Welcome to the Turquoise Travel Diaries, a collection of interviews, stories, and excerpts from our fabulous team, as they travel around the world. Here at Turquoise, we pride ourselves on unrivaled knowledge of the destinations in which we specialise, so that we can provide honest, expert advice to all our guests and fellow travellers. This week, our Asia specialist Antony has returned from an incredible research trip to the Laos and his shares with us everything to do with the amazing country of Laos, from what to pack to the dishes you need to try…
Describe Laos in three words…
Humbling, eye-opening and spectacular.
What’s the easiest way to get to Laos?
The quickest route is to fly into Bangkok with either British Airways, EVA Air or Thai Airways, then catch a connecting flight to Luang Prabang, Vientiane or Pakse, all of which roughly take one-and-a-half hours.
How long would you recommend spending in Laos and how many different regions would you fit in that time?
I’d say five to seven days would be perfect! If you’re combining a trip to Laos with some time in Bangkok, there is probably no reason to visit Vientiane as you’ll have already had your city fix. I’d recommend spending a couple of nights in southern Laos to explore its stunning rice paddies, the most remarkable waterfalls, ancient temples (some older than Angkor Wat in Cambodia) and rural, red-dirt local villages where any visit is like taking a step back in time. From there you can fly an hour and 40 minutes north, to the historic town of Luang Prabang which is their artisanal capital and the heart of Laotian culture. This charming, former French colonial town offers bustling night markets, over 30 impressive temples, rolling jungle-clad mountain ranges and unforgettable (and heart-warmingly ethical) elephant experiences on the banks of the mighty Mekong River.
Where was your favourite place in Laos?
Luang Prabang will always have a piece of my heart, as I have fond memories of visiting there as a backpacker and there’s just something so magical about it. But there’s something about the Champasak Province in southern Laos that I found inspiring. Perhaps it’s because it’s often overlooked in favour of its northern counterpart but the scenery – particularly the waterfalls – just took my breath away!
Did you eat any local food while you were there?
I ate a lot! Most of the food I ate was recommended to me, so I don’t remember the exact name of the dishes but they were delicious. I do recall having some very interesting spring rolls once, which I only found out were filled with frog after I’d politely consumed them all! While I always implore all our travellers to try the local cuisine – and the food in Laos is excellent – there is a fabulous wood-fired pizza restaurant called Secret Pizza, where Italian host Andreas prepares authentic Italian pizza and pasta in the garden of his Luang Prabang home. He’s only open twice a week, on a Tuesday and a Friday, for a three-hour sitting and doesn’t take reservations. So, don’t dilly-dally if you want to take a break from Laotian cuisine. There you go – the secret is out!
What’s the local beer like?
I love it and I’m a bit of a beer snob! It’s called Beer Lao and is served in small and tall bottle – the latter can be quite dangerous! In the UK, there’s a fabulous small plate restaurant and cocktail bar called Three Eight Four in Brixton that serves it as their house beer, if any London readers are interested in doing a beer-recce before they jet off!
For off-the-beaten-track adventure junkies, is there anything really unique in Laos you’d recommend?
Not only are the Tad Fane waterfalls in Paksong, southern Laos, the most impressive I’ve ever seen, but if you’re interested in getting up close and personal, thrill-seekers can zipline 820ft above the gorge and nearly 1,500ft across the waterfalls. It’s only US$45 but it’s not for the faint-hearted!
What time of year’s best to visit Laos?
Any time from mid-October through to the end of March. I’d avoid travelling to Luang Prabang in April and May, as this is when the farmers burn off the brush on their land as a way of fertilising the soil. This makes the region very smoky and hot, and the likelihood of seeing the sun is slim due to the thick haze that covers the town and its neighbouring provinces.
What three essentials would you pack for a trip to Laos?
If you plan to travel to the higher altitude regions in the north and east of the country between December and February, it can get rather cool at night, so a light jacket is an essential. Most hotels in Luang Prabang have fire pits, which are a nice touch and perfect for huddling around with some evening drinks. I can’t think of any other mandatory essentials but an open heart and an open mind won’t go amiss!