Floating down serene rivers and coasting along country roads gawping at stunning countryside? Check. Poking your way around ancient temples filled with enigmatic, saffron-cloaked monks? Check. Sipping on a famous Beerlao brew as the setting sun melts the Mekong into a simmering river of gold, and monks chant their oms in the distance? Yes. Laos’s beautiful personalities, incredible sights and unique, laid-back nature can all be enjoyed in just a week.
Day one: Vientiane
In the nation's friendly capital, visit Laos’ most important national monument,
the Golden Stupa (Pha That
Luang), and take in the surrounding temples. As the temperature rises, head
closer into town to scope out the inner-city’s beautiful temples such as Wat Si Saket, café-hopping in
between. At sunset, join in with the rest of Vientiane’s city folk and take a
stroll along the Mekong. If you have energy to spare, test out Vientiane’s bar
scene at Lunar 36.
Day two: Vientiane
If you are feeling intrepid, hire a motorcycle from the town centre and explore
the surrounding countryside en route to artist Luang Pu’s Buddha Park (Xieng
Khuan). Go past landmarks such as the Beerlao brewery and the Laos-Thai Friendship bridge. You will also pass wats (temples) dotted along
the roadsides and busy produce markets, while riding alongside young monks
riding bikes under the shade of umbrellas. Cap off the day with a visit to
Vientiane’s night market.
Day three: Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng is most easily reached by bus, which you can easily book from a
travel agent in Vientiane. Allow for half a day’s travel, and once you settle
into a guesthouse, grab a place to sit by the Nam Song river and watch the
sun fall atmospherically over the limestone karst cliffs that dominate the
skyline. Eat at Central
Backpackers (do not miss Laos’ best
cocktails here), Organic Mulberry Farm Café
Day four: Vang Vieng
Experience Laos' most famous adventure: tubing. Head out late morning to avoid
the young crowds and have the river to yourself. Spend the day being swept
along the Nam Song by tiny currents of water while taking in the jaw-dropping
scenery. Stop by at a few bars, but not too many -- in times of high water,
rapids along the Nam Song can be strong. Once you pass the very last bar, grab
a tuk-tuk back to the town or continue via tube.
Alternative to Vang
Vieng: Phonsavan and the Plain of Jars
If the tubing/partying scene is not your style, skip Vang Vieng and head to the
mysterious centre of Phonsavan
to wonder at the ancient burial ground, the Plain of Jars. On arriving in
Phonsavan, head to the UXO (Unexploded Ordnance) Visitor Information Centre (in
the centre of Phonsavan, opposite Craters restaurant) and learn
about Laos' plight with unexploded bombs that were dropped during the Vietnam
War. Organise a tour for the next day that takes in all three main Plain of
Jars sights (the final two have more picturesque settings, the first is the
largest). Visit the Bomb Village where houses have been constructed out of bomb
debris, and meet the woman who runs a whisky distillery out of an old shed.
During the evenings, watch a free film screening about Laos’ UXOs. Note that
the area still has unexploded bombs, so take care when walking to stay within
designated areas - only the three main Plain of Jars sites are considered
reasonably free of UXOs. Eat at Nisha Restaurant or Craters Bar and Restaurant.
Day five: Luang Prabang
Grab an early bus to the Unesco heritage-listed city of Luang Prabang. This may
be a day of travel, but unparalleled scenery will keep you occupied as you cut
through mountainous peaks and crevices that reveal picturesque little
hilltop villages where children play along the roadside and farm
animals grunt and squawk as you go by. On your arrival in Luang Prabang, head
straight to the riverside and marvel as the sun sets over the gushing Mekong.
In the evening, enjoy a lazy stroll through the night-market's exquisite
handicrafts where Laos specialties, such as handmade quilt covers and silk can
be picked up for a steal. For dinner, head to the night-market for scrumptious barbeque
fish and other colourful local dishes.
Day six: Tat Kuang Si
Head to Laos’ most spectacular waterfall Tat Kuang Si, where tempting pools of
incandescent blue are set amongst tall, shady trees at the base of this massive
cascade of water. On your way in, do not miss the bear sanctuary that has
rescued sparring Asiatic black bears from the illegal pet trade. Amble back
through spectacular countryside that breaks into views over Luang Prabang and
the Mekong. Eat at Lao Lao Garden.
Day seven: Luang Prabang
Get up at dawn for the monk’s procession (Tak Bat), then check out the creepy
crawlies on parade at the local produce market. Take your time to explore the
many exquisite and famed temples; when you are templed-out, grab a ferry and
cross the Mekong to visit the village of Ban Xieng Maen. Take your time doing
this, but remember to catch the sun setting over the city from the hilltop Phu Si, back in Luang Prabang.
Take another peek at the night market for souvenirs, then finish your trip with
a dance at popular nightspot, Utopia.
The article 'Seven days in Laos' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.