Destination in Laos
Luang Prabang is the ‘jewel’ of Laos and should not be missed – it is undeniably the most popular destination for visitors to the country. While most tourists will want to include the capital Vientiane and the World Heritage town of Luang Prabang in their Laos itinerary, it is also possible to incorporate the mysterious Plain of Jars area, or a visit to the less discovered Southern Laos where natural beauty abounds. Remote mountainous Northern Laos is the home to many of Laos’ distinct ethnic minority groups and although travel in this region can be rough and standards are still basic, the rewards to the adventurous traveler will outweigh any lack of comfort.
When in Luang Prabang and Vientiane a range of accommodation options are available from ‘Deluxe’ to ‘Budget Category’. In other provinces accommodation is normally in ‘Standard’ or ‘Budget category’ small local hotels; however the uniqueness of these destinations and the local hospitality is always undeniable.
To fully appreciate the charms of this very unique destination and to experience the true essence of Laos, Destination Asia recommends an overland tour package. We offer a range of itineraries encompassing the main areas of interest to the visitor, and can tailor unique programs for individuals and groups upon request. Laos is also perfectly placed to be combined with a visit to Thailand, Cambodia and/or Vietnam, or indeed can be visited as a stand-alone destination.
MAJOR TOURIST DESTINATIONS IN LAOS
Northern Laos (approximately 750 km from Vientiane)
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, and Thai Dam. 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 kingdom, 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 Xieng Thong, Vat Visoun, Vat Mai 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 City and in 2005, it was selected by the UK travel agents as the most visited city in the world. Another interesting place nearby is Nong Khio, which can be reached either by traditional or by boat along Nam Ou River – also worth a visit, is the natural cave in Muang Ngoy, accessible from Nong Khio by boat.
Northern Mekong (approximately 450 km from Vientiane)
In the North Western 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-tribe 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 Hongsa, 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 378 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 hundred huge jars of unknown origin are scattered about in over a dozen 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. Xieng Khouang province is also known for its trekking tours and home stays, for the visiting and discovering of the new plain of jars site nearby various remote minority villages.
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
The capital of Laos lies on the bank of the Mekong River. The city has kept its timeless charm with tree-lined avenues, brightly painted temples and quaint French architecture. Vientiane’s major attractions are the serene Buddhist monasteries that dominate the center of town. Among the most interesting temples, Vat Sisaket, Ho Phra Keo, Vat Ongteu and Vat Si Muang should not be missed. Another famous landmark is That Luang Stupa, the symbol of both the Buddhist religion and the Lao sovereignty. Vientiane also boasts a lively Morning Market where the best of Lao weaving can be found. Finally the surroundings of Vientiane offer great opportunities for eco-tourism such as boat trips on the Nam Ngum River and Lake or trekking in the Dane Soung area to discover antique Mon-Khmer sanctuaries and visit traditional villages. The National park (Phou Khao Khouay), popularly known as the mountain of the buffalo horn, is situated about 40 kms North-East of Vientiane. The most attractive visit is the trekking through the jungle and going up on to the tower to watch the wild elephants nearby Ban Na about 75 kms South of Vientiane capital.
Khammouane Province (350 km from Vientiane)
With three of the country’s most important protected areas, Phou Hin Poun, Nakai Namtheun and Hin Nam No, cover much of the province’s land area. Treks in Phou Hin Poun protected area are now available, leading trough limestone forests, caves, ethnic villages, forests and the crystal blue water of Khun Kong Leng lake. The world class Kong Lor cave, a 7.5 km long cave and a height of up to 100 meters is accessible by boats operated by local people. Home- can be arranged either in Ban Kong Lor or in Ban Natan. Ban Nahin is the gateway to Konglor Cave and close by are two waterfalls, Tad Nasanam and Tad Mouane. They can be reached on one-day nature treks, leading through forests known to have a herd of wild elephants and monkeys. The Nakai Namtheun protected area is said to be one of the most important sites for biodiversity in South East Asia. It is here, that Saola, a large mammal, was discovered in the 1990’s.
Savannakhet (470 km from Vientiane)
The most populated province of Laos, Savannakhet has the reputation of being the most traditionally Lao region in the country. Typically beautiful villages can be found in this area, especially in Kengkok. Since the French era, the lively port of Savannakhet on the banks of the Mekong River has become a major relay point for trade between Thailand and Vietnam. The city still has some good examples of French colonial and Sino-Vietnamese shop-house architecture. Major attractions include That Ing Hang Stupa, one of the holiest edifice of Laos, Vat Sayaphoum with its renowned Pali school, That Phon Stupa and the Khmer ruins of Heuan Hin. Savannakhet is also a base for excursions to the Ho Chi Minh Trail and trekking to the jungles of the Phu Xang Hae NBCA and Dong Phuvieng NBCA which are home to various rare bird species, wild elephants, giant muntjac and tigers.
Pakse – Champassak (approximately 700 km from Vientiane)
Pakse, the capital of 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 its 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, and 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, and Katang as examples. They still maintain their centuries-old lifestyles, with several families living in huge longhouses, and they 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) has received protected status but the South-Eastern 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.