Boat More than 4600km of navigable rivers are the highways and byways of traditional Laos, the main thoroughfares being the Mekong, Nam Ou, Nam Khan, Nam Tha, Nam Ngum and Se Kong. The Mekong is the longest and most important route and is navigable year-round between Huay Xai in the north and Savannakhet in the south, though new dams make this increasingly difficult without changing boats. Smaller rivers accommodate a range of smaller boats, from dugout canoes to 'bomb boats' made from war detritus.
WHERE TO STAY IN LAOS
Enjoying a natural surrounding on the Bolaven Plateau, Sabaidee Valley is just a 10-minute drive from the Tad Fane Waterfall and features a restaurant, a coffee shop and spacious villas with balcony and nature views. The air-conditioned villas are fitted with a flat-screen TV, a living area, a refrigerator, a minibar, an electric kettle and a bathroom with bath tub and free toiletries. The restaurant at the Sabaidee Valley Resort serves traditional Thai and Laos cuisine. Guests can buy various souvenirs in the shop on site and sample local coffee, made from organic coffee beans grown in the Bolaven Plateau at the coffee shop. Shuttle services can be organised on request and free public parking is possible at the property. The Tad Yueang Waterfall is a 15-minute drive away and the Tad Pha Suam Waterfall can be reached within a 25-minute drive. The city centre of Pakse is a 40-minute drive away.
The River Resort is 8 km from the World Heritage site of Wat Phou. It offers stylish air-conditioned rooms with a private balcony and free Wi-Fi. Guests can relax with massage treatments or unwind at the pool deck. Pets are allowed on request. The property is a 25-minute drive to Pakse and a 40-minute drive to Pakse International Airport. Rooms at The River Resort are fitted with neutral tone furnishings. Each room comes with a flat-screen TV, a minibar and a safety deposit box. Shower facilities are included in an en suite bathroom. Guests can explore the area with rental bicycles. Staff at the 24-hour front desk can assist guests with laundry and currency exchange. Other conveniences include meeting rooms and shuttle service. The resort’s restaurant serves a great variety of Western and Laos food.
- Padaeng Mountain View Resort
Set in Vang Vieng, 200 m from Post Office, Padaeng Mountain View Resort offers accommodation with a restaurant, free private parking, an outdoor swimming pool and a bar. Featuring a garden, the 4-star resort has air-conditioned rooms with free WiFi, each with a private bathroom. The accommodation features room service, a tour desk and ticket service for guests. At the resort, the rooms are equipped with a balcony. Continental and à la carte breakfast options are available every morning at Padaeng Mountain View Resort. The accommodation offers a terrace. Popular points of interest near Padaeng Mountain View Resort include Tham Chang Elephant Cave, Luang Prabang Bakery and Aysha Indian Restaurant.
NamKhan Ecolodge features a restaurant, outdoor swimming pool, a bar and garden in Luang Prabang. Featuring family rooms, this property also provides guests with a children's playground. The accommodation provides a 24-hour front desk, a concierge service and currency exchange for guests. Guest rooms in the resort are fitted with a kettle. With a private bathroom equipped with a shower and a hairdryer, rooms at NamKhan Ecolodge also offer a garden view. The accommodation offers a continental or buffet breakfast. NamKhan Ecolodge offers a terrace. The area is popular for hiking and fishing, and bike hire is available at the resort. NamKhan Ecolodge provides an ironing service, as well as business facilities like fax and photocopying. Mount Phousy is 5 km from the accommodation, while Night Market is 6 km away. The nearest airport is Luang Prabang International Airport, 2.2 km from NamKhan Ecolodge.
Kiridara Luang Prabang offers well-appointed rooms and interconnecting rooms built around an infinity pool with 180-degree views of Mount Phousi. Located in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang, this boutique hotel has a spa and restaurant. Featuring wooden interiors and private balconies, Kiridara’s rooms have an iPod docking station and a flat-screen TV with DVD player. A personal safe and tea/coffee making facilities are also provided. The private bathrooms are fitted with a bathtub and shower. Guests can exercise in the small fitness room, or visit the spa for a massage. A children’s pool is available, while bicycles can be rented free of charge. WiFi is free throughout the hotel. Phu Doi Restaurant serves Laos, Thai and international dishes. Snacks may also be enjoyed at the pool deck, where guests can enjoy the mountain breeze and scenic views. Kiridara Luang Prabang is a 15-minute drive from Luang Prabang International Airport.
