Laos was the country I’d been waiting to visit for my entire life. Tourism only started there in the late 1990s, and this is a good thing for many reasons. But one of the best parts about traveling to a country just opening to the world is that I had no preconceived notions about it. No stock images in my head of what I’d see. Even after researching the trip, I still didn’t know what to expect. But even if I had had expectations, Laos would have exceeded them every time. Here’s a Laos travel itinerary with impressions and stories and pictures from the land of a million elephants.
I’ve had the good fortune to have traveled some pretty amazing places in my life. But this trip to Southeast Asia – from northern Thailand to Laos and Cambodia – was the best yet. For so many reasons: elephant sanctuaries, slow boat cruises on the Mekong, cities of golden-tipped temples, Lao coffee, motorbike trips into brocade jungles, hidden waterfalls and bayou river islands and ancient temple ruins, learning the other side of a history I thought I knew, pepper farms and crab markets, museums of murder, an abandoned mountaintop fortress camouflaged in perpetual clouds, and post-apocalyptic ruins in a seaside town that had once been slated for bigger things. Here’s an overview of the best things I did in Southeast Asia.