1. A curious visit to the Plain of Jars
Shrouded in great mystery and legend with an underlying current of captivation and tragedy, the Plain of Jars in Northern Laos in the Xieng Khouang province, has all the elements to capture one’s imagination. The Plain of Jars is a perplexing pottery site on the Xieng Khouang Plateau where the war-scarred landscape is covered in thousands of stone jars dating all the way back to the Stone Age (500 BC – AD 500). Little is known about the use and origins of the curious jars and this has stirred up dozens of theories and assumptions. Some claim that the ancient cylinders were used in spiritual burial ceremonies, others claim that the stone jars once held whiskey for thirsty giants who dwelled in the nearby mountains. Regardless of what the purpose was, a visit to the Plain of jars is sure to spark the imagination of all who visit.
2. Take a dip in the majestic Kuang Si Falls
Definitely the natural highlight of Luang Prabang, this 3-tiered waterfall with its ethereal, milky blue waters is a stunning sight to behold. The giant waterfall that seems to originate from a bewitching fairytale flows through a lush, limestone-rich jungle and pours into three different layers of turquoise cascading pools. As legend has it, the waterfall was summoned by an old man who was digging into the fertile earth. As he was digging, a golden deer materialised from a rock under the waters and so Kuang Si was named; Kuang meaning deer and si meaning, to dig.
3. Take in the breathtaking sight of Khone Phapheng Falls
By far the most spectacular waterfall anywhere on the Mekong River, Khone Phapheng Falls is a powerful, majestic and imposing sight to observe. Another impressive fall for waterfall chasers to cross off their bucket lists, Khone Phapheng Falls, with its millions of litres of water pounding down the rocks is sure to impress all. Occasionally on misty days a stunning rainbow can be seen, seeming to magically emerge from the spray; creating an otherworldly, enchanting spectacle.
4. Stroll through Xieng Khuan (Buddha Park)
Directly translated to, Spirit City, this famous sculpture park is filled with over 200 religious Hindu and Buddhist statues including a massive 40 meter high reclining Buddha figurine. Situated 25km southeast of central Vientiane, Xieng Khuan is an entertaining and interesting way to spend a few hours for those visiting the area. The statues range from demons, humans, deities and animals and make for unusual photographs and stories. A nearby café at one end of the park with a lovely view of the Mekong River makes for a relaxing finale to strolling through Xieng Khuan.
5. Explore and discover Boulaven Plateau and Tad Fane waterfall
Nestled in southern Laos, Boulaven Plateau is well-known and admired for its stunning natural scenery of coffee and tea plantations, unspoilt nooks and crannies and fascinating ethnic culture. Despite all its hidden gems, Boulaven Plateau is most famous for its spectacular waterfalls - Tad Fane waterfall and Dong Hua Sao. The majestic Tad Fane twin falls surge down vertical cliffs into a giant gorge in a rainforest west of Paksong Town in the Champasak Province of Laos. Not only is this rainforest home to the impressive waterfalls but is also the stomping ground for leopards, monkeys, tigers, hornbills and elephants. A must visit for all nature lovers.
6. Frolic in the Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden
Climbing steadily to the top of Luang Prabang’s must-see attractions, Pha Tad Ke offers nature lovers a quiet reprieve amongst nature. The tranquil environment is the ideal spot to come relax, read a book, picnic with friends or explore the ethno-botanic gardens which passes down the wisdom of plant-based medicine.
7. Hike to the summit of Mount Phousi
Etching quite the captivating presence onto the Luang Prabang horizon, Mount Phousi stretches 150 meters above the heart of the town. A hike up to the summit rewards its hikers with stunning, panoramic views across the city, its temples, mountains and landscape. This mountain is an excellent spot to watch the sunrise or sunset and offers photographers beautiful scenery to capture or couples a romantic spot to enjoy a picnic and an icy local beer.
8. Visit Vat Phou
This UNESCO World Heritage Site in Champasak that directly translates to Mountain Temple, is a spectacular hillside Khmer temple with gorgeous views, a natural spring believed to spout holy water and truly fascinating history. The crumbling temple complex is made up of sanctuaries, pillars, terraces, courtyards, walls, doorways, shires, a library and palaces that seem to transport the viewer to a different era entirely.
9. Take a leisurely slow boat from Huai Xai to Luang Prabang
This two-day journey down the Mekong River is a popular means of sightseeing from Huai Xai to Luang Prabang and allows passengers a relaxing and leisurely mode of transportation. There is a bar, toilet and snack shop on board with not much else so packing a light lunch of your own is recommended. The slow boat stops overnight in Pak Beng where passengers will spend the night before getting back onto the slow boat at 9am. This is a scenic route and is the best means of travel between these two destinations.
10. Explore the ancient wonders of Wat Phu in Champasak
Calling all cultural buffs and temple enthusiasts! Originating long before Cambodia’s ever-famous, Angkor Wat, the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Wat Phu in southern Laos is one of the most remarkable Khmer temples outside of Cambodia. The surviving religious structures date back from the 11th and 13th centuries; however a temple was built at Wat Phu as far back as the 5th century. Its position at Phou Kao Mountain, with its naturally lingam-shaped crest (which is dedicated to Lord Shriva) and the mountain spring are probable reasons that the temple sanctuary was constructed at this location.
11. Pay a visit to the Royal Palace in Luang Prabang
The Royal Palace built in 1904, now a museum, offers visitors an opportunity to explore and observe the well-preserved home of King Sisavang Vong as well as the separate outbuilding that houses the five-piece Royal Palace Car Collection. An architectural fusion of Lao and French, other highlights of the Royal Palace include, two cannons, a lotus pond, a statue of the late King Sisavang Vong and the historically significant, Pha Bang – a 83 centimetre high gold-alloy Buddha statue.
