Places to visit in Laos
Laos is a huge country that stretches from remote mountains in the north to fertile plains in the south. There are temples, hill tribe villages and waterfalls. There are elephants, saffron-robed monks and gilded palaces. You can travel by boat, bike, tuk tuk and kayak. And you can enjoy delicious food and a friendly welcome along the way.
We have picked out some of our favourite areas that you might like to consider including on your holiday. However there are many more places to visit so do please contact us to discuss further possibilities.
You would be forgiven in thinking that Vientiane isn’t really a city, more a large town. But capital city it is, its diminutive size meaning it’s easy to get around by foot, bicycle or, one of our favourites, by tuk-tuk. Whilst not quite as charming as its northern counterpart, Luang Prabang, Vientiane has its own appeal, boasting a rich array of coffee shops and bakeries, shops, street stalls, museums and galleries. A must-see and iconic image is the capital’s version of the Arc de Triomphe, Patuxai, likewise visiting the golden Pha That Luang monument and Buddha Park. Or why not make like the locals and join the city-dwellers for an evening stroll along the Mekong to watch the sunset before tucking in to local delicacies in the nightmarket?
The jewel in Laos’ crown and one of the most atmospheric cities in the world, not just South East Asia, it’s not surprising that Luang Prabang has UNESCO World Heritage status. A fascinating blend of golden temples, upmarket restaurants and hotels, charming guesthouses, independent shops and galleries, you’ll love the many influences that make this place so special: from modern-day gallic cuisine or Indochine culture and Buddhist religion to faded colonial charm.
Take a wander (or boat ride) along the Mekong, visit the markets, sit quietly in gilded temples and explore the French quarter or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, explore the beautiful surrounds. There’s an enormous amount of more ‘active’ things to do in the area, from kayaking, to mountain biking to river cruises to looking after elephants; all with a gorgeous mountainous backdrop. Don’t miss a visit to the Kuang Si Waterfalls, which you’ll have to yourselves if you go early enough.
Vang Vieng has undergone massive change since Laos opened up to tourism, not all of it a force for good. Once a tiny market village, it became a backpacker mecca thanks to its stunning scenery – a backdrop of karst mountain scenery, fields and and riverside location as much as its being a halfway point between Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Thankfully, it’s shirking off its reputation as a party town and becoming a centre for eco-adventure activities like rafting, hiking, kayaking, tubing, mountain biking and caving, fantastic for families with older children and teenagers. As well as exploring the local caves and lagoons, visitors will also enjoy visiting the 16th and 17th century monasteries in the town.
Si Phan Don aka 4,000 Islands
Si Phan Don is as strange as it is beautiful: a riverine archipelago of ‘4,000 islands’ on the Mekong in the far south of the country but absolutely the place to come if you’re wanting a few days of R & R: think string hammocks, hippy ‘beach’ shacks serving simple yet delicious food and you get the picture. After recharging, you’ll want to explore the area by boat or kayak, seeing if you can spot the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins (a slight misnomer given its location).
Sadly, there are less than 100 left in the Mekong but your guide will teach you about conservation efforts to preserve these magnificent freshwater creatures. You can also visit the picturesque island of Don Khone, which you can explore by bike visiting old French colonial buildings and the beautiful Liphi Waterfall. Heading back to the mainland, you can stop off at Khone Phapheng Falls, one of the largest and most powerful waterfalls in South East Asia.
Plain of Jars
Steeped in mystery and scattered over hundreds of kilometres of hilly countryside near Phonsavan in the heart of Northern Laos, the Plain of Jars isn’t really just one place but many. Although very little is known about the origins of these jars (some so big, kids can climb into them), archaeologists believe they date back to the South East Asian Iron Age (500 BC to AD 200) and were probably used for burial rituals. Whatever their origin or purpose, they are one of the strangest sights you’ll see – kids will be fascinated.
Huay Xai to Luang Prabang
If you are wanting to combine a Laos adventure with a Thai one, then taking an overnight river cruise along the Mekong from Huay Xai on the Thai border to Luang Prabang (or vice versa) is a fabulous – and popular –way to (slow) travel. You’ll spend a leisurely day or two watching Laos’ gorgeous scenery go by and stopping at local villages en route, Pakbeng being the most popular stop-off. Whilst Huay Xai isn’t the most characterful town in Laos, it is a major crossing point with not just tourists but traders, and there’s a lively market, Talat Sao where you can pick up gorgeous indigenous art and craft souvenirs.
Champasak is one of the most visited provinces in the country, located in the southwest of Laos, near the borders with Thailand and Cambodia. At its heart is the provincial capital of Pakse, which is a popular tourist and trading destination. Nearby are the pre-Angkorian temples of Wat Phu (which offers stunning views over the Mekong valley) and Phu Asa. From here, the Mekong flows south into the Si Phan Don, or 4,000 islands.
Luang Namtha, Muang La and the hilltribes of the North
Northern Laos is a magnet for eco-tourists wanting to make the most of the stunning mountain scenery and untouched hilltribe culture. At its heart is the town of Luang Namtha, a place not only popular because it’s the ideal base from which to enjoy the rafting, cycling, hilltribe trekking and authentic cuisine but also because of its welcoming atmosphere and lovely restaurants. Families love nothing more than renting a bike and heading out to explore local waterfalls and paddy fields. We also thoroughly recommend a stay in a lodge on the banks of the Nam Ou river, from where you can take a river cruise to experience the limestone cliff scenery, jungle vistas and nearby sleepy hamlets.
Call us and we will be happy to provide you with a free-of-charge no obligation itinerary and quotation designed for you.
Laos in pictures
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