Giving alms to the Buddhist monks is an ancient ritual many people in Luang Prabang still take part in today. This historic city, on the banks of the Mekong, is a fascinating fusion of old and new Laos – you’ll find as many temples and French colonial buildings as you will cafes and restaurants. If you want to take part in its charitable traditions, though, you’ll need to set your alarm early; alms giving usually takes place with the sunrise.
Due south of Luang Prabang lies Vientiane, the quaint and easy going capital of Laos. This former French trading post offers a combination of café culture and history, where the tempting aroma of Laap, a salad served with garlic, lime juice, spring onion or mint will draw you towards the hustle of the Lane Xang market. From there, it’s a short climb up the Prutaxai monument to look out across the city to the temples of Wat Si Saket, Vientiane’s oldest, nestled among the French colonial buildings. It’s also well worth finding time to visit Pha That Luang, a huge golden stupa (relic house) that’s considered by many to be the most important monument in Laos.
Venture away from the cities and the wilderness beckons. From the thickest jungle to the emerald rice fields and shimmering tea leaves that cloak the mountains, the landscape is chameleon-like. In Phu Khao Khuay National Park, you’ll explore serene mountain paths and meandering rivers all the while on the lookout for the endangered wildlife the park protects. You could be shadowing wild elephants, watching gibbons dash across the canopy, or even catching a glimpse of an Asiatic black bear, a prowling tiger or clouded leopard.
Visit Bao village, and you’ll see first-hand how the weavers create the brocade and ikat that’s become part of the backdrop to your visit.
When to go
Though beautiful all year round, we’ve found that it’s best to visit between October and April when the weather is warm and dry.