Off Circuit: A Solo Woman Traveller's Guide To Laos

From the cities to the countryside, the often overlooked Laos thrums with life and beauty
Guide to Laos
Patuxai was built in honour of those who fought for independence from FrancePhoto: Shutterstock

Sitting at the edge of a turquoise lagoon, I watch a young boy dive headlong into its waters. He slices the blue neatly like a freshly sharpened sword as his circle of teenage friends burst into applause. The cheering dies and the silence of the jungle takes over again. I continue to soak in the unbelievably pristine surroundings until I get on my rented scooter and ride back to Vang Vieng, my second pitstop on my journey through Laos.

When I first picked the country, I was shortlisting places that met my checklist—a country I had not been to, one that offered visa-on-arrival, was pocket-friendly, and women-friendly. I kept missing it on the map as it was tucked in between the popular Thailand-Cambodia-Vietnam circuit I had traversed years ago with a friend. I planned to go solo this time, and just like the missing piece in a puzzle, Laos fell right into place. The country is incredibly affordable for Indians, with INR 1 equivalent to Laotian kip 256. While many travellers choose to fly directly to its most magnetic district, Luang Prabang, I was in favour of relishing the destination slowly on a two-week trip that allowed me plenty of time to fit in smaller places. So, I started with its often overlooked capital, Vientiane.

The riverfront is Vientiane's most popular stretch. It runs parallel to the Mekong, the lifeline of Laos, which runs through six major countries of the Indo-China basin. I took in its calm views on a mile-long stroll down the waterfront. The stretch turns lively in the evenings with open-air cafés and bars, barbecue joints with giant lobsters on the grill, and vendors selling pork cuts lining the sidewalk. The stretch ends with a typical Southeast Asian night market being set up. The Patuxai, or "Victory Gate," in downtown Vientiane, which I see later on my way out, lies in stark contrast. The exquisite monument is more a haunt for Laotian families than travellers.

Places to viist in Laos
A tributary of the Mekong River called Nam SongPhoto: Shutterstock

I wrap up the night after struggling to place my dinner order again in a country that speaks little English, but communicates more with heartwarming smiles.

This gradually reduces as I move to places more familiar to travellers such as Vang Vieng, where I find the bluest of lagoons, stellar views atop the Nam Xay peak, and finally, the cultural buzz of Luang Prabang, which is just four hours away by road.

Things to do in Laos
Wat Xieng Thong was built between 1559 and 1560 by King SetthathirathPhoto: Shutterstock

On day one itself I understood what draws travellers to this UNESCO town. It's hard not to get floored by all that Luang Prabang has to offer, with the Old Quarter's Lao-French architectural heritage; coffee shops, hotels, and department stores run out of traditional homes; magnificent wats (Buddhist temple) like the Wat Xieng Thong; the National Museum (and former Royal Palace), which is a World Heritage Site; and Phousi Hill, which boasts stunning views of the city dissected by the Nam Khan River.

Caves in Laos
Pak Ou Caves are noted for miniature Buddhist sculpturesPhoto: Shutterstock

All of this is more or less on the riverfront. Running parallel to it is a busy night market that merges into a street with lively bars and upmarket dining spots. The night market spoils you for choice with its many souvenir shops and a food section offering vegetarian and vegan choices, which is a relief. This is where I make up for the lack of options in other places and go to town with multiple portions of lotus stem and bok choy salad, grilled mushrooms of all kinds, mango sticky rice, and handmade coconut ice cream.

Away from the epicentre of Luang Prabang, the town's vibrant atmosphere slowly dissolves into paddy fields, tropical jungles, and unparalleled limestone waterfalls. I ride my rented bike around the countryside—where even my translation app is no good—on lone tarmac stretches with endless mountains and the wind in my hair.

I watch lazy moon bears chew on bamboo, get up close with the azure waters of the Kuang Si and Tad Sae Falls, and watch the gargantuan Mekong navigate its route silently and gracefully like a colossal blue whale. I'm mightily impressed by the bouquet of visual feasts this tiny, power-packed country has to offer, but what stayed with me is the sunset over the Mekong. When I sail down its length for one final tryst, stopping at the Pak Ou Caves, homes where I am welcomed with traditional ceremonies, villages where women sing and dance, and the men sell fresh river weed, I know that the Mekong is at the heart of this culture. As much as the people consider it their lifeline, the river, too, chooses the people of Laos.

Back on its banks, I disembark beside meditating monks at ease with the lively prattle surrounding them. Both equally capture the essence of Laos and I am grateful for getting a taste of this deep calm that stems from its chaos.

Know Before You Go

Visa: Indians can avail a visa-on-arrival costing INR 4,200 for a single-entry. You only need a photograph and a valid passport.

Currency: Laotian Kip

Exchange Rate: INR 1 = LAK 256

Getting There: Reach Vientiane, Laos, through Ho Chi Minh City. A round trip flight costs approximately INR 38,000.

Getting Around Laos: In cities like Luang Prabang, Vientiane, and Pakse, rent a cycle for INR 40-200/day. Tuk-tuk fares are around INR 200 to and from airports and bus stations and INR 120-200 around town.

Food: A meal at a mid-range restaurant with a beverage, a starter, and a main course costs INR 400 per person. Throw in a dessert and you have a treat for under INR 500.

Accommodation: Laos offers accommodations for all budgets. A decent double room is easily available for under INR 5,000.

Pro Tip: Hot air ballooning in Vang Vieng is a great budget-friendly bucket list experience, costing INR 8,354 for a 45-minute ride, including hotel pickup and drop-off. Away & Co ( offers unique experiences like personalised cooking classes, offbeat boat trips, and local ceremonies for those seeking something different.

Shikha Tripathi is a writer based in Uttarakhand

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