5 Places You’ll Love in Laos
Featured destinations: Laos, Vientiane, Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang
Published 30 March 2016
Stuck in the middle of a Cambodia – Vietnam – China – Burma – Thailand sandwich, laid-back Laos is often overlooked in favour of its bigger hitting neighbours. But despite being the underdog in the fiercely fought Southeast Asian popularity contest, Laos has much to offer the unhurried traveller. Scratch beneath the surface of its verdant rice fields and discover cultural wonders, karst landscapes and a wealth of outdoor activities. Just don’t tell Thailand.
To showcase Laos’ best bits, we’ve chosen five of our favourite places that we know you’ll love.
Atmospheric Luang Prabang is a World Heritage city filled with golden wats and orange-clad monks, located at the confluence of the Mekong and the Khan rivers. The town is stuffed with treasures, such as Haw Kham, the national museum, which was once the Royal Palace. Look around the monasteries and chat to the monks, and if you can prise yourself out of bed at dawn, watch a traditional alms ceremony. Don’t miss Wat Xieng Thong, a glittering temple filled with gold, coloured glass and mosaics; its shrines, towers and gardens together form one of the most important monasteries in Laos.
On the banks of the Nam Song River in central Laos, Vang Vieng has pushed aside its former reputation as a party town and emerged stronger, prettier and more peaceful than before. Since the government shut down the once ubiquitous riverside bars and the backpackers moved out, the town has returned to its roots, becoming a lovely stop for families and couples who come to appreciate its natural beauty. By far the most relaxing way to do this is to hop into a river tube and float down the Nam Song, taking in the backdrop of jagged cliffs and rice fields as you go. For outdoorsy types, rock climbing, river kayaking and mountain biking are on offer too.
French colonial buildings and blooming flowers line the streets of relaxed Vientiane. Here, long lazy days can be filled browsing the exhibits at the Lao National Museum or posing for photos by the Patuxai Victory Gate (pictured). For a grand day out, the mirror-like waters of Nam Ngum Lake or the region’s quaint island fishing villages are worthwhile options, or just wander the leafy, flower-filled lawns of Buddha Park, home to over 200 quirky Hindu and Buddhist statues, including a giant pumpkin. But our favourite activity here is to indulge in a freshly-baked croissant and a frothy cappuccino or two from one of the many bakeries and watch the world go by.
Plain of Jars
Probably Laos’ most unusual attraction, the Plain of Jars is a collection of thousands of stone jars scattered across the valleys of Phonsavan, a fascinating throwback to a long-forgotten civilisation. No one is quite sure of the jars’ origins, and no doubt your guide will regale you with a convoluted tale of his own creation, but they are thought to be part of an Iron Age burial ground, and the human remains and ceramics found here corroborate this. While you’re in the area it’s also worth wandering around the town of Phonsavan itself, where you shouldn’t be too surprised to see bomb shells left behind by the Vietnam War used as doorstops and plant pots.
Wat Phu Champasak
Giving Cambodia’s Angkor Wat a run for its money, 12th century Wat Phu is a crumbling Hindu temple built by the Khmer. With far fewer visitors than its more famous counterpart, it’s more of a spiritual place, not least due to its mountainside setting and lush flower-filled surrounds. Six terraces across three levels are guarded by stone lions and carvings including a crocodile and Buddha’s footprint. Come up here to soak up the calm atmosphere and enjoy the far-reaching views across to the Mekong River.
Love Laos as much as we do? Try our Landscapes of Laos Journey.