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Landscape by the Song river at Vang Vieng, Laos

Things to do in  Laos

The land that time forgot

Laos is a country that travelers often omit when visiting Southeast Asia—yet, once visited, it proves impossible to forget. From the mysterious Plain of Jars to rocks infused with dinosaur bones, from the lazy charm of Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands) to the soaring eaves of Luang Prabang, every type of traveler will find things to do in Laos. With the exception of Vang Vieng, a tourist-oriented town in the nation’s center, Laos remains largely unspoiled. Fascinating tribal cultures sit alongside fine French restaurants, while simple stilt homes nestle beside gilded stupas.

Top 15 attractions in Laos

Kuang Si Falls (Tat Kuang Si)

Tumbling through the jungle about 18 miles (29 kilometers) from Luang Prabang, the Kuang Si Falls (Tat Kuang Si) are among the area’s most attractive waterfalls, combining a dramatic drop and pools. In addition to swimming in the cool water, swinging on ropes, and enjoying snacks from on-site eateries, you can visit a bear-rescue sanctuary and a butterfly park.More

Pha That Luang

With a history that likely dates back to the third century AD, the 148-foot-high (45-meter-high) golden stupa of Pha That Luang is Laos’ most important religious monument. Locals believe it contains a hair and bone from Buddha, and it’s the site of the country’s most important festival, Boun That Luang.More

Pak Ou Caves

Set where the Ou River (Nam Ou) meets the Mekong, about 19 miles (30 kilometers) from Luang Prabang, the Pak Ou Caves are one of the most popular sights accessible from the city. A place of worship for over 1,000 years, they are home to thousands of Buddhas left by grateful pilgrims. The lower cave has both more light and more visitors than the upper cave.More

Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan)

Set about 15 miles (25 kilometers) southeast of Vientiane, Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan) is a quirky giant sculpture garden devoted to Buddhist and Hindu mythology. Enormous cement statues, from reclining Buddhas to a giant pumpkin with a demon’s-head entrance, pay tribute to the outsider aesthetic of its creator, a Thai mystic.More

Wat Sisaket (Wat Si Saket)

Built in 1818, Wat Sisaket (Wat Si Saket), a Buddhist temple in Vientiane, is a surprising nod to Siamese-style architecture in a city where traditional Laotian design reigns supreme. The ancient wat’s cloister walls, which hold thousands of tiny wood, stone and bronze Buddahs from the 16th and 19th centuries, is one of the most unique spots on the temple grounds.Early morning visitors will find locals gathering to pray and offer alms at the feet of a hand-carved wooden naga—the serpent deity—as well as amid the more than 6,000 statues of Buddha.More

Patuxai (Victory Gate)

Vientiane’s answer to Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, Patuxai (Victory Gate) towers above this low-rise city in a spectacular mixture of architectural styles: part brutalist, part Napoleonic, part Lao. Besides the elaborate artworks in the monument itself and the views from the top of the structure, it’s home to a wealth of souvenir stalls.More

Mekong River

The Mekong River, the 12th-longest river in the world at 2,700 miles (4,345 kilometers), is the main artery of Southeast Asia. Its flowing waters are the beating pulse for a region that includes the fertile Mekong Delta around Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City, the scenic hills of Laos, and the jungle-lined waterways of Thailand and Cambodia.More

Whisky Village (Ban Xang Hai)

A shot (or several) oflao-lao, the national rice whiskey, is a Laotian rite of passage. The Whiskey Village (Ban Xang Hai), just 4 miles (6.5 kilometers) from the Pak Ou Caves on the Mekong River, specializes in churning out this potent stuff. You can watch lao-lao being produced, taste it, and buy it.More

Plain of Jars

The Plain of Jars is a collection of huge enigmatic jar-shaped stones scattered across the landscape near the town of Phonsavan in the northeast of Laos. Arranged in clusters of between one and several hundred, the origins of the Plain of Jars is still unknown, although it’s thought that the site dates back to the Iron Age some 2000 years ago.The jars vary in height and diameter but their shapes are all cylindrical with the bottom bases wider than the top. These mysterious stone urns are spread out across hundreds of square-kilometers and have been divided into sections, with sites 1, 2, and 3 forming the basis of most tours.Various theories about how the jars came to be and what purpose they served (if any) have emerged over the years. However, one thing we know of is this area’s more recent history; because of its proximity to the Vietnamese border, the region was heavily bombed by the US during the Vietnam War. Some say it’s remarkable that so many of the jars survived at all.More

Presidential Palace

Vientiane’s Presidential Palace would do the president of any country proud: a grand building with a colonial-era Beaux-Arts feel that belies its relatively recent 1986 construction. While the president’s official working residence is elsewhere, the palace still remains closed to the public.More

