Places to Visit in Laos

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Often overlooked in favour of its better-known neighbours, Laos remains one of Southeast Asia’s most beguiling destinations. The places to visit in Laos are as beautiful as any in this part of the world.

Owing to its geographical expanse, Laos encompasses amazingly diverse terrains. Much of the country is covered by steep, verdant mountain ranges, which gradually give way to plateaus and mixed deciduous forests. The mighty Mekong River dominates the topography of the land and runs through nearly its entire length. Vientiane, the capital city, has many beautiful Buddhist temples while the ancient royal capital of Luang Prabang is home to the Phabang, the country’s most sacred Buddha image. The south is renowned for a magnificent inland archipelago, a counterpoint to the remote mountainous regions of the north. This natural beauty, coupled with splendid Buddhist architecture and pleasantly agreeable people, makes a visit to Laos a memorable experience. For a trip that takes in these and other wonderful destinations in this beautiful country follow our list of the best places to visit in Laos.

Best Places to Visit in Laos

11. Vientiane

Could this low-slung, Mekong-bound belle be Southeast Asia’s most languid capital? The cracked streets are bordered by tamarind trees and the narrow alleys choke on French villas, Chinese shophouses and glittering wats. The city brews a heady mix of street vendors, monks, fine Gallic cuisine, boutique hotels and a healthy edge that sees visitors taking spas and turning their time to yoga and cycling. Alongside this there are magnificent temples and monuments to discover. It may not have Luang Prabang’s good looks, but Vientiane has a vibrant, friendly charm all of its own.

10. Tham Kong Lo

Imagine your deepest nightmare: the snaggle-toothed mouth of a river cave beneath a towering limestone mountain, the boatman in his rickety longtail boat taking you into the heart of darkness. Puttering beneath the cathedral-high ceiling of stalactites in this extraordinary 7.5km underworld in remote Khammuan Province is an awesome experience you will never forget. You’ll be very glad to the light at the other end!

9. Plain of Jars, Phonsavan

Phonsavan is a popular base from which to explore the Plain of Jars, a unique area of hundreds of square kilometres scattered with giant stone jars of unknown ancient origin and measuring up to three metres in height. Believed to be funerary urns used for human remains and burial offerings, these curious stone jars have puzzled archaeologists for decades. See them for yourself on a group or private tour around the seven sites open to the public.

8. Trekking in Phongsali & Luang Namtha

Laos is famous for its wide range of community-based treks, many of which include a traditional homestay for a night or more. Trekking is possible all over the country, but northern Laos is one of the most popular areas, particularly around Phongsali. The trekking here is considered some of the most authentic in Laos and involves the chance to stay with the colourful Akha people. Luang Namtha is the most accessible base for ecotreks in the Nam Ha NPA, one of the best known trekking spots in the Mekong region.

7. Bolaven Plateau

The air is a little cooler, the waterfalls a little taller and the coffee a little richer on this forest-clad protuberance rising high above the floodplains of the Mekong. Write your own motorcycle diary along the lonely highways of the plateau, continuing on into the remote southeastern provinces abutting Vietnam. Or chill out for a few days in Tat Lo, a waterfall-studded backpacker hideaway on the plateau’s escarpment. Looking for adventure? Trek to distant minority villages or get nose-to-nose with the jungle on ziplines in Dong Hua Sao NPA.

6. Vieng Xai Caves

This is history writ large in stone. An area of outstanding natural beauty, Vieng Xai was home to the Pathet Lao communist leadership during the US bombing campaign of 1964-73. Set in beautiful yet very natural gardens and backed by fabulous karst scenery, the Vieng Xai caves provide an insight into the country’s troubled past. Beyond the breathtaking beauty of the natural caves, it is the superb audio tour that really brings the experience to life. When the bombers buzz overhead to a soundtrack of Jimi Hendrix, you’ll find yourself ducking for cover in the Red Prince’s lush garden.

5. Mekong River

With the mother Mekong River defining the country’s contours, it is no surprise that river trips are a major feature of travel through Laos. One of the most popular and accessible river trips connects Luang Prabang and Huay Xai, the gateway to the Golden Triangle, via Pak Beng. From local boats to luxury cruises, there are options to suit every budget, including floating through sleepy Si Phan Don in the far south. Beyond the Mekong, many important feeder rivers, such as the Nam Ou and Nam Tha, connect places as diverse as Nong Khiaw and Hat Sa (for Phongsali).

4. Vang Vieng

The riverine jewel in Laos’ karst country, Vang Vieng sits under soaring cliffs beside the flowing Nam Song and has an easy, outdoorsy vibe. Since the party crowd moved on in 2012, tranquillity reigns again with more family-oriented visitors dropping in to soak up such well-organised activities as hot air ballooning and climbing. With one of the most beguiling settings in all of Laos, this town is a great place for exploring the magical limestone mountain scenery that surrounds it. And don’t forget the main draw: tubing. As budget guesthouses and fast-food joints wind down, smarter boutique hotels and delicious restaurants are blossoming in their wake. There’s never been a better time to visit.

3. Bokeo Nature Reserve

Most visitors to Laos head to Bokeo Nature Reserve for one reason – to be a part of the Gibbon Experience where you whiz hundreds of feet above the forest floor attached to a zipline. These brilliantly engineered cables, some more than 500m long, span the forest valleys in the lush Bokeo Nature Reserve (habitat of the black-crested gibbon and Asiatic tiger). Your money goes toward protecting the eponymous endangered primate, and your guides are former poachers turned rangers. Zip into and bed down in high treehouses by night, listening to the call of the wild. This is Laos’ premier wildlife and adrenalin high.

2. Si Phan Don

Legends don’t happen by accident at least not in the far south of the country. Laos’ hammock-flopping mecca has been catering to weary travellers for years. The pace of life on these river islands is super relaxed, even by Lao standards, and there’s little else to do but sink in and enjoy it. While these tropical islands bounded by waters of the Mekong are best-known as a happy haven for catatonic sun worshippers, more active souls are also spoilt for choice. Between tubing and cycling through paddy fields, grab a kayak or fish with the locals, then round off your day with a sunset boat trip to see the rare Irrawaddy dolphins.

1. Luang Prabang

Hemmed in by the Mekong and Khan rivers, this timeless city of temples is a traveller dream and one of the top destinations in Laos. It is rich in royal history, home to saffron-clad monks, and combines stunning river views and world-class French cuisine with the best boutique accommodation in Southeast Asia. Hire a bike and explore the tropical peninsula’s backstreets, take a cooking class, go on an elephant trek or just ease back with a restful massage at one of the many affordable spas. Prepare to adjust your timetable and stay in Luang Prabang a little longer than planned.

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