Laos: The Sleepy Sister of Southeast Asia

Laos: The Sleepy Sister of Southeast Asia

Harold Michael CarterBy Michael Carter

Welcome to the Lao PDR (People’s Democratic Republic), a land-locked and less-traveled nation in Southeast Asia. The population of the country has yet to reach 8 million. Most first time visitors to Southeast Asia concentrate on the Vientiane-Vang Vieng-Luang Prabang corridor. Perhaps rightly so, as Luang Prabang is truly a wonderful UNESCO world heritage site. But Laos has plenty of other less publicized gems located in the far southern and eastern Champasak region, hugging Vietnam and a small northern border section with Cambodia. Join me as we take a look.

Pakse, Laos

Pakse (population around 75,000) is the hub of the southwestern corner of Laos. It is located along the confluence of The Mekong and Se Don rivers. The backdrop contains a series of rugged hills. The riverside sunset views are spectacular. Mother Nature used a masterstroke when painting this scene.

What is there to actually do in Pakse? Surprisingly, I found the city has a decent selection of satisfactory eateries. The Panorama Restaurant on the rooftop of the Pakse Hotel provided a 360-degree view of the entire city. It offered optimum sunset gazing with cool, clear air in a relaxed setting. Makeshift restaurants pop up along the riverside in the late afternoon. This is an ideal way to mingle with the locals over some Beerlao. If alcohol is not your cup of tea, there are numerous excellent coffee shops in Pakse.

I rented a bicycle during the day to get around. This is one of my favorite ways to explore a new place. I get a bit of exercise and I can cover more distance than I would simply by walking. If you want a less tiring activity, watch or ask to join a game of pétanque. This French-introduced boules game is very popular in Pakse. 

Not impressed with the excitement factor yet? Read on.

Corner Cafe

Spread Your Wings

OK, so you’ve wound down for a couple of days in Pakse, Laos and now you want to become a little more active.

The nearby Bolaven Plateau is the country’s coffee-growing region. The French introduced the production of coffee in the early 20th century. Presently, Lao coffee is renowned and appreciated worldwide. Other attractions and curiosities in this area are numerous waterfalls and the villages of ethnic minorities.

The Bolaven Plateau is wedged between the Annamite Mountain Range. The Annamite straddles the Vietnamese border on the east and the Mekong River on the west. During the American-Vietnam war, the area was strategically important to both sides. The US heavily carpet-bombed the Bolaven Plateau. To this day, UXOs (unexploded ordinance) riddle the dense jungles. Sticking to marked trails or hiring a guide when hiking is advised.  

Been There, Don Det

Finished with your jungle trek and want to relax again? Head further south to Si Phan Don, a 50-kilometer region just east of the Mekong barely on this side of the Cambodian border.

Si Phan Don translates to approximately 4,000 islands, half of which are submerged during the rainy season. This is the widest area of the 4,350-kilometer-long Mekong River system, offering stunning views of lush jungles and scenic waterways. 

I caught a skiff in Ban Nakasang and settled on the island of Don Det.

Don Det gives an entirely new definition to the term ”laid back.” If you want to get your travel budget in order and slow down beyond belief for some time, Don Det is the haven for you. 

Pace of Don Det, Laos

Two Tribes

Two distinctly contrasting tribes coexist on the island of Don Det — the TVs (travelers, tourists, visitors… take your pick) and the DTs (permanent Det dwellers, locals, natives… take your pick). The TVs are a curious lot and a constant source of amusement for the DTs. I wonder what the DTs did for entertainment before the arrival of the TVs.

TVs come in all ages and from various nations, but all seem to share a fondness for lassitude. The biggest decisions of the day lie in the answers to: “Where to eat next?”, “Where to go for the next beer?”, and “Do I want to eat regular food or ‘happy’ food?”. The more adventurous of the TVs have been known to vacate their hammocks long enough to engage in the rather boisterous activities of floating down the Mekong on inner tubes, lounging on the small beach, or perhaps renting a bicycle to escape the hustle and bustle of the north end of the island. The favorite expression of the average TV is ”chill out.”

The DTs, on the other hand, are also a relaxed tribe, but in a much more traditional way. Their days are spent fishing, repairing fishing nets, playing pétanque, caring for their chickens and gardens… and of course, being amused by the behavior of the TVs.

Don Det Beach

Is it on Your Bucket List Now?

Some travelers have limited time and feel that hanging out and simply enjoying a place wastes too much of their travel time. Although true in some cases, remember that you won’t see the world in one trip. Stick around a while and enjoy the place you are at. 

If you like Vegas-style entertainment, 5-star accommodations, or piña coladas by the seaside — well, Laos might not make your bucket list.  

If you want something much simpler and want to take a step back in time for a while, then this is your ticket.

I hope to share my experiences in a different part of the world with you again soon.

69 thoughts on “Laos: The Sleepy Sister of Southeast Asia

    1. I’m somewhat guilty of neglecting Lao PDR as well. I’ve spent a lot of time living and travelling throughout Southeast Asia, yet I have only been to Lao PDR twice (so far)

      A correction note to all readers – the three-wheeled beer cart is called a samlor – not amlor

  1. I suppose every destination has its charm for a different reason. I chatted with a lot of travellers on Don Det who had been on the road for a considerable length of time…not people on a rushed trip. These islands in the Mekong are a wonderful respite for those becoming a little travel weary. Recharge the batteries, get the budget in order and then carry on.

  2. Sometimes it is nice to head somewhere you can simply just relax and enjoy what is around you – I have to admit it sounds like something I would love to do right now.

      1. Definitely somethings there is nothing wrong with kicking back and relaxing and just enjoying the scenery – we all need to do that at times for our own wellbeing.

  3. I would love to visit somewhere I could just relax and discover the surroundings. Laos wasn’t on my bucket list, but it is now.

