The mountainous, landlocked country of Laos is one of southeast Asia’s greatest tourist destinations: an unassuming, friendly land full of natural beauty and interesting cultural sites. Although not as developed, nor as established on the global tourism scene as its neighbours Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, it is in fact in this relative obscurity that the true beauty of a holiday in Laos resides.
The sleepy, languid nature of Laos’ capital Vientiane is symbolic of the easygoing, relaxed atmosphere that permeates the entire country. Beautifully situated on the banks of the Mekong River, Vientiane is a thoroughly atypical southeast Asian capital city, eschewing the modern trend of overdevelopment and westernisation in the name of tradition. Unmissable tourist sites in Vientiane include Pha That Luang, a gorgeous Buddhist temple, and Buddha Park, housing a bizarre collection of both Buddhist and Hindu religious edifices.
However, the number one tourist destination in Laos remains the UNESCO World Heritage city of Luang Prabang. A mixture of authentic culture and modern convenience, in Luang Prabang monks in orange robes stroll past a curious mixture of traditional wooden houses and French colonial architecture, while a bustling cafe culture plays out on the banks of the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers.
Although Vientiane and Luang Prabang are the most popular destinations in Laos, the countryside is also well worth exploring for adventurous travellers. Especially in the south of the country, endless hiking trails explore dense forests and pristine waterfalls, and friendly villages make for perfect camp sites. There is a lot to see and do in Laos, and its laid-back atmosphere makes it a perfect destination for ‘slow travel’ enthusiasts.
Things to do in Laos usually incorporate the attractions of religious sites and the natural world. Near Vientiane, Xiang Khouan is a religious park that has integrated Buddhist statues into a river meadow landscape. Vientiane has the most impressive religious site named That Luang, an enormous and ornate stupa within the city. The serene and historic city of Luang Prabang is near beautiful religious locations such as the Royal Palace, Wat Xieng Thong and Pak Ou Caves, which all house ancient Buddhist statues and relics.
Another great Laos tourist attraction is the beautiful cave of Tham Phou Kham in Vang Vieng. Visitors to Phonsavan can marvel at hundreds of enormous stone jars strewn about a meadow for mysterious reasons in ancient times. The area also hosts a number of other tourist sights and activities such as a Mines Advisory Group (MAG) centre, a silk farm and tours of the local villages.