7 Reasons To Travel To Laos During Your Gap Year Abroad
When you're thinking of a gap year abroad, probably the first thing that strikes you is - a trip to Southeast Asia! Well, while most of the people would flock to Thailand, Cambodia & Vietnam, how about exploring the tiny yet pristine land of Laos?
To put it in the words of Lonely Planet, "Vivid nature, voluptuous landscapes and a vibrant culture collide with a painful past and optimistic future to make Laos an enigmatic experience for the adventurous."
So if you've been thinking of a gap year, here are the reasons why you should travel to Laos!
1. Soak in the Cultural Vibes of Luang Prabang
Kick start your gap year journey from here! Known as the Land of One Million Elephants, Luang Prabang is an enchanting city that was marked as a UNESCO Heritage City in 1995. Considered to be one of the most charming city in South East Asia, Luang Prabang has something to offer for everyone. No matter whether you wish to walk along the bougainvillea-lined streets around the city or go cycling on the meandering trails along the Mekong or Nam Khan Rivers - you'd feel the bliss at every corner of the city.
Known for its many Buddhist temples, including the gilded Wat Xieng Thong, dating to the 16th century, and Wat Mai, once the residence of the head of Laotian Buddhism - you'll be mesmerized by the cultural heritage and the architectural grandeur. Follow the footsteps of the saffron-robed monks heading to one of the oldest temples in the region, and find your solace.
2. Explore the Most Ethnically Diverse Region in Southeast Asia
In spite of being a small country, Laos has a considerable population of about 7 million people, including 130 ethnic minority tribes, divided into 4 different language groups. Luang Namtha Province is the most ethnically diverse region in Southeast Asia, with over 20 minority groups living in the mountains. Each has its own customs, religious beliefs, textiles, music, and architectural styles. While tourists might not get the opportunity (and time) to explore this province, being a gap year traveler in Laos, you can trek around the hills, spending quality time with the locals, understanding their way of life and enrich yourself with the experiences.
Some of the tribes in Laos have only a few hundred members, having a specific way of life that can't be easily comprehended by someone growing up in a Western country. Thus, it'll be a great opportunity for you to catch a glimpse of the disappearing cultures and gain insight into life in this part of the world.
3. Celebrate the Festivals of the Land & Know More About their Traditions
And when you're there for a gap year trip, how can you miss out celebrating the local festivals? Laos has plenty of cultural events taking place throughout the year, and you can hop around the cities, to witness the beauty & charm of each of these festivals. The most popular festival is Boun That Luang, celebrated in Vientiane at the end of November. That Luang, or The Great Stupa, is a huge golden temple and a national symbol of Laos where monks from all across the country gather during this time of the year. It'll be a sight to behold, and an experience to cherish forever.
Other than that, you can also attend Boun Ock Phansa, celebrated in October as the end of Buddhist lent. This festival is celebrated with boat racing, especially in Mekong River towns like Luang Prabang and Vientiane.
During the full moon in September, Buddhists in Laos celebrate Haw Khao Salaack. People dress up and go to the temple with offerings for their own dead loved ones.
And if you are lucky, you might just get invited to a traditional wedding, which is no less than a festival in itself!
4. Explore the Untouched Beauty of Laos and Experience Nature's Bliss
Beyond the goodness of the culture and beauty of the cities, Laos is also well-known for the wild and largely untouched scenery. Despite severe forest degradation in the past decades, Laos still has a lot of forested areas, which have been largely unexplored by the travelers. On your gap year, you can be a responsible traveler and explore the hidden gems of the land. Go for the '100 Waterfall trek' in Northern Laos, and take a boat to Nong Khiaw.
For those seeking an extra dose of adventure, can rent a motorbike to discover the Bolaven Plateau in Southern Laos! Take a trip to Nam Song in Vang Vieng and lazily float down the river on a tube, and take in the beautiful karst mountains and lush green foliage. To say the least, the gorgeousness of this land will take your breath away and leave you speechless at every bend!
5. Binge on the Local Cuisine and Learn How to Cook Some Authentic Meals!
While you'd probably find several Thai or Vietnamese restaurants in your city, you'd rarely find one serving the delicacies from Laos. Needless to say, Laotian cuisine is pretty distinct from other Southeast Asian cuisines. Larb, the national dish of Laos, is made with chicken, beef, duck, fish, pork or mushrooms, flavored with fish sauce, lime juice, padauk, roasted ground rice, and fresh herbs. Trust me when I say this, your journey in Laos will be incomplete if you miss this out!
Jaew bong is another local Laos favorite, a chili dip made with dried chilies, garlic, galangal, shallots, and a little dried buffalo for taste. If you have an adventurous palate, try having insects or animal organs, that are widely sold at the local night markets and street-side stalls. There are several cooking classes help in Vientiane and Luang Prabang, where you can get to know more about the authentic ingredients used in Laotian cuisine and try your hands in preparing something as well.
6. Club Your Gap Year Adventures in Laos with a Visit to the Neighboring Countries
Due to its incredible placement, you can easily hop across the borders and visit countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Myanmar. What more can one ask for? Considered to be one of the most affordable backpacking trails in the world, you can plan out the itinerary and make the most of your gap year! This is your chance to experience the beauty of cultural diversity, savor the different cuisines of the land, meet the locals from different countries and get to know more about this region, which has always been a favorite place for travelers from all across the world.
From the bustling nightlife of Khao San Road in Bangkok to the quaint boat ride on the Mekong from Luang Prabang in Laos to Chiang Khong in Thailand, cave explorations in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, and cooking classes in Chiang Mai - You'll get to experience the best that's there in store for you, as you go for the most amazing backpacking journey across Thailand, Vietnam & Laos with Go Discover Abroad.
7. It's Pocket-Friendly and a Perfect Destination for Those Who Are on a Strict Budget
We know that when you set out for a gap year journey, you're mostly on a tight budget, trying to explore in the most cost-effective manner. Laos, surely, will not burn a hole in your pocket! Luang Prabang and Vientiane are connected via flights to the neighboring countries of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, and they are pretty reasonable. Thanks to the fact that not many people travel to this country, and it hasn't yet attracted a lot of tourist attention!
For adventurous travelers with ample time on their hands looking for cheaper transportation, Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia are also accessible via road by bus or car. In addition to buses and cars, Thailand can also be reached by train or slow boat.
You'll find endless options for hostel/ homestays, where you can spend a night in about 10 USD. Food is also considerably cheap if you eat at local restaurants, although you'll treat yourself with delicious meals.
Quick Fact - Laos uses the Laotian Kip or LAK, 1 USD is about 8,727 Lao Kip.
Also, knowing that you’re a Westerner, tuk-tuk drivers and local shopkeepers might charge a few extra bucks - make sure to negotiate before you take a ride/ buy something!
Your journey across Laos will surely turn out to be an interesting phase of your gap year life. If you need more information or want us to customize an itinerary for you, then write to us at [email protected] and our Travel Experts will soon get back to you!