to the local attractions vary depending on where you book them and what they include but are all still crazy cheap to book, and so worth every cent.
In Conclusion: Visit Laos
Overall, Laos is one of the gems of Southeast Asia often bypassed by travelers on their loop through the area, yet it is one of the most beautiful places to visit. Almost everyone who visits Thailand claims to love Pai the most, but can you imagine a whole country that operated with the ease of life that you find in Pai?
I regret not spending more time traveling through Laos. It was a natural wonder of blue waterfalls and lagoons, sharp karst limestone mountains and caves, and endless free alcohol and fantastic memories.
Once you’ve visited Laos, you will fall in love with its lifestyle and wishing you could stay for longer.