Nestled in the upper reaches of the Bolaven Plateau, the Resort lies in the heart of Sinouk coffee plantation. Surrounded by a beautifully landscaped garden and natural rivers, it is a unique place in Southern Laos, perfect for relaxation and learn more about Lao coffee. Ideally located, this place is a perfect basecamp to visit all the Bolavens Plateau attractions. Here, where nature was embellished, enjoy a walk through the coffee plantation and a lush botanic garden. Experience Lao hospitality in the cozy and charming atmosphere of our chalets, in which you will feel like home staying in air conditioned rooms with free WiFi, each with a private bathroom and counting as well with services such as an outdoor swimming pool and gardens, room service, restaurant and a bar.
Located 8 km from World Heritage Wat Phou, La Folie Lodge offers accommodation overlooking the Mekong River. Boasting an outdoor pool, the hotel features free Wi-Fi and free round-trip shuttle boat services to Don Daeng Island. Pakse Airport is a 45 km ride from the hotel. The Four Thousand Islands are 100 km away. A 70 km drive takes guests to Bolaven Plateau. Each spacious air-conditioned room is equipped with a fan, safe and balcony. Shower facilities are included in an en suite bathroom. To unwind, guests can take a dip in or relax by the pool. A wide range of Western cuisine and Laotian specialities can be sampled at the open air restaurant. Drinks can be enjoyed at the on-site bar or terrace. The whole hotel is set in a lush green garden.
- Nakhaohorm Farming Resort
Situated in Luang Prabang, 1.9 km from Night Market, Nakhaohorm Farming Resort features accommodation with a restaurant, free private parking, a garden and a terrace. The property is close to several well-known attractions, 1.2 km from Wat Phol Phao, 1.4 km from Wat Aham and 1.5 km from Dara Market. The resort has family rooms. At the resort rooms are equipped with a shared bathroom with free toiletries. Nakhaohorm Farming Resort offers an American or Asian breakfast. Popular points of interest near the accommodation include Mount Phousy, Chao Anouvong Monument and UXO Laos Visitor Center. The nearest airport is Luang Prabang International, 3.4 km from Nakhaohorm Farming Resort, and the property offers a paid airport shuttle service.
Featuring free WiFi and a restaurant, Kingfisher Ecolodge offers accommodation in Ban Kiet Ngong, 60 km from Pakse. Guests can enjoy the on-site restaurant. Free private parking is available on site. Certain units include a seating area where you can relax. There is ticket service at the property. Guests can enjoy various activities in the surroundings, including cycling and hiking. The resort also offers free use of bicycles and bike hire. Pakse International Airport is 62 km away.
- Green Park Boutique Hotel
Green Park Boutique Hotel is located in the business district of Vientiane, near the city centre. Boasting classic Lao architecture, it features an outdoor pool with an attached plunge pool, a spa, and rooms with private balconies. Round trip shuttle services to downtown area are provided everyday. Rooms at Green Park have cable TV, a safety deposit box, and a fridge with minibar. Tea/coffee making facilities are also provided. The attached bathrooms have a bathtub with hot and cold shower. Guests can exercise in the fitness centre, or relax on the sun loungers by the pool. For those looking for a relaxing afternoon, Champa Lao Spa features various choices of traditional and soothing massages. The hotel provides tour arrangements and car or bicycle rental, as well as laundry and dry cleaning. Free WiFi is available throughout the hotel. Featuring an open-air terrace, Sala Nong Chan Restaurant opens daily and serves local Lao and international dishes. Tasty snacks and refreshing cocktails are available at Dok Da La Lounge. Green Park Boutique Hotel is a 15-minute drive to Wattay International Airport. A shopping mall and post office are located within walking distance from the hotel.
