Gilded temples, orange robed monks and awe-inspiring landscapes.
Laos is a land that was mostly cut-off from the outside world until the mid 1990s. Although still fairly low-key in terms of tourist development, Laos is receiving increasing numbers of visitors but, unlike many other destinations, has managed to retain its charm and the feel of a place from a past time.
Luang Prabang, the old capital and cultural heart of the country, with its UNESCO protected old town, is one of the true jewels of Indochina, and wandering its beautiful lanes and alleys from temple to temple is one of travel's magic experiences.
To the north, mountains sprinkled with colourful hill-tribe villages can be discovered, whilst between Luang Prabang and the present day capital of Vientiane you'll find some of the most incredible limestone karst landscapes to be seen anywhere in Southeast Asia.
A journey to the extreme south finds Angkorian temples and the Mekong river extended to its widest breadth of 14km, where it encompasses a myriad of islands and waterfalls in the area known at Si Phan Don (4,000 Islands).
Highest Point: 2,819 m
Capital City: Vientiane
Time Zone: GMT +7
Main International Airports:
Luang Prabang (LPQ)
Population: Approx. 7 million
Land Area: 236,800 sq km
Main Religion: Buddhism
Climate & Weather
Coolest time: November to February, Hottest time: April & May,
Wettest time: May to September, Driest time: November to March
Our favourite: December to February and June to August
The coolest time of year is from November to February with temperatures rising to a peak in April and May. With the arrival of the rains in late May/June temperatures drop, with rain falling mainly in the afternoons in short, heavy showers. August is the wettest month, although tropical showers can still occur into October. November brings a return to drier weather.
One of the greatest joys of cycling is the feeling of immediacy with the natural environment and scenery, of which Laos has plenty! Although the summer months are wet, this rain brings incredible clarity to the air, making those views even more spectacular and great for photographing. Also the odd shower is a nice way to cool down during a hot ascent...
Highlights for Visitors
Luang Prabang may be one of those rare towns that has been improved by the arrival of tourism. The influx of visitors has lead to the restoration of many of its previously crumbling temples, and seen the renovation of much of its French colonial architecture - attractive buildings now reborn as boutique hotels or inviting street-side cafes. All without decreasing its charm and atmosphere. Set between the Mekong and Khan rivers, Luang Prabang doesn't boast any great monuments in the style of Angkor Wat or the Taj Mahal; its attraction is a magical, relaxed atmosphere and the feel of being in a place outside the modern world. And the sight of hundreds of monks collecting alms from local people at dawn is one of those quintessential Southeast Asian travel moments.
When we say awesome, we mean awesome! Laos is home to some of the highest limestone karst towers in the world, many of the best of which can be seen on our cycling tours. While the most impressive formations are found between Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng, if the reputation of the latter as a backpacker circus puts you off (although Vang Vieng has really cleaned up its act in recent years), then head further north to the increasingly popular Nong Khiaw on the Ou river. All these vistas are best viewed alfresco from the saddle of a bicycle, where you will feel more a part of that glorious landscape.
The Plain of Jars (Phonsavan)
The Plain of Jars is home to a collection of fascinating archaeological sites that are still largely undeciphered by modern science. The mysterious and windswept hills of the northeast are also noteworthy for being one of the most heavily bombed areas of one of the most heavily bombed countries in the world, and learning about the on-going clearance of UXO is another interesting facet of a visit to this largely un-touristed area.
Hilltribes of the North
The many peoples of Laos are broadly grouped by their altitudinal distribution, with the hill tribes of the mountainous north falling into the category of 'Lao Soung' - Highland People. This group is made up of a number of ethnic minorities including the Hmong, Yao (Mien), Dao, Shan and Akha, amongst others, who have migrated to Laos from a variety of destinations including China, Vietnam, Myanmar and even Tibet. Often with colourful traditional costume and animistic beliefs, the hill-tribe peoples of northern Laos occupy villages of startling simplicity with living conditions that have remained unchanged for generations.
The Far South
Where the southern border of Laos meets neighbouring Cambodia the Mekong widens to 14km, the broadest point on its long journey from the plateau of Tibet. Within its waters lies a collection of islands, rocks and some of the largest waterfalls in Southeast Asia, in an area known as Si Phan Don (The 4,000 Islands). A little to the north of here can be found Wat Phu, a pre-Angkorian temple spread across the slopes of a holy mountain believed to represent a Shiva Linga, the Hindu fertility symbol. The pace of life in the far south is slow, even by Lao standards - and that's saying something...
See Laos with
We have an exciting range of cycling tours in Laos, both for families and the more general cyclist. Explore the country from north to south, or just concentrate on the beautiful areas in and around Luang Prabang. Discover the mysterious Plain of Jars, cool down on the Bolaven Plateau, or be wowed by the amazing scenery around Vang Vieng.
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