Laos is one of the most underrated destinations in Southeast Asia. The country opened to foreign visitors in 1989, and since then, tourism has become the fastest growing industry. Despite the increased international attention, Laos is often overlooked for better-known countries in the region such as Thailand and Vietnam. As a result, Laos feels like a hidden gem, and it is easy to experience the authentic Lao culture.
The Lao people are warm, kind and hospitable and they are eager to show off their beautiful country. Laos is a multifaceted place, where travellers find both lush nature and rich culture wherever they go. The untouched nature with mountains and rainforest in the north and wide fields and islands in the south lends itself to an active and adventurous vacation. Whereas the elegant colonial cities offer endless history, culture, and relaxation.
Wherever you go in Laos, you are bound to encounter breathtaking views, delicious food, and friendly smiles. Every type of traveller is bound to find their perfect destination in Laos. From bustling cities to remote villages, these are the most beautiful places to visit in Laos.
Even the capital of Laos is not completely overrun with tourists. Compared to Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh, it feels like a small town. Vientiane is the smallest capital in Southeast Asia, and that has translated into a relaxed atmosphere.
As Laos was once a French colony, that French influence is still evident in Vientiane today, both in the cuisine and architecture. There are several main sights in Vientiane. The boulevard along the Mekong offers a lovely stroll with lots of charming restaurants, cafes, and a great night market.
The main attractions in Vientiane are the Patuxai, a beautiful victory arch, and Wat Si Saket, the most important Buddhist temple in the city. The Buddha Park with its 200 Buddha statues lies 25 kilometres outside the city and is perfect for a day trip.
2. Vang Vieng
As calm and elegant as Vientiane is, as rowdy is Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng has made a name for itself in recent years as one of the most popular backpacker party destinations in Southeast Asia. The small city is known for cheap drinks, loud parties, and “tubing”.
Vang Vieng is also a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and adrenaline junkies. The karst hills and caves around the city are great for rock climbing and hiking. Tour companies in Vang Vieng also organize kayaking trips and buggy rentals, so you’ll never be bored.
3. Luang Prabang
The most beautiful place in Laos is undoubtedly Luang Prabang. Here all the love and attention is much deserved. This small town is the cultural heart of Laos. The historic city center, with its beautiful colonial architecture and Buddhist temples is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Luang Prabang exudes relaxation, luxury, and culture. It is the perfect place to unwind for a few days and take in the rich culture of Laos. Visit the ornate temples and palaces and witness the monks’ daily alms ceremony in the streets of Luang Prabang. Take in the stunning landscape and sunset from a river cruise and visit the breath-taking Kuang Si waterfalls. Luang Prabang lends itself perfectly for strolls through the elegant town center and indulging in superb Lao-French fusion cooking. The night market and shops in Luang Prabang are the perfect places to shop for traditional Laotian arts and crafts.
4. Nong Khiaw/Nong Kiau
Just a few hours north lies the lovely village of Nong Kiau. Nestled between the mountains and lush rainforest, this small river town is the perfect stopping-off point for exploring the north of Laos. A beautiful Chinese bridge connects the two sides of the Nong Kiau.
The rustic life in Nong Kiau offers both tranquillity and excitement. Adventurous travellers come here for the outdoor activities, ranging from hiking and biking to cave exploration, rock climbing, and kayaking. From Nong Kiau several tour companies organize treks into the jungle and to remote mountain villages.
5. Muang Ngoi
The only way to reach Muang Ngoi in the north of Laos is by boat from Nong Kiau. This remote river village has become popular among tourists that want to get away from it all.
Muang Ngoi is a collection of houses along one dusty street, but technology has even arrived here, and now there is electricity and WiFi. Muang Ngoi is the perfect destination for travellers that want a more authentic experience of Laos. The area around Muang Ngoi offers unspoiled nature with caves, adventurous treks and viewpoints, making it one of the most beautiful places in Laos.
Vietnam isn’t the only country in Southeast Asia with great motorbike loops. What Huia Xyuang is to Vietnam, the Thakhek loop is to Laos. This 450-kilometre motorbike loop has become a staple for tourists travellers through Laos. The small town of Thakhek in central Laos is the start and ending point of the now-famous Thakhek loop. The loop takes anywhere between two to four days depending on the number of stops and the route. What makes the Thakhek loop so popular is the variety of landscapes and sights along the way. The road takes you along karst mountains, paddy fields, waterfalls, swamps, and caves. The most popular stops are the massive Kong Lor caves, the Buddha cave, and the cool pool.
There are plenty of scooter and motorbike rentals in Thakhek that often also provide a map that marks all the highlights on the route. In recent years, the quality of the roads has increased making the loop even suitable to novice riders.
7. Si Phan Don (4000 islands)
Si Phan Don or 4000 islands in the south of Laos are a group of islands in the Mekong River delta. Most of the islands are very small and uninhabited. The nutrient-rich waters of the delta are great for fishing, and most of the locals that live here are fishers. The biggest and most popular islands are Don Det and Don Khong. This is where you’ll find tourist accommodation, restaurants, and shops. Don Det is more of a backpacker destination than Don Khong, with hostels and bars.
The atmosphere on the islands is very laid-back and relaxed. You can easily explore the islands by bike, cycling past paddy fields, villages, and beautiful waterfalls. You might even spot some sweet water dolphins here!
One of the bigger cities in central Laos is Pakse. It is often a layover point for people travelling to or from the 4000 islands. But Pakse has much more to offer than just a place to sleep in between transport. Pakse lies between the Mekong and the Se Don River and is surrounded by green fields and mountains. The region around Pakse is gorgeous right after the rainy season when the whole country turns a vibrant shade of green. Although the city does not have a lot of sights or tourist attractions, it is the perfect base for exploring the famous Bolaven Plateau.
The Bolaven Plateau is a stunning park with lots of waterfalls and coffee and tea plantations and one of the most beautiful places in Laos. You can visit the Bolaven Plateau as part of an organized tour or by renting a scooter or tuk-tuk.
9. Huay Xai
All the way in the north, close to the Thai border, lies Huay Xai. It’s one of the most visited places in Laos by people looking to cross the land border. Huay Xai is connected to Luang Prabang by the Mekong River, and slow boats can take you between the two on a beautiful two-day journey. Although most people move through Huay Xai quickly, it is worth a stop.
The town itself is small and has little to offer, but the surrounding countryside has lots to do. It is possible to visit traditional mountain communities and do homestays in the area around Huay Xai. The most famous attraction near Huay Xai is the Gibbon Experience. The Gibbon Experience includes a few days stay in the beautiful Bokeo nature reserve, sleeping in treehouses. You reach the accommodations by ziplining between the trees. It’s a once in a lifetime experience, and all proceeds go to supporting the park.
Last but not least is Phonsavan or Plain of Jars. This unique area is one of the cultural highlights of Laos. It is a woefully underrated destination, and one of the best places to visit in Laos in terms of cultural and historical significance. Phonsavan is a vast plain dotted with big stone urns. Each urn weighs thousands of kilos, and no one knows how or why they got here. Some historians believe the jars were used to store wine or rice, and others think they were a burial ground. Either way, the result is certainly extraordinary.
The area of Phonsavan in the north of Laos is also home to many different ethnic groups. The best way to visit these communities and learn about them is with a local guide.
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