As one of Southeast Asia’s least developed countries (and thus least “discovered” by tourists), Laos is a rewarding destination. Beautiful colonial cities, stunning mountains and rivers, great water and a laid back atmosphere make Laos unlike any other Southeast Asian country.
Sunset at Luang Prabang © kimdokhac
While Laos is a small country, its less-than-ideal transportation infrastructure can make getting around a challenging, time-consuming process. Because of this, it’s important to plan your trip carefully to avoid wasting valuable time getting to and from different parts of the country.
With one in Laos, you’ll be able to explore the quiet and charming capital city of Vientiane, get up close and personal with the rugged countryside in adventure capital Vang Vieng, and spend a couple of nights relaxing beside the Mekong River in the beautiful city of Luang Prabang.
Our Laos itinerary is aimed at a travellers that want to get a good feel for Laos in as little time as possible. If you’ve only got a limited amount of time for your holiday or need to squeeze several destinations into one trip, this one-week itinerary will help you see all of the country’s highlights.
If you’re looking for a more complete experience in Laos and have another week to spare, you’ll also like our Two Week Laos Itinerary.
Note: Have you prepared a budget for Laos. Use our guide, How Much Money Do I Need in Laos?, to work out how much you should set aside for each day of your trip, from hotels and guesthouses to dining, drinks and activities.
Day 1: Arrive in Vientiane
Pha That Luang, Vientiane, Laos © danou_info
Our itinerary starts in Vientiane, the economic and political capital of Laos. Quiet and relaxing, Vientiane has a slower pace of life than other Southeast Asian capitals, making it a great place to catch your breath and prepare for the rest of your trip.
As a regional hub, Vientiane is easy to access by air from nearby countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore. Because our one-week itinerary ends in Luang Prabang, it’s best to book a one-way ticket into Vientiane and your ticket out of Laos from Luang Prabang.
Feel like spending more time in Vientiane? Our quick guide to Vientiane includes a full list of the best things to do, places to eat and accommodation options in Vientiane.
Despite Vientiane’s small size, it’s home to several interesting historical and cultural attractions, ranging from temples to the large Patuxai war monument. After you’ve checked into your hotel, your first afternoon in Laos is best spent checking out the following local landmarks:
- Pha That Luang
An icon of Laos, Pha That Luang is a 45 metre Buddhist stupa located wrapped in upwards of 500 kilograms of gold leaf. The stupa, which is more than 450 years old, is located 15 minutes from the tourist centre of Vientiane and easy to reach by tuk-tuk.
- Wat Si Saket
Vientiane’s oldest temple is also one of its must-see cultural attractions. This temple, which was completed in 1818, houses a collection of more than 2,000 Buddha images in a range of exotic materials including ceramic and silver.
Built during the 1960s to mark the independence of Laos from French colonial rule, Patuxai is a large victory arch in the centre of one of Vientiane’s main streets. It’s worth taking a look inside the monument, as the interior depicts Brahma, Vishnu and several other gods.
- COPE Visitor Centre
Laos is one of the world’s most heavily bombed countries, with more bombs dropped during the “secret war” than the entirety of World War II in Europe. The Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise, or COPE, runs a visitor centre to teach visitors to Laos about the recovery process for people injured by the unexploded ordnances hidden in the Lao countryside.
Day Two to Day Four: Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng © princeroy
Once the backpacker capital of Laos, Vang Vieng has transformed itself into an adventure and outdoor destination. Surrounded by spectacular countryside, Vang Vieng is a fantastic place to enjoy the beautiful natural environments that define Laos for many people.
It takes approximately four hours to reach Vang Vieng by van from Vientiane. The best time to leave is in the late morning, which will allow you to arrive in Vang Vieng in the mid-afternoon in time for a relaxing evening.
If you’re not much of an adventurer, you can also spend an extra day or two in Vientiane before flying directly to Luang Prabang, saving you a time-consuming bus trip.
For a full list of things to do in and around Vang Vieng, be sure to check out our quick guide to Vang Vieng. We’ve also included a few recommended activities below:
Vang Vieng is famous for its excellent tubing and rafting, which takes place on the nearby Nam Song River. Once a drunken adventure, tubing operators in Vang Vieng have cleaned things up over the last year and now offer a variety of fun adventures along the river. River Tubing Vang Vieng and Tham Nam Water Cave are two operators you could check out.
There are several tour operators in Vang Vieng that offer guided kayaking trips down the Nam Song River, giving you a great chance to see the area’s incredible scenery from a very different perspective than most visitors. uided kayaking tours for beginners and experienced kayakers are available from several tour operators in Vang Vieng, including VLT Natural Tours and Kanhya Tours.
- Mountain Biking
The rough and beautiful scenery around Vang Vieng makes it a fantastic place for cross country mountain biking. VLT Natural Tours offer high quality rental mountain bikes that are ideal for the rugged terrain around the town.
- Rock Climbing
Along with Southern Thailand, Vang Vieng has grown into one of Southeast Asia’s rock climbing capitals. Courses are available for climbers of all skill levels (including absolute beginners) on a variety of limestone cliffs in and around the town. Climbing schools like Adam’s Rock Climbing School and Central Climbers offer lessons and group climbs for beginners and expert climbers alike.
Day Five to Day Seven: Luang Prabang
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Luang Prabang is one of Southeast Asia’s most famous small cities. The city, which is surrounded by the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers, is famous for its Old Town and beautiful French colonial architecture.
Relaxed and peaceful, Luang Prabang is a great place to enjoy a good book before flying back home. It’s also home to several interesting temples, markets and waterfalls that will comfortably fill a three-day itinerary.
If you prefer relaxation to adventure, we recommend spending an extra day in Vientiane and skipping Vang Vieng before flying directly into Luang Prabang. This way, you’ll be able to skip the long bus journey and spend more of your time on sightseeing.
It takes approximately 10 hours to travel from Vientiane to Luang Prabang by bus, and six to seven hours from Vang Vieng. Our quick guide to Luang Prabang includes a complete list of things to do, places to eat and drink and accommodation options in Luang Prabang.
- Mount Phou Si
Climbing Mount Phou Si — a 100 metre hill located in the centre of Luang Prabang’s Old Town — is a great way to quickly familiarise yourself with the city. The stunning Wat Chom Si temple sits at the summit, providing a panoramic view of Luang Prabang and its surroundings.
- Royal Palace Museum
Located right in the centre of Luang Prabang, the Royal Palace Museum is a small but intriguing building that once served as the residence of the Lao royal family. Unused since the mid-70s, it’s now a museum to Lao history and culture.
- Luang Prabang Old Town
Luang Praband’s biggest attraction is its Old Town — a beautiful area close to the Mekong River that’s home to colonial buildings and a great selection of cafés, restaurants and traditional local shops. The Old Town is a great place to dine out or simply relax with a good book.
- Morning Market
If you’re up bright and early on your first morning in Luang Prabang, stop by the Morning Market for a look at local life in the city. While there’s little of interest for travellers, the market is a great place to get a feel for the daily life of both locals and members of the area’s mountain tribes.
- Luang Prabang Night Market
From just before sunset until late at night, the Luang Prabang Night Market is a great place to shop for souvenirs, clothing and other trinkets. The market is undeniably touristy but is still an interesting place to visit after dinner at one of the Old Town’s many great restaurants.
- Kuang Si Falls
One of Luang Prabang’s most popular day trips, the Kuang Si Falls are located just under 30km from the centre of town. The falls, which are spread over three levels and empty into a rich blue swimming hole, are best accessed by tuk-tuk from Luang Prabang.