Laos
Laos
Attractions
21-09-2023 6.547 Views
Serenity, charm, harmony and mystery, like the dancers of the Khmers ballets, are the symbols of this country that has long been isolated from the rest of the world. Laos, bathed by the magical waves of the Mekong "mother of waters", has preserved all its treasures intact. From historical monuments, atypical places or grandiose landscapes, everything is gathered for an unforgettable journey to the heart of Southeast Asia.

THE ATTRACTIONS

Vientiane

Vang Vieng

Luang Prabang

The Plain of Jars

Pakse

The Bolavens Plateau

VIENTIANE

Vientiane is the capital of Laos (Lao People’s Democratic Republic), with an estimated population of 783,000 inhabitants in 2018. It is located on the left bank of the Mekong, which marks the border with Thailand, almost opposite the Thai city of Nong Khai. Its former name is Sri Sattanak, or Sisattanak. Sisattanak is today one of the districts of its suburbs.

Vientiane («port of the moon» according to a translation) is a city that gives the impression of smallness, compared to many other capitals. The city center is marked by the French style of the old buildings, and by the Soviet utilitarianism of the more recent buildings which were built in the period when a great friendship reigned between Laos and the USSR which then sent advisers and technicians to help the country.

Legendary city of Indochina, Vientiane has kept from this time major arteries with sidewalks, and beautiful colonial mansions. Going up Thanon Lan Xang Street towards Patuxai, you can’t help but see the reference to the Champs-Élysées with the Arc de Triomphe, on the Laotian scale of course! Strongly destroyed during the Siamese invasion of 1828, Vientiane is a city that does not have the architectural wealth of Luang Prabang. A number of monuments are however worthy of interest!



The visits :

Buddha Park: located about 20 km from the capital, this amazing park is home to more than 200 statues in the most fanciful forms.

The Wat Ong Teu Bronze Buddha: one of the city’s magnificent Buddhist temples, it was built in the 16th century and is considered one of the most important in Laos. The temple is also known to house a gigantic statue of Buddha, the largest in Vientiane, from which it takes its name «Temple of the Heavy Buddha».

Wat Ho Phra Kaew: the dating of Wat Phra Kaew is still controversial. The temple was probably built around the 16th century during the reign of Setthathirat. In 1548 he inherited the throne of Chiang Mai from his mother’s side, and the throne of Vientiane from his father’s side. He had the Wat Phra Kaew erected to house the two most sacred Buddha statues of the new kingdom: the Phra Bang and the Phra Kaew "Emerald Buddha" which he had just transferred from Chiang Mai. In 1778, the Siamese destroyed the temple and took away the two Buddhas, objects of all lusts. The Emerald Buddha is now at the Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, as the Thais have estimated that he has always belonged to the kingdom of Chiang Mai, an integral part of Siam. Fair players, they returned the Prabang to Laos in 1867. The current temple of Vientiane was rebuilt, in 1936, according to original plans found by the French School of the Far East. The result showing a Thai style clearly nineteenth, these documents had to date from an intermediate reconstruction. Today the temple is transformed into a museum, the Ho Phra Kaew. It contains a superb collection of bronze Buddhas.

Wat Si Saket: one of the most beautiful temples in the capital, was built by Chao Anou in 1818. This temple-museum is the oldest building in Vientiane since it was the only monument to have been spared by the Siamese during their incendiary raid of 1828, probably because of the typical Thai style from which the builders were inspired. The inside walls of the gallery are riddled with small niches containing nearly 2,000 silver and ceramic Buddhas. A superb collection of statues of different sizes and styles is exhibited around the cloister. These pieces, mainly made of wood and bronze, date from the 15th to the 19th century. A pile of statuettes damaged and half melted during the fire of 1828 offers to the curiosity of the public. The inside of the pagoda is completely decorated with original wall paintings that are damaged from year to year due to lack of restoration. They represent scenes from Buddha’s life.

Patuxai: small arc de triomphe, also called Anousavali, is a monument to the memory of the victims of the war in Laos. The name of Patuxai was given to him by the government after the revolution, following a renovation that gives it the appearance we can see today. It is the most beautiful view of the city of Vientiane.

