17 Best Places to Visit in Laos
Laos is a Southeast Asian country known for its mountainous terrain, French colonial architecture, and Buddhist monasteries. Visitors can explore the capital city of Vientiane, visit the ancient city of Luang Prabang, and participate in outdoor activities such as trekking and rock climbing. Popular tourist activities include visiting the Kuang Si Waterfall, taking a boat ride on the Mekong River, and exploring the Plain of Jars archaeological site. Laos is also known for its traditional Lao textiles, handicrafts, and cuisine, which feature a mix of Thai, Chinese, and Vietnamese influences.
Traveling to Laos offers visitors a chance to experience the country’s natural beauty, rich culture, and friendly people. The best time to visit Laos is between October and April, when the weather is dry and cool. The country is easily accessible by air, with the main international airport in Vientiane. Visitors can also enter Laos by land from neighboring countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, and China.
The latest Global Visa Restrictions Index released by the residence and citizenship planning firm Henley & Partners found that the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, or Laos, has visa-free access to 48 countries worldwide. Some of these countries include most nations in the Southeast Asia region, as well as other non-Asian countries like Gambia, Ecuador, and Dominica.
Laos is an ideal destination for travelers who want to experience a unique blend of natural beauty, culture, and adventure.
While the government encourages Laotians to travel out of their country, it is without a doubt that Laos is also a growing global tourist destination on its own; here are the top 10 must-visit tourist attractions in this country:
1. The Plain of Jars in Phonsavan
Phonsavan translates to “hills of paradise”—this holds true, as the city’s topography consists mostly of hills and grasslands. One particular city area is the Plain of Jars, a wide stretch of land where thousands of jar-like stone structures are scattered about. The Plain of Jars is one of Asia’s most significant prehistoric sites. Many believe that the jars date back to as early as 500 BC.
The Plain of Jars is an archaeological site in the Xieng Khouang province of Laos, known for its stone jars dating back to the Iron Age. The jars are believed to have been used for funerary practices, although their exact purpose is still debated by scholars.
The Plain of Jars comprises several sites, the most famous being Site 1, Site 2, and Site 3. Each site comprises several clusters of stone jars that vary in size and shape. The largest jars can weigh up to 6 tons. Visitors can explore the sites on foot; some jars have been fitted with metal ladders to allow visitors to climb inside.
It is also a unique site because it is one of Laos’s most heavily bombed areas during the Secret War. Visitors can also find unexploded ordnance and cluster bombs in the area. It is important to stick to the designated pathways and follow safety instructions.
The Plain of Jars is a unique and fascinating destination that offers visitors the opportunity to explore an ancient civilization and learn about the history of Laos. It’s also an excellent place for history and archaeology buffs.
2. Nam Ha National Protected Area in Luang Namtha
Laos is the only landlocked country in the Southeast Asian region, and it has several mountains that are ideal for trekking and hiking. The Nam Ha National Protected Area is an ecotourism destination with an area of more than 2,000 square kilometers, with a peak of more than 2,000 meters above sea level. The park is home to various species of birds, gaurs, and elephants, to name a few.
3. Buddha Park in Vientiane
Just like in Myanmar, the dominant religion in Laos is Theravada Buddhism. The Buddha Park, located in the capital city of Vientiane, is just one of the few sites dedicated to religion. As suggested by the name, this park contains several statues of Buddha that are all unique. Statues of other religious figures can also be seen in the park.
4. Lao National Museum in Vientiane
Another tourist destination that you should visit while in the capital city is the Lao National Museum. The building that houses the museum was built in the 1920s as the French governor’s residence, so the infrastructure itself tells a lot about the history of Laos. Some of the artifacts showcased in here include WWII firearms, sculptures, and exclusive photos of historical Laos.
5. Kuang Si Falls in Luang Prabang
This three-tier waterfall in Luang Prabang City is arguably one of the most beautiful in Asia. The main falls require tourists to trek a relatively challenging trail, but there are also bridges and shallow pools where guests can hang out and swim. This place gets especially crowded during March.
Kuang Si Waterfall is a popular destination located near Luang Prabang in Laos, known for its picturesque setting and swimming opportunities. The waterfall is located in a nature reserve and comprises several tiers, with the highest reaching over 100 feet. The water from the falls collects in a series of pools visitors can swim in. The pools are also surrounded by lush vegetation, making it a great spot for picnics and relaxation.
Visitors can reach the Kuang Si Waterfall by taking a short drive or a tuk-tuk ride from Luang Prabang. The trail to the falls is well-maintained and offers several viewing platforms and picnic areas. Several hiking trails in the area offer more strenuous options for visitors who want to explore the surrounding jungle.
Kuang Si waterfall is also great for learning about the local environment and culture. It’s also an excellent spot for nature lovers. Visitors can also find a bear rescue center nearby, which aims to protect and preserve the Asiatic black bear species; it’s an excellent opportunity to learn about the conservation efforts and the importance of protecting wildlife in Laos.