    1. Keep adding to your bucket list. I like to think of it as an exercise in longevity. The longer my bucket list than the longer it will take me to fulfil each item.

    1. There are many parts of Asia I have yet to see but would like to. I do know Southeast Asia relatively well from my travels and I think it will be an ideal region for your retirement travels.

  4. The magic of travel is discovering places that you had never previously envisioned as being ‘stunning’. That’s the beauty of this type of website which offers tasters o such destinations..

    1. Thanks Matt. And your email comment about the similar scenery did remind me of the fact that many movies made about, or set during the American-Vietnamese war were filmed in the Philippines thanks to visual similarities.

  5. Nice article , i have been in this area and 1 place not to be missed is Wat Phu . A archeological gem of Khmer culture , join a local tour from Pakse . Cheers Love beer Lao

    1. The popularity of neighbouring countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, and even Cambodia have overshadowed Lao PDR to a certain extent I suppose. Short term travellers simply might not feel they have the time to include it. For those with more time, it is definitely worth a look.

  6. I would love to visit and explore all of Laos one day for sure! It looks like a great place for my next adventure. This post makes me even more exited to go here.

    1. Thank you. This makes me feel like the post has been successful, in that it has created interest in a place many readers may have overlooked in their travel dreams.

    1. I’ve been to Key West once. I was on a 41-ft. Morgan coming from Fort Lauderdale. We then sailed from KW to Havana, Cuba and then on to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. I enjoyed my brief (24-hr) layover in KW and hope to revisit some day. I did see plenty of these colourful sunsets during the passage at sea but I also remember the people congregating for sunsets on Key West itself. Happy memories.

    1. Sleepy is an appropriate adjective to describe this destination when I was there. I don’t mean this is a negative way – quite the opposite.

  7. That’s the nice thing about reading a website such as Dreams Abroad – a great choice of holiday destinations are available for consideration.

    1. I’m glad the article helped to arouse your curiosity. I see by your tag that you have an interest in culinary pursuits. I will check out your site sometime. Good food is also a passion of mine.

  8. Laos is absolutely gorgeous. Thank you for including the less traveled areas, I enjoy traveling to the less populated and touristy areas when I travel.

    1. Luang Prabang is the number one tourist destination in Lao, and it is deserving of the honour. But there are certainly many other less-visited gems in the country – such as the region I’ve written about in this article. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    2. Luang Prabang is the number one tourist destination in Lao and deserving of the honour. However, there are many less-visited gems to unearth in this country – such as the region I focused on in this article. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  9. I had no idea that Laos is such a beautiful destination. I’d love to visit there and explore especially the Bolaven Plateau region, being a coffee lover!

    1. You won’t have to worry about suffering any coffee withdrawal symptoms when in Laos. The Bolaven Plateau is right next to the Vietnamese border. (Vietnam is the world’s number two producer of coffee). In my opinion, the coffee produced in Lao PDR rivals any I’ve tasted anywhere.

  10. I have never been to Laos, but you have shown me pictures that I would never have thought came from there. It looks like a perfect slow-paced, relaxing kind of vacation.

    1. Slow-paced indeed – thus the use of the word ‘sleepy’in the title. For those who like to relax and unwind in a basic, natural setting, this region is for you.

    1. Hopefully, someday isn’t too far off. Many readers are mired in a sea of travel restrictions at this moment and it will certainly be great to follow our travel desires again.

  11. This looks like such a beautiful place to visit to relax and have some fun. I hadn’t heard of Laos before, but love how you shared more abou this location to visit .

    1. I am happy I was able to expose you to a destination you weren’t familiar with. That is one of the purposes of this website.

  12. When we lived in Singapore this is the one place we didn’t get to! Definitely on our bucket list for our post pandemic trip to Asia we are planning.

    1. Laos is completely opposite of Singapore today – but remember, Singapore at one time wasn’t so different. You will likely enjoy comparing the two. Singapore is a wonderful city-state, yet Laos holds its own appeal, which more modern places simply can’t replicate in my mind. Hope you make it to compare for yourself one day.

  13. I want to visit Laos someday! It’s so near the Philippines (where I’m at) yet I haven’t gone there. I heard about the simple and laidback vibe there which makes me want to visit it. 🙂 It’s so true what you said that you won’t see the world in one trip. So might as well enjoy the time you’re in a certain place and not rush things. 🙂

    1. So true Hazel. I used to spend some time in the Caribbean islands and the mantra was always – “Go Slow’. More precisely, the saying went, “Sleep late; start the day slowly: then taper off a bit.” Says it all. Take your time and enjoy the moment where you are – particularly when you are experiencing a new travel experience.

  14. Magic is all about surprises and witnessing something that might appear bewildering. In that light, most places are magical to some degree. Yet true magic leaves one in awe…and so if a place leaves one with that WOW factor then it truly deserves a visit. We all possess different Wow factors, so the purpose of these articles is reveal potentially enticing locales.

  15. This would certainly be a place on my bucket list. It looks like a very lovely place to go. I have a long list for mine. There are so many wonderful places out there.

  16. Your photos are so lovely, it makes me want to plan a trip to Laos right now. Thank you for sharing your travels with us.

  17. I’m always happy to share a travel tale or two, whether it be friends over a beer or with travellers I’m not familiar with. Food, wine & travel are my favourite topics.

  18. I haven’t been in Laos yet. I know it’s near Vietnam and Cambodia so probably the food and culture are almost the same. Great article!

    1. Culturally, to some degree I would say yes. All three were under French rule when the the region was known as Indochine. Buddhism is the prevalent religion as well. As for food, I can only offer my personal opinion, but I think Laos cuisine is more similar to Thai cuisine. I was pleasantly surprised by the food I had there actually.

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