Phat That Luang: the country’s most popular monument, it is both a religious symbol and a symbol of the country’s unity. Located three kilometres north of the city centre, the Pha That Luang is a 35-metre-high, fully gilded, quadrangular stupa. It is surrounded by a square cloister with two entrances and two pavilions (of the original four). In the immediate vicinity, four modern Buddhist temples were built (two to the west and two to the east).

Wat Si Muang: it is considered the lucky temple of the city. Wat Si Muang was built around the city’s pillar, which was supposed to house the capital’s tutelary genius. The legend goes back to the 16th century, when King Setthathirat decided to settle in Vientiane. It is said that he had opted for the west bank of the Mekong, but that a sacred Nâga led him to this location. It is also said that a young pregnant woman, named Nang Si, was buried under the huge stone pillar. In Laos, the cult of geniuses, although officially forbidden, is still very lively and mingles with religion. This is why the Wat Si Muang enjoys great popularity. The offerings of flowers, fruits and incense are continuous and created a business around the temple.

VANG VIENG

Vang Vieng is a beautiful site 160 km north of Ventiane. The city is located near the Nam Song River, in a green area populated by Hmong and Yao, famous for its caves and waterfalls, cliffs and limestone sugar loaves. The caves, sacred, often contain statues of the Buddha and are the subject of pilgrimages at the time of the holidays. Now being an essential stop on the tourist circuit in Laos, this city seduces with its charm, the beauty of its landscapes and the kindness of its inhabitants.

A paradise for speleology enthusiasts, Vang Vieng is full of amazing caves. The best known and closest to the centre is Tham Jang, quite deep, which is reached by a large staircase offering an exceptional view of the valley. This cavity sheltered the villagers during the invasions of Yunnan troops. When you return from this ascent, outside, you can refresh yourself in a source of clear water.

A second cave, also to the southwest, the Tham Phu Kam, requires a long hike of 6 km but is worth a visit. The ascent is quite laborious but leads to a magnificent Buddha lying in bronze, placed in the middle of the cave. At the foot of the mountain, a swim in the river is also recommended.

13 km from the city, there is a whole series of caves, called «the triangle of Tham Sang». The Elephant Cave (Tham Sang) contains several Buddha statues and an elephant-shaped stalactite. The Tham Hoi is guarded by a large Buddha effigy while the Tham Wolf contains imposing stalactites. Finally, the Tham Nam, 500 meters long, can be explored on foot, or with the help of an air chamber during the rainy season, a very fun experience!

In addition, Vang Vieng is the ideal place for all kind of sports activities, including tubing (river descent on a tractor tube), the flagship sport of Vang Vieng, practiced by backpackers. But many agencies also offer to kayak down the Nam Song, often after the visit of caves. As for rafting, the possibilities and levels are diverse. Nevertheless, Nam Ngum has the biggest rapids in the region. You will then have to cross the special area of Saisombun to reach this river, in one day. For rock climbing enthusiasts, the limestone walls of Vang Vieng are among the best in the world.

LUANG PRABANG

Luang Prabang is the historic heart of Laos, with its many temples and monuments. The city was the capital of the Kingdom of Lan Xang (1st Kingdom of Laos) until its replacement by Vientiane. With a cooler climate than the rest of the country thanks to its mountainous environment, Luang Prabang has a typical and well preserved face, opening up to tourism only since the 1990s. Considered one of the most beautiful cities in Asia, Luang Prabang has been a World Heritage Site since 1995. It is also a high place of Buddhism, many faithful coming to pray in the many beautiful temples, as well as every year thousands of pilgrims or monks wanting to deepen their knowledge of Buddha’s teachings.