COPE Visitor Centre

COPE (Cooperative Orthotic & Prosthetic Enterprise) works with victims of unexploded ordnance (UXO) from American bombing during the Vietnam War, as well as other disabled people. The COPE Visitor Centre introduces the charity’s work and educates visitors about the war. Besides documentaries and an exhibition, there’s a gift shop and café.More

Royal Palace Museum

Also known as the National Museum, the Royal Palace Museum was the home of Lao royalty from the early 20th century until 1975. An attractive combination of classic Lao and beaux arts architecture, it houses collections including state gifts and royal cars. The sacred Pha Bang golden Buddha is preserved in Wat Ho Pha Bang.More

Golden City Temple (Wat Xieng Thong)

The UNESCO World Heritage list identifies no fewer than 34 Luang Prabang temples. If you have to pick just one, opt for 16th-century Golden City Temple (Wat Xieng Thong), the largest and best-known Buddhist monastery in all of Laos. Highlights include a tree of life mosaic, a royal funeral chariot, and the stunning ordination hall (sim).More

Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre

Set in the heart of Luang Prabang, the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre is a small museum dedicated to four of Laos’ main ethnic minority groups. Displays include traditional costumes, religious artifacts, and crafts, while exhibits feature signage in French, English, and Lao. The shop is a great source of ethical artisan souvenirs.More

Mt. Phousi

Mt. Phousi (also written Phu Si or Phou Si) dominates the heart of Luang Prabang, rising around 330 feet (100 meters) above the city. Several temples and shrines adorn the slopes, with That Chomsi stupa at the summit. But the main attractions here are the city and river views, which can extend to the surrounding mountains on a clear day.More
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All about Laos

When to visit

Like much of Southeast Asia, Laos has two seasons: the dry season, which is hot and sunny, and the rainy season, which is hot, wet, and humid. Patchy road conditions mean travel is generally easiest during the dry season, roughly from October to May. But if you’re hoping to cruise the Mekong, you’ll want to visit during the wet season, when waters are higher. Smoke from agricultural burning can be an issue from March through May.

Getting around

The Chinese high-speed rail system has transformed transportation in Laos, slashing journey times between Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Vang Vieng, and beyond. Off the rails, however, travel remains an old-fashioned affair. Cities and countryside feature a bewildering array of tuk-tuks, pickups, and similar vehicles; bus journeys are long and slow; and Mekong river trips are at the mercy of weather conditions. But it’s not all ba:. Limited traffic means Vientiane and Luang Prabang are a delight to walk in.

Traveler tips

Eating out mindfully in Laos can mean a taste sensation, too. In Luang Prabang, try Tamarind, run by a husband-and-wife team. The restaurant serves traditional Lao dishes sustainably sourced from small-scale suppliers, and the team even runs a cooking school here, too. In Vientiane, head to Doi Ka Noi, run by Laos’ only Slow Food member, Ponpailin “Noi” Kaewduangdy, who often picks ingredients from her garden.

People Also Ask

Is Laos good for tourists?

Yes. Although infrastructure is patchy, Laos is a great destination for travelers with a sense of adventure and no mobility restrictions. The ancient royal city of Luang Prabang is the best known of the nation’s three UNESCO World Heritage sites, while great food, rich tribal traditions, and outstanding hiking charm throughout the nation.

What is the most famous thing about Laos?

The UNESCO-listed city of Luang Prabang is Laos’ most famous tourist destination. Positioned at the meeting point of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, it offers gilded temples, alms-seeking monks, vibrant night markets, lush river trips, and tranquil countryside—not to mention a wealth of boutique hotels and fine dining restaurants.

What do people do for fun in Laos?

Beyond Luang Prabang, Laos has something to offer almost every type of traveler, from fascinating cultural experiences to the local and French-influenced food Gordon Ramsay praised. Adventurous travelers can try hiking, ziplining, kayaking, cave tubing, rock climbing, and more; culture vultures can enjoy village stays, handicrafts, and historic temples.

How many days should I spend in Laos?

That depends. If you only want to see Luang Prabang, three days is enough. If you’d like to get a taste of the country’s full diversity, from the mountainous north to the riverine south, you’ll need three weeks. One week is enough to cover Luang Prabang, Vientiane, and Vang Vieng.

Which is better: Luang Prabang or Vientiane?

Luang Prabang is a better choice for first-time visitors to Laos than Vientiane, though you should really visit both. Vientiane is Laos’ capital, but Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage site with beautifully preserved architecture, timeless culture, and a wealth of hotels at all price points.

Is Laos a cheap place to visit?

Yes. Though not quite as cheap as its low average income would suggest, affordable street food and public transit mean backpackers can travel Laos for around US$35 per day if they stay in hostel dorms. Luxury lovers can splurge over 30 times that amount on 5-star hotels such as Luang Prabang’s Amantaka.


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