What to do in Laos
Laos is unquestionably the most enigmatic of the three former French colonies in Indochina. The former “Kingdom of a Million Elephants” is now one of the poorest countries on the planet.
Bordered by Vietnam and Thailand, covered by forest and savannah, Laos is an authentic country that fascinates with its nonchalance, its lack of interest in globalization and its endearing people.
To visit Laos is to discover a real land of adventure that will satisfy all travelers in search of discoveries!
In this guide, you will find the list of 25 things to see and do absolutely during a trip to Laos.
Among the multitude of fascinating riches, you will discover the waterfalls of Paksé, the caves of Vang Vieng, the village of Luang Pradang… Laos is definitely a country that will fascinate you with the natural beauty of its landscapes!
So what are the must-see places of interest in Laos?
Visit Laos: 25 Things to See
1. Pha That Luang – Vientiane
The Phat That Luang is a large gold-covered Buddhist monument located in Vientiane, the capital of Laos.
This monument, whose central part reaches 45m in height, is considered the most important in Laos: it is also the emblem of the country.
The present structure of the monument dates from 1566, and it has been restored several times since, due to the damage suffered during the various invasions of the country. This is the must visit on your trip to Laos!
It is possible to visit the gardens around Phat That Luang for free, and the interior of the temple for the modest sum of € 0.50
Other monuments to see in the area:
- Vat Neua Thatluang
- revolutionary monument
- The Statue of King Setthathirath (King Setthathirath Statue), the founder of the city of Vientiane
- The Vat that Khao, where there is a huge statue of a reclining Buddha
2. Vat Sisakhet – Vientiane
Wat Sisakhet, whose architecture is inspired by the Thai style, is the oldest temple in Vientiane. You should know that because of its architectural style, it is the only monument not to have been destroyed during the sack of the city in 1828 by the Siamese.
Well, sorry to disappoint you, but an army of cats did not destroy the city, it is about the Thais, the kingdom of Siam being the old name of Thailand!
It is possible to visit the interior for around 1 €
3. Haw Phra Kaew – Vientiane
Located right next to Wat Sisakhet, Haw Phra Kaew is another temple worth visiting.
The particularity of this one is that for 2 centuries it housed the Emerald Buddha, which is now in the Royal Palace of Bangkok. This Temple was also destroyed by the Siamese, twice.
4. Patuxai – Vientiane
The Patuxai, also called the triumphal arch of Vientiane, is a monument dedicated to people who fought against France for the independence of Laos.
Unlike our triumphal arch, it has 4 arches, one on each of its sides, oriented like the 4 cardinal points. It is located in Patuxay Park, where you will also find a musical fountain offered by China and gardens.
5. Buddha Park, a Mysterious Park along the Mekong – Vientiane
The Buddha Park is located outside the city, 25 kilometers west of Vientiane.
It is a public park, which houses an impressive collection of more than 200 Buddhist and Hindu sculptures arranged along the Mekong.
This park was designed in 1958 by a shaman-priest-yogi who wanted to merge Hindu and Buddhist philosophies, mythologies and iconography. The result is rather mysterious. There are cement statues of Shiva, Vishnu, Arjuna and Buddha.
6. Luang Prabang Night Market
The night market in Luang Prabang, the must-do city in Laos, opens every day at 5 p.m. in the city center. It takes place opposite the former royal palace.
This night market is largely frequented by tourists but it is worth the detour. The locals come to work there with their children, and sometimes even their babies!
They sell statuettes, paintings, decorations, textiles… It is the largest night market in Laos, to be included imperatively during your next tour in Laos.
7. The Kuang Si Waterfalls, near Luang Prabang
The Kuang Si Falls will dazzle you with their beauty. These falls are a formation of multiple waterfalls, forming natural pools of turquoise water, located in the middle of a bamboo forest landscape.
The place is very touristic, which is why to be able to fully enjoy the beauty of this place, I advise you to go there as early as possible in the morning. A whole path is made to appreciate the falls all along the way and it is even possible to swim there!
Along the way, you will discover places more beautiful than each other, up to the big waterfall. Once there, you will have the choice between two trails, one going left and the other right, both of which can be taken. From the top of the trails, you will have an excellent view of the mountain with its very dense vegetation!
If you are close to Luang Prabang, go visit them!
