Why This Cheap And Underrated Southeast Asian Country Is Surging In Popularity

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Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam – the choices when it comes to visiting Southeast Asia are handsome.

But what if you’re looking for somewhere a little more off-path in this region?

The answer is the beautiful and underrated country that borders all three of those aforementioned favorites: Laos

the patuxai gate in vientiane laosthe patuxai gate in vientiane laos

This landlocked nation has enjoyed an impressive 285% year-on-year increase in visitors in 2023 according to local media, with travelers from the U.S. making up a decent chunk of those figures.

So, just why is Laos grabbing its own share of the Southeast Asia limelight and why could it be the perfect place for you to sample this fascinating part of the world? Let’s find out.

An Affordable Entry To Southeast Asia

One of the main things Laos (or the Lao People’s Democratic Republic to give it its full title) has going for it is the fact that it’s a cheap place to visit.

That’s a general rule for Southeast Asia, but Laos definitely comes up cheaper than some of its near rivals – it’s not out of the question to budget as little as $40 a day, maybe even less in remote areas.

The currency used in the country is the Lao Kip, which works out to about 20,000 to the dollar at the time of writing.

It’s worth bearing in mind that the U.S. dollar and the Thai Baht are widely accepted in Laos, but make sure you have some local currency with you just in case.

luang prabang and the mekong river in laosluang prabang and the mekong river in laos
Photo by David Guest

You should also be prepared for mixed currency transactions, e.g., paying in dollars and getting change in kip.

An Alternative Way To Cruise

Cruise? But didn’t I mention earlier that Laos is landlocked?

You’re right, I did – however, literally hundreds of miles of one of Asia’s most famous rivers runs right through the north of the country and then along its western border with Thailand.

That river? The mighty Mekong – and you can enjoy cruises up and down this amazing river to see parts of the dense forest interior of the country that are inaccessible via roads.

a river cruise on the mekong in luang prabang laosa river cruise on the mekong in luang prabang laos
Photo by David Guest

While no cruise is strictly ‘cheap’, doing one such as this is likely to be far kinder to your wallet than an ocean cruise around the Caribbean or Mediterranean.

Fascinating Culture And Influences

Laos is a predominantly Buddhist country with many temples and religious complexes dedicated to the faith.

This makes for a laidback, almost spiritual vibe to many of the places you’ll visit.

You can also see a European colonial influence in the larger towns and cities here, as Laos was a protectorate of France from 1893 to 1953.

Another interesting thing to note about Laos is that it’s the most bombed country in the world, with a fascinating museum in Luang Prabang dedicated to this fact.

wat xieng thong in luang prabang laoswat xieng thong in luang prabang laos

There is still a lot of unexploded ordnance in the country, so it’s best not to go off wandering into the wilderness on your own.

The Friendliest Folk

This is something people say about a lot of places, but take it from me when I say that Laotian people are incredibly friendly.

Provided you are respectful to them and their culture, you will be warmly welcomed and often asked many questions about the country you come from and what it’s like there.

The country is generally safe with low levels of crime too, making it an ideal solo traveler backpacking destination.

Three Places You Should See in Laos:

1. Luang Prabang

This mountain city lies at the confluence of the Mekong and the Nam Khan rivers and has previously been rated as one of the top 10 cities in Asia to visit.

Luang Prabang at night colonial building and tuk tukLuang Prabang at night colonial building and tuk tuk
Photo by David Guest

It features an enchanting blend of traditional Buddhist temples and shrines, combined with a vibrant food scene that is influenced by a large number of European expats who live here.

2. Vientiane

The capital of Laos is also the country’s largest city and a major port on the banks of the Mekong River.

buddhist monks walk past wat phra that temple in vientiane laosbuddhist monks walk past wat phra that temple in vientiane laos

The city perfectly blends ancient Buddhist architecture with more modern colonial buildings from its time under French rule.

3. Vang Vieng

This small and unassuming rural town has become an iconic place to visit for travelers thanks to its incredible outdoor adventure offerings and growing party scene.

tourist river tubing on the nam song in vang vieng laostourist river tubing on the nam song in vang vieng laos

Think motorcycling through jungles on mountain roads, bathing at the foot of dramatic waterfalls, and riding down the river in a rubber ring (yes, really).

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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com


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