Laos Prime Attractions
NORTHERN LAOS (approximately 750 km from Vientiane)
Bordered by Myanmar, Vietnam and China, the northernmost part of Laos includes
the provinces of Phongsaly, Luang Namtha and Oudomxay. Highlights of a visit to
this mountainous region are the colorful markets and villages of more than 30
different ethnic groups, such as Hmong, Iko, Khmu, Lanten, Mien, Samtao, Thai
Daeng, Thai Lu. Since the late 16th century, the small town of Muang Sing has
been a traditional Thai cultural nexus as well as a trade center attracting a
large variety of hill tribes. With a stunning unspoiled nature, Luang Nam Tha
province is also home to the 2,224 square-kilometers Nam Ha National
Biodiversity Conservation Area and to the UNESCO Lao Nam Ha Eco-tourism Project.
LUANG PRABANG (390 km from Vientiane)
The crown jewel of Laos and former Lanexang, Luang Prabang, at the confluence of
the Nam Kham and the Mekong River, is perhaps the best-preserved traditional
city in Southeast Asia. Magical and charming, it has maintained its
long-standing reputation as a stronghold of Lao culture with its delightful
mountain encircled setting, the lovely Royal Palace and more than 30
half-millennium old temples such as Vat Xienthong, Vat Visoun, Vat May and Vat
Sene. Nearby are the sacred Pak Ou Caves housing thousands of statues
representing Lord Buddha. In 1995 UNESCO voted Luang Prabang as a World Heritage
NORTHERN MEKONG (approximately 450 km from Vientiane)
In the northwestern part of Laos, near the famous Golden Triangle, Houei Xay is
a bustling trading port between Yunnan and Thailand. The region is famous for
its precious stones (sapphires and rubies) and gold mining. Various hill-tribes’
villages can be visited from Houei Xay, including the colorful Lahu, Mien and
Lanten. Houei Xay is a major entry point for visitors planning to travel
down-river to Luang Prabang. Travelers usually stop overnight at Pak Beng, a
rustic town-village that sits on a steep hillside with spectacular views over
the Mekong River. An alternative option is to continue the cruise to the small
port of Tha Suang and from there, to travel overland to Hong Sa, where Thai Lu
villagers specialize in elephant breeding while women weave some of the most
sumptuous Lao textiles. Elephant safaris to beautiful authentic Thai Lu villages
and to the pristine White Elephant Forest can be organized.
PLAIN OF JARS (approximately 300 km from Vientiane)
Among the most enigmatic sites in Laos is the Plain of Jars, a large area
extending around Phonesavanh city in Xieng Khouang province, where several
hundreds of huge jars of unknown origin are scattered about in over a dozen of
groupings. The jars, carved from solid stone, vary in shape and in size, the
biggest one weighing as much as six tons. The area, which was heavily bombed
during the Indochina and Vietnam Wars, is home to a large Hmong community.
Xiengkhouang province is also known for the trekking tours and the home
stay for the visit and discover the new plain of jars nearby the various
VANG VIENG (160 km from Vientiane)
This small provincial town nestles along a scenic bend of the Nam Song River.
The main attraction is the karst topography lining the west bank of the river
with sugar loaf hills and dramatic cliffs covered by lush vegetation and
peppered by caves and caverns, including the famous Tham Xang cave. During the
19th century, Tham Xang cave, with an underground spring and a stunning view
over the valley, was used as a bunker in defense against marauding Yunnanese.
VIENTIANE CAPITAL & VIENTIANE PROVINCE
Vientiane is the capital of Laos. It
is located on the bank of the Mekong river. Though the largest city in the
country. Most travelers are fascinated by the city's exotic Eurasian setting.
The confluence of
several cultures has given Vientiane an appealing ambience. Tree-lined
boulevards, French historical dwellings and Buddhists temples dominate the scene
of central Vientiane and impart a unique character of timelessness.
Vientiane's That Luang stupa is the most impressive and biggest stupa in Laos,
featured on the Lao insignia. This stupa was constructed in 1566 by King
Setthathirat. The Siamese damaged it badly during their invasion in 1828, but it
was restored in the 1936s. In mid-November, religious rites as well as a fair
are held here during the That Luang festival.
Vat Phra Keo was
also constructed by King Setthathirat. It was rebuilt after the Siamese razed it
during the Siamese-Lao war of 1828. The building had housed the Emerald Buddha
until it was taken to Bangkok following a skirmish with the Lao in 1778. Vat
Phra Keo still displays some of the finest Buddha sculptures found in the
The Patousay on Lane
Xang Avenue is a large monument reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Its
architecture incorporates typical Lao motifs. From the top one can have a
panoramic view of the entire city.
