Since tourism has conquered Southeast Asia, Laos has always lagged a bit behind its neighbors. Perhaps it’s because Laos, as a country without access to the sea, can’t boast dream beaches, or because it lacks standout attractions.
But in times when countries like Thailand and Vietnam are perfectly developed and even Myanmar opens its doors, tourists are increasingly coming to Laos. This is a good thing, because Indochina’s landlocked country is often underestimated.
Laos offers its visitors beautiful landscapes, the lush green of the rice fields and the bizarre formations of the limestone mountains. The Mekong River meanders through the whole country and is the lifeline for people and animals.
In Laos there is absolute serenity. To understand this way of life, you really only need to internalize the following Lao proverb: “Wise people do not hurry and hurried people are rarely wise”.
Laos is a very relaxed country where hustle and bustle is absolutely frowned upon. Sounds like a vacation, doesn’t it? Of course, there is also a lot of culture to discover here, because Laos is famous for its wonderful temples and monasteries. Enjoy our list of the 14 best places to visit in Laos.
14. Luang Prabang
Colonial buildings, temples and monasteries in the scenically beautiful north of Laos characterize the old royal city of Luang Prabang. Due to the many buildings worth seeing, Luang Prabang is often called a museum without walls and is not for nothing considered one of the most beautiful cities in all of Southeast Asia. Experience the monks on their devotional alms walk every morning, discover the most beautiful temples and monasteries and also explore the beautiful surroundings of the city. Luang Prabang is a tropical jewel with an idyllic location on the Mekong River with numerous historically significant and beautifully designed buildings and a very special atmosphere that will delight you. Discover one of the most beautiful cities in the region and immerse yourself in the exotic culture and history of Laos!
Pakbeng is a small town in northern Laos that is actually more of a village stopover than anything else. However, the reason for its fame is that this is the place where boats stop on their way from Luang Prabang to Huay Xai or vice versa.
Most boats arrive in Pakbeng in the afternoon or evening, which means that most travelers can spend the night in town before getting back on the boat the next morning. As a result, there are not many tourist attractions in Pakbeng, but this contributes to its overall sleepy charm.
There are a few temples worth seeing, and if you have time, you can venture into the neighboring villages to enjoy a slice of local life.
12. Vang Vieng
Impressive rock formations, green fields and dense forests surround the small town of Vang Vieng, which is easily accessible from both Luang Prabang and Vientiane. Vang Vieng is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Laos.
Bicycle tours in the surrounding area are a great experience. In addition, the many caves are among the highlights.
Vang Vieng has a varied history as a travel destination: once an insider tip, then a backpacker hotspot and finally a party hangout. Tubing on the Nam Xong River, where you float along the river on an inflated tube of a truck tire, was long considered the tip for Southeast Asia.
Due to the gorgeous scenery, this is also an unforgettable experience. But more and more bars opened on the shore. Alcohol and drug excesses, as well as numerous fatal accidents, caused many bars to close. Today, tubing in Vang Vieng is more relaxed again. Kayak trips are also offered on the river.
11. Tham Kong Lo
Tham Kong Lo Cave (sometimes Konglor Cave), hidden deep in the wilderness of Phu Hin Bun of Laos, is one of the geological wonders of Southeast Asia. Otherworldly stalactites, spooky limestone formations and ceilings over 300 feet high make this flooded cave a highlight for many travelers in Laos.
The Nam Hin Bun River flows through the cave and is accessible only by small boats, which must be rented in one of the river villages. The boats stop at the 7 km long cave and allow travelers to explore a bit on foot. Colored lights create a dramatic light show that jumps out of the shadows.
The river passage through the cave is also used by locals to transport goods. To explore the cave, you must rent a motorboat from Ban Kong Lo village and chug the 7 km through the cave.
At its widest point, Konglor Cave’s cavern chamber rises more than 100 meters above the water and 90 meters from wall to wall. The strangely shaped, shining stalactites and stalagmites emphasize the otherness of Konglor Cave’s interior. At the end of the trip, the boats emerge into a green hidden valley.
10. Huay Xai
Huay Xai is located in the north of Laos with about 16,000 inhabitants and was once – due to its strategically important location in the Golden Triangle (border area of Laos, Thailand and Myanmar) – an important location for the opium trade. Today, Huay Xai is a popular destination especially for trekking enthusiasts. Other travelers, however, make a short stopover here before taking one of the many buses across the border to nearby Thailand or booking a place on one of the boats to Luang Prabang.
