The 14 best sights of Laos
Unlike its neighbors, Laos can’t boast beaches and gorgeous sea views. But ancient religious buildings, nature, and entertainment make up for their absence.
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Things to do in Laos
Those who are interested in Buddhism and architecture should visit the local temples. The most important of them is Pha That Luang, the heart of Buddhism in Laos. The majestic stupa is over 40 meters high and is depicted on the country’s coat of arms.
Wat Si Saket is both a functioning temple and museum with over 7,000 figurines and statues of Buddha. The temple Mount Phu Xi provides an opportunity to climb a scenic trail. The monastery, shrines, and panoramic views of the surrounding area await travelers at the top.
Hiking enthusiasts should visit the Tat Quang Si Waterfall. The water cascades are a majestic and enchanting sight. The Bolaven Plateau invites you to take long walks. Tea and coffee plantations are an organic addition to the natural landscape.
Nam Lik Jungle Park awaits the extreme. Rope rappelling in the jungle crowns will add adrenaline to your bloodstream.
The Triumphal Arch was erected in 1968. It was originally called Anusavari (Remembrance) in honor of the soldiers who died in World Wars I and II. After Laos gained independence from France and overthrew the monarchy, the arch was renamed the Victory Gate. The author of the design is Tam Sciastsen. The self-taught architect was inspired by the famous Arc de Triomphe in Paris, but he added colorful South Asian features to his creation.
The monument stands in the center of the capital and is surrounded by a park. The building is oriented to the cardinal points and decorated with five towers symbolizing the main principles of Buddhism. The cornices are decorated with stone images of a lotus. The vault of the dome is painted with scenes from Laotian epos: gods, mythological creatures and demons in various incarnations.
This former royal residence is located near the town of Luang Prabang near the temple of Ho Kham. The palace was built in 1904 for King Sisawangwong. The architecture of the structure closely intertwined the traditions of local and European architecture.
Now it is a museum and one of the main attractions of the country. It is definitely worth seeing the frescoes painted by the French artist Alex de Fontero. By the way, depending on the time of day the light falls on a certain image. Also of interest are the chambers of former rulers, the throne, antique furniture and paintings. There is also a copy of the Sacred Golden Buddha.
Wat Ho Phra Kaew
The temple was built in Vientiane in 1565 specifically for the Emerald Buddha. The sacred jadeite statue was removed by the Thais in the 18th century after winning another military conflict with its neighbors. A separate temple was built in Bangkok for the statue, which is one of the most important in Siam.
Laotians have repeatedly demanded the return of the stolen shrine, the Thais have always refused, but in 1994 they presented an exact replica of the Emerald Buddha to end the conflict. This replica is on display in the temple.
The rectangular building has two entrances – from the south and from the north. They are accessed by stairs topped with images of the mythical Naga. Inside it is semi-dark, as light can damage the elaborate murals with scenes from the life of Buddha. Outside, the building is framed by covered galleries with columns, behind which numerous statues of the Enlightened One are hidden.
Pha That Luang.
The most important religious building in Laos, the image of Pha That Luang is placed on the country’s coat of arms. The stupa is 45 meters high and is located 4 km from Vientiane. The structure was built in 1566. It consists of three levels – the number of the main tenets of the Buddhist teachings. The central part of the temple is crowned with a lotus.
Earlier there were 4 temples surrounding the stupa, but only 2 of them survived. There are archeological excavations on the territory of the complex. Findings are shown in the gallery here.
Pha That Luang is the official residence of the country’s chief Buddhist preceptor. Religious ceremonies and festivals are regularly held in the courtyard in front of the stupa.
Wat Si Saket.
A temple with columns and a 3-tiered tiled roof was built in 1824. In addition to the main structure, the sanctuary also houses monk cells, a library, a school, a thatha stupa, and a gong pavilion.
In addition to its religious function, Wat Si Saket also serves a cultural function as a museum. In the semi-dark galleries are more than 7,000 sculptures of Buddha of different sizes in bronze, stone and wood. Many statues of the 16th-17th centuries are in poor condition – time and humid climate have not spared the ancient artifacts.
Not far from the main gate of the temple there is a market. There sell souvenirs and paintings by local artists.
Phu Xi Temple Mountain
The sacred mountain Phu Xi got its name because of the active monastery and religious shrines on its peak. To see them, you have to overcome 329 steps on a steep staircase – small areas along the way are designed for short rest.
