What to Expect When Travelling to Laos: Expectations vs Reality

What to Expect When Travelling to Laos: Expectations vs Reality

Find out just how much you know about this underrated Southeast Asian holiday destination!

For many, Laos is an unlikely travel destination as it is constantly dismissed as the less glamorous cousin of Thailand or the more boring version of Cambodia. But it’s time to revise your preconceptions about this culturally and naturally rich nation!

Whether it’s clambering up for a spectacular view at Phu Si or visiting the many temples that have given this province its UNESCO status, Luang Prabang will not fail to awe you. From the mysterious Plain of Jars that are eerily fascinating in a way that rivals the Stonehenge, to the otherworldly Vieng Xai caves or those in Tha Khaek, Laos takes you away from all your daily stresses. A country laden with excellent geography, brimming with enticing delicacies and overflowing with an authenticity that infuses the nation as a whole, Laos simply deserves a visit.

What else is there to know about Laos, you might wonder?  

Expectation: Lao cuisine is going to be a little too exotic

Your understanding of Lao cuisine may be characterized by slightly outlandish-sounding dishes like buffalo skin and swallow meat, but that doesn’t mean you should fill your luggage with cup noodles!

Reality: A comforting hodgepodge of Asian flavours

You’d be surprised to know that Thai food is very heavily influenced by Lao cuisine. For instance, the sticky rice that you see so often in Thai dishes is a staple in Laos and often preferred to steamed rice.

The food in Laos also shows traces of its other neighbouring countries like China, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia resulting in flavours that aren’t quite the generic Asian foods we know so far, but somewhat familiar nonetheless.

Expectation: Everything is still rather undeveloped and rural

Rather than undeveloped, Laos has the blessing of much of their natural landscapes still untouched by the ravages of human civilisation. Instead, most of their caves, mountains and other natural attractions are made accessible with as little disturbance to the original state as possible.

Reality: Vientiane is a roaringly dynamic capital!

Gorgeous natural landscapes aside, the capital of Laos is all manicured greenery and stately looking buildings. While Laos as a whole may not be completely decked out with the latest technology and infrastructure, it’s certainly well on its way.

Expectation: Lush forests and cascading waterfalls is the perfect setting for soul-searching and meditation

Rustling leaves, the soothing rush of the water all around you and the scent of the forest fills your nose…

Reality: Or not! More like fighting with other tourists to get one for the ‘gram  

It might hit you that you’re as basic as all the other tourists, jostling for an angle that allows for a clean shot. The scenery is gorgeous but it’s hardly peaceful with three busloads of fellow travellers chattering to each other about the water temperature!

Expectation: The locals only speak Lao hence, communication will be difficult

The natural assumption is that in such an insular country, everyone in Laos will speak Lao or some ethnic dialect. Travellers will assume that they have to fall back to the age-old mode of communication: wild charades and exaggerated hand gestures.

Reality: The people of Laos are probably more multilingual than you

Since Laos was previously colonised by the French, the language is still taught in many schools and a large number of the population still speak it. English is also spoken, especially by the younger people, and you will more or less get by with shopkeepers!

Bonus: You might also see more signs in Korean than in English because Korean tourists form a significant group in Laos.

Expectation: It’s all sightseeing and not much action (meh)

You may think that with so many majestic stupas, temples and Buddha statues, the most exciting thing that you’ll be doing in Laos is perhaps a sedentary cruise down the Mekong river. But don’t resign yourself to a holiday wherein the thrill factor plateaus at getting a boat with a more powerful motor because…

Reality: There is a plethora of fun activities for you to do all around Laos

Quad biking, hot air ballooning, water activities, hiking, you name it, they probably have it! Laos has been seeing an influx of tourists and they’ve risen to the occasion, with a lot of vendors offering day trip packages complete with fun activities.

Expectation: Locally-produced souvenirs will probably come in the form of handicrafts

Laos has a good number of weaving villages that sell their painstakingly woven cloths as shawls, tablecloths and even pillowcases. Most of the ladies in such villages have been learning to weave since the tender age of four or five and are experts, producing intricate designs and lovely patterns. But that’s not all the villages sell…

Reality: Raise your glasses for locally brewed and fermented Lao whiskey and wine!

You can also find locally brewed Lao whiskey, sometimes with an intimidating scorpion in the bottle. It’s not just snake wine that you can get here! Made with different types of sticky rice, the Lao sticky rice wine comes in white with a pearly translucence or a captivating amethyst and has a unique flavour from its sticky rice origins.

Expectation: Viewing golden stupa after stupa will get repetitive after a while

Famous architectures in Laos usually comprise of towering stupas that gleam in the sun or ancient temples whose crumbling walls carry years of wear and historical significance. You may think that after a while, it might get monotonous and you’ll be bored of the same old sights at every stop.

Reality: Be blown away by unique designs and beautiful decor!

Instead, prepare to be awed by intricate patterns and insanely detailed paintings! With bold colours to tell stories on the ceiling of a temple and carefully-selected pieces to make mosaic art on the side of another, Laos displays a stunning array of art disguised as architecture.

A great place to travel on a budget with a buffet of exciting things to do, Laos is full of pleasant surprises. To make sure the pleasant surprises don’t morph into ugly shocks, do take note of Lao customs such as dressing modestly and removing footwear in temples. The population in Laos is generally rather conservative so it’s best to cover up.

Bet you didn’t know there was so much splendour to be found in Laos! More than breathtaking scenery and lofty mountains, beyond historic temples and charming villages, Laos is a treasure trove that is waiting to be delved into.

About Author

Chloe Ang
Chloe Ang

Chloe spends her life trying to find the divine balance between eating, reading and travelling. When she’s not bounding off to explore new places, she’s likely slothing it out and stuffing her face. Her dream is to eat and read her way around the world, but her ultimate dream though is to be a cat.


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