With many travellers calling Luang Prabang their favourite place in the world, as soon as you step foot into this ancient town and UNESCO World Heritage Site, you’ll know why. Situated in northern Laos between the mountains and the Nam Khan and the Mekong Rivers, this quaint town is one of the most-visited attractions in Laos. What was once the centre of the ancient Kingdom of Lan Xang before it was moved to Vientiane in 1545. Let your sense of adventure run wild as you play in cascading waterfalls, sail down the Mekong and climb mountains to catch the early morning sunrise and almsgivings of the monks. With beautiful pagodas, French colonial buildings and the former Royal Palace, this place isn’t just rich with natural beauty, but with some of the best architecture in the region.
Explore That Luang
An image you’ll recognise from the official currency, That Luang, or the Great Stupa, is the national symbol of Laos and the most sacred monument in the country. Located in Vientiane, the golden That Luang complex consists of two temples and the main tower, which are protected by high walls. Thought to have been built in the 3rd century, explore this amazing complex to get a sense of traditional Laotian architecture. Inside you’ll find intricate, red-lacquered doors, heaps of pointed stupas, Buddhist symbols and statues, including lotuses and dragons, as well as images of the Buddha.
Reunite with nature at Kuang Si Waterfalls
Get your explorer on with a trip to the Kuang Si Waterfalls. One of the most beautiful and people-friendly falls in Southeast Asia, trek through the Laotian jungle to discover the clear blue-green waters of this amazing watering hole. With a few different wading pools and swimming spots, the Kuang Si Falls are the best place to escape the Laotian heat. The easiest way to get here is via tuk tuk from nearby Luang Prabang. The waterfalls are about 30km away from the town, so grab a few mates and carpool there and back. We promise it’ll be worth the journey.
Stroll around Xieng Khuan Buddha Park
Southeast Asia is known for its ancient temples, ruins and relics. Play tomb raider for a day and explore the Xieng Khuan Buddha Park. Filled with 200 stone statues of the Buddha and other Hindu gods, you can get up close and personal with these works of art. Built in 1958 by Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat, a monk who studied both Buddhism and Hinduism, discover Indra, the king of Hindu gods riding the three-headed elephant, as well as a four-armed deity sitting on a horse. The most famous sculpture in the park has to be the 12-faced god with many hands, each holding interesting objects. Grab a beer and fried banana from the park’s café and wander around one of Vientiane’s most interesting attractions.
Get amazed by the mysterious Plain of Jars
Considered one of the most mysterious discoveries in Southeast Asia, the Plain of Jars in the Xieng Khouang Province in Eastern Laos is well worth the trek. The large area around Phonsavan, the main city of Xieng Khouang Province, is dotted with thousands of ancient stone jars, thought to be more than 2000 years old. Carved from both sandstone and granite, some of the jars are tiny, while others are up to 3.5 metres high. No one knows where they came from, what were meant to do or why they’re there, but people have many different theories. Some believe they were made to store rice wine, while others believe they were for storing the dead. You’ll have to visit them yourself to make up your own mind.
Things to do in Laos
Boun Ma Kha Bu Saar (Full Moon)
Music, Culture & Dance
Boun Ma Kha Bu Saar is a Buddhist festival that commemorates a speech given by the Buddha. Heard by 1250 enlightened monks, the Buddha laid down the first monastic regulations and predicted his own death. The festival is celebrated with prayers, chanting and the presenting of offerings at temples around the country.
Bun Pha Vet
Happening throughout January, Bun Pha Vet is a festival held to celebrate Jataka, or the birth of Prince Vessanthara, the Buddha’s penultimate form before achieving enlightenment. Villages in Laos celebrate Bun Pha Vet at different times, allowing them to host friends and family from different places at their village’s celebration.
Boun Ok Phansa and Boat Racing Festival
Marking the end of Buddhist monks’ three-month fast during the rainy season (known as Boun Khao Pansa), Boun Ok Phansa is a colourful festival that happens every October in Laos. Featuring temple offerings, candlelight processions and colourful floats set adrift down the Mekong River, the end of the festival is marked with a boat race on the Mekong.
Boun Bang Fai ‘Rocket Festival’
Dating back to pre-Buddhist times, this festival is one of the most fun in Laos. Home-made rockets and fireworks are fired into the sky to ask the Earth for rain. Happening across various Laotian villages between May and September, enthusiastic chanting, singing and dancing are also characteristic of this festival.
That Luang Festival
Taking place at the That Luang Stupa, the National Symbol of Laos, this religious festival occurs every November in Vientiane. During the day-long festival, hundreds of monks gather to accept food and floral offerings from the local people. Even though the procession happens early in the morning, stick around in Vientiane for the fireworks show at night.
Top 5 Festivals in Laos
With its history steeped in Buddhism, many of Laos’ festivals and celebrations revolve around the Buddhist calendar. Full of processions, chanting, offerings and tonnes of colour, experience life in Laos from a unique perspective during festival time. Here are five festivals in Laos you won’t want to miss.
Lao National Museum
The Lao National Museum in Vientiane tells the history of the nation. Housed in a former French Colonial Building, the collection spans from prehistoric life and traditional Laotian culture, including clothing, tools and household goods. The museum is also home to a huge collection of Communist Party memorabilia.
Royal Palace, Luang Prabang
The former Royal Palace is a highlight of Luang Prabang. Now a museum, the palace has kept much of its original state. Check out the decadence of the royal chambers and the throne room, the golden Pha Bang Buddha statue, as well the former king’s luxury car collection.
Lao Textile Museum
Housed in a traditional Laotian home in Vientiane, the Laos Textile Museum in Vientiane is a showcase of Laotian fabrics and handicrafts. As a major technique used in Laotian textiles, there’s a focus on weaving. Learn how textile makers cultivate silk, create and use natural dyes and weave silk strands into beautiful garments.
Savannakhet Dinosaur Museum
Located in the province of Savannakhet, the Savannakhet Dinosaur Museum houses dinosaur fossils that have been found in the area. Learn about the stories behind these awesome discoveries and how the excavation process was carried out.
COPE Visitor Centre
The Vietnam War played out in parts of Laos, and the devastating effects of its bombings and landmines still take a toll on Vietnamese citizens today. While the COPE Centre helps Lao citizens obtain prosthetics and undertake physical therapy, it also has an amazing historic display on the war.
Top 5 Museums & Galleries in Laos
Between dinosaurs, French invaders and the rise of communism, the history of Laos is jam-packed with stories. Discover what makes this little country unique through its many history, art and science museums. Here are our top five picks for museums to visit in Laos.
Khao Piak Sen
Similar to Vietnamese pho, Khao Piak Sen is a Laotian noodle soup. Usually eaten for breakfast by the locals, the delicious broth is served over rice noodles with slivers of beef or chicken and flavoured with fresh herbs. Add chilli oil, lime juice, bean sprouts, long beans and basil to your liking.
Best eaten at Xieng Thong Noodle, Sakkaline Rd, Luang Prabang 0600
Probably the most famous Laotian food, larb moo has crept onto the menus of many Thai restaurants around the globe. This minced pork salad is stir-fried with shallots, coriander, chillies and mint leaves, dressed with salty fish sauce and sour of lime. But be careful: sometimes this salad is served raw, which is one thing western stomachs don’t handle well.
Best eaten at Han Ton Phai, Rue Pangkham, Vientiane 0100
Yall dib are healthy, fresh rice paper rolls packed with lots of greens. Much like their Vietnamese counterparts, these spring rolls are filled with vermicelli rice noodles, fresh herbs and little slivers of meat. Choose from pork and prawn, chicken and tofu varieties, dip these little rolls of flavour into the traditional Laotian peanut dipping sauce. Yum.
Best eaten at Khaiphaen, 100 Sisavang Vatana Road, Ban Wat Nong, Luang Prabang
Sien Savanh are small bites of beef, marinated in dark soy, oyster sauce, garlic, pepper and palm sugar, dressed with a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Similar to beef jerky, these are then left out in the sun to dry. With a quick grill before eating, you’ll find these Laotian snacks at street vendors around the country.
Best eaten at Lao Kitchen, Rue Hengboun, Vientiane 0100
Tam Mak Hoong
Again, much like the Thai equivalent, Tam Mak Hoong is Laos’ answer to green papaya salad. Both sweet and sour, strips of green papaya are crunched in a pestle and mortar with palm sugar, lime, fish sauce, peanuts and chillies. Often eaten with sticky rice and soft shell carb, this tangy salad is perfect to cut through the rich flavours of fried food.
Best eaten at Yongkhoune Restaurant, Sakkaline Road, Luang Prabang 0600, Laos
Food in Laos
Fresh vegetables flavoured with chilli and peanuts are staples of Laotian food. Much like cuisine of their Vietnamese neighbours, Laotian cooking is light, healthy and vegetarian-friendly. Here are five foods you should try in Laos.