15 Best Places to Visit in Laos

by Bounthavy Somsack
UNESCO World Heritage site Vat Phou in Laos.

Laos is one of the most stunning Southeast Asian nations, although it receives very few tourists. It’s a pity that fewer people know about Laos, since the country has as much to offer visitors as Thailand and Vietnam.

Despite being a tiny landlocked nation, it is famous for its stunning limestone mountains, where you can go hiking and explore creepy karst formations and caves.

Laos is famed for its mountains, forests, and waterfalls, and its exquisite Thai and Indian-influenced cuisine. Even at the most popular tourist destinations, such as Vientiane and Luang Prabang, a trip to Laos will seem like a genuine adventure in Southeast Asia.

To help you plan your trip to Laos, we’ve compiled a list of the top 15 attractions.

1. Vientiane

Night view of downtown Vientiane, Laos.

The beautiful night scene of downtown Vientiane, Laos. Image source: OULAILAX NAKHONE/Shutterstock.com

Charming Vientiane serves as the Laotian capital, yet despite its official status, the city has more of a small-town atmosphere.

The beautiful old French neighbourhood of Vientiane dates back to the city’s days as a French commercial centre during the colonial era.

Patuxai, the Laotian equivalent of Paris’s Arc de Triomphe, is just one example of the many French-influenced buildings you’ll see as you explore the area.

Vientiane’s huge local markets and temples, including the oldest of their type, Wat Si Saket, are also must-sees.

2. Luang Prabang

Sunset in old town Luang Prabang, Laos.

A peaceful evening in the streets of old town Luang Prabang, Laos. Image source: f11photo/Shutterstock.com

Luang Prabang, a city on the Mekong and Khan rivers, is often regarded as the spiritual and cultural centre of Laos.

Beautiful European-style cafés line the riverbanks in this part of town, a region so charming it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its own right.

Gorgeous temples can be found all throughout town, and hikers who go out to the Kuang Si Waterfalls will be rewarded with breathtaking blue cascades and deep pools that are great for a refreshing dip.

3. Vang Vieng

Village in Vang Vieng, Laos

A quiet and peaceful village in the scenic town of Vang Vieng, Laos. Image source: Suchada Rujayakornkun/Shutterstock.com

In between the two major cities of Vientiane and Luang Prabang, you’ll find Vang Vieng, a popular destination for backpackers in Laos.

Although the local administration has taken steps to improve the area’s image, its reputation as a wild party hub in the past is mostly in the past.

Tubing along the Nam Song River in Vang Vieng is a great way to experience the river and the surrounding forest.

The Tham Phu Kham Cave, famous for its lagoon and bronze Buddha statue, is only one example of the many attractions available.

4. Huay Xai

Harbor of Huay Xai, Mekong River, Laos.

A busy harbor on the Mekong River in Huay Xai, Laos. Image source: mortenrochssare/Shutterstock.com

Travelers between Laos and Thailand often stop at Huay Xai because of its convenient location on the international boundary.

However, the highlight of many tourists’ trips to Laos is the opportunity to sail down the Mekong River from Huang Xai to Luang Prabang.

Moreover, it serves as the entry point to the breathtaking Gibbon Experience in Bokeo Nature Reserve.

5. Si Phan Don Islands

Mekong River, 4000 islands, Laos.

A serene and peaceful view of the 4000 islands on the Mekong River in Laos. Image source: Nhut Minh Ho/Shutterstock.com

Si Phan Don, which literally translates as “Four Thousand Islands,” may seem like an odd place to find Laotian territory given the country’s reputation for lacking a coastline.

Amazing tiny islets like Koh Rong were formed as the Mekong River spread out at the boundary between Laos and Cambodia.

Because the islands are different sizes, you may pick some of the bigger ones, such as Don Khon and Don Det, if you want a bit more nightlife and a greater selection of lodging alternatives.

If you’re looking for a place to completely disconnect from civilization, Laos has plenty of quiet, uninhabited islands like Don Khong.

6. Bokeo Nature Reserve

Located just outside of Huay Xai, the Bokeo Nature Reserve is renowned for the conservation efforts it has made to safeguard black-cheeked gibbons, who were found there in 1997 after having been assumed to be extinct for over a century.

You may stay in tree huts that look out over the forest canopy, and enjoy other exciting jungle activities like zip lining while you’re there. In addition to the well-known gibbons, visitors to the park may also see elephants, bears, tigers, and buffalo, as well as hundreds of kinds of colourful birds.

7. Nong Khiaw

Aerial view of Nong Khiaw village at sunrise in Laos.

A stunning aerial view of Nong Khiaw village in Laos at sunrise. Image source: lkunl/Shutterstock.com

The picturesque Laotian town of Nong Khiaw (sometimes spelled Nong Kiau) is quickly becoming well-known as one of the greatest spots to visit in the nation if you’re looking for some time to yourself.

You may go on some fantastic hikes and treks in this area, or you can rent bicycles and explore the picturesque towns that surround the main town by pedalling between them.

With Nong Khiaw’s location on the beautiful Nam Ou River, visitors may enjoy a relaxing boat ride while taking in the sights.

