Often overlooked in favour of its better-known neighbours, landlocked Laos remains one of Southeast Asia’s most beguiling destinations. Caught in the middle of the two Indochina wars and long isolated from the rest of the world, the country retains a slow, rustic charm, and an incredibly laidback and friendly culture. Here is our pick of the best things to do in Laos.
A slow boat trip on the Mekong River in Laos is one of the best things to do in Laos, allowing you to experience the country's spectacular natural beauty and rich cultural heritage. The trip usually starts in the northern town of Huaysai, close to the Thai border, and ends in the historic city of Luang Prabang, located in central Laos.
Thong Hai Hin (Stone Jar Plain) is located 15km (9 miles) southwest of Phonsavan. This site has the biggest collection of jars, numbering over 250, and also the largest jar, which according to local lore is the victory cup of the legendary Lao king Khun Jeuam, who is said to have liberated the local people from an oppressive ruler.
Hotels and travel agencies in Pakse offer a variety of guided tours to the region, ranging from day trips to three- to four-day itineraries. A good starting point for an exploration of the region is the Taat Lo (Lo Waterfall), 94km (58 miles) northeast of Pakse. The road is paved throughout, and the journey time is no more than two hours. The falls drop only a few metres but are wide and surrounded by lush vegetation.
In the centre of the city, between Mount Phu Si and the Mekong is the Royal Palace Museum which offers an insight into the history of the region. To the southwest of the Royal Palace is Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham. Dating from the early 19th century, this temple was once the residence of the Sangkhalat, the supreme patriarch of Buddhism in Laos.
Inside the sim, the eight thick supporting pillars, richly stencilled in gold, guide the eye to the serene golden Buddha images at the rear, and upwards to the roof, which is covered in dhamma wheels. On the outside of the sim, at the back, is an elaborate mosaic of the Tree of Life set against a deep red background. Throughout, the combination of splendid gold and deep red gives this temple a captivatingly regal atmosphere.
Food vendors keep most of the local visitors at the lower level of the falls, which can be very crowded during holidays. Up a trail to the left of the lower cascade is a second fall with a pool which makes for good swimming and is generally quieter. The trail continues to the top of the falls, though after rain it can be dangerously slippery.
Popular Lao dishes include tam som – the equivalent of Thai som tam – a spicy salad made of sliced green papaya mixed with chilli peppers, garlic, tomatoes, ground peanuts, crab, lime juice and fish sauce. Another standby is laap, a spicy dish of minced meat, poultry or fish mixed with lime juice, garlic, chilli pepper, onion and mint.
It quickly developed a reputation as an anything-goes party town – complete with raucous full-moon parties, as though a Thai beach resort had been transported to landlocked Laos. Today the main attraction is the surrounding countryside, and the town has become an attractive, relaxed base for rock climbing, cycle tours, kayaking and other outdoor activities, with some excellent boutique accommodations and decent places to eat.
If you're looking for things to do in Laos, be sure to visit the breathtaking Blue Lagoon. This stunning natural pool, nestled in the heart of the jungle, boasts crystal-clear water that is simply spectacular to behold. Visitors can swim in the pool or chill out on the surrounding beach. There are also swings and a zip line for the more daring ones.
There are village homestays available, and organised tours by bike or on foot can easily be arranged in Kratie or Stung Treng.
One of Southeast Asia’s lesser-known countries, Laos is definitely off the beaten track, but it has retained its culture, charm and traditional village life, wild jungle and stunning countryside. Come here for a tradition, mystery and a unique adventure with our tailor-made trip to Historical Laos.
The Nam Ou, a major tributary of the Mekong flows south from the mountains of China’s Yunnan province through the Lao provinces of Phongsali and Luang Prabang before reaching the Mekong upstream from Luang Prabang. It is possible to travel along various sections of the Ou between the new dam projects.
The aforementioned bridge is an important link in the Chinese-built Route 1, which travels from Luang Nam Tha province in the west to Xieng Khuang province in the east. If you choose not to travel further north on the Ou it is possible to secure public transport either towards Udomxai in the west or to Sam Neua in the east.
Many of these may be found in the older part of the town, along the riverside appropriately designated Quai Fa Ngum. Here, as by the shaded boulevards in the vicinity of That Dam and along Lane Xang Avenue, the “Champs Élysées” of Vientiane, may be found fine examples of colonial French architecture, complete with shutters and red-tiled roofs.
Today the great edifice still retains a very fortress-like appearance. It is surrounded by a high-walled cloister, which is pierced by tiny windows, and access is by way of finely gilded red-lacquer doors which add to the impression of a medieval keep. Close up, however, the sacred character of the structure is unmistakable because of the abundant religious imagery.
The Mekong River is at its widest in Laos here, close to the Cambodian border: during the rainy season it is up to 12km (7.5 miles) across, and when the waters recede many small islands emerge. It is from this phenomenon that the Si Phan Don region takes its name, meaning “Four Thousand Islands”.
Fascinating and rewarding, Laos is a charming and traditional destination that is very much off the beaten track. With plenty of activities to appeal to everyone, from elephants and temples to jungles and waterfalls, it’s just the place for a great family adventure.
As you enter the complex you can see the remains of palaces built by Champasak royalty, towards the end of their dynasty, from which they viewed the annual festivities held on the full moon of the third lunar month. An east-west axial promenade passes between two rectangular baray or bathing ponds and leads to the base of the middle level.
If you prefer to plan and book your trip to Laos without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.
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Top image: Wonderful landscape of Nong Khiaw in Laos © taboga/Shutterstock