Nobody who takes a trip to Laos ever forgets it. One of the most rugged, unspoiled countries on earth, Laos is like a lost world that has breathtaking mountain vistas, colorful mountain tribes, and majestic Buddhist temples around every corner. And yet even with its isolation and challenging terrain, it has also inherited a rich, tragic history as the most bombed country in the world. Whatever you’re looking for on your trip to Southeast Asia, you can find it in Laos – but where to start? From my time spent traveling in this extraordinary country here are the best and most beautiful places to visit in Laos…
1. Luang Prabang – the stunning former Royal capital with exquisite temples and French colonial buildings
A trip to Laos is simply not complete without a visit to one of the most well-preserved cities in all of Asia and a visit to the beautiful Luang Prabang is like stepping into another century. A treasure trove of old Buddhist temples and lush landscapes the city is elegantly nestled between the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers in the Northern Laos mountains.
The real draw – however – is the overall feel and the pace of life. Stroll through the town just soaking it in, as villagers transport goods on bicycles, or rise to the early morning bells and watch processions of saffron-robed monks collecting alms.
2. Si Phan Don – a stunning riverine archipelago in the Mekong River also known as 4000 islands
Otherwise known as 4000 islands, this huge riverine archipelago is located at the southernmost point of Laos before the Mekong River flows over the Khone Falls and into Cambodia. The watery terrain provides a great landscape to explore on four-wheelers, bicycles or kayaks as you take in a land seemingly cut off from civilization.
Go off in search of the nearly extinct Irrawaddy Dolphins (some of the last pink dolphins in the world) or just hang around your bungalow, swinging in a hammock while enjoying the peace and quiet with a ‘Beer Laos’ in your hand.
3. Bokeo Nature Reserve – a beautiful protected area home to black-cheeked gibbons
By far the best way to see Bokeo Nature Reserve is by participating in the increasingly popular Gibbon Experience, a conservation project meant to raise awareness and preserve this magnificent wilderness and the animals who reside there.
The Gibbon Experience brings you right into the rainforest canopy where treehouses, footbridges, and zip-lines all come together to create an adventurous stay in the trees you’ll never forget.
4. Tham Kong Lo – a gorgeous places to explore which is home to a spectacular cave
Float through another world at Tham Kong Lo Cave, where the Nam Hin Bun River flows for 7 kilometers underground and the ceilings rise to over three hundred feet. Boats can be hired at the river villages in the Phu Hin Bun wilderness.
They load you up and you tour the cave by flashlight, stopping from time to time to get out of the boats and walk around in the pitch darkness. Not for the faint-hearted.
5. Kuang Si Waterfall – one of the most jaw-dropping waterfalls in Laos
A day trip from beautiful Luang Prabang, the Kuang Si Falls is one of the most stunning water displays in water-soaked Laos and indeed one of the most beautiful collections of waterfalls you’ll see anywhere on Earth. A large 50-meter fall drops from the mountainside and is a sight to behold.
What really sets this fall apart are the series of smaller falls and pools that continue on downstream – ideal for swimming. A surreal and magical collection of waterholes that gleam a turquoise-blue color – you have to see with your own eyes to appreciate.
6. Vang Vieng – the popular scenic village which has become a backpacker’s favorite
Most people know of Vang Vieng (or Vieng Vang) as a backpacker destination where young twenty-somethings from all over the world congregate to drink happy shakes or float down the river on tubes in a drunken stupor. For the kind of traveler who avoids Khao San Road when slipping through Bangkok, the madhouse of Vang Vieng might be tempting to skip.
But as annoying as the crowds that populate this little riverside town can be, its backdrop is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Laos. The limestone karsts and amazing different shades of green that creep up to the water’s edge are the gateway into a wilderness well worth exploring.
Get a guesthouse at the edge of town, take a motorbike across the river, and cruise the dirt roads to find ample opportunities for caving and riding through quaint mountain villages. Vang Vieng is as much a heaven to the outdoorsman as the party-hard backpacker, so suck it up, combine the two, and enjoy it for what it’s worth.
