Thailand is SouthEast Asia’s most popular tourist destination. In 2007, it recorded over 14.5million international visitors, ranking it the 18th most visited country in the world.
Many who visit Thailand will also find their way into Vietnam and Cambodia, two bordering countries hugely popular with tourists. But there’s an often forgotten neighbour in the midst, and she’s an awesome neighbour…………. Laos.
The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR) is sometimes jokingly called Laos Please Don’t Rush. If you are looking for fast-paced action and a vibrant night-life, Laos is not the place for you. If you are looking for a place where buddhist monks outnumber tourists, and a two hour bus ride might take eight, then Laos should be right up your alley. Or if you like blissful sunsets over the Mekong River, quiet times with a book in a hammock and nice little adventures slightly off the beaten track, then you should include it in your SouthEast Asia itinerary.
For a crash course in visiting Laos, you might want to visit both the northern and southern capitals. Luang Prabang (in the north) is a UNESCO World Heritage City known for its intriguing night market, temples, surrounding nature and architecture (I highly recommend the Kuang Si waterfalls, and a stunning old Coliseum that exists on the outskirts of town). Vientiane is a sleepy capital located on the banks of the Mekong River, near to the Thailand border, and is worth a day or two visit as you enter or exit the country.
Laos food is fresh and charming – try french baguettes stuffed with pâté, or my favourite dish, mok pa, a fish steamed in a coconut sauce and banana leaf. BeerLao is the most ubiquitous beverage in the country, the very pleasant tasting number one beer which can be found everywhere.
Other popular stops include Champsasak, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site with numerous temple ruins. Si Phan Don, also known as the four thousand islands, are also a popular backpacker area and can be accessed from the town of Pakse. The region is also home to Mekong falls, the largest waterfall in all SouthEast Asia. The Plain of Jars and Vieng Xai should also be on your itinerary.
South Africans require a tourist VISA to enter Laos. At this time, it’s recommended you get a 30-day VISA from a Laos Embassy prior to your arrival (there are embassies in Hanoi and Hoh Chi Minh City Vietnam, or Phenom Penh Cambodia or Bangkok Thailand – Laos does not have an embassy in South Africa). Failing that, a 15-day VISA on arrival is available at the more than half a dozen land border crossings with both Thailand and Cambodia, and as of this year, VISA’s are available upon arrival for most nationalities.