Most of the visitors travel to Huay Xai to do the Gibbon Experience, which is famous to beyond the borders. This three-day trek into the forests of northern Laos involves spending the night in tree houses. Between the tree giants wire ropes are stretched, on which one hangs by means of harness and scooter and partly distances up to 600 m back covers. Local guides accompany the group and lead them on the tracks of the gibbons that live in the jungle. If you are lucky, you will see the gibbons or other animals moving in the forest on one of the morning tours at sunrise.
9. Si Phan Don Islands
Laos is popularly known as a landlocked country and most people are surprised to find out that it has a number of islands. The country is home to the Si Phan Don Islands, which means the 4000 Islands. These are located in the Mekong River, which forms the border between Laos and neighboring Cambodia.
There are numerous small islets here that you can explore: From the main islands like Don Khon and Don Det to smaller and less developed ones. Listed below are the best things for you to discover here.
Khon Pa Soi Waterfall is one of the most breathtaking in the 4000 islands of Laos and is a perfect place for a day trip as it is comparatively quiet. As an outdoor and nature lover, you should not miss a visit to these waterfalls!
To get to Khon Pa Soi Falls, you will have to walk. In doing so, you’ll have a nerve-wracking adventure as you cross the rickety bridge that leads to the island of the same name. Once you’ve braved this 200-meter short hike up to the waterfall, you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking sight. There is even a plunge pool at the base where you can swim and enjoy the atmosphere.
The southern part of Don Sanlat is home to the highly endangered group of Irrawaddy dolphins, also known as Pah Kha in Laos. You can charter a boat from the beach in the southwestern or the southernmost part of Don Khon Island.
8. Nong Kiau
Far away from the hustle and bustle of the big city and the crowds of visitors, in the small village of Nong Khiaw (Nong Kiau) you can hear almost only the murmur of a river in perfect harmony with the exotic voices of the jungle. In the north of Laos, the picturesque village lies idyllically on a bend of the Nam Ou River at the foot of gigantic karst mountains.
Nong Khiaw is a place for travelers who want to get close to the beauty of Lao nature and soak up the secluded village life along the river. It is also the ideal starting point to tour the far north of Laos on the one hand, but also to experience nature in its uniqueness: Suitable for hikers, adventure seekers, nature lovers and water lovers!
7. Luang Namtha
Numerous thoroughfares meet in Luang Namtha, making this a major transportation hub for the region.
Besides some Buddhist temples in the city (Wat Ban Luang Khon and Wat Ban Vieng Tai), it is mainly the surrounding countryside that offers numerous sights. Ecotourism is of particular importance. The Nam Ha nature reserve, which surrounds Luang Namtha on almost all sides, is ideal for hiking, mountain biking, rafting and kayaking. Locals are heavily involved in the program, offering multi-day tours of the reserve. Finally, an overnight stay in traditional huts introduces visitors to typical Lao hospitality.
Covering more than 220,000 hectares, the reserve provides a safe home for tigers, elephants, bears, wild buffalo, reptiles and rare bird species.
An utterly mystical place can be found on the outskirts of Luang Namtha: Where the area’s oldest giant trees reach for the sky, the “Sacred Forest” begins. Here are the graves of the Black Tai, who buried their dead under small, flag-decorated cottages. The houses contain all the things that the deceased need for the afterlife. It goes without saying that the peace of the dead should also be respected by strangers. The spirits are particularly vigilant here.
6. Vat Phou
In the very south of Laos, in the Champasak cultural landscape, lies the fascinating Khmer temple Vat Phou with its impressive architecture. As one of two World Heritage Sites in the country, Vat Phou is considered the most important historical site in the country and is one of the highlights of any trip through this diverse country. Vat Phou knows how to enchant with its construction, location and status, which has been rather unknown among visitors, and is therefore really worth a trip.
Consisting of Hindu and Buddhist elements, Vat Phou temple with its different levels is considered a model for the famous temple complex Angkor Wat in Cambodia – but is much less visited. Explore the temple Vat Phou in the south of Laos and let yourself be carried away by the magical atmosphere of the architecturally and religiously significant temple.
Pakse is not particularly old. The city in southwestern Laos was built in 1905 under the French as an administrative center, through whose streets still blows a flair of French colonial times and Asian serenity.
Since the construction of the Lao-Japanese Bridge to the south of the city center, Pakse has been expanding more and more across the villages on the other side of the Mekong River. Northeast of the provincial capital lies a fabled range of hills including Ma Long, Bassak and Batiang mountains.