12. Marvel at the stunning 4,000 islands of the Mekong River
An impressive collection of around 4,000 sandbars of varying sizes poke out of the Mekong River, some of which are large and inhabitable and others that are barely a meter long, offer visitors an unusual and interesting sightseeing attraction. A rare balance between authenticity and tourism, Don Det is undoubtedly the most popular island for travellers to visit. Exploring the 4,000 islands offers visitors a plethora of experiences, sights ad attractions; from kayaking, tubing, restaurants, bars, Nakasong Market, swimming at Little Eden Pool, island-hopping and sunset chasing, there is something for everyone.
13. Take a long boat through Konglor Cave in Ban Nahin
Situated in Phou Hin Phoun National Park, the beautiful Konglor Cave has made the small, remote Konglor village in rural Laos a popular destination for adventurous travellers. The Hinboun River that runs through the Konglor Cave makes it one of the world’s longest river cave systems. Exploring the cave is done via a motorised long-boat and offers passengers spectacular views of the eerie nooks and crannies of the cavernous wonder. Passengers will also get to see impressive stalactites, stalagmites and massive arched ceilings glistening with dripping moisture.
14. Go caving, tubing and hot air ballooning in Vang Vieng
The quaint riverside town of Vang Vieng is home to a host of fun and exhilarating activities for the adventurous at heart. The Blue Lagoon and Cave is a gorgeous, turquoise pool that rewards travellers with a refreshing and picturesque dip after the 15 minute climb to get there. Be sure to try the famous rope swing that all Laos-Instagrammers know only too well! The cave itself can be explored with a flashlight for as long as you wish. Tubing down the river in a rented tube is also a fun and enjoyable way to spend a few hours. A couple of backpacker bars are open en route and stopping for a quick snack and a drink before continuing only add to the pleasure of the experience. To wind down one’s Vang Vieng experience why not opt for a beautifully relaxing, scenic and romantic hot-air balloon ride at sunset?
15. The Gibbon Experience in Huay Xai
The lush, natural scenery is one of the primary reasons that travellers flock to this little, land-locked country and what could be better than combining the standard jungle trekking with elating zip-ling and the opportunity to see wild gibbons in their natural environment? The fun-filled day flying through the rainforest is concluded by sleeping in a magical treehouse high above the lush scenery. And to make it all that much better, The Gibbon Experience is raising awareness for forest conservation and proceeds go into protecting the environment and assisting in supporting the livelihoods of a local community. Win-win for all!
16. Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge
The beautifully named, friendship Bridge stretches across the Mekong River joining the city of Nong Khai in Thailand with Vientiane in Laos and offers travellers the ideal means of passing between the two countries.
17. Visit the Pak Ou Caves near Luang Prabang
One of the most sacred and revered sights in all of Laos, the Pak Ou Caves are filled with more than 4,000 Buddha icons and statues and date back thousands of years. The cave is a shrine to the river spirit and Lord Buddha and the statues are assumed to have been left by the local people as offerings of devotion. The Pak Ou Caves consist of two caves on the west end of the Mekong River. The lower cave has been named, Tham Ting and the upper cave, Tham Theung. Tham Ting has some light filtering in but exploring Tham Theung is only possible with a flashlight and a sense of adventure.
18. Temple exploring in Vientian
The temples found in Vientian are definitely one of the main reasons to visit Laos’ capital city. Scattered all across the capital with varying architectural styles and religious significance, they are a captivating means of discovering the spirituality of Laotians. Home to many stunning temples, Wat Ho Phra Keo is surely the most memorable of the lot despite the fact that its emerald Buddha was snatched by Thailand and now resides in Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok. This temple, no longer used for religious purposes, is now a museum. Wat Ho Phra Keo offers visitors the chance to see the impressive architecture elaborately adorned with wooden carvings, a splendid 16th century door etched with Hindu engravings, plenty of Khmer stone statues as well as an abundance of Buddha carvings. Wat Xieng Yien, the small riverside temple; and Fude Miao, a stunning Teochew Chinese temple, are also both worth a visit for those in Vientian.
19. A day out in Savannakhet
This little town, far off most travellers’ radars hosts a surprising amount of enjoyable activities and promises those who stop in this charming, rustic town a thoroughly pleasant day. The little streets with the crumbling, old French style buildings and houses are ideal to explore on bicycle and visitors would be wise to stop at the street stalls for a makeshift picnic that can be enjoyed on the reedy banks of Dong Natad Lake. Savannakhet is also home to Ing Hang temple; Wat Sainyamungkhun, the exceptionally preserved, oldest and biggest monastery in Southern Laos; St Theresa's Catholic Church; the Savannaket theatre, the Savannaket Provincial Museum; and the fascinating Dinosaur Museum.
20. Talat Sao Morning Market and shopping mall
All shopaholics and those in dire need of a spot of retail therapy, this attraction in Vientiane is just for you. Talat Sao is split into two distinct sections: The air-conditioned shopping mall (which is the only one in Laos!) selling jewellery, electronics and upscale fashion; and the chaotic and lively morning market overflowing with cheap knick-knacks, silks and the usual wondrous horde of market fare.
As is evident from the list above, Laos offers a wide variety of attractions and activities that are sure to entire an assortment of travellers. From grubby backpackers, solo travellers looking for a window of self-introspection, those on their honeymoon and even those just passing through during their Southeast Asian trip, Laos has something for everyone.