Travel, Teach, Live in Asia
Laos, a small country located between Thailand and Vietnam, is a relatively undiscovered Southeast Asian paradise. Lush jungles, river views, bustling cities and rock-bottom prices offer an excellent, affordable opportunity for travelers of all ages and budgets. Best explored in the dry season, Laos is a memorable cultural experience.
Start in northern Laos in Luang Prabang, a sleepy city nestled on the banks of the Mekong River. Spend a day or two exploring the city, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Climb to the temple on the hill in the center of town, walk along the Mekong and explore the night market. Eat street food and mingle with the crowds of locals, monks and travelers.
Explore the Mekong River. From Luang Prabang, you can take a number of boat excursions on the Mekong. Take a tour of the Pak Ou caves or waterfalls, or take a sunset cruise on the river. Bring your camera, as sunsets over the river offer spectacular photographic opportunities. Watch for indigenous settlements on the river banks and observe the way Laotians have lived for centuries. If you are heading to Thailand, you might consider taking the slow boat from Luang Prabang. The two-day trip is mildly uncomfortable, but offers an unbeatable opportunity to see the interior of Laos.
Head to Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng is a tiny town in the middle of Laos and a famous stop on the Indochina backpacker route. It boasts excellent river tubing, biking and hiking. The stunning limestone cliffs are a photographer's dream and the locals are friendly and open. If you are in need of some Western culture, visit one of the four cafes that play episodes of "Friends" around the clock.
Go out of bounds. While Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientaine are the most visited cities in Laos, they occupy only a small part of the country. Try heading south for a different cultural experience, or north to the hill towns for trekking and off-the-beaten-path adventures.
Meet the locals. All over Laos, the local people are friendly and willing to converse with travelers. Ask your hotel clerk for advice about food or activities and strike up a conversation about his or her family. Often, you will be invited to dine with families or offered guided tours of the city. Laotians are happy to share their culture and equally excited to learn about other cultures.