8. Meet the Elephants at the Elephant Conservation Center – Luang Prabang
Nicknamed the land of a million elephants, Laos now has less than a thousand. To save this emblematic animal of the country, a hospital was created within the confines of the Centre. Central elephants are here to rest, either waiting to give birth or simply recuperating from their exhausting lives of logging or mass tourism. Here, no elephant ride!
You can stay one night in the center and live a real immersion in the heart of the life of pachyderms.
The center is located 2h30 from Luang Prabang, and a minibus leaves every day at 8am from the city to take you there.
More info on the Elephant Conservation Center website
9. Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang
Wat Xieng Thong is a Lao Buddhist temple in the former royal capital Luang Prabang. Built in 1560, it is one of the most beautiful temples that can be found in Luang Prabang, it is generally considered the most elegant in Laos.
With its sumptuous red and gold decorations, its paintings and its refined mosaics, the temple has earned the city its UNESCO World Heritage listing. This monument has survived all Chinese attacks.
10. Bamboo Bridge, Luang Prabang
There is only one bamboo bridge in the whole city and the floods destroy it every year!
The crossing is therefore paying in order to finance the reconstruction of this original, exotic and typical bridge that many monks cross.
11. Alms Giving, Luang Prabang
Monks roam the city at sunrise each day to give alms. Many tourists look at them, but it is better not to take a picture of them, or else, to do so inconspicuously.
12. The Sacred Mountain of Phu Si – Luang Prabang
Phu Si Mountain is a sacred mountain, a hundred meters high. To reach the summit, you must take a staircase of more than 300 steps. Once at the top, you will discover an absolutely magnificent panoramic view of Luang Prabang.
You will also see That Chomsi, a white and gold stupa surmounted by seven royal umbrellas.
There are also caves and Buddha statues. Going back down the path on the other side of the hill, you will find statues and small shrines, one of which keeps a sacred footprint of the Buddha.
13. Vang Vieg, New Paradise of Laos
Vang Vieg is a small town in Laos that borders the Nam Song River and is located in the province of Vientiane.
Known for years for its “tubing” descents along the river, its reputation is changing. Indeed, Vang Vieng is above all a small paradise with sumptuous landscapes, where you can practice many activities. Like rock climbing, local treks, visiting caves, kayaking and even hot air ballooning!
14. Kong Lor Cave
Located about 300km from Vientiane, the 7km long Kong Lor cave can be visited by canoe, in complete darkness, by the light of your flashlight.
The visit is simply mind-blowing, a real experience for which you don’t have to be claustrophobic! In my eyes, a must in Laos.
15. Muang Ngoi Neua, a Town Nestled in the Heart of the Mountains
Muang Ngoi is a small village of 800 inhabitants, on the banks of the Nam Ou, nestled between mountains and karst cliffs. If you are looking for authenticity and calm during your trip to Laos, this peaceful village lost in the middle of nature should please you.
The village is well defined. On one side, closer to the river, you will find the guesthouses and restaurants, the part “reserved” for tourists.
On the other, the dwellings of the premises. About a hundred families live here, living from fishing, agriculture or tourism. Until a few years ago, the village had limited access to electricity.
Its enchanting setting and its soothing atmosphere can only seduce you, and the absence of traffic will allow you to fully enjoy the charm of Muang Ngoi
16. Bokeo and its Nature Reserve
Located in the northwest of Laos, near Thailand and Burma, Bokéo is the smallest province of Laos. The reserve was founded in 2004 with the aim of preserving the 123,000 hectares of virgin tropical forest.
This forest has a rare biodiversity with animals such as tigers, bears, elephants or even buffaloes. As well as many birds and insects.
Do not miss “ The Gibbon Experience ”, the forest protection programme. You will stay in small cabins nestled in the trees and travel through the forest using zip lines. This program protects the famous “Gibbons”, small endangered monkeys.
17. Nam Nern Night Safari
The Nam Nern Protected Area is in northern Laos. With an area of more than 4,000 km2, it is one of the most important protected areas in the country, covering seven districts and three provinces.
The region is densely covered by primary forest and it is a real sanctuary for many endangered species such as the tiger, the gaur, or the gibbon.
To visit Nam Nern, you will necessarily have to go through an organized tour.
This traditional boat trip has an air of adventure and offers some great activities to do in the heart of nature, including:
- bird watching
- wildlife tracking
- Nocturnal wildlife observation
- Exploration of medicinal plants
- Just take a hike and discover the places!
