Best Places To Visit In Laos
- The Plain of Jars
- Luang Prabang
- Wat Phu
- The Thakhek Loop
- Kong Lor Cave
- Springriver Resort
- Dragon Cave
- Buddha Cave
- Vang Vieng
- Si Phan Don
- Huay Xai
Map of Best Places to Visit in Laos
1) Plain of Jars
Mysterious, isolated and (in Southeast Asia terms) relatively undiscovered, the Plain of Jars has only become accessible to tourists again over the past couple of decades, as the huge number of unexploded bombs and mines leftover from the Vietnam War have been cleared. No-one really knows why these huge stone jars are here, with experts pitching ideas from salt storage to body storage!
One thing’s for sure, with UNESCO status applied for, it won’t be long before the big crowds start to see move in, so get there soon to try and figure out the mystery for yourself.
2) Luang Prabang
It didn’t take us long to fall in love with Luang Prabang. The sleepy-town feel, Mekong-fronted sunsets and old colonial architecture make for a unique and unforgettable experience. It’s even got a jungle-topped mountain right in the centre! The slow pace of life will live long in the memory, and means it’s pretty much the first place we recommend when asked ‘where would you recommend visiting in Asia?’.
If you want to read more check out ‘8 Awesome (and 4 Alternative) Things to do in Luang Prabang‘
3) Wat Phu
Wat Phu is part of the ancient Khmer empire that stretched from modern day Myanmar, right the way through to Laos. Its famous centre was at the Angkor complex in Cambodia, but Wat Phu is an example of just how far the Khmer influence reached across the continent.
Clinging onto a humid, jungle-filled mountainside, Wat Phu is split into a few levels. At the base there are two large buildings, fronted by huge barays – artificial lakes typical of Khmer design, and usually formed by building up banks rather than digging down. The big highlight however is at the top of a 75m steep, uneven climb through the terraces to the top. Not only will you find the main sanctuary, dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva, but you’ll also be treated to fantastic views back down over the temples and plain beyond.
4) Thakhek Loop
The Thakhek loop is a 450km loop that takes you through the limestone mountains, farmland and ancient caves of central Laos. It is a particular favourite with motorbike riders, but we decided to do it in a 4×4.
It’s a bit false to say the Thakhek Loop is a single place, as it took us three days to complete, so the next few places on the list are highlights from the route.
5) Kong Lor Cave – On the Thakhek Loop
Kong Lor cave is one of the natural wonders of Laos. It is a 7km cave, which has a river running though it, and incredible limestone formations throughout. The locals offer trips through the cave on narrow wooden boats, with a stop off in the middle to walk through some of the more spectacular rock formations.
6) Springriver Resort – On the Thakhek Loop
It’s not often I would recommend a specific hotel or resort in one of these articles, but the three days we spent at the SpringRiver Resort were some of the most relaxing and picturesque of our entire time in Laos. Sitting about 5km away from Kong Lor cave, at the point where a river and spring meet (the clue was in the name!), the luxury wooden cabins, and superb restaurant are a peaceful escape from the main Laos tourist trail.
They use local villagers to take you on an hour long tour up the river to Kong Lor cave, which was as beautiful as the Kong Lor tour itself!
Read more about the SpringRiver Resort here.
7) Thakhek – On the Thakhek Loop
Thakhek doesn’t receive many rave reviews, but as a stop-off and starting point on the loop, we loved it. Beautiful views across the Mekong to Thailand are the highlight to this peaceful town.
8) Dragon Cave – On the Thakhek Loop
The ‘Dragon Cave’ was the most spectacular of the caves we saw on the Thakhek loop. About 3/4 of the way around the loop, a narrow, low entrance eventually gives way to a giant cave, which is made even more atmospheric with the use of some coloured lighting.
9) Buddha Cave (Tham Pa Fa) – On the Thakhek Loop
This cave is a relatively new addition to the Thakhek Loop. It was discovered about a decade ago by a local man out looking for bird bests. Inside the cave he found 226 Buddha statues, some of which are thought to be 1,200 years old. Proper Indiana Jones stuff! There are no photos allowed to be taken inside, with only a few available online from professional photographers, so it remains a bit of a secretive gem. Whilst at the cave you can also receive a blessing from a village priest, and there are also boat rides available through the spectacular countryside.
What makes getting to this cave even more special is the roads around it. When turning off the main Thakhek Loop we found ourselves on red sand roads, that could easily have been in the middle of the Australian Outback (check out the main Thakhek Loop photo with our truck, this was taken nearby). The area is sparsely populated, with the odd tiny village on route, giving a big ‘off the beaten track’ feel to this part of Laos.
Laos’s capital city is a mixture of old French quarters, modern development and traditional Buddhist temples. It is certainly not the prettiest place in Laos, but the view out over one of the widest sections of the Mekong tries hard to make up for some of the ugly hotels and office blocks that have popped up over recent years.
With stunning sights such as the That Luang Stupa (pictured), Sisaket Temple and the Arc De Triumphe inspired Patuxay Monument, there is enough to keep occupied for a few days, but as the city continues to grow, it’s not a place I would choose to stay for much longer than that.
This sleepy riverside town will be your base if you decide to visit Wat Phu, but don’t write it off as a mere stopover. Champasak caught us by surprise, and if we’d known we would have stuck around for another few days.
Almost empty of traffic thanks to a modern road having been built to bypass the town, Champasak really manages to feel ‘off the beaten track’. With some stunning French colonial buildings, great views out over the Mekong, and even a spooky abandoned palace, this might be the best place in Laos you’d never heard of.
12) Vang Vieng
Once famous for a rather unique and questionable pastime ‘tubing’, Vang Vieng has now turned over a new leaf.
Set amongst ancient limestone cliffs, this backpacker hotspot has been restyled as the adventure capital of Laos, with the magnificent landscape as the stage. With mountain biking, zip-lining, giant swings, caving and much more, Vang Vieng is to Laos what Queenstown is to New Zealand.
13) Si Phan Don
One of only two places in Laos (along with Wat Phu) to make it into the Lonely Planet’s Travelist 500 Best Places on the Planet, Si Phan Don (or Four Thousand Islands) is an inland archipelago with thousands of little islands and sand bars.
This part of the Mekong is also the only place on earth you can see the incredibly rare Irrawaddy Dolphins, a box-snouted dolphin that look more like a mini-whale than their ocean-homed cousins. There is thought to be less that 100 of these creatures left in the world.
14) Huay Xai
What makes it really famous is the Bokeo Nature Reserve, which is only accessible through The Gibbon Experience. Home to wild buffalo, elephants, hornbills, and (of course!) the endangered black-crested gibbon, Bokeo is a favourite of nature lovers from around the world. Most tours involve a stay in one of the iconic multi-storey treehouses which will get you closer to the wildlife than ever before.