The Faces of Laos

In a country with beautiful scenery and a deep spiritual culture, it was the people I met along the way that I remember most. Let these Laos photos inspire you to add this Southeast Asian country to your travel bucket list.

Laos photos to inspire your next trip

Last Updated on 02/29/24 by Rose Palmer

Some of the photos in this post were recognized with awards in the 2023 North America Travel Journalists Association Excellence in Travel Journalism competition. The feature photo for this story received a Bronze award in the Cover or Feature Photo Illustration category

Laos is still one of those off-the-beaten-path countries that requires some effort to get to and even more effort to tour. As a result, I found it pleasantly uncrowded and surprisingly authentic.

For ten days, I cruised along the Mekong River through Laos from the border with Thailand to its capital, Vientiane. My home was the beautiful Laos Pandaw boat, a luxurious craft in any setting, and even more so in this mostly wild and undeveloped scenery.

Celebrating the return of Pandaw river cruise in Laos
The Laos cruise staff celebrate the return of Pandaw river cruises in Laos with their guests

Cruising the Mekong through Laos was a very easy way to see the country in comfort and with very little effort on my part. As our boat sailed down river, I was surprised by the hilly terrain covered in dense, lush, vegetation. Occasionally, I also got quick glimpses into the local lifestyle.

My favorite Laos photos

As we cruised, we discovered scenes of typical daily life acted out along the river’s edge. I saw a woman net fishing from the bank though most of the time it was men throwing nets from their small boats in the middle of the river.

a woman fishing from the bank in Laos

More than once, we passed children playing in the water along the shoreline.

children swimming in the Mekong in Laos

Midway through our cruise we reached the big city of Luang Prabang which is Laos’ holy center and is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Every morning at sunrise, the city’s many monks line up in a procession along the main street to collect alms.

Monks receiving alms in Luang Prebang

Barefoot, bareheaded, and wearing simple orange robes, the monks quietly pass by as they receive offerings of sticky rice or other treats which are placed in the bowls they carry. The food they collect will have to sustain them for the whole day.

This “Tak Bat” ceremony is equally important for those that make the sticky rice and provide the offering. With heads bowed in reverence and without saying a word, the alms givers place a ball of rice into each bowl that passes by. This selfless sharing is a way of generating merit toward their goal of spiritual redemption.

A woman gives alms to a monk in Luang Prebang

However, it was the hardworking women in Laos that I encountered which impressed me the most.

After getting up early to make the sticky rice for our tour group, this young woman easily balanced all the other paraphernalia she provided for our alms giving experience.

Despite her broken English, my weaving instructor at the Ock Pop Tok craft center in Luang Prabang was able to make herself understood. Patiently, she guided me through the process of weaving this patterned silk design.

As we stopped to visit the small villages lining the Mekong, we interacted mostly with the women and children in each community.

Here, a local woman proudly shows off her abundant vegetable garden. For her, this isn’t just a hobby, it’s a means of survival for her whole family.

woman working in her garden in Laos

At a few of the villages, the women laid out silk scarves that they had woven on homemade looms. With all the beautiful colors, it was hard to resist wanting to buy them all.

women in Laos selling their handmade scarves

Carrying a sleeping infant on her back, this enterprising young mother was happy to make a few sales. The $2 I spent on a trinket did not make a dent in my wallet but would certainly made a big difference to her daily life.

Bronze – Cultural Photography

Laotian woman in a small village selling her wares

Here, grandma was clearly this family’s matriarch. Though she did not speak English, she adamantly made herself understood that she wanted Thai Bahts or Laotian Kip and not dollars for our purchases.

We didn’t see a lot of men as we visited the small villages in Laos. And when we did, they were busy at their craft.

Like the man grinding gunpowder with a large stone mortar and pestle…

Silver – Portrait Photography

Laotian man grinding gunpowder

…or the the young man caning a chair…

…and the young teacher in a village one room schoolhouse.

Mostly though, I will remember the children.

For the younger ones, we were a novelty. Ours was the first tourist boat to visit these communities in almost three years, and many of the younger children had never seen a “white” tourist before – some didn’t know quite what to think.

We got shy looks….

…..and some with indifferent looks….

……or they were much more interested in what they were playing with.

We also got confused looks…..

….and this little boy started crying when he saw us and had to be consoled by his big sister who was probably no more than 4 or 5 years old herself.

But we also got some happy smiles….

…especially when we disrupted a classroom and gave the kids an excuse not to pay attention.

And occasionally, there was a distraction that was even more interesting than we were.

This group of boys were not allowed to be distracted by our presence as they did their daily ritual chanting. The senior monk started scolding them if they paid more attention to us than to their training.

When we reached Vientiane, it was clear that we were now in the “Big City”. A beautiful young couple, all dressed up for their wedding photos, were happy to pose for my photos as well.

I went into my trip to Laos with no expectations, other than to discover a country I knew very little about. I saw a lot of temples and buddha statues while visiting Laos along with the struggles of village life and the typical hustle in a big city.

But what I will remember most is the quiet, untouched scenery as we sailed down the Mekong and the many faces of the Laotian people as they briefly welcomed me into their midst.


Please note that I received a media discount for my cruise with Pandaw. All content and opinions are my own. 


Other Southeast Asia travel stories you may find interesting:

My essay on the return of Pandaw River cruises: The Boats Are Back in Town – The Triumphant Return of Pandaw River Cruises.


Thanks for visiting.