Two of the most overused words in the travel dictionary is “hidden gem”. And what does that even mean anyway? Well I’ll tell you what it means: Laos.
Yes I know I’ve just found another tired way to describe an awesome country but to my credit, all the clever words in the world could not describe the depth of charm and beauty that is Laos.
It has the perfect mix of being laid back and quintessential with a little bit of city life thrown in amongst the hustle and bustle.
Now the title of this blog is ‘incredible secrets about Laos that will make you fall in love’. But frankly, as a still yet relatively unexplored country, Laos itself is a little bit of a secret. With its breathtaking waterfalls, animal sanctuaries, rustic markets and jungle retreats, Laos is a destination that you won’t forget in a hurry.
But without using more corny cliches, it’s hard to summarise exactly why I love the place.
So let me highlight a few of my favourite spots in Laos which will hopefully speak for themselves about they’re so awesome.
Pakse is the biggest southern city in Laos and a major transport hub. And it’s got some serious jewels here. Take Wat Phu for example. This impressive Khmer temple has all the charm, backstory and beauty of Angkor Wat in the neighbouring Cambodia, except it’s actually much more ancient and way less crowded. Built in the 7th century, this fantastic monument makes for the perfect cultural day trip.
Bolaven Plateau will take you through wild and unkempt jungle scenery with gigantic butterflies, waterfalls, lakes, in addition to weird and wonderful plants. The best way to explore the Plateau is via motorbike as there aren’t a lot of tourist attractions here. But it’s well worth seeing. It will show you a wild and authentic part of Laos that you won’t find in many other places in Laos.
Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Center
There’s nothing quite like seeing a bear swinging in a hammock. It seems like quite an unrealistic ask but in the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Center, it’s fairly normal. The center is operated by Free the Bears - an organization set up to rescue bears that would otherwise have been killed by poachers.
The bile from the black bear’s gall bladder is a common component in traditional Chinese medicine, which has only served to increase the number of poachers.
But in this center, you’ll see bears in their element as they play, fight and lounge in the safety of the centre’s striking landscapes.
Viewpoint Nong Khiaw/Ban Sop Houn
This has absolutely got to be one of the best viewing spots in the country. Here you’ll get a chance to sail through the valleys, surrounded by water mountains, miniature islets and murky rivers. It’s hard to describe this place in words, because there aren't many man made structures or landmarks as such.
Instead, you’ll be spending your day gliding through the landscape which will deliver constant pleasure to your senses. So if you’ve got an eye for beauty, then you’ll be in your element here.
At this point, I’m going to have to apologize to you. You see, because I’ve short changed you: I’ve only picked three of my absolute must-see places, but to tell you the truth, Laos is full of them. That’s why I didn’t litter you with the half dozen other places I could have included. Laos itself is a living monument for thrill-seeking tourists who are tired of the tourist traps.
There’s not much in the way of tourist structures here, although this is changing. But you don’t come to Laos for the tourist trappings. You come to Laos to see the wild west of Asia in all of its raw, untouched beauty. It is essentially one of the last refuges for the truly adventurous. Instead, you’re here to weave your way through local markets that sell everything from alcohol with animals in it (yes you read that correctly) to jungles and windy, murky rivers. You are here to catch the last glimpse of traditional urban culture before the tourists get to it. Yeah sure, there are several tourist restaurants and sanctuaries in Laos already. But do yourself a favour. Book a group tour to Laos with Wigo Trips and jump aboard the authentic offbeat trail before the hoards arrive. You won’t regret it, I promise.
Janine Griffiths | Journalist
Janine is a copywriter and marketing strategist from England, with a background in journalism. She has represented many major brands throughout her career such as HSBC, Prudential and BIM. She runs a popular travel blog called janinesjourneys.com and has made has previously worked for major regional newspapers in the UK such as the Guardian, Yorkshire Post and the Shropshire Star