Other attractions on the mountain include the snow-white pagoda Thang Chomsi (1803) and a gilded statue of the sleeping Buddha. The summit offers a panoramic view of Luangphabang and its surroundings.
Wat Phu stands at the foot of Lingaparvat Mountain, surrounded by dense forest. A unique Khmer religious complex outside of Cambodia consists of buildings, most of which date back to the VI-XIII centuries. Archaeological excavations are underway here and the sites are gradually being restored.
The landscape is impressive. These are half-ruined temples with Hindu bas-reliefs, the remains of palaces and statues. The faces of Kali, Buddha, Shiva and Vishnu are made with striking detail. To the north of the main temple is a bas-relief depicting an elephant and a crocodile. Some scholars believe it is associated with human sacrifices.
Pak Ou Caves
At the confluence of the Mekong and Ou rivers, 25 km from Luang Prabang, is a complex of natural caves. They were originally used by the ancient people for pagan worship. When Buddhism became the official religion of Laos, the figures of the Enlightened One were brought into the caves to pray to the new god.
The two rock formations of greatest interest here are Tham Ting (Lower Cave) and Tham Theun (Upper Cave). They contain over 4 thousand statues and bas-reliefs of Buddha from different materials.
Places to See and Things to Do
Wat Xiengkhuan, or Buddha Park, is located 25 km from Vientiane on the banks of the Mekong River. Sculptural compositions depicting deities, mythological beings and the Enlightened One in all kinds of poses appeared here in 1958. It seems that they are not a hundred years old. But in fact all the figures are made of reinforced concrete. Against the lush tropical greenery, they look particularly dramatic.
Nam Lick Jungle.
This is an extreme amusement park in the heart of the Laotian jungle. In the crowns of ancient trees mounted platforms, between which strung steel cables. Tourists are insured by a special structure and sent in a controlled descent. The distance between the platforms is about 200 m. The total length of the “path” is more than 1 kilometer. There are also bridges for walks on the heights.
Lao National Museum
The former Museum of the Revolution, now the National Museum is located in Vientiane. It occupies a snow-white mansion (1925), which belonged to the French governor.
On display are exhibits telling the story of the Laotians’ struggle against the colonists. These are documents, paintings, photographs and other significant objects. Of greatest interest is the hall with archaeological finds, most of which date back to the Stone and Bronze Ages.
Valley of Pitchers
The Valley of Jugs is the main attraction of the Xiangkhuang Plateau. There are over 300 stone vessels that protrude from the ground in a long stretch of land. Their origin and purpose are unknown. The oldest object is about 2,000 years old and the heaviest one weighs almost 6 tons.
Jugs lie in groups, so the territory of the valley is divided into 3 parts. The most popular and visited is located 12 km from Ponesavan.
This scenic plateau with a height of about 600 meters is located on the border of Laos and Vietnam, about 40 km from the city of Pakse where all excursions start. Bolaven attracts tourists with lush forests, wild rivers, beautiful waterfalls and emerald pastures.
This area is home to tribes of small nations who have preserved their distinctive culture. The plateau is also famous for coffee and tea plantations.
Tat Quang Si Waterfall
The waterfall is located approximately 30 kilometers from Luang Prabang on the left bank of the Mekong. This natural jewel consists of a main cascade of about 53 meters high and many smaller ones. Together they form a majestic spectacle as water jets break on the rocks and become a weightless lace cloud.
Climbing up the forest path, the travelers find themselves on a flat platform above the main cascade. From there, a gorgeous panorama of the area opens up, making a great backdrop for photos. A Himalayan bear breeding center is nearby.
Next to the waterfall, there are several natural pools with piercing blue water. This unusual color is due to the presence of carbon dioxide and calcium carbonate in the rock through which the flows.
Attractions of Laos
Laos is a small state located in southeast Asia. It borders on Vietnam, China and Thailand. A distinctive feature of Laos is considered a lack of access to the sea. In spite of it the state is famous for a lot of sights.
Triumphal Arch of Patuxay
The Patusay Arch is a war memorial located in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. It is considered analogous to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, distinguished by its Laotian design. The arch includes five towers, each representing the sacred precepts of Buddhism. There are ponds on each of the four sides of the monument.
Inside the arch are staircases that give access to viewing platforms. The first floor is dedicated to a souvenir store and the attraction’s management service. The second floor houses the theme museum. The last floor is an open area, the merit of which is considered the towers painted in the Lao style.