Vat Sisaket is the oldest temple of Vientiane which has survived in its original
form. Inside the main hall, and along the walls of the courtyard surrounding it,
a total of 6840 Buddha images rest in small niches or on shelves. At Vat Ong Teu
resides the Buddhist Institute where monks can study their religion under the
guidance of senior instructors.
SAVANNAKHET (470 km from Vientiane)
Khanthabouly, the provincial capital
of Savannakhet, is a busy market place for trade withnearby Thailand. Numerous
examples of French architecture tell of the town's importance during the
colonial era. Khanthabouly's main attractions are its noteworthy temples such as
the beautiful Vat Saya Phoum and That Inghang. The latter is the holiest edifice
in southern Laos, housing a hollow chamber with a distinguished collection of
Near Muang Phin, on
the route to Vietnam, dinosaur remains are on display. They were discovered by a
French scientist in the 1930s. Not as old as these prehistoric relicts, but of
no less significance, is the northernmost example of Khmer art at Heuan Hin
(stone house). The buildings were constructed between 553 AD and 700 AD. Today
little more than unrestored ruins remain.
Visitors interested in the latest period of Lao history may want to visit the
former Ho Chi Minh Trail, whose outer edges are next to Xepon, 170 km east of
Khanthabouly. North and south along the trail, remnants of downed US
helicopters, fighter planes and other war material can be seen.
PAKSE – CHAMPASSAK (approximately 700 km from Vientiane)
Pakse, the capital of the Champassak province, is located at the confluence of
the Mekong and Sedone Rivers. It is the perfect gateway to the southern region
and to the Boloven Plateau as well as an excellent starting point for excursions
to the former royal capital of Champassak, situated 38 km from Pakse along the
Mekong River. The pre-Angkorian Vat Phu Temple (6th-13th centuries), near
Champassak, was listed as World Heritage by UNESCO in 2002 and the Vat Phu
Archeological Museum opened doors in 2003 with more than 150 artifacts. Several
Khmer sites associated with Vat Phu Temple can be found in the surroundings
including Oum Moung Temple (9th century) on the opposite bank of the Mekong
River. Nearby is Ban Khiat Ngong village with its enigmatic Phu Asa temple,
which lies amidst the dense jungle of Xe Pien NBCA. Elephant riding through the
forest to observe the abundant wildlife is a recommended option.
KHONG ISLAND (815 km from Vientiane)
Located at the southernmost point of Laos, next to the Cambodian border, the
Siphandone region (Four Thousand Islands) is blessed by the most scenic section
of the Mekong River and some impressive rapids including the magnificent Khone
Phapheng Waterfall. Khong Island, with its lovely fishing villages, its serene
monasteries and its lush vegetation offers a unique opportunity to experience
the peaceful Lao way of life. In the dry season, when the river recedes, the
Irrawaddy dolphins, one of the world’s rarest large mammal species, congregate
at the base of rapids to hunt the fish that survive in the deep pools.
BOLOVEN PLATEAU , SARAVAN , SEKONG, ATTAPEU
(approximately 800 km from Vientiane)
The Boloven Plateau straddles Saravan, Sekong, Champassak and Attapeu provinces.
This fertile volcanic plateau, especially the Paksong area, is one of the
country’s most important agricultural areas with coffee, tea and spice
plantations as well as fruit orchards. Neighboring Vietnam, the Boloven Plateau
was heavily bombed during the Vietnam War and the flotsam of the Ho Chi Minh
Trail can be seen in several locations. More than 13 ethnic groups of the
Mon-Khmer family inhabit this remote region: Lavai, Laven, Alak, Nge, Katu,
Katang … still maintain their centuries-old lifestyles, with several families
living in huge longhouses, and practice a combination of animism and shamanism
including buffalo sacrifices. Excursions to Tadlo or Tadfane Waterfalls offer
visitors a glimpse into these ancestral ways of living. The area also boasts 50%
natural forest cover. So far, only Phu Xieng Thong NBCA (about 40 km from Pakse)
received protected status but the southeastern part of the plateau, rugged, wild
and scenic, is home to pristine primary rainforests, abundant with wild life
including rare species of birds and deer, tigers, elephants, leopards, monkeys
and possibly even rhinos.