Things to Do in Laos
This three-tier turquoise waterfall just outside of Luang Prabang is a favorite among travelers looking to explore the natural beauty of Laos’ countryside. Rushing blue waters cascade some 60 meters down rocky cliffs into calm pools that are perfect for cooling off on hot days. Travelers should be advised that at least a few of these ponds are closed to visitors because they’re considered sacred sites—it’s best to read the signage.
The park’s well-kept paths are ideal for wandering, and quaint wooden bridges over the water prove perfect for capturing idyllic shots of the falls. Travelers can pack a picnic or grab traditional fare from the nearby tuk tuk rink before venturing to the top of Kuang Si. The site also includes a bear rescue center and the Kuang Si Falls Butterfly Park, both of which are also worthy of a visit.
Perhaps the most important monument in Laos, this 24-carat, 45-meter high golden stupa was built in the 3rd Century and is said to hold a piece of Buddha’s breastbone. Local guides wander the grounds prepared to share with travelers the legend of this religious temple, which resembles the famous lotus flower. Travelers agree it’s worth a visit, but some argue the stupa’s golden splendor is more impressive from afar.
Victory Monument, with its five intricate towers, is a fixture in the skyline of Vientiane, as well as the center of Patuxai Park. This regal destination pays homage to those killed in the fights for independence against France, Siam and Japan. Patuxai is as stunning from afar as it is up close. The monument’s interior is decorated with hand-painted images of religious deities. Visitors can climb to the top of Victory Monument and enjoy spectacular views of famous Lao temples, the might Mekong River and the nearby neighbor, Thailand.
Some lament the hundreds of steps that lead to the top of Mount Phousi, but travelers agree that the best views of Luang Prabang are seen from the top of this 150-meter hill in the center of the city. Mount Phousi is sacred to the Laotian people, and the grand 1804 Wat Chom Si temple sits at its summit, where you can pray and buy flowers to offer as blessings. Winding paths loop through scenic landscape and scattered religious temples, such as Wat Tham Phou Si, located halfway up the hill and easy to spot thanks to its enormous golden Buddha shrines. From the peak, you’ll see Luang Prabang’s most noted landmarks, from the gold-spired Royal Palace Museum to the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. While the 360-degree panoramic view of Luang Prabang and its surrounding countryside is worth the trek up, witnessing the sun rise and set over the Mekong River from this spot is truly spectacular.
More Things to Do in Laos
Cool temperatures, fertile soil, stunning waterfalls and coffee plantations blanketing its hills — this is the Bolaven Plateau. This higher altitude region of Southern Laos has long been used as a center of agriculture, starting with midland hill tribes who practiced rotational farming on the plateau. During the early twentieth century, French colonists began cultivating coffee, tea, fruit and cardamom in the area.
Well off the beaten path, the Bolaven Plateau attracts adventurous travelers with blissfully cool temperatures, stellar scenery (including Tat Fan, one of the most impressive waterfalls in the country), hill tribe villages and sense of isolation. Travelers can tour coffee plantations, swim at the base of waterfalls, zip line through the trees and learn about the region’s ethnic minorities in one of several villages welcoming to tourists.
The thousands of miniature wooden Buddhist figures that line the ragged shelves of the Pak Ou Caves are what make this unique destination a highlight for travelers in Luang Prabang. Located at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Ou rivers, the caves are cut into a limestone cliff and are only accessible by riverboats that wind along the scenic Mekong River and add to the experience.
The caves serve as an influential religious site for Laotians; before it became a popular spot among visitors to Laos, natives went to the caves during Lao New Year in April to ceremonially wash the Buddha statues. This is still done, and many Laotians still come to place their own intricate figurines, often old, chipped or simply replaced in their Luang Prabang home by a newer piece. The statues represent Buddha in various shapes, sizes and positions, including meditation, peace and nirvana, and the collection in the caves has been growing for centuries.
Formed in 1997 to support survivors of landmine explosions, the COPE Visitor Centre provides travelers with not only Laos' history with UXOs (unexploded ordnance, or explosive weapons), but an up-close look at how locals are working to provide disability services for those affected. The Visitor Centre showcases informative exhibits that explore both the history and impact of UXOs on life in Laos. Documentaries and local artwork explain how important the COPE mission is to people in the community. The Centre’s unique shop offers T-shirts and postcards for purchase, with proceeds going to support the COPE cause, and its Karma Café sells custom-made ice cream and cool drinks to refresh the tired traveler.
The Presidential Palace in Vientiane is the official residence of the President of Laos. The building is a grand French colonial Beaux-Arts style structure surrounded by landscaped gardens. It’s located on the main avenue within the city, not far from the banks of the Mekong River.
Construction of the palace began in 1973. However, due to a complicated political situation in Laos at the time, the Presidential Palace wasn’t officially opened until 1986, and only then as a venue for government functions and ceremonies. To this day, the palace remains closed to the public, and visitors will only be able to take photographs from outside its wrought iron gates.
This former temple, built in the mid-1500s, once housed the famous Emerald Buddha (before the Siamese reclaimed it). Today, Haw Phra Kaew is home to a small museum—the only portion of the royal palace to survive attack.
As a result, visitors can wander its original interior, filled with gilded halls, handcrafted sculptures, Hindu artwork and traditional Khmer carvings. Its protected veranda houses some of the most ornate Buddhist sculptures in the country, and manicured gardens full of brilliantly colored flowers and well-kept lawns make for a relaxing way to spend an afternoon outside the city center.
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