I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of backpackers we came across during our Southeast Asia (SEA) trip that were choosing to skip Laos. In fact, I don’t think we personally spoke to one other traveling soul that was going to Laos.
For many travelers, when they think of Southeast Asia they think of Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia — Laos, for whatever reason, always gets the boot.
It’s true that Laos, less flashy than its neighbors, doesn’t boast the same reputation nor have nearly as many published, “Must-do” lists floating around the internet.
It does, however, have every ounce of its raw beauty and charm still intact.
That alone is rare to come by these days, and precisely why you should not only visit Laos but you should move it to the top of your list.
While we could ramble off several reasons why Laos is SEA’s most underrated country, for your sake (and our own), we condensed those reasons down to five encompassing categories.
Reason #1: It's stunning
I contemplated not adding any text here and just posting a series of photographs, followed by a cheeky “nuff said.”
But, while these pictures do speak for themselves, they don’t come close to portraying the true beauty of the place.
Throughout Laos you’ll find towering limestone peaks, lush foliage, flowing rivers, cascading waterfalls, dense forest, and beckoning caves. At times, the hues of green were so rich we’d just stare out across the landscape in awe.
We’d spend our days aimlessly scootering down dirt roads, headed nowhere in particular, bent on the idea of uncovering more beauty — and beauty we found, every single time.
To this day, when people ask us where the most beautiful place we’ve ever been is, it’s all we can do to stop from blurting out Laos before they’ve even finished their sentence — along with Banff, Canada, but that’s a whole other story.
Reason #2: It's quiet
By the time we made it to Laos, we had spent a long, everything-that-can-go-wrong-will-go-wrong, magical month backpacking (read our full guide here) through the Philippines, Borneo, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
To say we were exhausted (and dirty) would be an insanely comical understatement.
We knew we were in for a treat when we stepped out of our cab in Vientiane to find that the streets were nearly empty, and silent.
No roaring tuk-tuks, blaring videoke tunes, or screeching roosters. At one point we needed to cross the road — mind you, in the country’s capital and largest city — and there’s wasn’t a single vehicle to be seen in either direction.
Our time spent in other parts of the country, Vang Vieng, Laung Prabang, and Huay Xai, were no different.
Talk about traveler’s bliss.
Even in the more visited parts of the country, there were several moments when the only sounds surrounding us were the sacred chantings of prayer, the distant hoos of elusive gibbons, or the trickling sound of a nearby river.
While “quietness” may not seem like a reason to visit a country, in the era of internet and social media geo-tagging, it won’t be long before the quiet places are gone, all together.
After all, they are already so few and far between.
Reason #3: It's untouched
Unlike it’s more popular counterparts, Laos isn’t crawling with endless, colorful storefronts plastered with billboard signs, nor its streets littered with discarded tour brochures.
Not once, in fact, were we hassled by vendors or turned off by the designated “backpackers street.”
[enter here a collective, “realllly?”]
Thankfully, in Laos, the amount of travelers, tourists, and tourism operations are startlingly less than its surrounding, more popular, destinations.
In turn, adventure happens much more serenedipitously — and without the crowds.
Reason #4: It's packed with adventure
Since we’re on the topic of Vang Vieng, many of our most cherished memories from our time spent in Southeast Asia revolve around the adventures had in this stunning, small town.
From floating down the Nam Song River, to swimming chest deep in unmarked caves, dancing under waterfalls, to shoveling our scooter out of knee-deep mud (half giddy, half terrified by this, by the way), Vang Vieng is the mecca for off-the-beaten-path adventures.
Keep in mind that when enjoying the above mentioned activities we were completely alone.
No lines formed of tourists trying to get “the shot,” no wasted time spent while you waited patiently (who am I kidding?) to get “the shot,” and no sacred moments in nature ruined by the guy who thinks we should all be listening to the music blaring from his iPhone — there’s always one, isn’t there?!
In Laos? You get to just soak up every soul-filling moment of every adventure, uninterrupted.
I’m sitting here shaking my head in grateful disbelief as I write this — having such beauty and wonder all to yourself, is a feeling everyone should experience.
Reason #5: The Gibbon Experience
Before visiting Laos, one Lao “must-do” that did seem to circulate amongst the traveler’s world was The Gibbon Experience.
We didn’t immediately bite on the idea of the experience as neither of us have ever considered ourselves avid zip liners, but once the idea of sleeping in the world’s highest treehouse was thrown in there, we were hooked.
Situated deep in the Nam Kan National Park, The Gibbon Experience is a conservation project that helps to protect the National Park and creates sustainable livelihoods for the people in the surrounding community. The experience alone is currently providing 120 people with full time jobs.
The vision of the project is to situate locals — who live in the forest, understand the forest, and rely on the forest — in hands-on positions capable of sustainably managing and protecting the forest.
If all of that sustainable tourism talk doesn’t have you convinced, the details of the experience itself definitely will.
When you sign up for the experience, you’re signing up to spend three uninterrupted days (unless you choose the 2D express tour) in the Lao jungle, flying atop the trees, and trekking through the woods.
You’ll be fed incredible, local-style feasts, shower in the company of trees, wake in the misty mornings to the playful sound of gibbons, and — if you’re lucky — get to bond with some pretty rad travelers and community members sharing in the experience with you.
The Gibbon experience in it itself is enough reason to visit Laos, even if you’re short on time.
In just three days the experience brings to life every reason on this list of why you should visit Laos, and will leave you with stories you’ll be telling for a lifetime.
We ventured into Laos with little expectation and a whole lot of wonder.
It’s a place we’ll be talking about for a long time and will be the topic of many sentences beginning with, “wow, remember when we _____ ?!” as most great stories do.
Heed our advice, say yes to adventure, and don’t think twice about adding Laos to your Southeast Asia trip itinerary.
* * *
Of the reasons on our list, which has you most excited to visit Laos one day? Tell us in the comments!
Until next time, keep adventuring x
KEEP BELIEVING. KEEP EXPLORING. AND, KEEP RELENTLESSLY TELLING THE UNIVERSE ALL IT IS YOU PLAN TO DO.