Besides the colorful markets overflowing with agricultural and handicraft products, a gentrification of the city can be noticed. Due to the development of infrastructure and connections to the main national roads, Pakse is currently growing into the economic center and commercial hub of southern Laos.
However, the coziness is not lost, because in the many bars, directly on the banks of the Xe Done, along Thanon 11 you can mingle nicely with the locals. Young Laotians meet here, enjoying the rising coolness of the river with its brown water masses during the glittering twilight.
Pakse has no ancient historical sites and despite its vastness, guests can easily explore the city on foot. The most important temple complexes, such as Wat Luang and Wat Phabat, date from the 20th century and are located in the city center. Just outside the center is the Champasak Historical Heritage Museum, which is well worth a visit.
“The hills of paradise” is what locals call the idyllic capital of Xieng Khouang province in northeastern Laos.
It is a young town that saw the light of day in the 1970s, its name is Phonsavan. Originally, Muang Khoun held the role of provincial capital. But with the Vietnam War came the end. In the course of the fighting, Muang Khoun was completely destroyed.
Today, ruins characterize the old town, which can be found about 30 kilometers from Phonsavan. Wat Phiawat, a temple destroyed to its foundations, bears witness to the destructive power unleashed during the Vietnam War. A Buddha statue still watches over the temple. Covered with bullet holes, it warns of the consequences of war.
Phonsavan took the place of Muang Khoun. Completely rebuilt, today’s capital soon shone in a system of dead-straight, wide streets. The Nam Kat River cuts through the network of streets.
An unsolved mystery surrounds the mysterious stone jars that lie scattered over several deposits a few kilometers south of Phonsavan. Some of them reach half a meter, while others reach a stately height of 3 meters.
Popular belief speaks of giants who once inhabited this place, while another legend sees the jars as containers in which rice wine was stored. Archaeologists, however, believe to have come across the burial urns of a Proto-Malay people here and estimate their age at about 2,500 years.
In the midst of a lush plain with numerous colorful plants, the capital of Laos, Vientiane, lies directly on the banks of the mighty Mekong River. The former colonial city with its many French colonial buildings enchants with historical buildings worth seeing, charming temples and lively markets that you should not miss.
Explore the riverfront capital steeped in history, enjoy the magnificent scenery and get to know the hospitable local people. In Vientiane you will find tradition and modernity and learn especially much about the culture and history of the country.
A multitude of French colonial buildings are located in the center of the city and give Vientiane a sublime aura. Particularly charming is certainly the Monument des Morts, which is already quite strongly reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
Examine exotic goods and let interesting smells waft around your nose at the market – and don’t forget to visit various temples such as Wat Si Saket and the national symbol of Laos: the Pha That Luang. A discovery tour in Vientiane reveals a wealth of interesting buildings and places.
2. Muang Ngoi Neua
In the past, the village lived from the proceeds of fishing and agriculture, but today tourism is the main source of income. Nevertheless, it looks as if the inhabitants have preserved at least a part of their former life. The gardens around the houses are used to grow vegetables. Chickens and ducks run around everywhere, pigs grunt and cows lie in the sun.
Since the number of beds still exceeds the number of tourists, it is not difficult to find a cheap place to sleep. Most restaurants and accommodations offer excellent views of the Nam Ou and the surrounding mountains. Almost every bungalow has a hammock on the terrace. Relaxation made easy, especially since so far no cars or motorcycles disturb the peace. Meanwhile, Muang Ngoi Neua is one of the favorite destinations for backpacking in Laos.
Besides recreation, the area is perfect for hiking. The landscape allows for easy orientation, so for many routes no guide is needed.
Mountain villages that are difficult to reach, an incomplete road network and no electricity in many places – one gets by with less here and precisely because of this, pure life can be enjoyed in the hilly mountainous region of Oudomxai.
The province in the northwest of Laos, split off from Luang Prabang in 1976 and now the ninth largest province in the country, promises its visitors a vacation that takes them back to the roots. For a long time, the provincial capital of Muang Xai was a transit point on the only road from south to north – and thus the transport hub of northern Laos.
Today, people travel to the region to get to know the original Laos. Until now undiscovered by tourists, Oudomxai offers perfect conditions for ecotourism. Guided trekking tours and accompanied bicycle tours bring you closer to the country and its people and rare animal species. Due to the higher altitude, greater fluctuations in the annual temperature are to be expected, but the warm dry season from February to March has proven to be a pleasant time to travel.