- Hillside - Nature Lifestyle Lodge
Located 11.8 km from Luang Prabang with local points of interest like Nahm Dong Park and Tad Thong Waterfall reachable within 2 km, Hillside - Nature Lifestyle Lodge offers an outdoor swimming pool, free WiFi and a garden. This 3-star resort offers a concierge service and a tour desk. The resort has a terrace and mountain views. All units are provided with en suite bathrooms that come with shower facilities. Guests can enjoy pampering massage treatments or take a walk in the garden to relax. For convenience, the property offers safety deposit boxes and chargeable shuttle services. The on-site restaurant serves a variety of Lao, Thai and Western cuisines. Mount Phousy and National Museum are 12 km away from the resort. The nearest airport is Luang Prabang International, 9 km from Hillside - Nature Lifestyle Lodge, and the property offers a paid airport shuttle service.
Blending French Colonial and traditional Lao design, The Grand Luang Prabang is located within Xiengkeo Palace. Overlooking the Mekong River, it has an outdoor pool and 3 dining options. The Grand Luang Prabang’s rooms feature wooden furniture and flooring, with glass doors that open toward a private terrace or balcony. Each room has satellite TV, a minibar and a work desk. Some rooms offer river views. Guests can relax by the pool or enjoy a stroll through the landscaped grounds. The 24-hour front desk provides concierge assistance and luggage storage. Free internet is available throughout the hotel. Featuring high ceilings and marble flooring, Xiengkeo Restaurant offers buffet breakfast and is open for all-day dining. Karaoke facilities are available at Le Bistrot Lounge upon request. Room service is provided 24 hours daily. The Grand Luang Prabang is 6 km from Luang Prabang Airport. It is about 4 km from Wat Xieng Town.
PLACES TO VISIT & THINGS TO DO IN LAOS
Laos is a treasure trove of natural and architectural wonders. With a little patience and some time you can see incredible man-made and natural wonders from north to south in the Lao PDR. Laos’ natural beauty extends underground through hundreds of caves. It extends into the clouds high up in the mountains in the north and east of the country. It tumbles into aquamarine pools down myriad waterfalls and reverberates through the forest, plains and down the Mekong Delta.
The southwestern most province in Laos, Champasak is brimming with cultural and natural wonders. Fly into the former French fort town of Pakse and check out Wat Phou 40 km south on the western side of the Mekong. Further down stream are the slow-paced 4,000 Islands on the Cambodian border. Check out the largest waterfall in southeast Asia, watch the Irrawaddy dolphins playing in the river and sip a drink from the comfort of a hammock.
Take a bus to central Laos to see the limestone karst vistas on the Thkhek loop. Khammouane stretches the width of Laos from the Mekong River border with Thailand to the Annamite Mountain border with Vietnam. Check out Kong Lor cave via motor boat, swim at Tha Falang or go on a waterfall trek. Organized tours can be booked in Thakhek through Green Discovery. Alternatively there are several motorbike rental outfits for those who want to see the loop on two wheels.
Luang Namtha, the provincial capital of the province with the same name, is located in northwestern Laos and borders Myanmar and China. The town is a jumping off point for lots of ecotourism trips in the area. Check out the Nam Ha National Protected area which has four rivers running through it and is home to species such as the clouded leopard, first growth forests, birds and insects. Trekking, cycling and kayaking tours are available.
Houaphan Province is on the Vietnamese border. The capital city is Sam Neua, which lies in a foggy valley and produces detailed textiles that can be purchased at the market or from weavers’ homes. Visit Vieng Xai cave where President Kaysone Phomvihane (whose likeness can been seen on the Lao Kip ) hid during the Vietnam War. The royal family was incarcerated in prison camps in the area. Rent bikes or trek through the pristine valley in this beautiful area rarely visited by tourists.
Bokeo Province is the smallest in Laos and part of the infamous golden triangle between Myanmar, Thailand and Laos. Home to the Bokeo Nature Reserve and The Gibbon Experience multi-day zip lining and trekking adventure. Bokeo is known for its gem mining and beautiful mountain ranges. Over 30 ethnic groups call Bokeo home and homestays or visits to ethnic villages can be arranged.
With an average altitude of over 1,000 meters above sea level, this northern - most province of Laos is much cooler than the rest of the country and often chilly at night. Sharing a border with China and Vietnam, the province contains Ban Komaen, home to a 400-year-old tea tree and the Phu Den Din National Protected area with incredible hiking and mountain views. The capital city of Phongsali is accessible via a 10-hour drive from Udomxai, a two-day boat ride or a flight from Vientiane.
