(BEGODI) – Laos is generally forgotten by many travellers who make their way through the more popular Southeast Asian destinations. Due to the vibrancy and excitement that Laos’ neighbours offer, the land remains an underrated gem of untainted beauty. The calm and authentic atmosphere of expansive unspoilt nature seeps into the air of the towns as well. With everything to love about the genuine soul of the country, Laos is a unique place not to be missed. Here is a guide to the best regions to explore on your next Laos trip.
Nam Ou River
The far north of Laos sees very few visitors, leaving its landscapes beautifully untouched. The Nam Ou River drains the entire Phongsali region; a great place to trek and stay with local hill tribes. The river then travels down past Muang Ngoi Neua, which is a stunning town of lush terrain and a serene atmosphere. It continues to flow down and curves past the charming Nong Kiaow town, placed in the middle of some of Indochina’s most dramatic scenery. Red-face cliffs and limestone islets tower over the tranquil waters until it reaches and merges with the Mekong River. It is here that it meets the gem of Laos: Luang Prabang.
‘Magical’ is often the word people use to describe Luang Prabang. A UNESCO world heritage site and the spiritual heart of the country, it embodies the classical image of Laos. Monks in saffron robes line up to collect alms each morning here while the gong signals a new day. French-Indochinese architecture clothes the shophouses and ancient alleys. Red-roofed temples laced with gold and white stand tall with a virtuous presence alongside swaying palm trees and dusty streets.
A must-visit is the Old Town, which preserves it history and charm of centuries past. The Royal Palace Museum with its Pha Bang Buddha is another popular attraction, along with the impressive Wat Xieng Thong temple. Hike up Mount Phousi and take in the spectacular views, and visit the Pak Ou Caves along the Mekong. Luang Prabang’s rich and pious atmosphere will have you wanting to linger longer than intended.
Kuang Si Waterfall
Named one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world, this three-tiered pool of flowing water is not to be missed. It is 35 km outside of Luang Prabang, and is the perfect place to enjoy a refreshing swim and picnic. Being nestled in a cool tropical rainforest, you can also enjoy a hike after admiring the 50 m drop of azure water. Kuang Si Waterfall is a top highlight for many that visit Laos.
Bokeo Nature Reserve
Sitting on the western border with northern Thailand, the Bokeo Nature Reserve is a wildlife protected area. It was created as a refuge for Laos’ endangered species, and offers visitors a look at this natural life in a sustainable way. The Gibbon Experience Project is a conservation group that assists you in having a real experience of this lush preserved beauty. You can stay overnight in a treehouse, zipline through the jungle, and trek to incredible waterfalls.
Previously tainted as the raucous backpacker tubing mecca of the world, Vang Vieng has restored its reputation of quiet charm. It arguably possesses the most stunning scenery in the whole of Laos. With vast mountains and waterfalls, caves and gushing rivers, it is a popular site for adventure travel. However, you can still enjoy the calm scenes of the Nam Song River and peaceful temples if rock climbing and river rafting are not to your tastes.
Southeast Asia’s most subdued and laid-back capital, Vientiane is the largest city in Laos. Its languid energy pulsates from the warm and hospitable locals in an endearing way. You should definitely visit Pha That Luang, the country’s most important religious building with its glowing golden surface. Wat Sisaket is another worthwhile site, the oldest temple in Vientiane. Learn more about the history and culture of Laos at the National Museum, and take a day trip to Buddha Park.
The capital of Xieng Kuang province, Phonsavan is the best location to see the abandoned and mysterious Plain of Jars. This plateau of grassy meadows and miniature hills contains thousands of giant stone jars, shaped as urns. Many presume that these archaeological remains are associated with pre-historic burial practices. However, the precise purpose and origins of the jars are unknown. It is thus a very perplexing and important site of ancient history in Southeast Asia.
The epicentre of wartime activity in the region, Vieng Xai is as historically significant as it is scenic. Jungle terrain, limestone karsts and emerald valleys make up the backdrop of these fascinating war tunnels. You can take a tour through the 7 most important cave complexes that sheltered many soldiers in hiding. Vieng Xai is called the ‘City of Victory’, as it was here that the Pathet Lao and Vietnamese allies won the second Indochina war.
Tham Kong Lo
One of Southeast Asia’s natural wonders, Tham Kong Lo is a karst limestone cave in Phu Hin Bun National Park. It is 7 km wide and up to 90 m high in some parts, with the Nam Han Bun River flowing stunningly through it. The cave’s mountainous walls weave majestically through the wilderness of central Laos. A lit up section of the cave has the essence of being from another world, with the dark regions carrying an eerie tone. Overall, a boat ride through Tham Kong Lo is surely an experience to remember.
Beautiful and underrated, the trekking site of Bolaven Plateau lies in the southern tail of Laos. With dirt trails leading to remote ethnic villages shaded by surrounding mountains, it is heaven for hiking enthusiasts. You can stumble upon coffee and tea plantations, wild orchids and tumbling waterfalls as you make your way through. The popular town of Pakse is just 30 km from the plateau. Pakse boasts some gorgeous temples and winding rivers, so it is a great place to visit too.
A sleepy town on the banks of the Mekong River, Champasak is the ideal place to relax with unobstructed mountain views. It is the jumping off point for the UNESCO-listed Wat Phu, an abandoned temple complex of the Khmer empire. Although the Hindu ruins are much smaller than those of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, the surrounding nature is remarkable. Its unique details and ornate architecture make it a true wonder of forgotten history and culture.
Si Phan Don
Also known as the 4 000 Islands, Si Phan Don is a labyrinth of islands floating at the southern tip of Laos. The French and American wars hardly affected the archipelago’s villages, allowing them to pristinely preserve their customs. Their lives along the Mekong are thus much the same as those of their ancient ancestors.
Don Khong is the largest of all of the islands, but remains incredibly peaceful despite its fair share of visitors. It is a good place for water-based adventure activities, as well as visiting Buddhist temples. You can witness untainted local life here with the backdrop of stunning sunsets each evening.
Don Dhet and Don Dhon are much more popular for tourists to stay at than Don Khong. This is probably due to the islands being more of the lush tropical locations that beach lovers seek. Coconut palms stand tall above rice paddies and the gentle river. You can find budget-friendly accommodation spots on these islands, as well as some western comforts.
The Mekong River runs through the country from the north western border all the way down the southern tip. Also flowing through Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, it is the most iconic river of Southeast Asia. You can enjoy a gentle cruise along its waters and see authentic scenes of farming, fishing and abundant nature. Sail from Huy Xai to Luang Prabang for an unforgettable trip through rice fields and limestone peaks. It is a unique and laid-back way to take in the vastness of Laos’ untouched beauty.
With so many picturesque places dwelling from north to south, travelling through Laos is guaranteed to be a treat. Make sure that you don’t miss this underappreciated treasure while visiting Southeast Asia.
For more tips and accommodation booking assistance, get in touch with Begodi to make your Laos adventure a breeze.