Laos Unleashed: Exploring the Land of a Million Elephants

Post originally Published November 30, 2023 || Last Updated November 30, 2023

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Laos Unleashed: Exploring the Land of a Million Elephants - Into the Jungle: Trekking and Wildlife in Laos

Laos Unleashed: Exploring the Land of a Million Elephants

For those seeking adventure, Laos offers plenty of opportunities to get off the beaten path and into the jungle. Trekking through lush rainforests and spotting exotic wildlife makes for an unforgettable experience. With numerous national parks and protected areas, Laos provides easy access to unspoiled nature and rare biodiversity.

Trekking through Nam Et-Phou Louey National Park brings you through mountainous terrain and evergreen forests. You can opt for multi-day treks with overnight stays in minority villages. This allows you to fully immerse yourself in the local culture. Shorter day hikes are also available. The park provides a habitat for endangered Asiatic black bears, white-cheeked gibbons, and clouded leopards. With some luck, you may spot these elusive creatures.

Down south, Xe Pian National Park contains grasslands, wetlands, and monsoon forests. The park protects many endangered mammals like Asian elephants, banteng, and Eld's deer. A network of trails takes you past scenic waterfalls and through bamboo thickets. You can even arrange to visit the elephant conservation center within the park. This provides a chance to observe the gentle giants up close.
For a rustic experience, head to the Nam Ha National Park. Multi-day treks wind through the mountains, taking you past minority villages untouched by modernization. Your guide can arrange overnight homestays with local families. This offers an intimate look at traditional lifestyles. The dense forest also provides an excellent habitat for spotting rare douc langurs and crested gibbons.
In the south, Dong Hua Sao National Park spans a mix of savanna and monsoon forest. Overnight jungle treks include sleeping in treehouses perched high above the forest floor. You'll drift off to sleep to the sounds of hooting primates and chirping insects. This park is home to a wild Asian elephant population, along with endangered species like the black-cheeked crested gibbon.

What else is in this post?

  1. Laos Unleashed: Exploring the Land of a Million Elephants - Into the Jungle: Trekking and Wildlife in Laos
  2. Laos Unleashed: Exploring the Land of a Million Elephants - French Flair in Vientiane
  3. Laos Unleashed: Exploring the Land of a Million Elephants - Temple Hopping in Luang Prabang
  4. Laos Unleashed: Exploring the Land of a Million Elephants - Tubing and Nightlife in Vang Vieng
  5. Laos Unleashed: Exploring the Land of a Million Elephants - Getting Off the Beaten Path in Northern Laos

Laos Unleashed: Exploring the Land of a Million Elephants - French Flair in Vientiane

Laos Unleashed: Exploring the Land of a Million Elephants

Nestled along the banks of the Mekong River, Vientiane exudes a distinctly French flair reminiscent of its colonial past. While much of Laos contains remnants of French architecture and culture, the capital city of Vientiane perhaps best encapsulates this Gallic influence. For those looking to experience a Parisian vibe without crossing continents, Vientiane proves the perfect destination.

A simple stroll through downtown reveals French-inspired buildings around every corner. The Presidential Palace, Central Market, and Vientiane Post Office all exhibit stately French facades. Meanwhile, the Romanesque arches of Wat Si Muang and imposing Catholic Cathedral reflect France's religious imprint.

Yet to fully immerse yourself in Vientiane's Francophone environment, head to the French Quarter located east of That Luang. Here you’ll find cozy cafes, bakeries, and restaurants radiating classic French charm. Start your day at Le Banneton for flaky croissants, crusty baguettes, and strong coffee. The savory aromas transport you straight to a Parisian patisserie.

For a refined lunch, make a reservation at L'Adresse de Tinay. The converted colonial villa houses a cozy dining room overlooking a lush garden. The rotating French-inspired menu highlights Lao ingredients, resulting in dishes like grilled Mekong fish with beurre blanc sauce. Don't skip the creme brulee for dessert - it rivals versions found in France.