Phonsavan is the capital of the northern Lao province of Xieng Kuang, which borders Vietnam. The city itself is home to the Lao-run Mulberry Silk Farm and workshop and several UXO organizations. Further afield in the province are natural hot springs, caves where Pathet Lao leaders hid during the Vietnam War and the Plain of Jars. Hundreds of megalithic vessels which were used in Bronze Age funerary traditions litter the rolling hills. Some of the sites are cleared of bombs and welcome tourists freely. Some require a trekking guide to access safely and others are off limits entirely.
Boun That Luang takes place every November, over three days around the full moon. The stupa in Vientiane is the national symbol of Laos and is said to house a piece of Buddha’s breastbone. Thousands of pilgrims gather at That Luang to give offerings to the monks who come from all over Laos. Processions, parties, and a trade show follow. Even if you don’t make it for the festival, the stupa is a sight to behold any time of year. Join the faithful and place offerings of flowers, candles and incense at the alter, or quietly stroll around the massive enclosed yard.
Along with the Champasak Cultural Landscape, the 5th century Khmer ruins of Wat Phou is the second inclusion in the UNESCO World Heriyage List of Laos. Wat Phou, meaning ‘mountain temple.’ Blended into the surrounding nature, the remains of Wat Phou are dotted all over the mountain face. Oriented toward the east, the ruins have two large reservoirs on either side of a long column-lined road, leading toward the mountains. Past the palace ruins, up a steep staircase, you’ll find the sanctuary with a modern Buddhist shrine and a natural spring considered to be sacred.
Tad Lo is 56 miles (90 kilometers) away from the southern town of Pakse. Soak in the visual and aural splendor of the falls or take a dip and cool off from heat. Three cascades make up the falls: Tad Hang, Tad Lo itself and Tad Suong. Accommodations are available to spend the night and enjoy the surrounding scenery. Tad Lo is an impressive three-tiered waterfall in Salavan Province. Several guesthouses and restaurants around the falls make it an ideal lunch spot or stopover for trekking, swimming, and tubing. Tad Lo is accessible by bus, motorbike, or as part of a group tour package of the Bolaven Plateau.
- Swim in the Mekong at 4000 Islands
Don Det has a beach at its northern tip that doubles as a ferry landing. You can also take a dip in the Mekong, the largest river in Southeast Asia, on either of the two beaches on Don Khon–one by Liphi Falls and one farther south. Easy go backpakers Hostel on Don Det has a beach area and Don Som Riverside Guesthouse has a swimming spot on Don Som. If river swimming isn’t your thing and you’d rather lounge by the pool, check out the one by Little Eden Guesthouse at the north end of Don Det or the Blue Lagoon Swimming pool at the southern tip of the island.
- Buddha Park / Wat Xieng Khuan
No trip to Vientiane is complete without checking out the sculptures in Buddha Park. Also called Xieng Kuan, this family-friendly park on the banks of the Mekong is 15.5 miles (25 kilometers) from downtown Vientiane. Over 200 Buddhist statues are on display in the park, including a giant domed structure that visitors can climb inside to view the park from above. The Park is full of sculptures that reflect the religious interests of the founder, Luang Pu Bunleau Sulilat, who began the work on the park in 1958. He was interested in merging the beliefs of Buddhism with those of Hinduism, so you’ll find concrete sculptures of the Hindu gods, demonic figures, zoomorphic creatures, and many of the Buddha, including a 40-meter-long reclining Buddha. There’s also a huge pumpkin sculpture, which can be entered through the mouth of a demon leading to three floors representing earth, heaven and hell.
