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Vieng Xai

The Vieng Xai caves are an extensive network of caves that served as hidden city during the Vietnam War. The area was home to the Communist army, who were fighting the royalist forces based in Vientiane and was bombed by the US army. Up to 23,000 people lived in the caves, which contained a hospital, military barracks, bakeries, shops, and even a theater. The Lao government hopes to promote the caves as a tourism destination, similar to the Củ Chi tunnels in Vietnam.

Vientiane, Laos

Pak Ou Caves

The Pak Ou Caves are located north of Luang Prabang on the Mekong river and can be reached by road or river boat. The caves are famous for their miniature Buddha sculptures. Hundreds of very small and mostly damaged wooden Buddhist figures are laid out over the wall shelves. They take many different arrangements, including meditation, teaching, peace, rain, and reclining (nirvana).

Luang Prabang, Laos

Wat Phu

Wat Phu (or Vat Phou) is a ruined Khmer temple complex located at the base of mount Phu Kao, in the Champasak province. The Hindu temple structures date from the 11th to 13th centuries. Wat Phu is small compared with the monumental Angkor-era sites in Cambodia but the tumbledown pavilions, enigmatic crocodile stone and tall trees that shroud much of the site give Wat Phu a mystical atmosphere. The temple is still in use as a Buddhist site today.

Champasak, Laos

Pha That Luang

Located in Vientiane, Pha That Luang (“Great Stupa in Lao”) is one of the most significant monument in Laos. The stupa has several terraces with each level representing a different stage of Buddhist enlightenment. The lowest level represents the material world; the highest level represents the world of nothingness. Pha That Luang was built in the 16th century on the ruins of an earlier Khmer temple. Pha That Luang was smashed by a Siamese invasion in 1828, then later reconstructed by the French in 1931.

Vientiane, Laos

Wat Xieng Thong

Located near the northern tip of the peninsula formed by the Mekong and the Nam Khan rivers, Wat Xieng Thong is Luang Prabang’s most magnificent temple. It was built in 1560 by King Setthathirath and was under royal patronage during the Kingdom of Laos. Wat Xieng Thong contains a rare reclining Buddha statue that dates from the construction of the temple. In 1931, the image was taken to Paris and displayed at the Paris Exhibition, only to return to Luang Phrabang more than 30 years later.

Luang Prabang, Laos

Si Phan Don


Si Phan Don (meaning 4,000 islands) is a beautiful set of islands, set against a scenic section of the Mekong River in Southern Laos. The Mekong is impassable to river traffic here due to the Khone Falls, a series of rapids that stretch 9.7 km (6.0 miles) of the river’s length. The Mekong below the falls has a small population of the highly endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins. The three principal islands that cater to tourists are Don Det, Don Khon and Done Kong. Most of the lodging available on Don Det and Don Khon consists of simple, family run bungalows. Bikes and kayaks can also be rented here.

Mekong, Laos

Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng is a riverside town, located in central Laos about a 4 hour bus ride north of the capital. The main street is full of guest houses, bars, restaurants, internet cafes, tour agencies, and tourists. The area’s main attraction is the dramatic karst hill landscape surrounding Vang Vieng. The limestone mountains are popular with rock climbers while the many unexplored tunnels and caverns are a spelunker’s heaven. Vang Vieng’s most popular activity however is simply floating along the Nam Song river in a inner tube.

Vangvieng, Laos

Mekong River

The Mekong is Southeast Asia’s greatest river with an estimated length of 4,350 km (2,703 miles). Laos actually has the greatest share of the Mekong River. With few good roads and mountainous terrain, the river is Laos’ principal transportation. The Upper Mekong in Laos is considered one of the most stunning journeys of the entire river. A great way to enjoy the scenery is a boat trip from Huay Xai at the border with northern Thailand to Luang Prabang, or vice versa.

Mekong, Laos

Luang Prabang

One of the most charming cities in south-east Asia, Luang Prabang is the most popular tourist attraction in Laos. Until 1975, when the communist took over the country, it was the royal capital of Laos. The main part of Luang Prabang is located on a peninsula between the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers. A collection of golden-roofed temples, wooden houses and crumbling French provincial buildings fill the main roads. At dawn, monks from the various monasteries walk through the streets collecting alms of rice.

Luang Prabang, Laos

Pakse

Pakse is the provincial capital of Champasak and is one of the most Thai-like towns in all of Laos. Until recently most travellers and backpackers tended to use it as a transit point and little else. Tourism infrastructure here is less developed than the more popular north, making it a bit harder to explore, but Champasak province has much to offer -- and Pakse is an ideal base to explore much of it from. 

Pakse doesn't measure up to the low-key splendour of Luang Prabang, but nevertheless it has a definite charm, some beautiful wats and two gorgeous rivers -- great for enjoying some eats and drinks by the waterside and watching the sun smoulder into the horizon.

Pakse in recent times has made a transition from transit point to staging area -- the Lao government has put a lot of careful work into cultivating new, ecologically friendly and quite well-regulated tourist destinations that combine the adventure of exploring the unknown with the convenience of regular and reliable services. You can easily spend a week or so just making daytrips and overnights from Pakse and winding up right back in town to plan the next stage of your journey.

Pakse over the years has become so modern and comfortable for many travelling through Laos that many do now indeed come here to hang out, recharge their batteries and pick up information. And it's easy to do with a decent guesthouse scene, some good food and excellent local hospitality.

The province is best known for the spectacular Khmer ruins at Wat Phu and the stunning cluster of islands near the Cambodian border known as Si Phan Don (4,000 Islands). You'll also find stunning waterfalls rimming the Bolaven Plateau, and you'll get a glimpse into authentic, traditional Laotian life on the island of Don Daeng near Champasak town, making a tour of the region well worth the extra effort. 

Travellers should be prepared to spend longer in this province than expected. Besides the excellent hospitality of the locals, there's a growing list of worthwhile things to do. Another reason is the rather slow pace of public transportation. Although Champasak has generally good roads, as in much of Laos the transport that runs along them does so at its own creaky pace, loaded to the roof with more goods and baggage than people, making frequent stops along routes that offer a small selection of daily departures.

Partly as a response to the slow buses, motorbikes have become a popular alternative and are easily rented in the provincial capital of Pakse. For those so inclined, this is recommended, as it will allow you to better explore the province without spending half your time sorting out departure times, waiting in terminals, and languishing on long, slow bus journeys. Increasingly, group package tours offer to take care of some of these hassles for you, but nothing can beat stopping off at a roadside food stall in the middle of nowhere, or coursing down back roads along streams and canals through fields of rice against a scenic backdrop of mountains. 

Many backpackers and travellers to Champasak province elect to head straight down to Si Phan Don to while away a few days in a hammock, but for those with more time on their hands, Champasak and Pakse are well worth more than a cursory glance.

Pakse, Laos