15 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Laos
Anietra Hamper has traveled through many regions in Laos in search of unique attractions and outdoor experiences.
The Southeast Asian country of Laos is a hidden gem among its more popular neighbors of 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, an inviting atmosphere, and plenty of things to do for travelers. The unspoiled jungle habitat of Laos means you might see an elephant strolling on your way to breakfast or monks walking the roadways.
The main tourist highlights in Laos are the natural, cultural, and historical attractions, as well as several UNESCO World Heritage sites, like the Wat Phou Complex and the ancient town of Luang Prabang. Some of the best experiences may be spontaneous ones that you have by witnessing daily life in the country. This 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.
Plan your sightseeing in this enchanting country with our list of the top attractions and things to do in Laos.
1. Explore the Kuang Si Caves & Waterfalls
The caves and waterfalls in Laos are unlike any others in the world. The flowing water at the natural Kuang Si waterfall in Luang Prabang is one of the most stunning waterfalls in the country. It cascades down three tiers to a 50-meter drop.
Beneath the falls are a series of pools where you can go for a swim and get the best view by looking up at the grand falls. You can change clothes in wooden huts that are located on-site.
Your next stop in the area is the Pak Ou natural caves that overlook the Mekong River. There are two caves: Tham Ting and the Tham Theung housing thousands of Buddha statues that locals have gifted over the centuries.
2. Take a 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 full-day private sightseeing tour of Vientiane City 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 on Boulevard Khou Vieng 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.
3. Tour the Sinouk Coffee Plantation
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
4. Visit the 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. Spend a day with a mahout to learn about handling, feeding, and bathing the elephants while gaining a first-hand experience with the conservation efforts at the sanctuary. 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. Boat through the 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 rewards for the journey 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 from here to visit the islands.
6. Learn about Local Geology in the Kong Lor Caves
Tucked within the Phou Hin Boun National Protected Area in central Laos are the Kong Lor Caves. This 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. Walk through Ancient Wat Phu
The UNESCO World Heritage site of Wat Phu is an archaeological phenomenon preserved in a mountain in southern Laos. This 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. See the 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.
9. Work Like a Local at The Living Land Farm
The Living Land Farm, an organic farm, 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.
The farm grows organic produce, offers a homestay, and has a restaurant located inside an old rice house serving traditional Laos cuisine.
Address: Kuangsi Waterfall Road, Ban Pongvang, Luang Prabang 0600
10. Hike the Trails through the Luang Prabang Temples
The northern Laos town of Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage site, most noted for its Buddhist temples and among the top tourist destinations in southeast Asia. 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. Enjoy the Panoramic Views from 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 to the top wisely, 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
12. Visit the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre
For anyone interested in the ethnic minority groups that make up the populations in Laos, the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre in Luang Prabang is an educational experience.
While there are more than 160 ethnic groups in Laos, the museum focuses on the four that make up the main ethnic minorities. The center is a great place to visit to see collections of traditional ethnic regalia, handmade crafts, and artifacts important to these groups.
The shop has guides available to take you on a tour of the center, or you can walk through on your own. It is a great place to get a unique, authentic souvenir from Laos, and 50 percent of purchases from the gift shop go back to the local producers of the products.
13. Buy Local Goods at the Vientiane Morning Market
If you are looking for Laos silk scarves and souvenirs, or just enjoy the thrill of the hunt and bargaining for a good deal, then the Vientiane Morning Market should be on your itinerary. This is a traditional open-air village market where you can find just about anything, from produce and religious statue replicas to silk dresses.
Even if you do not buy anything, it is worth a visit to the market just to surround yourself with the local scene and culture. If you find a reasonable price on something that catches your eye, do not be afraid to negotiate for half off the price.
14. Tham Phu Kham Cave and Blue Lagoon
Take in one of the best combinations of natural beauty and cultural experiences at the Tham Phu Kham cave and Blue Lagoon near Vang Vieng. The blue water and swimming spot is a draw for tourists, with water that often changes color from turquoise to emerald depending on the season.
Take a hike along the trail to the Tham Phu Kham cave to see the hidden Buddha images inside the natural cave. It is a steep climb to the cave entrance, but for those looking for an added cultural adventure, this is well worth the effort.
The first chamber reveals a bronze reclining Buddha lit by the sunlight streaming through the cave openings where locals come to worship.
If you plan to explore the cave beyond the entrance, you will want to wear sturdy shoes to navigate the rocky and uneven ground, and take a flashlight, as the internal cave is devoid of light.
15. Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden
The Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden is currently closed, with plans to reopen in late 2024.
The garden offers a stunning display of plants and flowers that are native to Laos. This facility has a greater mission to educate visitors on the relationship between Laos people and their natural surroundings, so you will see that theme throughout the gardens and information.
Examples of this include exhibits that showcase plants that were traditionally used in medicine or for ceremonial purposes. The plant collections include hundreds of varieties of orchids, ferns, bamboos, and more. There are several types of gardens and collections to visit on the grounds.
If you are interested in additional eco-treks in Laos, the experts at the botanical garden can direct you to reputable guides.
In order to get to the botanical garden, you must take a boat from Luang Prabang. The boat returns to the city every hour until 5:30pm, and the cost is included in your admission ticket.
Address: Ban Wat That, Luang Prabang 06000, Laos
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Exploring Southeast Asia: Laos is often part of a larger itinerary through SE Asia. The beaches, jungles, and cultural attractions in Thailand are some of the most visited places in this part of the world and well worth a stop. Many people also head to Cambodia to explore the fabulous ruins of Angkor Wat. Stretching from the Gulf of Thailand up to the Gulf on Tonkin on the Pacific Ocean, Vietnam is another popular tourist destination in the region and home to some fantastic luxury beach resorts. This can be a great destination to simply park yourself for a while. If you want to explore the country and are wondering where to go, see our guide to the best places to visit in Vietnam.