A Budget Traveler's Guide to Laos

9th Jan 2014
Photo of A Budget Traveler's Guide to Laos 1/6 by Shweta Apte
Clay pots at Luang Prabang
Photo of A Budget Traveler's Guide to Laos 2/6 by Shweta Apte
Serene sunset at Mekong River
Photo of A Budget Traveler's Guide to Laos 3/6 by Shweta Apte
Sparkling blue lagoon: Vang Vieng
Photo of A Budget Traveler's Guide to Laos 4/6 by Shweta Apte
Inside Wat Si Saket
Photo of A Budget Traveler's Guide to Laos 5/6 by Shweta Apte
Wat Si Saket
Photo of A Budget Traveler's Guide to Laos 6/6 by Shweta Apte
Pha That Luang

Landlocked and squashed between geographically large neighbors is the sleepy country of Laos curled in the womb of Southeast Asia. Being one of the most poverty stricken countries, many travelers overlook this humble nation making it one of the most unappreciated places. This reasonably bijou nation takes pride in its multi-ethnicity, vibrant tribes, UNESCO certified heritage sites, charismatic landscapes, ancient temples and laidback lifestyle. It is just the right holiday spot for relaxing in the isolated mountainous terrains. Most of the parts are unruffled and are ideal for exploring.

The best time to visit Laos would be between November to March when it barely drizzles and the temperature hits a pleasant low. If you go up the mountains at night it may even fall further to zero degrees celsius. We started our voyage in the tranquilized capital - Vientiane. Unlike the other usually chaotic capitals in many countries, this capital will take you by surprise with its composed existence.  After soaking in the pure radiance of Mekong River we headed to Vang Vieng and then to Luang Prabhang.

You must have travelled by air, cruised through ocean, explored places on foot but the finest way to get around small towns here is by riding bicycles. It is the cheapest and most viable option. It will come most handy if you plan to go on offbeat tracks. If you are a culture buff or countryside travel enthusiast, you should visit this hidden jewel soon. I tried my best to make this trip a combination of some of world's greatest heritage and the not so mainstream tourist paths.

This is the capital and also the largest city of Laos. It is located on the bank of the River Mekong. We started our trip by visiting the oldest Buddhist temple or Wat of the city- Wat Si Saket. The style of the Buddhist architecture is intertwined with the history of the capital. There are thousands of images of Lord Buddha in ceramic, gold and silver. The many carvings and rustic delicate statues of Buddha show the authenticity of this traditional temple. We spent hours cycling around the villages and local markets. There are many places that you can rent bicycles from. Trailing through the countryside we came across some of the most engagingly untouched neighborhoods.
Photo of Vientiane, Vientiane Prefecture, Laos by Shweta Apte
Pha That Luang meaning Great Stupa is a large Buddhist Stupa that is covered in gold and situated in the center of Vientiane. We spoke to a local Lao who said that Pha That Luang was formerly build as a Hindu temple and later Buddhist missionaries and Arahata monks bought a holy relic of Lord Buddha to the Stupa. The history of this place is pretty interesting. Each of the three levels of the Stupa mirrors a part of the Buddhist doctrine. This is not just a national symbol but is considered as a very important national monument in Laos and is 44 m high.
Photo of Pha That Luang, Vientiane, Vientiane Prefecture, Laos by Shweta Apte
The evening was well used drifting away in the exotic Mekong River. It is the 12th longest river in the world. You will revel in its beauty as the time passes slowly. Kayaking is the perfect way to spend your time in this enchanting river. It is not quite possible to pen down the majestic beauty of this river, as any number of adjectives would fall short. You need to see it to believe it.
Photo of Mekong, Vientiane, Laos by Shweta Apte
Vang Vieng is located in Central Laos and is 154 kms away from Vientiane. A relaxing swim is the best way to start your day here at the Tham Poukham blue lagoon. The lagoon is bright blue and has few swings that we jumped out of. Laos is known for tubing and we grabbed this opportunity to have a divine experience in tubing in this sparkling lagoon. We then went into the Tham Poukham cave also known as "Golden Cave” because to the golden Buddha's statue that rests there. The cave doesn't end there and stretches miles deeper and darker. This was quite a chilling yet exciting journey. If you are in Laos make sure this isn't the place you miss. Travel Tip - Take a guide with you for the best routes in the caves and rent a head torch if you wish to go deeper into the cave
Photo of Tham Poukham Cave, Vientiane, Laos by Shweta Apte
This is a UNESCO World Heritage City. This is one of the most scenic and culturally rich parts of Laos. You will be welcomed by some of the most exquisite country roads to feel closer to the true roots of Laos. We went to a local village for lunch and had some of the amazing fish delicacies packed with herbs and vegetables. The beauty of this place lies in its natural charms. I would recommend you to sign up for some cycling trip across this town. We made some quick stops at handicraft and pottery shops, Kuang Si Falls and ended the trip watching the sun descend in the Mekong River.
Photo of Luang Prabang, Louangphabang, Laos by Shweta Apte