The limestone caverns, such as the Pha Tok Caves, in this area are fantastic for spelunkers, and the area is bordered by beautiful karst structures.

8. Tham Kong Lo

Boat ride through Kong Lor Cave in Laos.

A thrilling boat ride through the spectacular Kong Lor Cave in central Laos. Image source: James Wagstaff/Shutterstock.com

The Kong Lo Cave, also known as Tham Kong Lo, is located in the larger Phu Hin Bun National Park.

Both the park and the cave are located on the banks of the Phu Hin Bun River, with the central chamber being hailed as one of the most impressive in all of Southeast Asia.

The cave is around 6.5 kilometres in length and 300 feet in height, and it is famous for its breathtaking jade-colored ponds, which are claimed to have the same colour as the skin of the Hindu deity Indra.

Seeing the cave’s rock crystals, stalagmites, and stalactites up close from a boat is the best way to see the cave.

9. Luang Namtha

Muang Long village in the Golden Triangle of Laos.

A charming view of Muang Long village located in the Golden Triangle of Laos. Image source: Fabio Lamanna/Shutterstock.com

As the main city in the northwest region of Laos, Luang Namtha is a major hub for travellers going between Laos and China.

As you can go outside into the surrounding mountains and explore the villages of the ethnic hill tribes in Laos, this location is also a top choice for anybody who enjoys hiking.

Don’t feel like walking? No problem! Rent a bike or motorbike and spend the day zipping between settlements and marvelling at the stunning waterfalls that dot this region.

While in Luang Namtha proper, you may enjoy the town’s teeming local markets, tasty street cuisine, and relaxing herbal baths.

10. Wat Phu

UNESCO World Heritage site Vat Phou in Laos.

The majestic Vat Phou, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Laos. Image source: Avigator Fortuner/Shutterstock.com

The beautiful Khmer temple of Wat Phu, also known as Vat Phou, is located in Laos’s Champasak Province, not far from the Phu Kao Mountain.

Between the 11th and 13th centuries, this Hindu temple stood as a key outpost of the powerful Khmer Kingdom, which had its capital at Angkor in neighbouring Cambodia.

You may now see temples in Laos that are stylistically comparable to those at Angkor but that have been partly ruined by the forests.

11. Phonsavan

The Plain of Jars in Xiangkhouang, Laos.

A fascinating view of the Plain of Jars near the town of Phonsavan in Xiangkhouang, Laos. Image source: Avigator Fortuner/Shutterstock.com

The name Phonsavan means “Hills of Paradise” in Lao, and this is a terrific destination to visit if you wish to experience the rural life of Laos.

Surprisingly, this area of Laos is recognised for its cowboy culture, and authentic Lao cowboys really exist, dressing in Stetsons and raising cattle on the fertile plains around Phonsavan.

From here, you can easily go to nearby attractions like the Plain of Jars, a stunning natural formation whose pillars inspired the name “Plain of Jars” because they look like jars.

12. Muang Ngoi Neua

Fishing village Muang Ngoi Neua in Laos.

A serene view of the Muang Ngoi Neua fishing village in Laos. Image source: Muellek/Shutterstock.com

At one time, Muang Ngoi Neua was a peaceful, little-visited town, but today it’s famous as a stop along the fabled Banana Pancake Trail, which spans many Southeast Asian nations.

And as you would guess, it’s been more popular with budget travellers in recent years because of its attractive riverbank location and attractions like Nam Ou Beach.

Several well-known caverns and beautiful waterfalls are within walking distance of the city, and you may also visit the nearby ethnic communities.

13. Pakbeng

View of Mekong River from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang in Laos.

A picturesque view of the Mekong River from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang in Laos. Image source: Anna Ewa Bieniek/Shutterstock.com

One of the primary reasons people go to Pakbeng, which is situated between Luang Prabang and Huay Xai, is to spend the night if they take a river cruise down the Mekong between the two cities.

Although Pakbeng lacks attractions, it is a charming stopover on the way to Luang Prabang or Xuay Xai.

You may have a refreshing beer while watching the sun set over the gorgeous Mekong at one of the town’s fine restaurants with a river view.

14. Muang Xay

The provincial capital of the wider Oudomxay Province, Muang Xay, is also known by the names Oudomxay and Udomxai.

Mountains that are well-known for their beauty surround this town, and the town itself is near to the Nam Ko River Basin.

Many people go to this city from the surrounding rural areas since it is the biggest in northern Laos.

However, the town’s proximity to many well-known caverns makes it a pleasant place to stay for several days, especially if you like spelunking.

15. Pakse

If you’re looking for a sizable city in southern Laos, go no farther than Pakse, the provincial capital of Champasak Province.

From Pakse, visitors may easily reach the Xe Pian National Protected Area and the city of Lao Ngam, while many more continue on to adjacent Si Phan Don, Wat Phou, and the Bolaven Plateau.

Having said that, if you happen to be passing through Pakse, there is still a lot to see and do in the city proper, so it’s worth your while to stay at least a couple of nights here.

Located at the confluence of the Mekong and the Sedona, the town is home to several excellent seafood eateries and, for good measure, a number of well-known herbal saunas.

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