The visits :

The Royal Palace: one of the must-see sights of the city is the Royal Palace Museum, which provides a better understanding of the history of Luang Prabang. Built in 1904, it is a mixture of traditional Lao elements and classical French style, this residence housed the royal family until their exile, date from which it became a museum, retaining most of the apartments. In the former reception hall of the King, the walls are covered with a magnificent painting, representing scenes of the traditional Lao life, work of a French artist, Alix De Fautereau. Presents from several countries are on display to the left of the entrance hall. There are all kinds of objects: porcelain vases, statuettes, silverware... Then, to the right of the palace, there is a room containing one of the most precious objects of Laos, the Pha Bang, Golden Buddha, who gave his name to the city.

Wat Mai: the temple is famous for its golden bas-reliefs telling the life of one of the Buddha’s reincarnations. The roof, formed by five wooden panels, reflects the pure style of the city. The Pha Bang, Golden Buddha, is exhibited at Wat Mai during the celebrations of Bun Pi Mai Lao, Laotian New Year.

Wat Sen: its golden façade instantly catches the eye! The Wat Sen was built in 1717 by King Kitsarath. During its restoration in 1932 and 1957, the temple was profoundly transformed. Originally, the roof consisted of only two sections as well as three arcades or porches of the façade. Today, the temple is higher with three panels and five porches, which gives it a more Thai style than Xieng Khuang as it was originally the case. A new building has just been built with respect for the religious architectural unity of the city, intended to house a collection of furniture and statues. Wat Sen is home to Great Satou, the venerable leader of the Luang Prabang Buddhist community.

Wat Xieng Thong: dating from 1560, it is the most beautiful temple in Laos. It is the most important and most sumptuous temple of the royal city. It was built on the banks of the Mekong in 1560, under the orders of King Setthathirat. Inside the sanctuary, several stupas contain Buddhas, but also a funeral chariot 12 m high. On a facade, you can observe a splendid mosaic representing «the tree of life». With its roof going down to the ground, the Wat Xieng Thong perfectly represents the architecture of Luang Prabang!

Kuang Si Falls: during your stay in Luang Prabang, don’t miss an excursion to the beautiful Kuang Si Falls! Located about thirty kilometers from the city, this site remains an almost unavoidable stop of any tourist circuit in Laos. The setting is simply sumptuous, with its turquoise water basins, small wooden bridges, waterfall that descends on several levels, and lush forest. You can even enjoy a refreshing swim in very clear water ... For the bravest, a path, difficult during the rainy season, leads to the top of the waterfall from where an incredible view overlooks the surroundings.

The caves of Pak Ou: located 25 km from Luang Prabang, on the banks of the Mekong at the mouth of the river Nam Ou, this place of pilgrimage is worth a visit. To get there, you will have to take a boat and cross the river, which is already a unique experience, thanks to the majestic landscapes and the spectacular mountains that surround the cave. You will arrive at the bottom of an impressive limestone cliff, in which you can observe about 3,000 statues with the Buddha effigy, in the Luang Prabang style, and deposited by the faithful over the years.

2 caves are accessible: the Tham Thing, on the first level, is lit by daylight while the upper cave, Tham Phoum, requires the use of a flashlight. On the way back to Luang Prabang, ask to stop at the village of Ban Xang Hai, where the inhabitants produce Lao-Lao, which they distill in jars.

THE PLAIN OF JARS

Here is one of the most spectacular and mysterious sites in Laos: the plain of the jars. This plateau of 1000 km², at 1000 m of altitude, has about 460 jars of unknown origin, cut in stone or granite, but proving the existence of a civilization at that time.

Several millennia old, these jars would have served either as sarcophagus, or containers for the fermentation of wine or storage of rice. But according to the scientists, the most credible hypothesis remains that of the funeral ballot boxes. The plain of the jars has three sites to visit, a few kilometers from the city of Phonsavanh. On site 1, there is a cave in which the jars were allegedly made. The second solution would be for this cave to serve as a cremation site.

During the Vietnam War, tons of bombs and defoliants were dumped on this area. Thus, it is strongly advised not to think outside the box and not to get too far away from the jars. Today, children are still dying under the explosion of these bombs, which were dropped more than forty years ago. During your excursion, you will have the pleasure of tasting the traditional Lao-Lao in a local village, or visit the wreck of a Russian tank bombed during the war.

