5 of the Best Cities to Visit in Laos
Not all of the places we’ve shortlisted as the best cities to visit in Laos, are cities in the traditional sense. Two of them are really more akin to villages than a regional center or city. But all five share an importance in the history of Laos and represent the pace and style of different regions of the country. They also all offer stunning scenery of the surrounding countryside and a number of attractions for visitors. As the world is busy vaccinating itself against the COVID-19 virus, many people are planning to hit the road and travel once again as soon as countries open their borders. For those who’ve never visited this southeast Asian country, this list of the best cities to visit in Laos should serve as a starting point and an inspiration that merely whets your appetite to see more of the country. Three of the cities have international airports, so we’ve arranged this trip to take advantage of these and get around the country quickly. We’re starting our trip in the extreme southern reaches of the country by flying into the second most populous city in Laos, Pakse.
One of the first things you’ll notice upon arriving in Pakse is the number of beautiful French-colonial buildings in this small city where the Xe Don and Mekong Rivers converge. The city was founded by the French as an administrative outpost in 1905 and served as the capital of the Kingdom of Champasak until it was unified into the rest of the country in 1946. The riverfront is where tourists spend most of their time as it offers the best food and attractions. If you’re in Pakse at the end of October, you’ll also be able to enjoy the colour and competitive spirit of the long, multi-paddler boat races that last for three days and feature a carnival onshore. There’s a night market and shopping along the riverfront as well. The natural beauty of the surrounding area includes the Bolaven Plateau which contains rivers and cascading waterfalls amid lush jungles.
For the next step of our tour of the best cities to visit in Laos, head to the airport and catch a flight up to the central part of the country and visit the city that has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Luang Prabang was awarded this unique honor for its well-preserved architecture and cultural attractions, but don’t expect to find a large, sterile museum when you visit this riverside city. Instead you’ll discover an absolutely charming and picturesque city with flower and tropical plant-lined alleys and quaint cafes where you’ll be perfectly content to spend the day watching the people of the city go about their business. The city is surrounded by lush mountains that overlook the 58 villages that comprise Luang Prabang. These mountains contain attractions such as the Tat Sae and Kuang Si Waterfalls, and the Pak Ou Caves which are popular with tourists. Go for a hike or rent a mountain bike and explore the hills around Luang Prabang.
The remainder of our tour of the best cities to visit in Laos will be by road, as there is no airport in either of our next two destinations. The small town of Muang Ngoi lies to the north of Luang Prabang and takes approximately three hours to reach by a regularly scheduled minibus, which costs around 5 dollars US. You can hire a taxi for a lot more (115 to 140 dollars US), but it will only save you about 45 minutes. Once you reach the town, you’ll discover a small, quiet village along the shore of the Nam Ou River. The draw for tourists to this town lies in the dramatic limestone karsts surrounding the village. This is a popular starting point for eco-tourism treks into the hills that are home to many caves including Tham Kang and Tham Pha Kaew cave. It’s also possible to arrange boat tours from this town on the Nam Ou River.
Vang Vieng is the next destination on the last leg of the best cities to visit in Laos tour and also requires the longest drive. The minibus from Nhong Khiaw, right near Muang Ngoy, takes 9 hours, but only costs around 20 dollars US. Vang Vieng is a small riverside village without an airport. What it does have though is a backpacker-oriented infrastructure that offers plenty of guesthouse accommodations, as well as restaurants, internet cafes, bars, and tour companies. The town is located along the Nam Song river where tubing and kayaking are popular activities along with sampling the zip lines and rope swings that some bars along the river have installed. Onshore activities include rock climbing on the limestone karsts and trekking through the dramatic landscape of the surrounding mountains.
The final leg of our tour is from Vang Vieng to Vientiane. Again, the only options are bus or minivan, but both offer a regular schedule and low prices of around 11 dollars US. This trip will take approximately 3 hours and you’ll get off in Vientiane on Sithong Road near Vientiane’s Wattay International Airport. From there it’s just a short taxi ride into the capital city of Laos. Book a hotel in the center of town near the riverfront to be right in the middle of the best restaurants, great riverside attractions, and easy transportation options to all the most famous attractions of the city. You should plan to spend at least 3-4 days in this charming city that features beautifully preserved French-colonial architecture everywhere you turn. Be sure to stroll along the waterfront and visit the many bars and restaurants as well as the Night Market to pick up some souvenirs to remind you of your tour of the best cities to visit in Laos. After your trip, you may want to simply check into the best hotel in the city for some much-needed pampering. The Vientiane Crowne Plaza offers the Senses Day Spa, several exquisite dining choices, and luxurious guest rooms and suites. It’s the perfect place to relax beside the swimming pool with a cold drink and relive the adventure of your visit to Laos.