Laos is one of my favorite places in the world. It feels like Thailand’s lesser known cousin, and it is absolutely incredible to backpack through. Laos has beautiful national parks and nature that is protected by the government. It is also home to some of the friendliest locals (in my experience) and amazing adventures if you are able to get off those tourist path. These are some of my favorite, lesser known things to do and places to go in Laos.
Kong Lor Caves
We started in Tha- Kaek, taking a bus to the village of Kong Lo. We stayed at a quaint little guesthouse in Tham Kong Lo, surrounded by beautiful countryside and farmlands. The cave is about a 1km walk away from the village, and is surrounded by a blue lagoon that you can swim in when you are finished. You can hire a local guide with a boat to take you through the underground tunnels, and they are very well versed in the route, speeding around the caves expertly. The cave is about 7 km long and pitch black, with an exception of a few placed lights. Some of the walls are as high as cathedrals while some you can reach up and touch the ceiling. The water level was very low, so we had to get out and push the boat sometimes, but it was well worth it.
So hitchhiking is not the safest means of travel, and I am not recommending it, but it was quite fun to experience seeing the countryside from the back of locals trucks. We made it from Don Det-Pakse-Th Kaek by hitchhiking. Hitchhiking is certainly not the only way to meet locals, but we did get to meet many new people hitchhiking- and some livestock piled in the back with us as well. The children in Laos were so curious to see foreigners on the back of a truck that they would run after us on the road, shouting “Hello, hello!” and waving frantically. I also came down horrible food poisoning mid-hitchhiking. The driver was kind enough to drop us off a random hotel, while I spent the night vomiting into a ‘flush it yourself’ toilet. Not fun.
4000 Islands, Don Det
Don Det is a very relaxed and chill place to hang out. It is in my opinion, the Pai of Laos, where backpackers come to stay for 2 days- or 2 weeks. It is very easy to stay a while in Don Det, relaxing in hammocks by the river, sleeping in wooden bungalows, and exploring the island by bicycle. While we were there, the locals had a party and invited all of the tourists on the island to participate. We could watch the dance and even join in, although I had no idea how to do the steps- the Dark Beer Lao helped a bit.
Pakse is an amazing base to explore the surrounding waterfalls and coffee fields. We hired a car for the day and were able to try hike up waterfalls, drink Lao coffee, and join in on a local celebration where our friends sung us the only English song they knew, ‘Waterfall’ by Oasis.
I am certainly not disregarding the north of Laos, which is home to my one of my favorite asian cities, Luang Prabang, and the crazy party town Vang Vieng. However, if you are looking to get off the beaten path, I would recommend southern and particularly Central Laos. It is not as well-known, but that makes finding the hidden gems all the more special.