Laos’ main draw is its undisputed reputation as the least westernised, most laidback, and therefore most genuine of all the Indochinese countries. It’s unclear how much longer this will continue, but while it does, this is a really rare and unusual nation to visit.
The word “wilderness” is sometimes overused, although it accurately describes most of Laos. The Mekong River and its tributaries are probably the country’s most significant geographical feature. Its winding course in the north has carved out some of the world’s most beautiful limestone karsts. Vang Vieng, a backpacker’s paradise, is a popular starting point for exploring the karsts. The landscape gets more mountainous as you go north, and the rainforest becomes less explored. Luang Namtha is a far-northern town that serves as the ideal base for tourists who wish to explore the true Lao wilderness and firsthand experience the lives of the region’s different hill tribes.
The Mekong delta lowlands in the south, in contrast to Northern Laos, are completely flat. Si Phan Don (four thousand islands) is an excellent location for exploring what is unquestionably Asia’s most mellow and peaceful area. The goal here should be to immerse yourself in local village life, take it all in, and do nothing. There are, nevertheless, some spectacular river-based attractions, including Southeast Asia’s biggest falls. If you’re fortunate, you may be able to see a Mekong pink dolphin up close.
It’s no wonder that temples are a popular tourist destination in this Buddhist-dominated country. The three-layered golden stupa of Pha That Luang, which dates from the 16th century and is located in the capital city of Vientiane, is the country’s national emblem and most significant religious landmark. There are many more magnificent temples in the capital city that, on their own, make a visit to Laos essential.
Luang Prabang’s whole historic metropolis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is a really unusual city, befitting its position. Traditional wooden Lao homes and magnificent estates from the French colonial period blend almost seamlessly with beautifully maintained gilded temples and their accompanying orange-robed monks. On the banks of the Mekong and the Nam Khan, spotless clean streets and a flourishing café culture complete the image of a city that is almost too lovely to be real.
The Plain of Jars is a megalithic megalithic archaeological environment that dates back to the Iron Age. Thousands of stone jars are strewn over a wide region in Phonsavan’s low slopes. The most common archaeological hypothesis is that the jars were used in Iron Age burial rites in the region, although this is far from proved, and there is still a lot of uncertainty. During the Secret War of the 1960s, the region was tragically damaged by American bombardment, and much UXO remains unknown. It’s highly probable that this will be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site once that process is completed.
In Champasak province, Wat Phu is a ruined Hindu Khmer temple complex. It was built in the 12th century, and tourists who have seen Angkor Wat may recognize parallels.
The village of Vieng Xai offers a fascinating look into not just Laos’ recent past, but also the history of Indochina as a whole. In 1964, the United States started attacking Pathet Lao — the Lao communist movement – strongholds in Xieng Khouang. The Pathet Lao proceeded east to Vieng Xai, where they built their headquarters in the limestone karst cave networks around the town, despite heavy shelling. A complete ‘Hidden City’ was built, with a population of approximately 20,000 people. The Pathet Lao hid in these caverns and survived in a mostly underground setting for nine years, despite nearly continuous American bombardment. The caverns housed schools, clinics, and marketplaces, as well as government departments, a radio station, a theater, and military barracks. Vieng Xai temporarily served as the capital of Laos after the 1973 truce, until being delegated to Vientiane in 1975. The caverns are open to the public on a regular basis, and there is additional historical evidence around the town.