Things to See

There are so many amazing things to see in Laos,including beautiful temples, natural highlights, ethnic villages and rustic towns. It can however take days of bus travel to get from Luang Prabang to Pakse, so visitors with limited time may want to concentrate on one area of Laos. Of course, you can always opt to take a plane from the north to the south if you want to see both parts.

Ban Phanom Weaving

VillageEven though it has become a bit commercialised, Ban Phanom is still one of the best villages in the north to see how Laos weaving is done. A visit here makes for a fun and easy excursion from Luang Prabang, and you can pick up great deals on silk and cotton textiles.

Lao National Museum
If you want a better understanding of the colourful history of Laos, make a visit to the country’s main museum, housed in a lovely old French colonial mansion in the capital. Photos, relics and items used by both the royalty and the communist party are on display. Phone: +856 21 21 2462.

Luang Prabang
This UNESCO World Heritage site was once the capital of the ancient Lanna kingdom, and remains one of the most romantic and charming places in the world. Temples, monks and French colonial architecture greet you at every turn. With dozens of nice boutiques, guesthouses and the best shopping and dining in Laos, this town is a destination in its own right. It also makes an ideal base for further explorations of northern Laos.

Luang Prabang Night Market
The most charismatic market in Laos is open every night along the main street of Luang Prabang, which is closed to traffic in the evenings. Hundreds of vendors emerge from their villages to sell handicrafts, artwork and souvenirs.

Morning Market
If you are in Vientiane, get up early and head to the Talaat Sao, or Morning Market, where the capital’s residents do their shopping every day. Besides the fascinating, bustling scene, visitors can buy everything from pirated DVDs to antique items.

Pak Ou Caves
If you visit Luang Prabang, take the short boat ride along the Mekong to check out these natural caves carved out of the sheer limestone cliffs along the river. Over the centuries, Buddhists have come here and deposited small images of the Buddha, resulting in an amazing display of icons. Visiting this unique site is a popular excursion.

Phra That Luang
The most important stupa in Laos is a national icon rising 44 metres high in the capital. Several structures have been built on the same auspicious site since the first Khmer temple here in the 12th century. This is a great place to witness it any Buddhist event in the capital.

Traditional Lao Dancing
Traditional Lao dancing resembles traditional dancing in Thailand and Cambodia, and is one of the most graceful displays of human movement you’re likely to see. A great place to experience a special performance is in Luang Prabang at the Royal Theatre, which re-enacts the Ramayana several nights each week.

Vang Vieng
One of the most picturesque little towns in Laos lies midway between Luang Prabang and Vientiane, making it an ideal stopover. Limestone karsts form a backdrop, as do the surrounding rice fields and a lovely river that flows through the valley. Tubing, caving and other fun outdoor activities are big draws of this town, which has emerged as a major stop on the tourist trail.

Laos has lots of water, and some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Southeast Asia. In the north, don’t miss a day at Kuang Si Waterfall, just outside of Luang Prabang. Aqua blue water and swimming holes make this a great excursion. The southern Bolaven plateau has even more waterfalls, as rivers roll off the plateau on all sides, resulting in the country’s highest falls among the dozens of beauties.

Wat Mai
Luang Prabang has the highest concentration of Buddhist temples of any town in Laos, and Wat Mai is one of the city’s gems. Along the exterior o the temple, a golden bas-relief tells the story of Phravet, one of the last reincarnations of the Buddha to live in Laos. Linger outside the temple around 18:00 to listen to the mesmerising evening prayers of the monks.

Wat Xieng Thong
One of the country’s most revered and beautiful temples is right in the heart of old Luang Prabang. The compact complex contains several temples with some of the most intricate and unusual wall decorations of any of the many temples in Laos.

Top things to do Climb to the top of Mount Phousi. Rising up in the centre of Luang Prabang is Phousi hill, which has small temples scattered along its slopes and at its summit. The panoramic views from the top are the best in the region, but you’ll have to climb the 355 steps to get here. This is a popular place to go for sunset; to avoid the crowds, try to catch a sunrise instead.

Follow in the footsteps of Ho Chi Minh. The infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail marks the border with Laos and Vietnam, and has recently been restored and opened up to tourism. Visitors can walk sections of this once-secret trail, where the scars of American bombing can still be seen along the way.

Make friends with a monk. Nearly every temple in Laos has an active group of young novice monks. These friendly boys are usually eager to practice their English, so if you see one hanging around the temple, don’t be shy to strike up a simple conversation. It’ll be a special experience.

Marvel at the mysterious Plain of Jars. These vast plains around Phonsavan are the site of hundreds of massive stone jars dating back 2,000 years. No one knows for certain who made them or what they were used for, but the sight of all these giant stone vessels is a surreal scene akin to Easter Island. Thong Hai Hin is the most developed site to explore these strange creations.

Rent a motorbike and explore the lush Bolaven plateau. This extinct volcano in the south of Laos is home to the country’s burgeoning coffee production scene. There are excellent roads which wind up and over the massive plateau, leading to dozens of stunning waterfalls that drop off the edges. Always cooler than the valley below, the Bolaven is one of the most suitable places in Laos for independent travel.

Swim with dolphins at Si Phan Don. The 4000 Islands area of southern Laos is unlike any other place in Asia. As the Mekong spreads out into something more like a lake than a river, islands of land pop up everywhere. A couple of them have a tourism scene, and one of the highlights is to take a boat to where rare freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins hang out.

Take a boat cruise along the Mekong River. Luang Prabang is the best town from which to organise a river excursion on a classic long-tail boat trip along the Mekong. From sunset cruises to trips to specific villages along its banks, you can easily hire your own boatman and create your own itinerary. The town’s many tour shops will also happily arrange a river excursion for you.

Trek through the Nam Ha Biodiversity Conservation Area. Located in the farthest northern reaches of Laos, this new protected region is a phenomenal place to trek, kayak and explore remote hill tribe villages. You’ll need a local guide to experience the rewards of this undeveloped hinterland.

Wake up early and watch monks collecting alms. Every morning just before dawn, hundreds of orange-robed monks pour out of their temples in Luang Prabang to walk the streets of the town collecting food from the locals in their large silver bowls. The sight is indescribable, and certainly one of the most unique aspects to daily life in Laos.

Wander the ruins of Wat Phu. This ancient complex of temples predates the 9th century Angkor Wat in Cambodia, offering the country’s best version of a classical ruin site. Wat Phu is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so you know it’s going to be worth the trip to Champasak in the south to spend a day or two wandering among these well-preserved ruins.


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