7. Muang Ngoi Neua – an under-the-radar small riverside village to visit in Laos
Quite a bit more on the map than it was in the past, Muang Ngoi Nuea has embraced its place on the Southeast Asian traveling circuit. But it’s still well worth a look for its natural beauty and isolation. Muang Ngoi Nuea is an hour up the river north of Luang Prabang.
You won’t find much to do here besides hiking through the mountains or just laying back with a book, but if you’re looking to get away, you won’t find a more peaceful place to do it. There are no vehicles or even bicycles, and the only electricity is provided by generators for a short time after dark.
8. Pha That Luang – a large gold-covered Buddhist stupa and a gorgeous place to visit
Pha That Luang is the most important monument in all of Laos and a source of great pride for the Lao people. A large golden stupa that presents a glistening sight from a distance as you make your way across Vientiane, the quiet capital city, Pha That Luang is steeped in history and is definitely worth a visit.
This large, golden stupa was first erected over the remains of an old Khmer temple during the 16th century but was later destroyed in the 1800s after the Siamese invaded and overtook the city. It was rebuilt by the French in 1900, but due to popular disapproval was redesigned and rebuilt again in 1931. Aside from the history, Pha That Luang is just a beautiful landmark.
Take a quiet stroll within its surrounding walls, and be sure to check out the temples off to its left to study the colorful, intricate pictographs on the walls and ceilings.
9. The Mekong River – the world’s twelfth longest river which offers stunning scenes
Too large to be a single destination, the Mekong River is nonetheless one of the country’s most beautiful and awe-inspiring attributes. It is the largest river in Southeast Asia, stretching for 2,703 miles, and cuts through some of the most rugged, untouched terrain in the world. While overlooking the muddy Mekong is a great way to enjoy a meal in town, many say it is best enjoyed by taking the boat trip from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang.
I highly recommend, however, renting a motorbike and driving off into the countryside and detouring to the river through a quaint country road. There’s nothing like the sight of the empty Mekong River cutting through the forest on the quiet off-beaten track to make you appreciate its raw power.
10. Vieng Xai – an off-the-beaten-track village in Laos
Want to set your eyes on a different kind of beauty? Catch a glimpse of the human spirit on a trip to Vieng Xai, where the Communists hid underground to escape bombs dropped by the US military during the Vietnam War. An elaborate hidden city built beneath the Earth, the caves were home to 23,000 people during the war and boasted military barracks, a movie theatre, a hospital, shops, and more. If this doesn’t strike you with wonder, I don’t know what will.
So those are some of the most amazing and beautiful sights to behold in Laos. But don’t restrict your trip to just these because there truly is something breath-taking to find around just about any corner. Be adventurous and get off the beaten track. Laos is a place of adventure – embrace it!
11. Dong Hua Sao National Protected Area – one of the best places to visit in Laos
At roughly 680 square miles, this area is not only beautiful to look at but also easy to enjoy, with its many animals that include monkeys, birds, peacocks, hornbills, and hog deer, among many others.
Some people are lucky enough to see wild elephants and yellow-cheeked gibbons as well, and since all of the greenery has been essentially untouched for 40+ years, the beauty of the area is something you’ll never forget. Beautiful and almost too quiet, this forest is a beautiful place to simply walk around and enjoy the best that nature has to offer.
12. Don Khong Island Rice Fields – a unique spot to explore in Laos
Although a very quiet and peaceful island, the rice fields there are extraordinary and definitely worth the trip to this area. Since most of the island is reserved for farming, it presents a beautiful view into this amazing type of agriculture that everyone can relate to; after all, who doesn’t eat rice?
The lush greenery is amazing to view, and it offers somewhat of a history lesson if you’re interested in where the rice on your table actually comes from. Beautiful and serene, Don Khong Island is one sight you won’t want to miss when visiting Laos.
13. Mount Phousi – a wonderful beauty spot in Laos
This mountain is found in the town of Luang Prabang, and its hike to the top, though challenging, is worth the effort because it provides you with some extraordinary views of the city. Once you’re on top of the mountain, you can enjoy views of the entire city with its temples and many other architectural wonders.