PAKSE

Veritable hub in southern Laos, it is also the capital of the province of Champassak, founded in 1905 by the French. Pakse inevitably sees many travelers passing by as it serves as a starting point for the great excursions that are the Wat Phu, the Bolaven plateau and the 4,000 islands. 15 kilometers north of Pakse is Don Kho, an island on the Mekong, and the village of Ban Saphai, both famous for silk weaving. This traditional practice is indeed a great specialty of Laotian women throughout Laos.

The visits :

Wat Phu: Wat Phu is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The religious ensemble of Wat Phu, of Khmer architecture and Hindu religion, is located at the bottom of a mountain whose highest point, the Phou Kao, attracts particular attention by its form, identified in antiquity with a linga, phallic symbol of Shiva, Hence its ancient name of Lingaparvata, and its reputation as a sacred mountain. The presence of a permanent spring, at the bottom of one of the cliffs, probably prompted the ancient kings of the region to establish there a Shivaist sanctuary.

Associated with this religious ensemble lies in the plain, at the edge of the Mekong, a pre-Angkorian city whose remains (walls of raw earth, many monuments of bricks) are currently barely visible on the ground, although they appear very well on aerial photographs. Since 1991, excavations have been carried out by the P.R.A.L. (Lao Archaeology Research Project), which has established a precise archaeological map. The cultural landscape of Champassak, including the entire Wat Phu Temple, represents an area of planned landscape dating back over a thousand years and remarkably well preserved. In order to express the Hindu conception of the relationship between nature and man, it was fashioned along an axis between the top of the mountain and the banks of the river in a geometric interlacing of temples. The site also includes two ancient towns, built on the banks of the Mekong River and the Phou Kao Mountain, the whole representing a process of development lasting over a thousand years from the 5th to the 15th century, especially associated with the Khmer Empire.

Wat Luang: the largest temple in Pakse, the Wat Luang has a unique decoration and a beautiful view on the river. One of the buildings serves as a school for the monks, which will allow you to exchange with them in complete freedom.

Khong Island: connected to Don Det by an ancient French bridge and renowned for its cultivation of bamboo, coconut and kapok, it is the largest of the Mekong islands. Lined with coconut trees on both sides, it also offers beautiful walks, including the 5 km walk along the railway.

Liphi Falls: impressive for their rapids and intensity. According to the Laotians, they contain spirits, which is why the villagers never venture there.

THE BOLAVENS PLATEAU

With the sad record of being one of the most bombed areas during the war, the Bolavens plateau stretches over three provinces: Salavan, Seokong and mainly Champassak. With a pleasant climate and very fertile land, the Bolavens are the most important coffee producing region in Laos. Many families moved to this plateau to enjoy the coffee harvests, introduced by the French colonists from 1920.

During an excursion, you can go hiking in the heart of these farms, taste the excellent coffee, and even buy a few bags, sold as part of fair trade. Green tea is also grown, but in smaller quantities. You can also meet ethnic minorities with traditional clothing and preserved lifestyles and customs, including the Katu, Alak, Tahoy and Ngai. The Katu villages are made up of palm and thatch houses, arranged in a circle around a perched hut, serving in turn as a bridal chamber for the men of the tribe. They are known for making animal sacrifices to honour the spirit of the village during impressive ceremonies. However, the majority of the population of the region belongs to the Laven family, Bolaven meaning «homeland of the Laven».

In addition, the plateau has very picturesque waterfalls, among the most impressive in Laos. Tad Fan, located in the Dong Hua Sao National Protected Area, is probably the highest in the country, because it consists of two arms diving over 120 m. An extremely sporty trek, but quite dangerous during the rainy season, can take you to the top of this waterfall, offering an unparalleled view. The Tat Yuang Falls, in the heart of the lush forest, are also spectacular with the two torrents pouring over more than 40 m. You can swim at the bottom of the falls, but pay attention to the current. Other waterfalls are accessible in the Bolavens Plateau, often from Paksong, such as that of Tat Meelok, whose access is still difficult.

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