Travel to Laos and unearth all the mystery of this land. This country, still relatively unknown by tourists, is a real hidden treasure in South-East Asia. This place is incredibly charming not only for its serene atmosphere, but also for its picturesque sceneries and its stunning regions.
Vientiane differs from the other capital cities that can be visited in South-East Asia: the atmosphere and the pace of life is soothing. This beautiful city attracts more and more tourists, due to its beautiful monuments, its relaxing spots from where you can admire the sunset over the Mekong River while enjoying a drink, and because of the contrasting architecture that combines French buildings and Buddhist influence. The city is home to many major monuments, some of which are described below.
Wat Si Saket
Built around 1818 under the reign of King Anouvong, it is believed to be the oldest temple in the city. It is also the only building that was spared by the Siamese when they came to sack Vientiane in 1827, turning the region into a Siamese province. The sanctuary has a single nave and is located in the center of a gallery, which is an arrangement inspired by Thai architecture. This monument has many other well-preserved sections, such as a library, stupas, cloisters and housing for the monks. The pagoda has a coffered ceiling and incredible murals.
Wat Si Muang
This monastery is one of the most revered Buddhist shrines in the country. According to a legend, this place bears the name of a woman named Si Muang. She is said to have sacrificed her life on the site of the main building of the monastery, more than 400 years ago, in order to appease angry spirits. This structure was destroyed by the Siamese in 1828 and only rebuilt only recently. The indoor part is lavishly adorned with Buddha statues, colored ceilings, carved gold pillars and fabulous paintings illustrating several scenes from the life of the Buddha.
This monument is Vientiane’s own Arc de Triomphe, commemorating the fighters who lost their lives during World War II and the Independence War against the French. The Patuxai was designed in typical Laotian architecture, featuring representations of mythological creatures such as the Kinnari (half-woman & half-bird). The outdoor gardens are also very charming.
Phat That Luang
It is considered as the national monument, representing the Buddhist faith; it is certainly the most revered by the Laotians. This magnificent temple was built during the 16th century and features at its center an incredible golden stupa, which height is estimated to be around 35m. According to a legend, the origin of the site dates back to the 3rd century BC, when Buddhist missionaries from India were sent to Laos by Emperor Ashoka (the supreme ruler of the Mauryan Empire). They are believed to have erected a stupa on the spot in order to hide a Buddha relic (more exactly a piece of Buddha’s breastbone).
Wat Ho Phra Keo
This resplendent ancient Buddhist temple was also erected in the 16th century. It is famous for having housed a beautiful Emerald Buddha stolen from the Siam Kingdom (now Thailand). In 1778, this Emerald Buddha was regained by the Thai army and can now be visited at the Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok. Today, the Wat Ho Phra Keo houses a small museum.
Listed as a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO, this fabulous city, located at the confluence of the Mekong and the Nam Khan rivers, is distinctive for its uniqueness. Indeed, it attracts tourists due to its relaxing atmosphere its alluring beauty highlighted by magnificent Buddhist temples and green vegetation. Buddhist monks, cladded in saffron-colored robes, are often seen wandering the peaceful streets of Luang Prabang. Outside the city center, many interesting places will no doubt please the more adventurous travelers: rivers perfectly accommodating for canoeing, elephant camps and natural landscapes made of forests, waterfalls, caves and mountains that are great to discover by walk.
Royal Palace Museum
This building was built between 1904 and 1909 for King Sissavang Vong and his family, when the country was still a French protectorate. This former palace was transformed into a museum a few years ago and therefore opened to visitors. You can visit the well-preserved apartments of the Royal family, a pavilion housing a 2,000-year old Buddha statue entirely made in gold, look at various objects exhibited in the vicinity and discover the majestic throne hall and many other sections. It should be noted that taking pictures inside the museum is forbidden. It is also necessary to remove your shoes before entering the Royal Palace Museum, and visitors are also require to leave their bags and other belongings inside secured lockers located near the main entrance.
Wat Xieng Thong
Erected in 1560 by King Setthathirat, it is certainly the most famous and most visited of the temples in Luang Prabang. The room (called “sim”) is remarkable and stands as a good representation of the architectural style that can be found in the city. Its numerous stupas containing several Buddha sculptures are amazing, and so is a pavilion housing a royal funeral chariot. One of the external walls of the sanctuary is enhanced by an idiosyncratic mosaic representing the “Tree of Life”.
Wat Wisunarat (or Wat Visoun)
This temple was built by King Visoun in 1513 and later rebuilt in 1898. There, you can marvel at sumptuous gold Buddha statues with long arms. Due to its odd shape, this stupa is dubbed the "watermelon". Wat Wisunarat is probably one of the most beautiful temples in Luang Prabang.
Known as “The Monastery of the Blossoming Heart”, this charming little temple was formerly the residence of the Sangharat (the Supreme Patriarch of Lao Buddhism). Dating from the 19th century, this temple served as a meeting place for Buddhist practitioners and spirit worshippers. Unlike other temples in Luang Prabang, the Wat Aham is not decorated on the outer walls, but the interior is well worth a visit.
Tak Bat Ceremony
The Tak Bat is the monk’s procession through the streets of Luang Prabang. In order to assist to this ceremony, it is necessary to wake up early in the morning (around 5:00am - 6:00am). At this time of the day, the city exudes freshness and early risers have the chance to watch an impressive number of Buddhist monks dressed in their saffron robes. Indeed, the Tak Bat refers to the morning alms that the monks collect from the residents, who are seen kneeling on their bamboo mats and placing their gifts into the bowls held by the monks.