6. Kuang Si Falls Butterfly Park in Luang Prabang
The Kuang Si Falls Butterfly Park is something you will chance upon when you are on the way to the waterfalls. This is a park you shouldn’t miss, even if you’re eager to swim in the shallow pools of the Kuang Si Falls. Inside this park is a café near the creek, where you can have a nice cup of coffee with the butterflies before proceeding to the falls.
7. Pha That Luang in Vientiane
This golden stupa is one of Laos’ greatest national symbols. It is believed to be constructed as early as the 3rd century and has undergone several reconstructions. The complex that houses the Pha That Luang is massive and contains several smaller temples. The stupa is best viewed just before or during the sunset when it glows its most brilliant shade of gold.
8. Elephant Village in Luang Prabang
Laos is also known as the “Land of a Million Elephants”. Of course, the term “million” would be an exaggeration, but you will be happy to see several of our gentle giant friends in the Elephant Village in Luang Prabang. Here, you can get a ride on an elephant’s back for a fee. This park, established in 2001, was founded by Markus Peschke, who wanted an elephant sanctuary.
9. Mount Phousi in Luang Prabang
Mount Phousi in Luang Prabang is a 100-meter-high hill that houses Buddhist shrines like the Wat Tham Phou Si and the Wat Chom Si. These temples house several statues of Buddha. The paths are guided by staircases leading you from one temple to another. You can see the beautiful sunrise view if you go out early enough to the summit.
10. Wat Phu in Champasak
Wat Phu, or Vat Phou, translates to “mountain temple”. This site houses a temple complex, a sanctuary, two palaces, and a library. This sanctuary is covered in green grasses and trees, and the path is lined with stone structures that will guide your way. This is oftentimes considered the most important archeological site in Laos. In 2002, UNESCO designated Wat Phu as a World Heritage Site.
Wat Phu dates back to the 11th century and is believed to have been a Hindu religious site before it was converted to Buddhism. The complex comprises several structures, including shrines, towers, and a large central sanctuary. The main attraction of Wat Phu is the main sanctuary, which is dedicated to the god Shiva and is decorated with intricate carvings and bas-reliefs.
The temple complex is also known for its beautiful setting, with the temple set on a hill surrounded by lush vegetation and the Mekong river in the background. Visitors can also explore the surrounding area, where they can find several smaller shrines and ruins.
Wat Phu is also an important pilgrimage site for the locals, who come to the temple to make offerings and participate in traditional ceremonies. Visitors can also find a local guide who can take them on a tour of the complex and explain the history and significance of the temple.
Vientiane is the capital city of Laos and is known for its French colonial architecture, temples, and street food. Some must-see sights in the city include the famous Pha That Luang, a Buddhist stupa considered the most important national monument in Laos, the Presidential Palace, and the Patuxai, a war memorial, and monument that resembles the Arc de Triomphe. The city also has several temples, such as Wat Si Saket, Wat Ho Phra Keo, and Wat Inpeng.
For shopping, visitors can check out the Talat Sao, a large indoor market with various goods, or the Morning Market, a popular spot for traditional textiles and souvenirs. Street food is also a must-try in Vientiane, where visitors can find various traditional Lao dishes and international food.
Vientiane also has several parks and gardens that are great for a stroll, such as Chao Anouvong Park and the Lao National Cultural Hall. Additionally, visitors can visit the COPE Visitor Center, which tells the story of unexploded ordnance in Laos and its efforts to clear it.
12. Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage site located in northern Laos, known for its ancient temples, traditional architecture, and scenic beauty. The city is situated between the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers and is surrounded by lush hills, making it an ideal destination for those who enjoy nature and culture.
One of the main attractions in Luang Prabang is the collection of ancient temples, including Wat Xieng Thong, Wat Visoun, and Wat Mai, which are known for their intricate carvings and gold-plated roofs. Visitors can also explore the Royal Palace Museum, which houses a collection of traditional Lao art and artifacts.
Another popular activity in Luang Prabang is to witness the daily alms-giving ritual, where Buddhist monks walk the streets collecting offerings of food from locals. Additionally, visitors can take a boat ride on the Mekong River or hike to the nearby Kuang Si Waterfall, which offers swimming and picnic areas.
Luang Prabang is known for its traditional textiles, handicrafts, and cuisine. Visitors can shop for traditional fabrics in local markets, visit artisans working in traditional crafts, and experience the local cuisine, which features a mix of Thai, Chinese, and Vietnamese influences.
13. Mekong River
The Mekong River is a major river in Southeast Asia that runs through Laos, and it is the lifeblood of the country, providing water for irrigation and transportation. It is also a source of food for the local people. The river is also home to a wide variety of fish and is an integral part of the local culture.
Visitors to Laos can take a boat ride on the Mekong River to explore the scenic beauty and traditional villages along the river’s banks. One popular destination is the Si Phan Don, a cluster of islands in the Mekong River known for their natural beauty and traditional villages. Visitors can also take a boat trip to the Pak Ou Caves, located on the banks of the Mekong River and known for their thousands of Buddha statues.
The Mekong River is also an important transportation route in Laos. Visitors can take a slow boat or a speedboat to travel between Luang Prabang and the northern cities, such as Huay Xai, or to the southern cities, like Pakse.
Additionally, the Mekong river is also known for the Mekong River Dolphin, an endangered species; visitors can take a boat trip to see these rare mammals.
14. Bolaven Plateau
The Bolaven Plateau is a highland region in southern Laos known for its scenic beauty, waterfalls, and coffee plantations. The plateau is situated between the Mekong River and the Annamite Mountains and is characterized by rolling hills, lush vegetation, and cooler temperatures.
The Bolaven Plateau is home to several popular waterfalls, such as the Tad Fane, Tad Lo, and the Tad Yuang. Visitors can also explore the local villages, where they can learn about the traditional way of life of the ethnic minorities in the area, such as the Alak, Nyaheun, and Laven.
One of the main attractions of the Bolaven Plateau is its coffee plantations, which produce high-quality coffee beans that are exported around the world. Visitors can tour the coffee plantations, learn about the coffee-making process, and sample the local coffee. The Bolaven Plateau is also known for its tea, cardamom, and rubber plantation.
The Bolaven Plateau is also an ideal destination for trekkers and hikers, with several trails that offer panoramic views of the plateau and the surrounding mountains. Visitors can also find several local guides to take them on a trek.
15. Si Phan Don
Si Phan Don, also known as the “4000 Islands,” is a cluster of islands located in the Mekong River in southern Laos. The islands are known for their natural beauty and traditional villages, and they offer visitors a chance to experience the traditional way of life of the local people.
The main attraction of Si Phan Don is the Khone Phapheng waterfall, the largest waterfall in Southeast Asia and a popular spot for swimming and taking boat rides. Visitors can also explore the nearby villages and learn about the traditional way of life of the local people, who rely on fishing and agriculture for their livelihood.
Si Phan Don is also a great destination for nature lovers, as it is home to a variety of wildlife, such as the Irrawaddy Dolphin, and it is also home to several protected areas, such as the Pha Pheng cave, which is one of the most important bat caves in Southeast Asia.
The islands are also a great place to relax and unwind, with several guesthouses, resorts, and restaurants available. Visitors can also take a bike tour around the island and explore the local markets and temples.
16. Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng is a small central Laos town known for its scenic beauty and outdoor activities. It is situated on the Nam Song River and is surrounded by limestone cliffs and lush vegetation, making it a popular destination for trekking, rock climbing, and tubing.
The main attraction of Vang Vieng is the Nam Song River, a popular tubing spot where visitors float down the river on inflatable tubes. Along the river, there are several bars and restaurants where visitors can stop and enjoy a drink or a meal.
Vang Vieng also offers several outdoor activities such as rock climbing, trekking, and caving; visitors can also explore the nearby limestone caves and learn about the area’s geology and history.
Vang Vieng is also an excellent destination for relaxation; visitors can take yoga and meditation classes or simply relax and enjoy the area’s natural beauty.
Pakse is located in southern Laos and is the capital of Champasak Province. It is situated on the Mekong River and is known for its French colonial architecture, traditional culture, and proximity to several natural and cultural attractions.
The main attraction of Pakse is Wat Luang. This large Buddhist temple complex is considered one of the most important temples in southern Laos, and it is known for its intricate carvings and colorful frescoes. Visitors can also explore the nearby Wat Phabath, a Khmer temple from the 11th century, and Wat That Founoun, a Buddhist temple from the 20th century.
The city is also an excellent base for exploring the surrounding area, with several natural and cultural attractions such as the Bolaven Plateau, the Wat Phu, and the Si Phan Don (4000 Islands). Visitors can also take a boat trip on the Mekong River to explore the surrounding villages and learn about the traditional way of life of the local people.
Pakse is also home to several markets where visitors can find a variety of local handicrafts, textiles, and souvenirs.
Laos Travel Guide and tips:
- The months of March to May are the hottest. Meanwhile, the months of June to October are usually the rainiest. November to March are the drier months and are the ideal time to travel to Laos unless you’re specifically waiting for summertime.
- Laos has signed the Protocol for Bilateral Visa Exemption with 25 countries. Filipino travelers would be glad to know that both ordinary and diplomatic/service passport types are granted visa-free access to Laos for up to 30 days. To see if your country is exempted, Lao Airlines has the complete list of the 25 countries on its official website. (http://www.laoairlines.com/?contentkey=pages&id=67)
- The Internet speed in Laos is slow at present. Make sure to finish all your online errands beforehand!
- If you are going to meet or greet a local, slightly bow your head and put your palms together. This is how Laotians greet each other. Handshaking is not a norm in Laos.
- When visiting stupas, make sure to dress appropriately. Women, in particular, should not wear shorts or revealing clothes, nor are they allowed to touch monks. Shoes and socks should be removed when entering a temple. Before taking a photo of monks, make sure to ask for permission first.