Must-See Monday: Top Laos Destinations

This post on the top Laos destinations is contributed by Hayden Lambirth, Southeast Asia and Indochina travel extraordinaire: In 2010 and 2011, I traveled extensively throughout Indochina, the peninsula in Southeast Asia lying East of India and Southwest of China. This peninsula has a rich culture with heavy influences from both China and India, resulting in some of the most unique foods, atmospheres and people I have yet to encounter. I have composed a list of the top ten backpacking destinations that are must sees in Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. For this post, we'll be checking out Laos.

1. Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a city full of history and surrounded by nature. During the time of French IndoChina, Luang Prabang was recognized by the French as the royal residence of Laos, resulting in a heavy French influence in the architecture and food. The city is also known for its various Buddhist temples and shrines and let me tell you, there aren't many places where you can have a fresh croissant while watching young Buddhist monks taking alms at dawn. Hike Mt. Phou Si, a 100 meter hill in the center of town, and be blown away by Wat Chom Si and the surrounding view from the top. Check out the night bazarre at dusk at the end of Main Street to find a great local souvenir, just be sure to get your bargain on because that’s how business is done in the bazar.

2. Vientiane

Vientiane is the capital of Laos and lies along the Mekong River across from the Thai city of Udon Thani. Vientiane has a very long and rich history, Pha That Luang being one of many holy locations in the city. Believed to have been created in the 3rd century, this national treasure is arguably one of the holiest sites in Laos and even claims to hold a relic of The Lord Buddha. Make sure and check out Patuxai, built after the French left Indochina to mark Laotian independence. This Arc de Triomphe look alike has a distinct Laotian twist. It was built with U.S. money and cement intended to be used on a runway, hence its nickname, ‘the vertical runway’. Spend your evening at one of the many restaurants along the Mekong, or grab some street food and take a stroll along the river during sunset. Looking to see some nature? Visit Buddha Park just outside of the capital to visit one of the most unique gardens around. See some beautiful hindu and buddhist statue recreations featuring gods, demons, animals and everything in between; each piece has its own story to tell. Fortunately, the reinforced concrete they are made from means you can touch, and in some instances climb, as much as you’d like. You won't find a better place for a photo opportunity. The ancient looking sculptures and dense jungle are the epitome of the exotic and timeless Indochina.

3. Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng is truly a backpacker's paradise. A four hour trip north from Vientiane city, the remote town is a limestone jungle paradise with a myriad of outdoor activities. Famous for their inner tubing down the local Nam Song River, there is also kayaking, mountain climbing and trekking available. Get your foodie on and visit Vang Vieng Organic Farm. It’s just a short walk from town to the farm and there are many local hill tribe villages along the way. There are also other opportunities to teach as well as stay in a mud brick hut on location at the organic farm. Check out FruitFriends for more info.   Convinced you should take a trip to Laos? Book your Laos vacation rental on Tripping and get the full experience!  Stay tuned for the next post on Vietnam in this Indochina series!  Photo Credits: Photo 1 McKay Savage via Flickr; Photo 2 thaths via Flickr; Photo 3 Pigalle via Flickr; Photo 4 François Hogue via Flickr