The Gibbon Experience is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Hike through the jungle of the most northwestern province of Laos and sleep in the treetops in the world’s tallest tree houses 30-40 meters high, which are accessible by zip line. Listen to and look for the elusive and endangered gibbons in the forest. Two and three-day tours are available with children between eight and 12-years-old paying half price. Unplug away from electricity, two-and-a-half hours outside the city of Houayxay in Nam Kan National Park
Plain of Jars’ thousands of mysterious megalithic jars are scattered throughout Xiang Khuang Province in northeastern Laos. Dating from the iron age, the oldest jars go back to 500 BC. The largest “King Jar” is at Site 1 and the longest jar is at Site 2. It’s possible to hire a guide to take you on a trek from Site 2, which is behind a rice paddy to Site 3, which is in the forest on top of a hill. The leading theory suggests these stone vessels were used in burial rituals. Evidence suggests that bodies were distilled in the jars until only bones remained. The bones were then removed and interred in a ceramic jar or in the ground. Nine of the 90 sites containing jars have been cleared of UXOs, so stick to the established routes and bring a guide out trekking with you.
- Tube or Kayak the Nam Song
Vang Vieng is on the banks of the Nam Song, and no trip would be complete without experiencing the river first hand. Many tour companies around town offer kayaking, often as part of a day tour that includes lagoons and caves. Tubing can be arranged through a tour company or directly at several tube warehouses around town, and includes a tuk-tuk ride upstream. Head to the Mulberry Farm if you want to bar hop or further up if you just want to lay back and relax. Tubing the “southern Nam Song” is certainly quieter with fewer bars and tourists, but it also doesn’t offer the stunning views of the karst mountains that the northern section does.
- Luang Prabang Province, Laos
In the north of Laos lies Luang Prabang, a portion of the old town which is a UNESCO World Heritage listed site. Ride or cycle to Kuang Si or Tad Saw waterfalls, take a boat cruise down the Mekong river, and eat local Lao or fantastic French food at one of the restaurants in town. This former royal capital is home to some of the most elaborate and best preserved temples in the country. Visit the Royal Palace and the watermelon-shaped Wat Wisunarat or hike up Mount Phousi for sunrise or sunset.
- Tad Ka, Xieng Khouang Province
Near Ban Tajok is an impressive waterfall with 30 tiers and a well-kept adventurous jungle trail that crosses back and forth through the water. If you arrive on motorbikes, drive to the right at the “waterfall” sign at the fork in the road to park at the top of the trail, and walk or hitchhike down the steep dirt road to the basin. The basin has picnic areas, bathroom and a small shop but is not accessible without four-wheel drive, especially after rain. This off the beaten path adventure gives Kuang Si a run for its money in terms of spectacular views, amazing hikes and the added bonus of no tourists in sight.
WHERE TO EAT IN LAOS
The traditional cuisine of land-locked Laos is not widely known outside the country itself. Lao food has simple flavors, composed of fresh, hearty ingredients, and is distinguished by its ubiquitous sticky rice, spicy meat or fish laap. Here are 10 restaurants to discover in the UNESCO World Heritage Site Luang Prabang and capital city Vientiane.
Tamarind offers travelers a true taste of Lao cuisine and stands out in Luang Prabang’s culinary scene as one of the finest establishments to do so. For those unfamiliar with the unique flavors and textures of Lao food, Tamarind promises a gentle introduction to authentic, local home cooking with the freshest of ingredients. It is well known for its tantalizing sampling platters and Friday night tasting events. This family-run business is headed up by Joy Ngeuamboupha and his Australian wife Caroline, who are always happy to explain how the dishes are cooked and, more importantly, how to eat them. For gourmands wishing to recreate the Lao dining experience at home, Tamarind also runs a cooking school, held in a picturesque lakeside pavilion, which includes an informative market tour.
- The Apsara - Luang Prabang
The Apsara is one of the first boutique hotels in Luang Prabang, situated on the quiet banks of the Nam Khan River in a beautiful building that was once a rice warehouse. The stylish and serene ambiance of the hotel spills over into its restaurant. The menu combines the finest of western and Asian cuisine, where dishes like tagine of young goat sit alongside Lao staples such as Luang Prabang buffalo sausages and braised river fish. With wonderful views of the river, not too far from the main attractions of the city, this is the perfect place to luxuriate. The extensive wine list is also a plus.
- the balcony by Lanith - Luang Prabang
The Lao National Institute of Tourism and Hospitality (Lanith), backed by the Lao-Luxembourg Development Cooperation, is the country’s leading hospitality training supplier. To that end, the Lanith centre at Luang Prabang unveiled the balcony bar and restaurant to rave reviews. An establishment that is at once an educational concern and a social enterprise, the balcony reinvests all profits back into the local community. The menu is Laos-French fusion and uses the freshest locally sourced ingredients. Though it is situated close to downtown Luang Prabang, the balcony is off the beaten track. It has beautiful views of the rivers and mountains and the restaurant thoughtfully provides a tuk-tuk service to transport its guests.
