Thailand and Laos are two unmissable places to visit while you’re exploring Southeast Asia. While Thailand is renowned the world over as a bustling haven for backpackers, Laos’ reputation as a slightly quieter destination means that it’s a perfect foil for your time in Thailand. There are endless opportunities for adventure and exploration in both countries – so much so that it can be difficult to know where to begin! So, we’ve picked what we think are Thailand and Laos must-do activities – the ultimate experiences for any traveller.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
In 2014, members of the Karen hill-tribes of Northern Thailand joined forces with Chiang Mai locals to establish an ethical sanctuary, designed explicitly for the welfare of local elephant populations. This sustainable ecotourism project has become a firm favourite of Dragon Trip travellers, as it provides both an amazing experience to get up-close with these majestic animals and, crucially, a way to do so that ensures the protection and preservation of the elephants.
The Sanctuary places importance upon visitors learning all about the animals they’re seeing, so when you visit, you’ll come away with a whole host of knowledge about elephants, their environment, the local people, and the need to preserve elephant populations.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
In Chiang Mai alone, there are hundreds of beautiful temples – and none are more so than the impressive Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, which soars above Chiang Mai in the mountains. This stunning temple was founded in 1383 by King Keu Naone, and is reached by a steep 300-step staircase that takes you even higher above city-level. It’s an exquisite example of Lanna architecture, and also features impressive naga sculptures – mythical sea serpents – that flank your ascent.
Across the complex, you’ll see beautiful temple buildings, pagodas, and statues – and if you can bear to turn your back on it, you’ll also get spectacular views across Chiang Mai. It’s widely recognised as one of the must-see sites in the province – and Thailand at large.
Sticky (Bua Tong) Waterfall
In all the amazing photos you see of Thailand, there’s no better backdrop than a magnificent waterfall. Bua Tong (known as Sticky Waterfall) is arguably one of the finest. Bua Tong gets its colloquial name thanks to the limestone that forms it – while wet rocks are usually slippy thanks to smooth surfaces and algae, the hardened sponge-like limestone deposits that make up Bua Tong means that explorers can climb it by ‘sticking’ to the rocks. If you’re after a bit of adventure while you’re in the jungle, try and climb up!
While you’re there, take a dip and cool off in the water, which is fed year-round by mineral springs from the top. You can take some time to explore the lush jungle around it, or even indulge in a picnic. Just don’t forget your swimsuit!
Tak Bat Morning Ceremony
Luang Prabang’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage site means that it’s an amazing place to get a meaningful glimpse into Lao culture. There are few ceremonies more beautiful than Luang’s Tak Bat morning giving ceremony – a sacred Buddhist tradition. This giving ceremony is a way for both the Buddhist monks and the local people to affirm their faith, as hundreds of monks take to the streets in their saffron robes at dawn to receive food prepared by the city locals.
The ceremony is carried out entirely in silence, as the monks take a vow and walk in meditation. It’s not only an incredible sight to behold, but also a great way to gain valuable insight into the Lao culture. Importantly, however, it’s crucial that as a responsible traveller, you remain respectful of the ceremony’s deep meaning to the locals and observe proper etiquette.
Kuang Si Falls
A small trickle, these falls ain’t. If you’re looking to be properly, truly impressed by waterfalls, there’s a reason that Kuang Si is beloved by tourists everywhere. The falls are multi-tiered, and as they cascade through the jungle, it creates beautiful turquoise pools for you to take a dip in. The water’s distinct look is thanks to the limestone rocks that the waterfall is made up of.
It’s an amazing place to unwind – in the cool waters, surrounded by lush jungle. In many of the pools you’re allowed to swim, but there are certain areas where it’s prohibited, where the pools are deemed sacred by local communities.
Pak Ou Caves
For another beautiful cultural excursion, a visit to the Pak Ou Caves is a must-do. Located at the junction of the Mekong and Nam Ou rivers, they’re believed to have been a place of worship from Buddhists from the 16th century. The caves are filled with hundreds of images of Buddha that have been placed there over the course of 400 years, many of which were left by pilgrims visiting the sacred area.
For a dual experience, try taking a boat trip up the Mekong from Luang Prabang to the caves. Once there, you’ll get another amazing glimpse into the rich religious heritage of Laos, as well as incredible panoramas of the surrounding forests.