Things To See and Do in Laos

Boloven Plateau

Head to the Boloven Plateau in Champassak province for elephant riding and trekking. Pakse, home to many ethnic minority groups, is the region’s capital and the ideal base from which to explore the plateau.

Climb Mount Phousi

Ascend Mount Phousi for a panoramic view of Luang Prabang and the surrounding rivers and hills.

Cruise the Mekong

Meandering along the Mekong River from Pakse on a converted teak barge (www.vatphou.com) is an idyllic way to see the country. Spend two nights on board, visiting Wat Phu, temples and traditional villages.

Dolphin watching

Head south to the supremely laid-back Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands), an archipelago on the Mekong River, to see the spectacular Khone Phapheng (the largest waterfall in South-East Asia (by volume)) and the endangered irrawaddy dolphins.

Learn to cook

If you enjoy the flavours and textures of Lao food, spend a day learning to cook traditional Lao dishes. Courses in Vientiane and Luang Prabang include a visit to the local market to purchase meat and vegetables for the dish you are to prepare.

Luang Prabang

Visit Laos’ cultural and religious centre, Luang Prabang. This ancient royal city has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1995. Located between the Mekong and Khan River, it boasts 33 large temple complexes and around 1,000 resident monks.

Monks

In the early morning pay a visit to the Morning Market in Vientiane where you will see lines of saffron-clad monks silently collecting alms from the local traders.

Pak Ou Caves

Do not miss the fascinating Pak Ou Caves. The two caves, Tham Ting and Tham Phun, are full of Buddha images that have been left there over hundreds of years by worshippers. They are easily reached by speedboat from Luang Prabang.

Plain of Jars

Marvel at the mysterious Plain of Jars, near Phonsavan. Hundreds of stone jars, some weighing up to 6 tonnes, are scattered over the landscape. Legend says they were used to ferment rice wine in the sixth century to celebrate a victory in battle.

Ride an elephant

Trek through the jungle on the back of an elephant to Tad Sae waterfall near Luang Prabang.

Swimming

Swim in the lower pools of the Kuang Si Waterfalls, situated 30km (19 miles) from Luang Prabang, and bathe in the two hot springs some 52km (32 miles) north of Phonsavan: Bo Noi and Bo Yai.

Temple tours

Check out the old French colonial architecture and numerous Buddhist wats and stupas in Vientiane, one of Asia’s most relaxed and quiet capital cities, suitably nestled in fertile plains on the banks of the Mekong River.

Traditional weaving

Drop in on a traditional community in Ban Phanom, near Luang Prabang. The village is famous for its weavings and offers the opportunity to purchase bargain-priced silk and embroideries.

Trekking

Head to the hills and trek independently or as part of a locally organised tour. A number of guest houses offer hiking trips starting from Muang Xing, a small town on the river plains in the mountainous Luang Namtha province in the far northwest.

Tubing

Lazily float along the Nam Song River in a rubber tube in Vang Vieng. The scenery is stunning and enterprising locals will tow the thirsty in to riverside bars for Beer Lao. Many of the bars have zip lines and water slides. Note there is an increasingly dark side to this activity – several backpackers have had severe accidents and a few have been killed – beer, tubing and drugs do not mix. Young local men, in their attempts to make money, have also resorted to dealing drugs to foreigners and have become addicted themselves causing many problems in the local community.

Wat Phu

Admire the breathtaking views across the Mekong Valley from the Wat Phu temple, constructed on a mountain top near fresh spring water by the Khmer Hindus, who went on to settle their empire at its former capital – Angkor Wat (Cambodia).

Wat Xieng Thong

Be awed by Wat Xieng Thong, one of Laos’ most impressive temples. Decorated with coloured glass and gold, it is testament to the fact that Luang Prabang had been the royal capital until 1975. The royal palace itself contains fine artwork and gifts made for former kings.

Wildlife

For a special experience stay in a tree house in Bokeo Nature Reserve (www.gibbonexperience.org), near Hoay Xai, and travel through the forest canopy on zip wires where you might catch a glimpse of the illusive Black Gibbon.