An easy place to slip into a relaxed state of mind, serenely beautiful country landlocked by China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
What Laos lacks in coastline, it makes up for with the mighty Mekong River running through it, dotted with spectacular limestone karsts and islands. Relatively undeveloped, Laos is dominated by mountains and forests and is the perfect destination for the traveller that wants to see the Asia of old. A combination of ethereal landscapes, ancient Buddhist temples, ancient relics, colourful fabric-filled markets and picturesque countryside; the real highlight of Laos though, is its charming people.
The capital, Vientiane, is around the same size as Adelaide and a clean and friendly place with an appealing provincial feel. Visit the city’s many temples and stupas including Pha That Luang, a 45 metre high gold stupa that is one of the most important religious sights in Laos and the Lao national symbol; and Wat Si Saket, the oldest Buddhist Monastery in the country. Built in 1818, the temple houses nearly 7,000 Buddha statues.
See the magnificent Ho Phra Keo (Hall of the Emerald Buddha), the city’s oldest temple and former home of a jasper statue of Buddha which was recaptured by the Thai’s in 1778. What remains is the Alter the statue used to sit on. Climb to the top of Vientiane’s own version of the Arc de Triomphe, but with a Laotian twist in its decoration – the war memorial monument Patuxai Arch. Standing 49.5 metres high, you can get wonderful views of the relatively flat city from the top of it. On the outskirts you’ll find Buddha Park, or Wat Xieng Khuan, a beautiful sculpture park with more than 200 Hindu and Buddhist sculptures.
Explore the breathtaking scenery around the small town of Vang Vieng, where pockets of mist float between dramatic limestone cliffs dotted with spectacular caves. Located on the banks of the peaceful Nam Song River, you can float lazily down the river in a tube, admiring the incredible views surrounding you. No longer just a party place for backpackers, most of the raucous bars have gone, leaving a serene and magical place where you can enjoy the quiet of nature.
The enchanting city of Luang Prabang is colourful, leafy green and mostly unpolluted, unlike many Asian cities. With building restrictions placed on the entire province, no large hotels can be built and all local buildings must reflect the historic architecture of the town. With a charming blend of French colonial architecture and quintessentially Asian temples, glittering golden stupas, saffron-robed monks and vibrant marketplaces, Luang Prabang captivates all who visit her.
Small and easy to walk around, the city is scattered with many ornate and peaceful wats (temples) with Wat Xieng Thong, or the Temple of the Golden City one of the most popular. Visit the Royal Palace and National Museum, built in 1904 or climb the 329 steps up Mt Phousi for a stunning sunset and panoramic views across the city. The highlight for most that visit Luang Prabang though, is the early morning alms ceremony. The city’s monks wander the streets at dawn, collecting offerings from the local people. Follow this with a visit to the local morning markets where you’ll find everything for sale from tropical fruit and vegetables to snakes and toads.
Take a leisurely cruise along the Mekong where you’ll sail past quaint villages, working fishermen, villagers tending their crops and buffalo grazing on the banks. Visit the small villages and rural hill tribes of Muang Sing, set amongst rice paddies and home to many of the minority ethnic groups of Laos. From Phonsavanh, visit the intriguing Plain of Jars; where around 3,000 jars that can be up to 3.5 metres in height and weigh several tonnes can be found scattered in clusters on hill-tops. Believed to be about 2,500 years old, their true origin and purpose is unknown with nothing more than speculation and hearsay about these remnants from an ancient civilization.
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