The locals have nicknamed Patusay a vertical runway.
Pak Ou Caves
Pak Ou Caves is a religious complex located at the headwaters of the Mekong River. In ancient times, they were inhabited by Buddhist monks. Pilgrims brought them various statuettes of Buddha, which have survived to this day. Some figurines are so old that they literally crumble when touched. This is why Pak Ou is called the caves of a thousand Buddhas.
The entrance to the shrine is a carved wooden gate. Most of the rooms are lit by candles. Natural light enters only the first part of the cave. Behind the main altar is a staircase that leads to a picturesque opening in the rock. It offers a gorgeous view of the Mekong. The caves can be accessed as part of the sightseeing program.
The entrance fee is $2.50.
Pak Ou caves are home to a large number of bats.
Pha That Luang Temple
Pha That Luang Temple looks like a golden pyramid. It is considered one of the main religious buildings in Laos. Every detail that adorns the landmark carries a certain meaning. The temple consists of 3 tiers. Around it is built a wall with 4 entrances.
On the territory of the stupa are many monuments of historical significance. One of them is dedicated to King Sethathirat. While entering the territory of the temple, a tourist should definitely leave offerings at its foot. Another important attraction is a multi-meter gold statue of the reclining Buddha. Near the entrance gate is a small souvenir market.
The ticket price is $0.3.
Hours of operation of the temple – from 8:00 to 16:00 hours.
There is a festival in Laos dedicated to the Pha That Luang Stupa
Top 5 events in Laos
Tet family festival
late January to early February
Tet is considered the Lao New Year. Market stalls are closed on this day. Streets are decorated with red bouquets and lanterns. At night, locals shoot firecrackers into the sky.
Boon Pha Vet (Buddha Birth)
8th day of the 4th month of the lunar calendar
During the holiday, Buddha devotees prepare national dishes and perform sacred rituals. Townspeople visit temples and present treats to monks.
Bun Pimai Parade Festival
Boon Pimai is called the water festival. Locals go out and pour water on each other. The parade with dancing is combined with religious meditations.
Bung Bai Phan (Rainy Call Festival)
During the celebration of Bung Bai Phan, a feast is held and national costumes are worn. The festival ends with the setting off of fireworks. The holiday is especially popular in arid regions.
Makkha Bucha (Day of Appreciation to Buddha)
During Makha Bucha, citizens organize a procession through the city with candles, treats and incense. Donations to the temple are welcomed on the festival.
Tat Quang Si Waterfall
The Tat Quang Si Waterfall is located on the left bank of the Mekong. It is divided into four cascades with sky-blue water flowing through them. The highest cascade is 54 meters high. Due to the fact that the water is warm enough, tourists can swim in the lower part of the waterfall. Not far from Tat Quang Si is a Himalayan bear protection center.
The most adventurous tourists can bungee jump. It is also possible to climb to the top of the cliff using the stairs leading from the first level of the waterfall.
The cost to visit the waterfall is $2.56.
The waterfall is at its fullest between August and November.
Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is located at the confluence of the Khan River into the Mekong. It used to be the capital of Laos. Today it is considered an excellent example of the fusion of Laotian and French architecture.
Luangprabang attracts tourists with its picturesque scenery and the abundance of temples. Entrance to most of the shrines is absolutely free. There is also an opportunity to wander through the caves and take a boat ride on the river. To get to know the local cuisine, all you have to do is stop by a night buffet, a café or a market.
Visitors most often move around town on rented bicycles.
Bokeo Reserve is located in Laos province with the same name. It is known for its protective measures against black-cheeked gibbons, which were declared endangered in 1997. Tigers, elephants, buffalo and bears are also represented in the reserve. In addition, Bokeo tops the list of the most beautiful places in Laos.
Tourists travel through the national park with the help of cable bridges.
It is possible to stay in this place with overnight accommodations. Dwellings are built by locals in the trees.
The most adventurous travelers can try their hand at bungee jumping.
Luang Namtha is a province located in northern Laos. It is famous for its rice paddies and local cuisine. Rice noodle soup, sticky rice in bamboo and corn milk are especially popular with tourists. The province’s main attractions include:
- Dong Xieng Thong Reservation;
- Huixay Airport;
- Luang Namtha Airport.
Night markets are very popular in Luang Namtha.
