11 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Laos
The Southeast Asian country of Laos is a hidden gem among its more popular neighbors of China, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Its rich cultural diversity comes from the 49 ethnic groups that influence the food, arts, customs, and festivals in the country.
The country is divided into north, central, and southern regions, each with lush landscapes and an inviting atmosphere. The unspoiled jungle habitat of Laos means you might see an elephant strolling on your way to breakfast or monks walking the roadways.
The best experiences in Laos are the spontaneous ones that you have by interacting with the locals and witnessing daily life in the country. These experiences might be tasting a ripe bean from the vine on a coffee plantation; breathing in the natural scent of green tea in the air; or standing at the crescendo of the Pha Pheng waterfall, the largest in Southeast Asia. You can also explore the many natural, cultural, and historical sites, as well as several UNESCO World Heritage sites, like the Wat Phou Complex and the ancient town of Luang Prabang.
The best time to visit Laos is November through February. Since boat trips are a popular way to see the spectacular Laos landscape and many waterfalls, these are the best months to enjoy them. Oftentimes boat trips are not possible during the dry season.
1 Kuang Si Waterfalls
The Kuang Si waterfall in Luang Prabang is one of the most stunning waterfalls in Laos. The waterfall cascades down three tiers to a 50-meter drop. Beneath the falls are a series of pools ideal for swimming and perhaps the best view for looking up at the grand falls. You can change clothes in wooden huts that are located on-site. Trails around the falls let you hike for different perspectives. You can also just sit and enjoy the view from the jungle shade on the perimeter of the falls. Some of the trails can be slippery, so sturdy footwear is advised. If time permits, be sure to stop by the butterfly park near the entrance of the falls. One of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to see the falls is to book a Waterfall Adventure Tour.
2 Sinouk Coffee Tour
It will not take long for you to notice Sinouk Coffee as you travel throughout Laos. It is the prominent coffee supplier and some of the freshest coffee you will ever taste. A trip to the Sinouk Coffee plantation in southern Laos, along the Bolaven Plateau, is an experience you will always remember. Take a tour to learn about the planting and roasting as you stroll the grounds through the plush gardens. On the Sinouk plantation, they still dry beans the old fashioned way, on large tarps in the sun. The plantation has an organic certification. True coffee fanatics can stay at the Sinouk Coffee Resort on-site and wake up to the aroma of freshly brewed Lao Arabica coffee wafting through the gardens. Leave some time on your visit to stop and enjoy a cup of joe and a snack on the patio behind the small shop on the plantation.
Address: Thateng-Paksong Road, Bolaven Plateau, Champasak Town
3 Vientiane City Tour
Due to the vast number of ethnicities that make up the population in Laos, taking a tour in the capital city of Vientiane is an ideal way to grasp an understanding of the history and culture of the country. A city sightseeing tour will get you to the key tourist attractions of the city, including the Patuxay Monument, Wat Si Saket, Wat Phra Keo, and Buddha Park. If time permits, the COPE Visitor Center in Vientiane is worth a stop. The center educates visitors about the important work of providing disability services and prosthetic limbs for people impacted by unexploded military devices. For a fun excursion in the area, be sure to experience the Vientiane night market.
4 Elephant Village Sanctuary
The Elephant Village Sanctuary in Luang Prabang is an educational facility dedicated to the rehabilitation and protection of Asian elephants in Laos. The facility also provides employment to villagers. Elephants at the sanctuary are rescued work elephants that are protected. A day tour through the Elephant Village lets you interact with the large animals. You can try your hand at being a mahout with an experience designed to let you ride and learn how to care for and bathe the elephant. This is one of the most comprehensive, hands-on experiences in the country and a rare chance to get up close to these magnificent animals.