After lunch, pop into Couleur d'Asie Boutique to browse colorful silks, aromatic soaps, and handwoven textiles. French music plays softly in the background as you admire locally crafted treasures. Across the street, PVO Laos distills tropical fruit-infused liquors - pick up a bottle of passionfruit or lychee vodka to enjoy back home.

As the afternoon heat fades, find a streetside table at Kangaroo Sunset Bar and sip fruity cocktails or cold Beerlao. For a touch of whimsy, stop by the dinosaur-themed Khop Chai Deu for Belgian beers and live music. The French colonial structure received a playful facelift but retains its old-world atmosphere.

When evening falls, make your way to Bor Pennyang for dinner. The outdoor Laotian BBQ joint fills nightly with locals and expats alike. Challenge yourself to try offerings like stuffed frog, battered silkworms, and other Lao delicacies. Share tales from your adventures in this multi-cultural city.

Laos Unleashed: Exploring the Land of a Million Elephants - Temple Hopping in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang glitters with temples and saffron-robed monks - the spiritual heart of Laos open for exploration. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Luang Prabang safeguards its legacy as a historic center of Buddhist devotion. Venture out on foot across creaking bamboo bridges to sacred sites tucked into jungle. Offerings of marigolds, lotus flowers, and incense fill the air. Prepare to get swept up in the meditative wonder, with temples and tradition at every turn.
Rise at dawn and watch the silent almsgiving ceremony from streetside. Orange-clad monks pad barefoot down city lanes collecting sticky rice and bananas from kneeling devotees. To grasp how faith and daily life intertwine, this solemn routine provides perspective.

Afterwards, make your way up Phousi Hill as golden light hits gilded temple rooftops. The 328 steps lead to panoramic views plus shrines and Buddha figures hidden in hillside caves. Neighboring Wat Tham Phou Si houses a reclining Buddha in a cavern. Pause for contemplation before the steep descent.
Continue the journey at Wat Xieng Thong, the former royal temple now understated in simplicity. Intricate tree-of-life motifs and mirrored mosaics inlaid with glass adorn the double-tiered sweeping roof. Wander sleepy corridors and note the contrasting dark interior, letting your eyes adjust. The Golden City Temple remains Luang Prabang’s foremost spiritual gem.

Further immerse yourself at Wat Visoun, the city’s oldest operating temple. Check out the enormous Watermelon Stupa, nicknamed for its unique shape. Gaze upward at its layered tiers and central spire - an imposing sight despite a tilt from age. Nearby stands Wat Aham, known for its ornate red facade. Take time to admire the gilded carvings and mural paintings of traditional life.
Escape the mid-day heat while ducking into Wat Mai. The wooden temple echoes Luang Prabang style with carved shutters, a sweeping roofline, and jasmine garlands. Five tall and narrow tiered roofs peak above the main hall. Find respite in the cool dark interior before emerging into the sunshine.

For a stark change of scenery, cross the Nam Khan River to Wat Long Khoun. The 18th-century temple marks the site where monks returning from Vientiane rested. Note the Chinese influence in the heavy wooden entrance and vivid frescoes at the front. Then enter the spare hall lined with plain benches and Buddha images along the back wall. Simplicity takes over, inviting quiet contemplation.
Come late afternoon, climb through thick forest up Phou Si to Wat Chom Si. Arriving at golden hour rewards you with Luang Prabang in all her glory. The mosaic stupa sparkles as the sleepy city stretches below to the meandering Mekong. Monks make their final alms rounds through papaya-hued streets. Let the meditative atmosphere carry you into the evening.

Laos Unleashed: Exploring the Land of a Million Elephants - Tubing and Nightlife in Vang Vieng

For travelers seeking thrills by day and revelry after dark, the once-sleepy town of Vang Vieng has transformed into a mecca for adventure and nightlife. While Laos may seem a bastion of Buddhism and tradition, this vibrant college town pulses with backpacker energy and tourist-fueled parties. Prepare to tube down the river by day, then live it up with drinks, dancing, and debauchery once the sun goes down.