A superb activity a little off the beaten track to do during your tour in Laos.
18. Take a Cruise on the Mekong
Laos and the Mekong are inseparable. This legendary river, around which life is organized in a unique way. Many tour operators allow you to discover Laos in an original way, during a cruise, sometimes for several days, on the Mekong.
On one of the many navigable sections of the Mekong and its tributaries, you can discover floating villages, numerous islands, rice fields and the daily life of the villagers.
19. Don Det – 4000 Islands.
In the very south of Laos, bordering Cambodia, are the 4000 Islands, called Si Phan Don in Laotian, a small archipelago of islets located in the heart of the Mekong.
Contrary to what one might think, there are not 4000 islands but about a hundred, among which 3 contain dwellings. Don Det Island, Don Khong Island and Don Khone Island.
From the city of Paksé, the province of Champasack where the 4000 islands are located is easy to access: buses are in place and go from the center of Paksé to the town closest to the islands. From this city, canoes leave regularly for the 4000 islands.
Smaller than its neighbours, the island of Don Det is on the other hand the most visited! This island makes it easy to talk with the locals who live there, to choose between eating local or eating European. It is easily accessible and allows you to go to the island of Don Kone, where there are magnificent waterfalls, the Khone falls, easily thanks to a bridge.
If you visit the 4000 islands, it is to take advantage of the extremely soothing atmosphere, to cycle quietly, to live a few days in bungalows, to wake up and rest in a hammock with a view of the Mekong, to drink smoothies, see green landscapes and lots of waterfalls.
20. Irrawaddy Dolphins – 4000 Islands
The Irrawaddy freshwater dolphins are an endangered species endemic to Laos. Famous for its appearance far from that of the dolphin that we know, the Irrawaddy dolphin is very difficult to observe.
To see it, you will have to take a canoe and go down the river to the Cambodian border. It’s a magical moment to experience on the Mekong.
21. Khone Phapheng Falls – 4000 Islands
On the 4000 islands, there are several points of waterfalls including the Khone Phapheng falls on the island of Don Phapheng.
These falls extend over more than 10 km, which makes them the largest falls in Southeast Asia and the longest in the world.
The Khone Phapheng Falls are sublime and a must-see during your stay in Laos. Admission is charged, but fantastic viewpoints are available for tourists to take pictures and enjoy the show.
22. Li Phi Falls – 4000 Islands
Li Phi Falls are found on the island of Don Khone. They are smaller than the previous ones but allow you to swim in the Mekong. Be careful, however, to stay on the edge because the current is important!
A word of advice: Go there by bike to appreciate the landscapes and the temples on the way!
23. Boloven Plateau and its Waterfalls, Pakse
The Bolaven Plateau is a region in southern Laos that is one of the must-see sites during a trip to the country.
The best solution to get there is to leave from Paksé (starting point of the plateau), rent a scooter and leave for a road trip of several days.
It is a circuit located at altitude, ideal for tasting the freshness of the mountains, seeing the magnificent waterfalls of the Bolavens plateau and bathing in the crystal clear waters of the many rivers that crisscross the landscape, and tasting the coffee of the Bolavens, one of the best coffees in the world.
Savannakhet is a peaceful town on the banks of the Mekong. It is the 2nd largest city in Laos. The city has a number of tourist attractions like:
- That Ing Hang Stupa, the famous sacred Buddhist site
- The French colonial architecture of the city
- The Church of Santa Teresa, which is one of the places to visit on site
- Lake Bungva, a little away from the city
25. Discover the Culinary Specialties of Laos
Even if it does not have an international gastronomic reputation, Laos has a very interesting culinary culture : many characteristics and specialties make Laotian cuisine a varied and original cuisine!
Laotian food stands out from those of its neighboring countries. On the one hand, because it is not influenced by Chinese cuisine, unlike what is found in other Asian countries, and on the other hand, the abundance and variety of aromatic herbs used makes it truly original.
One of the most traditional dishes is Lap which is a kind of flavored meat salad. The basic dish in Laos is sticky rice which is kneaded in the palm of the hand until it forms a compact ball. Sticky rice is used as an accompaniment to other dishes, or even as a meal in its own right.
Are you going to visit Laos? What activities do you like the most?