In fact, if you’re in the northern part of Laos and would like to enjoy an unforgettable sunrise or sunset, Mount Phousi should definitely be on your bucket list. It is a trip worth taking for sure.
14. Nong Khiaw/Nong Kiau – a pretty village with beautiful surrounding countryside
If you’re interested in seeing a lush rainforest, the mountains, and a quaintness you won’t see just anywhere, this is the village for you. Although small, the views are irresistible regardless of which part of the village you’re in, and it truly offers something for everyone.
If you just want to relax and enjoy some shopping and dining, you’ll find plenty to enjoy there. On the other hand, if you want to go hiking, rock climbing, biking, or kayaking, the town offers those activities as well, making this a very versatile place to visit, as well as one of the most beautiful places to visit in Laos.
15. Pakse – a city in southern Laos, where the Mekong and Xe Don rivers meet
An often-overlooked city, Pakse is one of the bigger cities in the central part of Laos and is one of the best places to visit in Laos. After its rainy season, the entire area turns a bright shade of green that is sure to catch your attention. You can also visit the Bolaven Plateau, a gorgeous park filled with coffee and tea plantations and lots of waterfalls.
In fact, it seems that at every turn in this amazing city, you can enjoy something else that is pleasing to the eyes. If you want to visit the park, you can either join an organized tour or rent a scooter and head that way.
16. Thakhek Loop – friendly villages, captivating scenery and fun roads
This nearly 280-mile motorbike loop offers some of the most amazing views of the country you’ll see. Depending on where you go on this loop, you can experience mountains, waterfalls, caves, paddy fields, and even swamps.
You can rent motorbikes or scooters and receive a map of all of the sights you won’t want to miss, and the variety of landscapes you’ll experience make this one of the things that should be on your to-do list whenever you visit Laos. Even better, because the quality of the roads has improved in recent years, it is perfect even for beginning riders as well as those who are more advanced.
17. Tham Phu Kham Cave and Blue Lagoon – a popular place to visit in Laos
This lagoon is nothing short of spectacular, and the nearby cave is adorned with an amazing Buddha figure made entirely of bronze, both of which are real eye-catchers.
You can enjoy a picnic beside the glass-blue water or explore the magnificent cave in all of its glory. One of the things that makes it so unique is that the shining Buddha statue is the only thing found inside the cave, which creates a feeling of mystery and the unknown whenever you tour it. It is truly a sight to behold, regardless of what other tourist attractions you visit.
18. Vat Phou – a wonderful ruined Khmer Hindu temple complex in southern Laos
Translated to “mountain temple” in English, Vat Phou is the name for the ruins of a Khmer Hindu temple that dates back to the fifth century, but don’t let the description fool you. It is not only very interesting to view, but the mountaintop that holds the ruins is lush and green and dotted with occasional flowers.
One of the many things that makes the ruins interesting is that you can still see the inscriptions and the altars that were there a thousand years ago, making it an amazing place for history buffs to visit.
19. Vientiane – Laos’ national capital filled with historic attractions
Even though it is the capital of Laos, this city still has a small-town feel, which is one of the many things tourists appreciate about it. It has a relaxed atmosphere and a decidedly French ambiance, thanks to the fact that Laos was a French colony at one time.
In addition to a Buddha park and several temples, the city is also home to a beautiful boulevard that consists of restaurants, cafes, and an extraordinary night market, not to mention a unique flair that makes this one city you won’t want to miss.
20. Dong Natad Forest – beauty spot in Laos
Located in southern Laos, this area can give you a glimpse into the lifestyle of the typical Laos citizen. In the forest itself and nearby Nong Lam Lake, you can view native villagers and even a tribesman or two doing what they do best – picking mushrooms and fruits, collecting insects such as ants and others, and doing what they need to do to survive in this area of the world.
For those interested in history, culture, or who love beautiful landscapes, this is one place not to miss while in Laos