Tubing ranks as one of Vang Vieng's top attractions, drawing daredevils from across the globe. To experience this wet and wild ride, head to one of the rental stands along the Nam Song River. For a small fee, you'll receive an inflated tractor inner tube complete with headrest. Jump right in the refreshingly cool river and let the current sweep you downstream for the float of your life.
Along the way, your route passes riverside bars and nightclubs that crank up the tunes. Feel free to hop out and join the party at any stop, then catch a tuk-tuk ride back to town once you’ve had your fill of cold Beerlao. Thrill-seekers can also try cliff jumping, rope swings, zip lines and more as part of Vang Vieng's tubing route. Just don't overdo it on the alcohol to avoid any painful wipeouts along the rocky riverbed.
When night falls and your arms ache from paddling, it's time to join the crowds spilling into Vang Vieng's late-night bars and clubs. Drop into popular spots like Sakura, Kangaroo, or Monkey Bar for pulsating music, neon lights, and dance floors packed to the rafters. Sip on fruity cocktails or cold buckets of Beerlao as you let loose. If mainstream EDM and Top 40 hits aren't your speed, find your groove at chill reggae bars like Jamaican or Bob Marley.

Laos Unleashed: Exploring the Land of a Million Elephants - Getting Off the Beaten Path in Northern Laos

For intrepid travelers seeking remote adventures, northern Laos offers boundless opportunities to veer off the beaten track. While tourist hot spots attract the crowds down south, up north you’ll find sparsely populated mountainscapes begging to be explored. Prepare to venture into the unknown, encountering minority hill tribes following age-old lifestyles and pursuing outdoor pursuits far from the comfortable confines of civilization. Leave expectations behind and let curiosity chart your course. The road less traveled leads to landscapes and experiences untouched by the modern world.

Trek deep into the dense jungle of Nam Ha National Park, where the human footprint remains scarce. Opt for a multi-day jungle camping experience, with local guides leading you through virgin rainforest. Sleep in a hammock strung between trees or take shelter in minority villages of the Khmu people. Immerse yourself in their self-sustaining way of life seemingly frozen in time. Share meals of steamed rice, foraged plants, and river fish caught using traditional methods. Let their time-honored existence inspire you.
Further north, Phongsali Province sits cloaked in mist, home to the mysterious Lao Houay people. Stay in their stilted wooden homes and learn about animist spiritual beliefs passed down generations. Join shamanic healing ceremonies and watch the night sky for shooting stars which bring luck. Allow yourself to see through the lens of their mystical worldview far removed from modern society.

Adventure into the mountainous countryside surrounding Luang Namtha. Arrange a 4x4 excursion to the Nam Ha River, then embark on a rustic kayaking journey downstream. Your route winds through breathtaking scenery with not another soul in sight. As the sun sets, make camp on the sandy banks and enjoy a simple dinner cooked over the campfire. Fall asleep to the gentle roar of the Nam Ha, at one with nature.
The former French outpost of Phonsavan provides basecamp for expeditions to the mysterious Plain of Jars. Hop a local truck through rugged terrain to reach Site 1, home to hundreds of ancient carved stone jars up to 10 feet tall. Scholars continue to debate the origins and purpose of these prehistoric artifacts - form your own theories while exploring the area's primitive dirt trails. Let the enigmatic jars fuel your imagination about the past inhabitants of this remote region.
Far-flung Muang Sing near the Chinese border presents another gateway to places yet uncharted. Meet the Tai Lue people in traditional embroidered garb and learn their method of papermaking from mulberry plants. Venture north through rural landscapes to Vieng Phoukha, a small mountain town rarely seen by foreigners. Or trek east to meet the genuine Akha people, descendants of Tibetan nomads now settled in rural villages of thatched huts. Open yourself to extraordinary surroundings and people from a different epoch.

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