Southeast Asia has transformed dramatically over the last 20 years, and the Thailand of today is a perfect illustration of this. As skyscrapers have risen in Bangkok and luxury tourism has flooded the islands, many travelers yearn for the simplicity and unspoiled charm of the past. For those travelers, Laos presents itself as a potential alternative, offering much of what the old Thailand did.
Remembering Old Thailand
Around 20 years ago, Thailand exuded a charm that is harder to come by these days. The pace of life was slower and more reflective of authentic Thai culture. Streets were less crowded with chain stores and billboards. Instead, travelers found themselves invited into family-run eateries and local markets where community life thrived.
The cultural richness of Thailand in the past was undeniable. It wasn’t unusual to stumble upon vibrant festivals not yet diluted for tourist consumption or to watch artisans at work using techniques passed down through generations. These traditions held sway in all kinds of daily activities, giving visitors an intimate glimpse into the soul of Thai society. Although this can still be found in Thailand, it has become much more elusive.
Another part of Thailand that has been affected by popularity is nature. It wasn’t that long ago that landscapes largely unmarred by development were commonplace. Rather than pulsating with beach parties like today, many beaches were places of peace and quiet. The jungles were teeming with wildlife instead of being encroached upon by resorts, and rural areas offered a reprieve from buzzing mopeds and neon lights.
Tourism dynamics in old Thailand also played a part in making it such an attractive destination. Tourist spots weren’t nearly as congested, and this allowed for genuine interaction between locals and visitors. As well as that, it wasn’t rare to have stretches of sand or temple ruins all to yourself for hours on end. These kinds of experiences helped to create deeper connections both with the people and places of Thailand.
Heading to Thailand?
- Bangkok Tips: How to Survive Your First Time In the Capital of Thailand
- The Complete Travel Guide To Kanchanaburi, Thailand
- Things to do in Bangkok: 8 Awesome Experiences Not to Miss
- Yi Peng and Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai: Thailand Lantern Festivals
Vientiane – Gateway to Laos
If you’re yearning for the Thailand of yesteryears, consider a trip to Laos, starting in the country’s capital. Vientiane is the best place to begin your adventure, as it serves as a gateway to the rest of the country. More than that, when you look for airfare to Laos, you’ll quickly notice how well-connected it is. In addition to Thailand, other nearby countries like Malaysia, Vietnam, and Cambodia all have very affordable direct flights to Vientiane.
Once you step onto its streets, Vientiane greets you with a laid-back atmosphere that instantly sets it apart from the fast pace of modern-day Bangkok. The city’s allure is palpable in its architecture. You’ll find remnants of a French colonial bygone era mixed with traditional Laotian buildings and Buddhist temples. Stroll down any street and feel the vibrant local culture through markets filled with handmade crafts and street food stalls waiting for you to stop by.
When comparing Vientiane to the Bangkok of old, what stands out is not just the scale but also the pace of life here. While Bangkok has transformed into a modern metropolis brimming with tourists at every corner, Vientiane maintains a relaxed demeanor. It’s much smaller in size, too, which means less crowding and more opportunities to immerse yourself in authentic interactions without feeling overwhelmed or rushed.
Exploring Laos’s Untouched Nature and Rural Areas
Getting out of Vientiane and into the less populated regions of Laos is a great way to experience traditional cultures and untouched beauty. One perfect example of this is the Kuang Si Falls, not far from the city of Luang Prabang. Here, you’ll find not just thunderous waterfalls, but stunning turquoise water that filters out over cascading limestone tiers. This effectively creates mini swimming pools that tourists can enjoy.
Laos’s mountains are also worth the visit, offering views that rival anywhere else in Southeast Asia. In particular, the Annamite Range provides beautiful scenery and has a unique makeup of wildlife. The Indochinese tiger, the Chinese pangolin, and the douc langur all call this region home. If you like getting out on the water, the Mekong River runs right through Laos, and it’s one of the top 15 longest rivers in the world. An early morning boat ride just about anywhere on the river will offer a chance to see local life unfolding along the banks.
Out in the rural villages that are scattered across the countryside, you’ll find traditions and lifestyles largely unaffected by modern influences. This is where you can really immerse yourself in Laotian culture. You might get a chance to participate in old-age ceremonies or simply share a meal with the very welcoming locals who are proud of their heritage.
For travelers who have fond memories of Thailand’s past, Laos offers a sense of nostalgia. Its culture is genuine, and its landscapes are largely untouched. Consider heading to Laos to get off the beaten backpacker path and experience a more authentic travel adventure.
More travel inspiration: