Traversed by the Mekong River, this Southeast Asian country is known for its French colonial architecture, untouched mountainous landscape, Buddhist monasteries, and gorgeous waterfalls. This small country has plenty of gorgeous places to visit in Laos on your next vacation, Therefore, I teamed up with other travel bloggers to bring you some of the best for your Laos itinerary.
Read before you go: Laos Travel Tips – everything you need to know
The capital Vientiane is probably one of the first places to visit in Laos. Located in a curve of Mekong River, it’s close to Thailand’s cities of Udon Thani and Nong Khai, making it relatively easy to access from there.
In terms of sightseeing, Vientiane features the juxtaposition of Buddhist temples and French-colonial architecture. The city’s iconic landmarks are the replica of Arc de Triomphe in Paris and the 16th-century golden temple Pha That Luang. The latter is also the country’s national symbol.
The city is also home to numerous notable shrines such as Wat Si Saket with thousands of Buddha images, the largest stupa That Dam, and the Buddhist monastery Wat Ong Teu Mahawihan to name just a few. Moreover, history and culture lovers can visit Vientiane’s several museums to learn more about the country and its customs.
One of the things to do in Vientiane is to visit its bizarre Buddha Park, also known as Xieng Khuan. Located 25km away, the park is filled with more than 200 Hindu and Buddhist sculptures. Assembled in 1958 by Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat, each sculpture is terrific in its way, with interesting motifs and details crafted on them. Bunleua Sulitat created a similar Buddha Park in Thailand’s Nong Khai town.
Tip: Combine a half-day Buddha Park tour with a visit to Laos Textiles studio and workshop
COPE Visitor Center in Vientiane
When visiting Vientiane make sure you stop by the COPE Visitor Centre. Here you will learn how Laos was impacted by the Vietnam War and how up until this day the Lao people feel these effects.
Not many people know that Laos is the most heavily bombed nation in history. Between 1964 and 1973, two million tons of bombs were dropped by the US Army during the so-called Secret War. Many of these bombs didn’t detonate and are still hiding underground. Each year approximately 50 Laotians are killed or injured when accidentally coming across one of these bombs during agricultural activities or simply while walking through the dense jungle.
This is where the COPE Center comes in; COPE stands for Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise. This non-profit enterprise formed in 1996 provides support for those injured by these bombs. They also try to locate unexploded bombs and defuse them, to prevent people from getting killed.
Within the visitor center, you can read about the excellent work the COPE Foundation is doing, as well as view several examples of deactivated bombs and repurposed bomb casings.
COPE Visitor Center should be on anyone’s Laos itinerary, as it’s not only a good place to learn about a sad but important chapter in the history of Laos, but also a place that supports a very good cause and can very well use your donations (visiting the Center is free, but please donate generously!).
By Phenomenal Globe
Vang Vieng, surrounded by caves and impressive limestone mountains, is one of the popular places to visit in Laos, frequented by young, adventure thirsty tourists in their 20s.
The main attraction here is the Tham Poukham cave with reclining Buddha statue and its blue lagoon offering swimming and jumping into the lagoon from treetops.
Tham Nam cave is another famous sight in Vang Vieng that offers tubing inside the cave during the rainy season. In case you are there in the dry season, you can still enjoy tubing on the Nam Song River, another favorite activity for many young tourists.
Nam Xay Viewpoint in Vang Vieng
Nam Xay Viewpoint offers some of the best views in Vang Vieng. It is a must-do for anyone looking into making up their Laos travel guide for their next trip.
The hike is relatively short, albeit a difficult feat. There will be a gradual incline along a well-marked dirt path for around 20 minutes, then visitors will have to scale rocks that are knee to mid-thigh height to reach the summit for another five to 10 minutes.
The walk is definitely doable for those with moderate fitness. It is not recommended for those with injuries, due to the nature of the final stretch of the hike.
Visit in the late afternoon to be there at sunset, at around 4:14 pm to 4:30 pm, so start the hike at 4 pm at the latest.
If traveling during the burning season around February, the sky won’t be as clear as it usually is, but the view at sunset will still be outstanding along with the incredible views of the limestone karsts. There’s a motorbike positioned at the summit for taking the perfect Instagram shot.
Just remember you will have to vacate the summit by 6 pm, as the low visibility after sunset will make it difficult to climb down the rocks and get back to the entrance of the trek.
By Our Travel Mix in New Zealand
Getting to Luang Prabang can be half the fun as the city itself, especially if you take a cruise on the mighty Mekong River to get there. As the town comes into view as you glide down the river you see the beautiful buildings lining the steep banks; many of which are of a colonial style. They are not what many people would expect from an Asian city but with the heat, the tropical plants, and the amazing temples that Luang Prabang has you definitely know you are in Asia.
Due to its vast array of attractions, Luang Prabang is one of the popular places to visit in Laos for many. One thing you cannot miss in the city is to watch the daily Giving of the Alms ritual. This ceremony has been a part of the culture for hundreds of years. It requires getting up at very early morning but it is worth every moment of it. Please remember that this is an old tradition and you need to keep your distance from the monks as they receive their Alms for the day.
Other things to do in Luang Prabang is to enjoy a traditional Laos dinner while watching a traditional dance at the 3 Nagas, visit the Royal Palace, catch a sunset at the top of Phu Si Hill or at one of the amazing restaurants alongside the Nam Khan River or rent a bike to cruise the streets looking for the perfect Instagram shot. Additionally, if you are visiting Luang Prabang with teenagers you can tour the Big Brother Mouse school and help the kids practice their English.
Tip: Tours to join in Luang Prabang
- Thin Pha Trail & Tad Sae Falls Trek
- Buddhism Tour with Guide on a Vintage Tuk-Tuk
- 2-Hour Luxury Sunset Cruise on Mekong River with Canapés
- 2.5-Hour Oil Painting Workshop
By Wyld Family Travel
Kuang Si Falls
Located 30 km away from Luang Prabang, Kuang Si is a multitiered beautiful waterfall in the country, making it one of the best places to visit in Laos.
Also known as Tat Kuang Si among locals, it takes around one hour by bus to reach the Kuang Si waterfall. Alternatively, you can hire a bike to shorten the ride. It is a perfect day trip from Luang Prabang that can’t be missed.
The turquoise blue waters of Kuang Si is absolutely gorgeous. The pools are not deep with swimming allowed, except for the one that is close to the main fall, at 60 meter high. If you don’t want to swim, you can still walk over the walkways and explore the area. A steep stone stairway goes up straight on the top of Kuang Si Falls not frequented by many people. Even though the still water of Kuang Si Falls at the top is not the prettiest sight, you have a swing to hang out here. If you decided not to climb, you won’t be missing out much since most of its beauty is in the plains.
The best time to visit the Kuang Si fall is between November to April. During the rainy season, the waterfall takes a different face altogether. Water flow is monstrous and the park is often closed to safeguard travelers. Make sure you check it with locals in case you are in the region during the monsoon season.
The entrance fee to Kuang Si Falls is 20,000 LAK which also includes a visit to the Bear Rescue Center. There also is a Kuang Si Butterfly Park with a 40,000 LAK entrance fee if that interests you.
Tip: Get a shared minivan transfer to Kuang Si Falls
By Orange Wayfarer
Plain of Jars
Plain of Jars is one of the most mysterious and best places to visit in Laos. Off of the usual tourist route that goes north to south through the country, it still has much of an undiscovered feel about it. Flights are available from both Vientiane and Luang Prabang, but despite this many people don’t make the trip.
To add to the mystery feel, no-one really knows why the Plain of Jars exists. Theories range from water storage for ancient traveling traders to funeral urns used and even drinking vessels for an ancient giant.
These jars range in size up to 2m tall and are scattered across a huge area in Laos. They have only recently become available for viewing again, as they were very dangerous due to the massive amount of unexploded ordnance in the area leftover from the Vietnam War. There are three main jar sites that are available to visit, but in total there are around 90 jar sites and over 3,000 jars!
With UNESCO status awarded in 2019 this is only going to become a more popular destination so visit, so be sure to add it to your ‘must visit’ list when you next head to Lao.
By The Sabbatical Guide
Nestled in the mountains of northern Laos, close to the Chinese border, lies the remote town of Luang Namtha. Best known for its trekking, rafting, and outdoor activities, Luang Namtha is also home to many ethnic minority villages and traditional handicraft centers.
Most visit Luang Namtha for the natural attractions of the Nam Ha National Park. Criss-crossed with rivers and streams, it’s one of the ideal places to visit in Laos for experiencing jungle trekking, combined with kayaking, and rafting. A highlight will definitely be an overnight stay in a hill-tribe village, giving you the perfect opportunity to learn about the many different ethnic minority groups in the region.
If trekking is not your thing, there is plenty of things to do in the Luang Namtha. The pretty valley is filled with rice fields, ethnic villages, temples, and handicraft centers, all within a few short kilometers of each other, making it perfect for cycling.
Visit the golden Luang Namtha Stupa overlooking the town center, before cycling out into one of the ethnic minority villages to see rural village life. Attend a workshop in natural dyeing and weaving at the Phieng Ngam Handicraft Centre, or simply take a break from all that riding in their gorgeous café overlooking the rice fields. Visit the Nam Dee Waterfall for a cooling swim or an evening stroll along the pretty Nam Tha River.
Luang Namtha can be reached by direct flights from the capital of Vientiane or by bus from Luang Prabang, Huay Xai and Udomxay.
By A Life Without Borders
The sleepy village of Nong Khiaw is a short trip from Luang Prabang, but it surprisingly sees few visitors. This one-street-town is one of the ideal places to visit in Laos for those who look for adventure and adrenaline in the wild countryside. However, you can also find plenty of riverside relaxation as well.
Surrounded by mountains and lush green peaks, Nong Khiaw sits pretty on the banks of the picturesque Nam Ou River. Take the slow boat upriver to calm Muang Ngoy, or focus on sights closer to the village, such as limestone cliffs, historic caves, dense jungles, and powerful waterfalls.
Nong Khiaw is a popular town for those who’d love to hike in Laos. One of the most famous tours is the 100 Waterfalls Trek (a full day adventure), along with cultural village homestays, and fishing trips.
But there are two viewpoints that you don’t want to miss. In just one hour, the steep uphill hike leads to Phadeng Peak offering a magnificent panoramic view of Nong Khiaw that you’ll cherish for a long time. This viewpoint is ideal to watch a sunset.
Note: the entrance fee to the viewpoint is 20,000 LAK. Alternatively, you can enjoy a spectacular sunrise at Sleeping Woman Viewpoint free of charge.
And if all the hiking sounds a bit much, then leave it to the pros. You can treat yourself to a herbal steam bath and even a traditional Laotian massage at Sabai Sabai. Grab your delicious Beer Lao and watch the same spectacular sunset from the comfort of your riverside hammock instead.
By WITRAG travel
Vieng Xai is a beautiful village with many surrounding karst cliffs, but it’s most famous for its supreme importance in the country’s modern history. It was here in the 1960s that leaders of the rebel communist Pathet Lao built homes and headquarters inside hundreds of caves to protect themselves from US aerial bombing.
The US signed the Geneva Accords on Laos in 1962 agreeing not to attack the neutral country, but then denied the agreement and instead dropped more bombs (1964-1973) than used in WWII on all countries.
This campaign crippled Laos and continues to do so, as many people are still killed or injured from unexploded bombs every year. You can visit some of the caves in the so-called ‘Hidden City’ where the leaders lived for years on an English guided tour for 60,000 LAK. A couple of the caves have ‘emergency rooms’ equipped with Soviet-supplied oxygen generators in the event of a chemical attack. A visit here is a worthwhile and pretty fascinating insight into the struggle of the Pathet Lao during the Vietnam War.
Vieng Xai, located in the far eastern corner of Laos, is quite remote and not visited by many foreign travelers. You can reach the village by bus from Sam Neua, situated about 30 kilometers. There are a few basic hotels in town, and Sabaidee Odisha Indian restaurant serves Indian as well as Southeast Asian dishes, including vegetarian and vegan options.
By The Nomadic Vegan
Wat Phou, also written as Vat Phou, is an ancient Hindu temple, located near Pakse in southern Laos. Dating back to the 11th and 12th centuries, Wat Phou is a fantastic example of pre-Angkor Hindu architecture. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the interesting places to visit in Laos that you shouldn’t miss.
Unusually, What Phou is oriented towards a natural lingam feature on a nearby mountain, representing both fertility and Shiva. You approach the temple by crossing a long causeway while the temple looms overhead, then climb a series of staircases with naga statues before reaching a pair of large buildings. Interestingly, nobody knows what the buildings were actually for! Archaeologists call them “palaces”, but their purpose is still unknown.
Climbing further, you pass more temples and shrines before finally emerging onto a small plateau at the top. There’s a shrine with a natural spring, but the most impressive feature is the view. The whole complex stretches out below you, and you’ve also got a magnificent view of the surrounding floodplains plus the mighty Mekong shimmering in the distance. Intriguingly, the only active shrines at Wat Phou these days are Buddhist, as the local Hindus have long since departed.
Wat Phou is an hour’s drive south of Pakse. Public transport is scarce, so get a ride from Miss Noy Motorbikes for 137,500 LAK per person, while the entrance to the complex costs 50,000 LAK per person.
The south of Laos is known for its beautiful river islands close to the Cambodian border, but there’s much more to enjoy in this part of the country. Pakse is one of the highlights of the region. Not because of the town itself, but for its a beautiful motorbike or scooter ride on the Bolaven Plateau.
The reason to include it on your places to visit in Laos itinerary is that it’s home to the best coffee farms in the country, impressive waterfalls, authentic villages, and forests.
The big highlights of your bike trip will be the waterfalls all over the Bolaven Plateau. Smaller ones are Tad Pasuam waterfall and Tad Lo waterfall, but Tad Tayicseua, Tad Yuang, Tad Champi, and Tad Fane are the most impressive ones.
‘Tad’ is the local word for a waterfall, so just look for the ‘tad’ signs along the road to find them instead of looking for specific ones. They’re all equally beautiful and you might stumble upon the less touristic ones if you’ll let the signs lead you.
You can join a group tour from Pakse, but you can easily drive around the Bolaven Plateau yourself. Just rent a scooter or motorbike in Pakse and choose your itinerary.
If you want to go on a two or even four-day trip, you should do the small (200 kilometers) or big loop (330 kilometers). Any bike rental will be able to give you a map and detailed instructions. But a day trip is possible as well if you just choose some specific destinations for your bike ride.
By The Orange Backpack
The river island of Don Det, one of the 4000 Islands, is one of the best places to visit in Laos. Its relaxing ambiance and beautiful scenery make it an ideal spot to hang out and slow down. Many travelers skip Don Det – and they’re missing out! Though chill as can be, there’s plenty of things to do on this slice of Laotian paradise that can keep one satisfied for days.
You can reach Don Det from Pakse. Daily mini-buses depart to Nakasang in around 2:30hr. Lastly, take a 5-minute boat ride across the Mekong.
There are plenty of bungalows to choose from. Dozens of small, simple huts dot the waterfront of the island, offering great prices and even better views. Bungalows are on both sides of the island, but choose the one on the “sunset” side – sunsets here are truly out of this world!
There are no cars, therefore the best way to explore the area is via bicycle that will cost you around $1.20.
Aside from chilling, biking, and eating, there are a number of worthwhile sites to take in on Don Det. During winters when the water is calm, float down the Mekong River on an inner tube. Additionally, you can walk on a short bridge and visit the Li Phi Falls, on the “sister” island of Don Khon with several spots to enjoy river swimming. And, one more reason to visit the “island” is to spot almost extinct Irrawaddy dolphins, as Don Det is one of the few places on earth to do so.
Also, make sure to try pumpkin burger; this delicacy can only be found here, making it a must-try meal made from a locally grown pumpkin!
By Intentional Detours
Khone Phapheng Falls
Located in Southern Laos close to the Cambodian border, you can find the widest waterfall in the world and the largest in Southeast Asia. This fact might surprise you when you first see the Khone Phapheng Falls, as they don’t look that big.
However, don’t let first impressions fool you as the cascades that make up Khone Falls and Pha Pheng Falls (which together forms the Khone Phapheng Falls) stretch for 9.7km in length. Being 10,783m wide, the waterfall is almost double the width of it’s the closest rival, Para Falls in Bolivia and Venezuela.
This wide stretch of the Mekong River is interspersed with thousands of small islands known as Si Phan Don or the 4000 islands.
After entering the Khone waterfall park you will first arrive at Manikhoth Temple, based around a sacred tree situated in the falls for 2000 years until a storm destroyed the tree in 2012.
While walking towards the falls, you’ll see several viewing decks to enjoy these powerful cascades. Information boards with English translations are available on those viewpoints, along with many restaurants offering local fish dishes from the Mekong.
The entrance fee to the Khone Phapheng Falls is 55,000 LAK per person. It’s a pricey attraction, however, it’s absolutely worth including it in your places to visit in Laos itinerary. The price also includes transport around the park on buggy cars. Witnessing the force of the Mekong in full flow is a spectacle not to be missed.
The Khone Falls is 1.5km away from Route 13, near Ban Thakho. You can also visit it on tours from Don Det and Don Khon in the 4000 Islands. Alternatively, a tuk-tuk from Nakasang will cost around 50,000 LAK round trip.
Prepare for the trip
To ease your travel planning, check out all the posts about Laos travel. Additionally, here are some of the websites and services I use when preparing for my next adventure anywhere in the world.
– Book affordable flights on Kiwi.com, a platform that shows the best routes and flight deals to your destination. There’s a money-back guarantee if you miss the flight!
– Check iVisa to see if you need a tourist visa to visit Laos, how to apply online if applicable, or where’s the nearest embassy or consulate
– Buy the most flexible and budget-friendly travel insurance, SafetyWing, to cover all sorts of health problems on the road
– Book in advance some of the best city walks, cultural experiences, and day tours to maximize your stay and experience here
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