Tangor has made its name as one of the best French fine dining establishments in the city. Located on the main strip of Rue Sisavangvong, it is a wonderful place to relax and watch the world go by. Tangor has a diverse but well-considered menu of classic French and international cuisine, with their signature dish being ceviche. With great service and a cozy atmosphere, diners can experience the best of western gastronomy and Laos culture.
If you walk from the Phousi Temple hill, along the Nam Khan river, you will eventually stumble upon Utopia, a serene paradise hidden away from the rest of the world. The tropical gardens and riverside decks make for an idyllic dining experience and, as befitting its hippy-ish vibe, there is morning yoga during the day. Every night, the venue transforms into a candle-lit chill-out lounge, popular with backpackers and sojourners, often with live music. As well as the delicious food and drinks, there are tiki huts, beach volleyball, board games, shisha pipes, outdoor movie screenings and community projects to be enjoyed.
- Nava Mekong/ Le Vetiver at Villa Maly -Luang Prabang
The boutique hotel Villa Maly operates two gastronomic establishments of note. The first is its quaint restaurant Le Vetiver, with a small but perfectly formed menu of western food and Lao-style dishes. Housed in what was once the home of Prince Khamtan, built in the early twentieth century, the hotel possesses a certain natural grandeur. It also runs the Nava Mekong lunch and dinner boat cruises; this magnificent experience involves dining on delicious Lao cuisine, served by staff in traditional Lao dress, whilst floating past Luang Prabang’s enchanting landscape. The lunch cruise stops at the sacred Pak Ou Caves, while the dinner cruise transports travelers to a traditional village to see locals perform ancient dances.
- L’Adresse de Tinay - Vientiane
Situated in the heart of Vientiane, on a peaceful street behind Ong Teu Temple, L’Adresse de Tinay enjoys tremendous success in the city’s gourmet restaurant scene. The restaurant delivers elegant, contemporary food to match its chic decor, combining modern French gastronomy with quirky Laos accents. Expect creative flavor combinations such as profiterole-style St Jacques scallops served with ginger and lemongrass-infused whipped cream and Luang Prabang algae.
This cafe is a stylish little restaurant that sits above the Phimphone Market, centrally located near the Nam Phou Fountain. Benoni is famous for its affordable but delicious range of lunch dishes, including pesto, pad thai and handmade burgers, as well as its tantalizing menu of home-baked cakes and local, home-roasted coffee – often cited as the best in town. With its airy, laid-back atmosphere, Benoni brings the refreshing spirit of European cafe culture to Laos’ dining scene.
La Scala prides itself on being the best Italian venue in Vientiane, with courteous staff and the finest food, lovingly cooked by Maurizio Boccoli, a chef with over 30 years of experience. Located on Thadeaua Road a short, 10 minute tuk-tuk ride from the center of town, the restaurant serves a good lunch buffet, which is popular with staff from nearby offices and embassies. The wonderful colonial building offers a comfortable and attractive setting, while the garden is perfect for enjoying dinner under the stars during the dry season.
- Night Markets - Vientiane
You cannot have a true sense of Lao food culture without experiencing the local food markets that spring up in the evening. Check out the one at Ban Anou, at the north end of Chao Anou, which sets up at sundown every day and is always alive with locals, expats and travelers. Though the market occupies one short street, it’s the epicenter of the best budget eats. Pho (made from hand-pulled noodles), rice pancakes, BBQ-grilled meat and all kinds of drinks are among the range of local delicacies available.
SOUVENIERS TO BUY IN LAOS
Nearly every city and town in Laos has a market and nearly every market has a handicraft and souvenir area. You won’t find the same mass-produced trinkets in hundreds of stalls all over the country. Instead, regional crafts and products made by hand by the dozens of ethnic groups present in Laos make souvenir shopping a one-of-a-kind experience.
