Best places to visit in Laos
Laos is a tranquil landlocked country in Southeast Asia, on the Indochinese peninsula between Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, and China. Although it is not as popular as its neighbor countries, Laos has plenty to offer, with the benefit of fewer crowds. A visit to Laos will allow you to enjoy some of the country’s most beautiful and geographically diverse landscapes. From mountainous regions to river islands, here are 12 exquisite destinations you may not want to miss.
It is no doubt the top attraction in Laos. Luang Prabang is the ancient town which was the former capital of the Kingdom of Laos. Located at the confluence of two rivers – the Mekong and the Nam Khan rivers, Luang Prabang stands in front of a backdrop of a magnificent hilltop temple.
Although it is a small town, it is full of interesting things to explore. You may wake up early to witness the daily Alms – giving, where hundreds of monks in orange robes silently walk through the streets to gather donated food, explore the beautiful temples or enjoy a cup of coffee at gorgeous little European style cafes along the scenic river banks. Besides, Luang Prabang is a great base for exploring some of Laos’ beautiful natural sites as Pak Ou Cave, Kuang Si Waterfalls, elephant village…. As the main destination, it is easy to find the international flights which take you directly to Luang Prabang from neighbor countries. People who come from Euro or USA can connect with a flight to Luang Prabang via Bangkok.
Huay Xay is the border town between Laos and Thailand. As it is near to main attractions in North of Thailand as Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai, many travelers choose to visit it when they cross from one country to the other. It is also known for its Mekong River cruises as you can take a boat from Huay Xay to Luang Prabang that may be the highlight of a trip to Laos. It is also the gateway to Bokeo Nature Reserve which is known for its spectacular Gibbon Experience.
Pakbeng is located between Luang Prabang and Huay Xay. It is the beautiful overnight stop during the cruise trip between two towns. There is not a huge amount to do in Pakbeng. There are a few nice restaurants in town that look out over the river to come for a cold beer and sunset views over the majestic Mekong.
Luang Nam Tha
Luang Namtha is the largest city in the Luang Nam Tha Province in the Northern Laos. The name means ‘the area around the Tha River’. The highlight of this city is to enjoy stunning landscape and visit the traditional hill tribes of Laos in the Luang NamTha National Protected Area. The town itself does not offer much interest but it’s home to the Luang Namtha Museum – an anthropological museum where you can learn more about fascinating local tribes. The little town is split into old and new; the former having been bombed during the 1970s war makes for an interesting discovery.
Travelers can choose different trekking routes through NPA with different add-ons such as visits to waterfalls, mountain biking, and kayaking. For those who prefer to explore on their own, there are mountain bikes and motorbikes for hire.
Nong Kiaw is a pretty spot in Laos that takes 4 hours driving from Luang Prabang. Thanks to the easy access, it rapidly becomes one of the best places to visit in the country if you are interested in nature or adventure activities. Here you will have some amazing trekking or biking opportunities around the scenic villages surrounding the main town. Nong Khiaw also sits on the delightful Nam Ou River so you can take a boat trip to enjoy the scenery from the vantage point of the water. This part of the country is also surrounded by gorgeous karst formations and the limestone caves here such as the Pha Tok Caves.
Muang Ngoi, also known as Muang Ngoi Neua, is located on the Nam Ou River. The only way to reach Muang Ngoi is by one – hour boat trip from Nong Kiau. This remote river village has become popular among tourists who want to get away from busy life and experience authentic life.
Muang Ngoi is the small village which had no power before 2013. Thanks to tourism’s development, the village now is a bit more modern. There are a lot of guesthouses but most of them do not have internet. However, few guesthouses and restaurants offer Wifi. Some restaurants have beautiful lights in the night and one of them even offers a buffet dinner and cocktail happy hour. In Muang Ngoi, people can walk to nearby villages or visit some caves.
Plain of Jars
Plain of Jars is a collection of large stone jars interspersed throughout the Xieng Khouang plain in the Lao Highlands. The jars are arranged in clusters ranging in number from one to several hundred
Archaeologists have different stories on their origin, how they were created, and what they were used for. Whatever their purpose, this place is still a unique and eerie landscape. The views from this point are breath-taking and the road to this destination is lined with tribal villages and a lot more sceneries.
The three main jar sites can be visited (named Site 1, 2, and 3) although there are over 40 Jar Sites in total. Site 1 is by far the busiest as it is close to the city and contains a small museum. If you want to be less crowded, spend a half day to visit Sites 2 & 3 where you will not see anyone except for farmers and cows. To get there, the easiest way is to take a flight from Vientiane or Luang Prabang. A car ride takes about 6 – 7 hours from both cities.
Vang Vieng sits between Vientiane and Luang Prabang. It can be reached by 4-hour ride from both cities. In Vang Vieng, travelers can enjoy the tubing down the Nam Song River and take in the lush jungle scenery here at the same time. There are also other spots such as the Tham Phu Kham Cave which is known for its lagoon and bronze statue of the Buddha. It is a good base for active travelers as there is variety of activities such as zip line, trekking, kayaking…
Vientiane is the capital of Laos. However, you will not find modern and busy capital such as Bangkok, Thailand or Hanoi, Vietnam. Vientiane still makes visitor to feel like a small town. Vientiane used to be a French trading post during the colonial period, so the old French quarter can be seen now.
Besides, there are other construction which was influenced by French architecture such as a Laotian version of the famous Arc de Triomphe in Paris known as Patuxai. There are also other attractions that are well worth a visit such as sprawling local markets and temples like Wat Si Saket which is the oldest of its kind in Vientiane.
Wat Phou (or Vat Phou) is a gorgeous Khmer Hindu temple in the Champasak Province of Southern Laos. It was built between the 11th and 13th centuries. The complex spreads across six terraces and three levels. It is an ancient shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva, one of the Gods of the Hindu Trimurti. It boasts intricate carvings, a sacred spring, and a set of beautiful Buddha images. The sanctuary has been converted into a Buddhist monastery since the 13th-century.
Located at the base of Mount Phou Khao, this would have been a strategic location in the mighty Khmer Kingdom that stretched from Angkor in neighboring Cambodia. Nowadays you can visit similar temples at Angkor which are also partially eroded by the jungles of Laos.
Si Phan Don
Si Phan Don means ‘Four Thousand Islands’. It covers different-sized islands dotted along the Mekong River in Southern Laos’ Khong District. The main island as well as largest one is Don Khong.
There are not much things to do in the island apart from few temples and a museum. But Don Khong still attracts visitors thanks to their backdrop of rice fields, waterfalls, and farmland scattered with riverside huts. Visitors can spend time spotting freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins off the coast of Don Khong, take a photo of the remains of Laos’ first railway or rent a bike to explore other two main islands – Don Det and Don Khon.
Bolaven Plateau and Tad Fane Waterfall
Bolaven Plateau is another attraction in southern Laos. It is a mountainous region home to dozens of hill tribes, waterfalls and coffee and tea plantations. Coming here, travelers can explore some of Southeast Asia’s most spectacular waterfalls, including Tad Fane and Dong Hua Sao. The plateau’s elevation ranges from about 1,000 to 1,350 metres above sea level. It is a great place for outdoor enthusiasts with its trekking and biking trails through rural Laos.