Phousi Hill (also written Phou Si or Phu Si)
If you want to enjoy the best panoramic view on Luang Prabang, then you should go to the top of Phousi Hill. Before reaching the summit of this 100-meter high hill, you will need to climb at least 328 steps (another stairway linking the top to the foot of the hill is accessible and comprises of 355 steps). Upon reaching the top, you will be able to have a fantastic view on That Chomsi Pagoda and on the whole city.
KUANG SI FALLS
Located few kilometers far from Luang Prabang, Kuang Si cascades are amazing turquoise waterfalls surrounded by a lush nature. The waterfalls reach different heights (the highest being 60-meter high) and visitors can swim inside the pool formed by the falling water of the cascades. The site is also home to a small natural park with cataracts and a bear help center. All these ingredients participate in making this place a truly peaceful haven.
PAK OU CAVES
You can access the wonderful Pak Ou caves after departing from Luang Prabang for a cruise on the Mekong River aboard a small boat. This sacred site houses thousands of Buddha figures, each one more gorgeous than the next.
Oudomxay province is perched in the mountainous valleys of Northern Laos. The mountains reaches up to 1,850m and the deep forests are home to rich flora and fauna including hordes of different kind of plants and many bird species. Relatively still little known by tourists, it is a very charming region perfect for sightseeing and for hiking in the middle of stunning landscapes. Several major tourist attractions are located in Oudomxay, including Muang La, a famous village inhabited by the Tai Lue ethnic group, is also a place attracting pilgrims as it houses the Pra Sinkham, of the most revered Buddha in the country (you can also find hot thermal springs in Muang La). Another notable place to visit is Chom Ong cave, the deepest in Laos and famous for its beautiful mineral formations.
Nestled in the high mountains of the North and near the border with China, Luang Namtha is an excellent region for people looking forward to explore majestic natural landscapes. Luang Namtha is a relatively new destination currently experiencing a growing popularity, as it is a perfect place for ecotourism. Trekking fans can indulge in the practice of their favorite pastime through the rich nature of Luang Namtha and especially in the Nam Ha National Protected Area, a huge area of 2,224 km2, with 96% of the surface being covered by a thick tropical forest. You can also participate in other activities such as bicycle riding, kayaking and rafting. Finally, Luang Namtha is a province home to more than 40 ethnic minorities, including the H’Mong, the Akha, the Yao, the Lao Loum and many others. Thus, you have the opportunity to interact with local residents during excursions or homestays in the peaceful villages inhabited by these groups.
This province is best known for its famous “Plain of Jars”. Indeed, an incredible number of mysterious jars are scattered over more than 1,000km2 on Xieng Khouang Plateau, most of them being found at an altitude of 1,200m. This baffling place is very puzzling: these imposing jars are thought to be made of Antique stones (monolithic stones perhaps dating from 5,000 to 8,000 years BC, according to several scientific researches) but the mystery behind their presence on this terrain has not yet been elucidated. Only three sites are currently open to visitors (sites No1, No2 and No3) because the area was severely bombarded by the US Aircraft during the Vietnam War, rendering the visit of the largest part of the Plain of Jars quite perilous, especially since there are numerous non-defused bombs remaining. More than sixty different sites on Xieng Khouang Plateau are believed to house such jars, the vast majority of those being found in Laos, while few other are thought to be located in Thailand and Northern India. According to some experts, it would suggest that the jars cover a region where an important commercial trade took place.
Vang Vieng is located near Nam Song River, at about 160km in the north of Vientiane. This destination is becoming increasingly popular with travelers due to its fabulous landscapes. Vang Vieng had previously acquired a bad reputation as a "party haven" due to the crowds of unconscious young tourists flocking there to enjoy not only the alcohol flowing freely and served by bars without any limit, but also for consuming illegal substances including hard drugs and hallucinogens. However, in 2012, the government decided to step in and cleaned the mess, shutting down most of the establishments and setting up new regulations. As a result, Vang Vieng has regained its unique charm. Indeed, the region is rich in beautiful caves and grottoes, sometimes hiding stunning Buddha figures and thus attracting many pilgrims. Vang Vieng land relief is varied and includes limestone peaks, lavish nature made of rice fields and green forests as well as staggering lagoons and rivers. Many outdoor activities can be enjoyed, such as trekking, kayaking, rafting, and even hot air ballooning. Many ethnic minorities live in the region, such as the H’Mong, the Tai Lue, the Tai Daeng, the Yao or the Katu, and visits to their villages can also be organized. In overall, Vang Vieng is a heavenly destination that should enthrall nature lovers.
Pakse is the capital of Champassak province and located in Southern Laos. The city lies at the confluence of the Mekong River and the Se Don River. Several colonial buildings are still standing in Pakse, including the famous building of the Chinese Society in the downtown area, which architecture is of Sino-French inspiration. Thanks to its airport, Pakse has become the gateway to neighboring regions such as the Bolaven Plateau, Kiet Ngong and further away, Si Phan Don (home to the 4,000 Islands). These destinations are particularly known for their magnificent natural landscapes made of peaceful rivers, incredible waterfalls (such as Tad Lo falls) and endless forests. The Bolaven Plateau is renowned for the coffee production.
SI PHAN DON – THE “4,000 ISLANDS”
Deep into Laos, in remote regions at the extreme south of the country, lies the mystical region of the 4,000 Islands. The pace of life is even more soothing than usual, and the group of islands provide a magical atmosphere that is infinitely charming. Three islands attract most of the tourist: Don Det, Don Khon and Dong Khong, the largest of the bunch. Tourists can take part to many activities such as hiking, cycling, exploring the villages, cruising aboard small boats, kayaking and last but not least, experience the original activity of spotting dolphins. In conclusion, Si Phan Don is the perfect place to spend time in the most serene manner.