I’m not going to lie: I HATE driving my car. Whether it’s around the corner to the store or hours of driving to a fun destination, I just really, really don’t like driving. So, for me, the perfect road trip involves me not having to drive.
Sure, you give up a bit of flexibility when taking a “road trip” by bus, train, or boat, but the added experience of being able to relax along the way and watch the world pass you by is well worth it for me.
One of my favorite “road trips” was my trip through Laos traveling north from the border with Cambodia and into China. Along the way, I stopped at nearly every city along the route, sampling local delicacies, wondering through strange towns, and visiting unique museums.
Sure, Laos might seem like an odd destination because it gets overshadowed by its neighbors, but what it lacks in publicity and “must-see” sights, it make makes up for in peacefulness and unspoiled charm.
So, what can you see while road tripping through Laos? A lot.
Staring in the south, there are thousands of islands in the middle of the Mekong River that prove you don’t have to be at the ocean to relax on a beach. There’s also the nearby Wat Phou, which was built around the same time as the famous Angkor Wat but receives almost no visitors.
Further north, you’ll encounter towns filled with crumbling colonial French architecture and a relaxed atmosphere. Leaving the towns behind, there are coffee plantations, towering waterfalls, and navigable caves that are criminally under-visited.
As your road trip continues, you’ll eventually come to the Vientiane, the tiny capital of Laos. While there may not be a lot to see here, it’s a great place to rest while you get ready for the second half of your trip.
Continuing into the northern half of the country, many stop at the main travel destinations of Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. While Vang Vieng has some beautiful scenery, it has been so overrun by drunk travelers that you might be best skipping right over it.
On the other hand, Luang Prabang may pulsate with tourists as well, but it preserves enough cultural and natural beauty to keep you busy for weeks. This UNESCO protected town is home to hundreds of ancient temples that are well worth exploring.
While you can certainly travel north from Luang Prabang by bus, most opt to take what’s known as the “slow boat”. Taking two days to reach the northern town of Huay Xai, Laos (with a one night stop in Pakbeng), the slow boat traverses the Mekong River through some of the most untamed land in all of Southeast Asia. Along the voyage, you’ll pass small towns only accessible by boat, and, if you’re as lucky as I was, you might even see wild elephants bathing in the river.
From Huay Xai, it’s only a half-day’s ride to the southwestern border of China. While it’s certainly worth continuing north into China’s amazing Yunnan Province, that’s best saved for another story.
In closing, remember, you don’t need a car to take a road trip. All you need is a spirit of adventure and someone else willing to do the driving.
Jim Cheney is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Jim spent over two years in Asia traveling and working prior to settling back in America. His writing focuses mainly on travel planning advice and unique travel destinations throughout Asia, Europe, and North America.