10 Things to do in Laos: A Travel Guide

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Across Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, tourist takings have plummeted as Chinese travellers find themselves subject to a host of travel restrictions

Laos is a beautiful country that offers something for every traveller. From lush green forests and quaint villages to vibrant cities, there’s plenty to see.

It’s best to stay in the main tourist centres of Luang Prabang and Vientiane, where prices are lower than elsewhere in the country. However, it’s possible to get by on a tighter budget in lesser-known areas.

1. Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a host of things to see and do, from communing with nature to learning about local culture. With over 33 temples, vibrant nightlife and stunning nature, this is a city that won’t be forgotten by visitors.

One of the top attractions to do in Luang Prabang is to watch a sunset over the Mekong River, which is undoubtedly an unforgettable experience. Whether you prefer to catch it by boat or on the shores of the river, this is a sight not to miss.

In Luang Prabang, you can buy traditional handicrafts such as vibrant woven textiles, delicate silks, painted paper umbrellas and extravagant silver jewellery. These items are usually made by Laos’ ethnic minority communities and are often more expensive than their western counterparts, but they are a great way to support the people of Laos.

2. Vang Vieng

What once was a party town is now an adventure paradise, filled with pristine mountains and cliffs. Motorbike alongside rice fields, luscious green countryside and blue lagoons, or hike up to one of the many breathtaking panoramic viewpoints.

Vang Vieng is a popular stop on the Laos backpacker circuit and you’ll find plenty of tour companies around offering activities such as tubing, cave visits, kayaking, zip lines, swimming in waterfalls and dirt buggies.

However, if you don’t want to get caught up in the party scene and are more interested in relaxation, you’ll need to stay away from the crowds and find a quieter place to chill out. It can be difficult to find a place that won’t get busy during peak times so book ahead in advance for a hassle-free trip!

3. Vientiane

Vientiane, the capital of Laos, is a laid-back, fun and easy-to-navigate city that’s also popular as a stopover for travellers on their way to Luang Prabang. Stroll along the Mekong River, sample beerlao at Tad Moun Waterfall and hop between Buddhist shrines as you explore this UNESCO-listed capital.

One of the most famous sights in the city, Pha That Luang (also known as the ‘Great Stupa in Laos’) is a 148-foot-high structure covered in gold leaf and surrounded by pretty turrets. It’s one of the most revered places of worship in all of Southeast Asia and a must-see when visiting Vientiane.

Another cultural highlight is the National Museum of Laos. It’s housed inside a building that was constructed during the French colonial period and has plenty of interesting exhibits to see. These include local artifacts, photographs and period paintings.

4. Pakse

If you’re looking for a laid-back, friendly Lao city to spend a few days in, Pakse is a good choice. This capital of Champasak is growing at a fast pace and despite its relative lack of tourist attractions, it offers a range of interesting activities and historical sites.

It also serves as a base for trips to the Bolaven Plateau, Wat Phou and the Si Phan Don region. The latter area is a popular spot for travellers on day trips from Pakse, as it is quite sleepy and peaceful.

Another must-visit destination is the Khmer ruins at Wat Phu, a short drive from the town. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and offers a great combination with a stay in Pakse.

5. Luang Namtha

Luang Namtha, the capital of Laos’s enchanting northern province, is a wonderful place for adventurers. The area is known for its dense forests, rivers and valleys, as well as a vast range of outdoor activities.

One of the best ways to explore the region is to do a trek into the jungle. The pristine nature of the Nam Ha National Protected Area draws trekkers from all over, and there are a range of tour options to suit all fitness levels.

Another great way to see the country is by renting a motorbike and driving around the countryside. You’ll be able to visit local villages, small towns and beautiful scenery along the way.

6. Champasak

If you’re looking for a laid-back, riverside retreat to escape the hordes of gap year backpackers and other visitors in Luang Prabang or Vang Vieng, Champasak is a great place to go. It’s still got plenty of heritage to offer, from Khmer ruins dating before Angkor Wat to French colonial influence.

It’s also home to one of Southern Laos’s most visually striking temples, Wat Muang Kang. Located on the riverfront, it’s a blend of French, Vietnamese, Burmese and Lao architecture.

For a slice of history, wander around Vat Phou – a series of Khmer ruins that were once a provincial centre of the Kingdom of Angkor. Then take a boat ride to Don Det island, home to the Khone Falls Phapheng.

7. Nong Khai

Nong Khai is a lively town on the banks of the Mekong River just 20 minutes from Vientiane, capital of Laos. It’s a great base for exploring the capital, but it also offers plenty of attractions in its own right.

The city is home to a number of temples and other tourist attractions, including the Wat Pha Tak Suea skywalk that overlooks the Mekong and the dazzling Patuxai Arch in the centre. It’s a popular destination for Lao and Thai tourists alike, but it’s worth a visit regardless of where you’re travelling from.

Besides the many temples, the town also houses an interesting collection of imaginative statues built by Luang Pu Bunleau who fled Laos when the Communists took power in 1975. His surreal creations depict scenes and characters from Hindu and Buddhist lore, the most famous of which is a 25-metre-high Buddha seated on a coiled multi-headed naga serpent.

8. Luang Namtha National Park

Located in the north of Laos, Luang Namtha is a beautiful place to visit for a relaxing trip. It’s renowned for its serene landscapes, slow life by the river and centuries-old traditions of the hill tribes.

The town centre is a great spot to start your adventure here, but it is also a good idea to rent a motorbike or bicycle to see more of the local area. You can ride around the valley and visit the villages on the outskirts of Luang Namtha such as Muang Nalae, Vieng Phouka and Muang Sing

There are plenty of waterfalls within easy reach of the city. One of the most impressive is the Nam Dee Waterfall which can be reached on a short hike from Ban Nam Dee in the vicinity of Luang Namtha.

9. Vang Vieng National Park

Vang Vieng is a small, laidback town surrounded by majestic mountains and tranquil rice fields. It is the perfect spot for nature lovers to explore.

The area is also home to a number of caves and has several viewpoints where you can see the surrounding landscape. These are a must-visit for travellers and can be accessed by either hiring a tuk-tuk or motorbike.

Another must-do activity in Vang Vieng is to take a hot air balloon flight over the mountainous skyline and river. This can be done at sunrise and sunset for a relatively low cost and gives you an opportunity to enjoy a panoramic view over the limestone mountains.

You can also rent a motorbike and visit a local village to experience Laotian life. This is one of the most memorable and fun things to do in Vang Vieng as it will give you a taste of the true village life.

10. Pakse

The charming capital of Champasak province in south Laos, Pakse is a perfect base for exploring the country’s most popular destinations. A laid back vibe and pretty attractions make this riverside town worth a stay before you head to the 4000 Islands, Bolaven Plateau or Si Phan Don archipelago.

A visit to the Champasak Provincial Historical Museum is a great way to learn about the area’s unique history and culture. There are numerous exhibits with photos and objects displaying local lifestyle, handicrafts and ethnic costumes.

Another attraction you can’t miss is the Vat Phou Salao temple, which looks out over the Mekong River. The best time to come here is around sunset when the light is most beautiful.

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