Phongsavan is a small resort town located in the central part of the “Jug Valley”. Its distinctive feature is considered a mild climate, allowing tourists to come at any time of year. The city is famous for the fields on which there are giant stone jugs. They are up to 3000 years old.
Baw Nyai and Baw Yai hot springs are no less important attraction of the city. Tourists tend to visit Nisha and Bamboozle Restaurant & Bar for local culinary masterpieces. As souvenirs in the local market is recommended to buy:
- embroidered fabrics;
- exotic products;
- mulberry paper umbrellas;
- wicker baskets.
The best way to get to Phongsawan is by bus.
Pakse is considered one of the largest cities in Laos. It is located on the coast of the Mekong River. Most of the architectural structures of the city are made in the French colonial style. There are many museums, temples and monuments in the city. One of the main structures is a huge figure of the golden Buddha.
It is best to book accommodation in Paks well in advance.
The Mekong River
While in Laos, many tourists take a trip down the Mekong River. It is characterized by turbid water. Despite this, the boat has a wonderful view of the mountains. During the trip, tourists can explore the local architecture and landscape.
The boats are equipped with comfortable seats with cushions. Tourists are offered cooling cocktails during the river trip. There is also a compartment for smokers.
The cost of a 2-hour river walk is $9.
The length of the river is 4,500 kilometers.
Wat Xiengthong is a Buddhist temple located in the northern part of Luangphabang. The locals call it the “golden city.” It got its title due to the presence of 17 spires. The wide roof slopes gently descend almost to the ground. At the eastern gate of the attraction is a vault for the funeral carriage. It consists of a chariot decorated with gold.
The most valuable structure on the site is the shrine of the reclining Buddha. It is also called the “red chapel. In Wat Xiengthong is also the largest library of ancient manuscripts. Some of its copies were stolen.
Hours of operation of the complex – from 8:00 to 17:00 hours.
The price of the ticket is $ 2.
The pagodas of the historic complex are decorated with bas-reliefs and gilded wood carvings.
Wat Sisaket Museum
Wat Sisaket Museum was built in 1824, under the ruler Chao Annu. Today it serves as a functioning temple at the same time. For tourists the museum is remarkable for the presence of more than 1000 statues of Buddha. The area of the museum is fenced. The courtyard includes a colonnaded terrace. In niches are small and large figurines of Buddha.
Another treasure of the complex is the library, made in the Burmese style. It holds the most valuable ancient manuscripts. Along the perimeter of the walls are tomb stupas. Individual temples of monks are also represented.
The ticket price is $1.28.
Working hours are from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.
On request, there are photo shoots in local national costumes.
Phaikeo is a famous Buddhist temple built in 1565. It is also called the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. There is a statue of the god made of jadeite and decorated with gold. Around the main building is a picturesque French garden.
On the territory of the temple there are many attributes of local art. But tourists are not allowed to take pictures.
Working hours of the museum from Monday to Saturday – from 8:00 to 16:00. Sunday – day off.
The ticket price is $0.6.
Some statues of Buddha, made of bronze, dating back to the VI century.
Bolaven Plateau is a picturesque area with waterfalls surrounded by green hills. The attraction is located in the southern part of Laos. In addition to scenic spots, the plateau is famous for pastures, tea factories, and coffee plantations.
The tour program includes a visit to three waterfalls and a tasting of local tea and coffee. The last step is an introduction to the colorful village, home to ethnic minorities.
The cost of the excursion to the plateau is $20.
The best time to visit the plateau is from April to May.
A distinctive feature of the Buddha Park is the presence of many sculptures of a religious nature. Locals call the attraction “the city of ghosts”. All the compositions located in the park are artificially aged. The park was built in the first half of the XX century.
Among the most valuable specimens are figures:
No less remarkable is the pumpkin-shaped building. It includes three floors, each of which represents hell, life on earth, and heaven. The entrance is the head of a mythical creature.
Park hours are 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Tickets are $0.58.
Most of the sculptures are made of reinforced concrete, using modern technology.
Answers to topical questions
Question #1. What currency should I bring with me to Laos?
Locals use the Lao kip to pay. But tourists can pay in dollars without any difficulty.
” The most picturesque place for me in Laos is the Mekong River. I especially liked the sunsets on the waterfront. I wasn’t able to visit all the museums and shrines. Most of them are based on religious themes. The locals are very friendly, but large crowds of people in Laos are rare. Therefore, a vacation here is a great place for solitude. ”