The traditional skirt of Laos is worn by women attending ceremonies, school girls and government officials alike. The skirts are large, cylindrical tubes attached at the waste and folded over. The body of the sinh typically has a simple geometric pattern and the foot has ornately embroidered animals or patterns. Buy a pre-made sinh beautifully embroidered or find fabric to your liking and have one tailored specifically for you. Matching sashes and silk blouses finish off the temple-ready look with class.
No single product is more ubiquitous in Laos than Beer Lao. The bright yellow advertisements adorn everything from umbrellas to restaurant signs, billboards and napkin holders throughout the country. Distribution of this award-winning pilsener by the Lao Brewing Company is more reliable and widespread than the mail. Follow them on Instagram and pick up a t-shirt to remind yourself of the refreshing brew served in tiny glasses over ice.
The traditional textiles made in Laos are intricately dyed and woven by hand using wild silk. It’s not uncommon for rural homes to have a loom made by the men of the house for the women to weave. The tradition has been passed down through the generations since at least the 14th century. In Luang Prabang check out Ok Pop Tok, a village and shop to learn about the weaving process or visit Ban Xang Khong Village to learn how silk is made and how regional patterns are designed and preserved. Bonus points if you order the silk worm soup on the menu.
Plumeria alba, colloquially called “champa” is the national flower of Laos. You’ll see t-shirts and embroidery featuring the five-pedaled flower with a yellow center. Jewelry, magnets and other trinkets show the simple beauty of Laos through the champa. Even a popular brand of Lao-Lao rice whiskey is named after the flower. The sweet-smelling champa is also used in incense and essential oils.
Bamboo weaving remains an important craft, because the Lao people use woven baskets to make and store glutinous sticky rice, a key staple of their diet. The bamboo is grown in the wild and the variety of styles and pattern along with the low price tag make basketry an ideal and lightweight souvenir. While women dominate the textile weaving of Laos, it’s just as often older men who are responsible for making the beautiful bamboo and rattan vessels. Want to try your hand at basket weaving? Backstreet Academy and Ock Pop Tok in Luang Prabang offer workshops and classes.
Silversmiths use traditional tools that they’ve been using for generations to create beautiful designs depicting Buddha, Lao legends and nature. Precious metals are mined in the country and with a purity of 95-98%% for silver and 99% for gold, you’ll find higher quality wares at a lower price. Beware of imitations and know what you’re looking for. Try the Hmong Street Market in Vientiane or the Night Market in Luang Prabang.
Coffee is Laos’ largest cultural export with 95% of the coffee grown in Laos coming from the Bolevan Plateau. Cooler temperatures, plenty of rain and elevations reaching 4,200 feet (1,300 meters) above sea level make this region ideal for growing coffee. First planted by the French 100 years ago, most exports are Robusta, but internally you can also buy the sweeter Arabica bean. Some of it is certified organic but even those that don’t carry the label are often grown using organic farming principles by the 20,000 coffee farming families in the region. Visit Sinouk Coffee or Lao Mountain Coffee; both have growers in the south as well as locations in Vientiane.
As part of registering a vehicle in Laos, a white oval sticker with the country code LAO must be visible on the outside. Reminiscent of European requirement before EU license plates began integrating country codes into the plate, the LAO sticker is everywhere. Drivers in Laos drive on the right side of the road, until they cross one of the Friendship Bridges to Thailand, where people drive on the left. These stickers can be found in souvenir shops throughout the country.
- Lao Disabled Woman’s Development Centre Handicrafts
Located near the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge in Vientiane, the Lao Disabled Women's Development Centre is run by and for disabled Lao women through the Ministry of Social Welfare and Labor. The gift shop on the premises offers a variety of beautiful recycled paper crafts, handmade paper and greeting cards, textile weaving and garment sewing. The goals of the center is to train physically and mentally disabled women and then send them back to their villages with skills they can use to earn a living.
Sculptural art depicting the Buddha can be found in markets in Luang Prabang, Pakse or Vientiane. Antique wood carvings may be illegally stolen from temples then sold, so buy newly carved Buddhas to protect Lao cultural heritage. Ban Nong Bueng in southern Laos is a woodcarving village where visitors can meet the artisans and watch them work. The Ta Oy people formed the village in the 1800s and sell statues, masks, candleholders as well as custom-made commissions.