Address: Ban Xieng Lom, Luang Prabang
5 4000 Islands
One of the most stunning ways to explore the natural beauty in Laos is among the 4000 Islands in the southern tip of the country. The three main islands that tourists visit are Don Khong, Don Khon, and Don Det. These are remote islands that have sparse, if any, internet service and no ATMs, so it is important to plan ahead when visiting. You will need to take a ferry to any of the islands and stay in local guesthouses. The payoff is the closest experience you will get to ancient Laos customs as you enjoy views of the Mekong River and taste local cuisine from ingredients grown on centuries-old farms. The best way to spend time in the 4000 Islands region is to base yourself in Pakse, the southernmost main city, and plan your transportation and visits to the islands.
6 Kong Lor Caves
Tucked within the Phou Hin Boun National Protected Area in central Laos are the Kong Lor Caves. It is a river cave system that stretches for more than 7.4 kilometers, one of the longest in the world. You can take a boat trip through the caves with a guide, who can point out the stunning geological formations. The caves are quite dark, and you might get wet in certain conditions if water is dripping from the ceilings. Once you make your way through the winding cave waters, other popular things to do include walking through the tiny rural village of Kong Lor and enjoying some of the other outdoor activities in the national park. The best way to get to the caves is to stay in Vientiane and hire a bus. Kong Lor caves is about five hours from Vientiane, so you will want to plan an overnight trip.
7 Wat Phu
The UNESCO World Heritage site of Wat Phu is an archaeological phenomenon preserved in a mountain in southern Laos. The temple is one of the oldest worship sites in the country, located at the base of the Phu Kao mountain, which is considered a holy mountain. Wat Phu is a Buddhist temple, but you will see relics of its Hindu history. If you continue your walk beyond Wat Phu to the paths on the mountain, you will find other smaller temples, many that have crumbled over time. This location is significant to Laos' history. The flowing Mekong River in the background adds to the ambience.
8 The Living Land Company
The organic farm of The Living Land Company not only grows food in Luang Prabang but provides an opportunity for tourists to work on the land like the natives. Located in the countryside, you can don a conical hat and learn how to harvest a rice patty, plough a field using livestock, and learn the skill of threshing in a real farm environment. Be forewarned that the experience is authentic and it is difficult manual labor. If you prefer to not get your hands dirty, you can simply observe the locals performing their daily chores in the fields.
Address: Kuangsi Waterfall Road, Ban Pongvang, Luang Prabang 0600
9 Pha Pheng Waterfall
Standing at the culmination of the Pha Pheng Waterfall (also called Khone falls), the largest waterfall in Southeast Asia, is a breathtaking experience. The crescendo of water coming together from dozens of points along the Mekong River is a sensory experience that will forever tie you to southern Laos. The falls are located in a small park in Champasak Province. Walking paths allow you to observe the cascading waters from different viewpoints. While there is little else to do in the park but look at the water, it is so impressive that you will find yourself spending a great deal of time walking around the area. You might even find a local fisherman navigating the slower water areas catching food for the day.
10 Luang Prabang Temples
The northern Laos town of Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage site most noted for its Buddhist temples. Exploring the 33 temples situated in the ancient town provides a deeper understanding of the Laotian people. You can find trails specifically designed for tourists that lead you to various temples, so it is an easy activity to do at your own pace. You can also take a guided tour of the most notable temples and Buddhist monasteries in this historic town.
11 Viewpoint Nong Khiaw
One of the best visual perspectives of the natural landscape in Laos is from the Viewpoint at Nong Khiaw in the northern part of the country. If you are up for the 1.5-hour trek to the top of the mountain from the tiny village of Nong Khiaw, you will see a panoramic view of the flowing Nam Ou River. Also visible is an iconic view of tiny Laos villages surrounded by the mountains. Since this is a natural setting, plan your round-trips wisely to the top as you will be hiking through forest, and you will need a flashlight once the sun sets. There is also nowhere to buy water along the hike, so plan ahead with proper hydration and sturdy shoes. If you would rather enjoy the view from below, boat trips are available along the river.
Address: Wat Ban Sop Houn 50, Nong Khiaw