Hi all. Well last week I gave you my essential tips for visiting destination Laos, probably the most underrated country in South-East Asia and a personal favourite of mine. Today I am following up with a look at the things I reckon you must see and do when you’re there. Right now we might not still be able to go to Laos, depending on where you are, your nationality and vaccine status I guess, but let’s hope that things are settled enough soon enough that amazing countries like Laos can again be on your list of places to go!
And so let’s have a look at what I personally would recommend you see if you’re headed Laos way! Keep in mind that I certainly have not seen all or close to of what there is to see in Laos. However I will try and recommend things on top of what I have seen that I think would be appealing to the visitor, especially if said visitor was, well, me!
So, not a bad place to start in any country is the capital city, and Vientiane is Laos’s sleepy capital right on the border with Thailand and the might Mekong River. It’s not a city that will knock your socks off I expect, but yet that is the beauty of Laos in my eyes, it’s a quiet little almost unassuming country with beauty and peace it’s main features. But that doesn’t mean that Vientiane couldn’t occupy your time for a few days, not at all. It has a number of sights that won’t take a full day, but will be worthwhile and worth photographing and appreciating.
The Golden Stupa (Pha That Luang) is probably Vientiane’s premiere attraction. It’s considered the most important monument in the entire country and it’s establishment is said to be back in the 3rd century (CE) although over the centuries there has been more than one reconstruction. It’s in the middle of garden, then walls and it is definitely very gold! Having said that it is mostly just painted gold, with only the top pinnacle of the structure actual gold. But hey, it’s impressive none the less!
The Patuxay Monument is sort of down a long, wide and divided avenue from the stupa. It’s in the centre of the road, it’s really an impressive spot and no doubt the structure itself was inspired by the Arc de Triumph. You can go up to the top of the arch, and inside even there are souvenir stalls and the like which is kinda cool.
Haw Phra Kaew is this amazing wooden temple which I really liked, even if it was swarming with visitors at the time. The original building dates back to 1565-66 when it housed an Emerald Buddha. The city was attacked over the centuries and the temple destroyed at least twice, the current one is now a museum and dates back to the 19th century, the Emerald Buddha now resides in Bangkok.
The Lao National Museum is also worth a little time, and of course walking along the banks of the Mekong is also something worth doing. There are many museums though, and the Textile museum looks really interesting IMO. Although I didn’t go. You will also find a number of temples. Wat Sisaket is another I visited and saw many Buddha statues inside – and this area is one where you’ll find quite a few temples if you are into temple hopping. Personally, a couple, maybe three, that’s usually enough for me in one place. If you do love your temples though, Laos is a place you will no doubt like!
Vang Vieng is a place that when I visited Laos was known for its tubing, parties and basically being overrun with foreigners. Today, the tubing has been banned, but it’s definitely a really beautiful area of the country. The town no doubt is still a hub of activity for the visitor. There are a lot of bars and places to eat there, but from here you can get out into the countryside and try your hand at rock climbing and I think caving is also a possibility. Then there are opportunities for hiking as well. Look for the water cave, there is an elephant sanctuary in the region too, and there are ziplines and other adventures awaiting the visitor.
This part of the country doesn’t look that far from Luang Prabang and Vientiane on a map, however it is actually quite some time on a minibus. It’s a dusty old town but it is the place for perhaps the most unusual tourist attraction in Laos, and the one that I was most keen to see, and that is the ‘Plain of Jars’.
The Plain of Jars occupies the best part of a day tour of the region. There are hundreds I guess of these stone ‘jars’ standing upright from the ground, obviously a lot bigger than your standard jam jar. Although they claim that the purpose of these jars is a mystery, it is pretty clear and the most popular theory is that they are tombs/graves. Interesting that people were interned after death standing up. They were supposed to have ‘lids’ but they have all disappeared over the centuries. Estimates to the age of the jars vary but it is somewhere between 600 BC and as far back as 1240BC. So they are seriously old!
Also in Phonsovan you are surrounded by an area that was heavily mined in the 1970s by America. They have spend years and years trying to locate as many as possible, MAG is the institute responsible and the work is painstaking. Check them out in Phonsovan town and note the little painted stones dotted about the Plain of Jars (and ALWAYS follow the marked paths). Those stones mark where a mine was found.
Oh Luang Prabang, ‘tis a seriously beautiful place. It almost seems silly to tell you what to do in Luang Prabang as the main point of going there is to do as little as possible in my humble opinion. In town you can climb Mt Phousi – the views are spectacular and there is a temple up there. The old town is charming, and there are plenty of temples to explore, and walking around from temple to temple is a rewarding way to do it. The Mekong River is just stunning in Luang Prabang. You can have dinner by it or take a boat up it to see village life and see the Pal Ou Caves which house statues of Buddha, a highly rewarding day trip.
The Kuang Si Waterfalls are not so far from Luang Prabang (although in the other direction) and honestly are just heaven! They feel like they are in the middle of the jungle, you can swim below them, or just soak in the atmosphere. At night Luang Prabang has plenty for the tourist, including fashion shows which are a little different I guess, but interesting, and you can eat at places doing a Lao BBQ – where you get this sort of upside-down metal cone and a fire is lit underneath it, and meat is cooked on top. Water in the lip at the bottle boils and you can cook vegies in that such as sprouts or possibly noodles.
Now. Outside my experience in Laos these are the things that appeal. The Gibbon Experience in the north of the country looks amazing. You can stay in tree houses and zipline around and live like a gibbon. How cool, right? And it’s all in the name of conservation.
I missed the Buddha Park which looks to be not too far from Vientiane, that looks pretty cool, and Si Phan Don looks great for water adventures especially kayaking (I am NOT into kayaking!). Above all that people can enter Laos from the Golden Triangle region around Chiang Rai in Thailand and take a boat along the Mekong for possibly days. That sounds like an awesome adventure.
Laos is a country that is bigger than it looks and I reckon there are even more adventures to be had if you have the time to slowly explore. I can’t speak highly enough of this landlocked country! Thanks for reading today, stay safe wherever you may be – and May the Journey Never End!