Laos is a mountainous, tiny nation that has long been separated from the outside world in South-East Asia.
A visit to Laos is a journey back in time in many ways. A laid-back lifestyle that has vanished elsewhere in the country attracts travelers here. Even Vientiane’s capital feels like a relaxed city on the river. As the country opens up, the incredible tourist attractions in Laos are becoming increasingly accessible with a growing number of roads and bridges being constructed. Here are some of the tourist attractions that can be visited within a week.
The 100m-tall Phu Si is crowned by a 24 m golden stupa called That Chomsi, dominating the old town center and a favorite with sunset junkies. Looked at closely, particularly at night when floodlit, the structure appears to float like a chandelier in the hazy air. But the main attraction from the summit is the views of the city. From the north side of the Phu Si, stop at Wat Pa Huak. Usually the gilded, carved front doors are locked, but they are opened for a tip by an attendant. Inside, the original murals of the 19th century depict historical scenes along the Mekong River, including visits by Chinese ambassadors and warriors reaching by caravans of river and horse.
It is also possible to reach the Chomsi from the southern and eastern sides. These two routes climb up through the big “Wat Siphoutthabat Thippharam” to a curious miniature shrine that protects the footprint of the Buddha. If this is really his rocky footprint, then the size of a brontosaur must have been the Buddha. Specifically southwest of here, a series of golden Buddhas are nestled in rocky clefts and niches around Wat Thammothayalan. If you don’t climb to That Chomsi above, this monastery is free to visit.
Tat Kuang Si.
The waterfall of Kuang Si often spelled Kuang Xi or Tat Kuang Si, falls firmly into the latter in northern Laos. Yes, this large waterfall of pale turquoise blue water that tumbles into perfectly sculpted calcareous tiered pools, below from the thick jungle above might just be the absolute highlight of any trip to Laos.There’s a reason why Kuang Si is listed as one of Luang Prabang’s best things to do.
The best part about the Kuang Si falls is that besides being mind-blowingly breathtaking, in the same tiered pools of turquoise blue water you can also take a dip. There are a few pools in the main area where you can swim, but please be a respectful tourist and take note of the signs that say no swimming in certain areas. This is because the local population holds certain ponds sacred.
Tat Fan is one of Laos ‘ most spectacular waterfalls. Twin streams plunge out of the dense forest and tumble to form the Huay Bang Lieng for more than 120 m. The best sunlight is in early morning and late afternoon, but the falls are often wrapped in fog. The viewpoint is at Tad Fane Resort, a jungle lodge overlooking the cliff opposite the falls, and for anyone in the area it’s a near-obligatory stop.
Taking a walk to the top or the bottom is one way to beat the crowds. The price for a half-day or full-day hike is US$ 10/15 per person, and this includes the entrance fee to the national park. A trip to nearby Tat Nyeuang and an abandoned temple are included in the half-day hike. The falls access road is in Ban Lak 38 that is 12 km from Paksong.
COPE Visitor Centre.
Laos has the distinction of having the most bombed country on earth, and while the Vietnam War ended more than 40 years ago, unexploded ordnance (UXO) is still wounding and killing people. The main source of artificial limbs, walking aids and wheelchairs in Laos is COPE (Cooperative Orthotic & Prosthetic Enterprise). Its excellent Visitor Center, part of the National Rehabilitation Center of the organization. This organization offers a myriad of interesting and informative multimedia exhibits on prosthetics and the UXOs that are sadly needed. Many strong documentaries are shown in a theater on a rolling basis, and there is a gift shop and cafe, with 100% of the proceeds going to support COPE initiatives in Laos.
A sculpture of a mother and child made from discarded bomb materials is placed outside the building. Inside the building, there is a full-scale replica of a traditional stilt house in Laotia, with regular household items made from military equipment discarded by American and European military. This highlights how families use bomb materials while failing to understand the hazard they may pose. The displays are accompanied by pictures and stories, putting names and faces to the thousands of victims of the Laos military campaign. If there is one place to visit in Vientiane for foreigners, this may be the case.
The Xieng Kuan Buddha Park is a famous sculpture park with over 200 religious statues, including an enormous reclining Buddha image, 40 meters high. Here is the best place for photography on top of the giant pumpkin structure that stands about three stories high. The entrance is designed to look like a demon’s mouth with a stone ladder inside leading to a view of the whole Xieng Kuan Park from a bird’s eye. It was built in 1958 by a monk who studied both Buddhism and Hinduism who’s name is Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat.
This describes why his park is filled with not only Buddha images, but also Hindu gods, as well as both beliefs ‘ demons and animals. The most remarkable are Indra, the king of Hindu gods riding the three-headed elephant which is aka Erawan and Airavata, a four arm deity sitting on a horse, and an artistic deity with 12 faces and numerous hands, each holding intriguing objects.
Not only because of their huge size, but also because they are full of interesting details and interesting motifs as they are all equally impressive. Besides that, there is a local restaurant and cafe at one end of the park right next to the Mekong River offering tourists food and drinks. This makes it a great place to chill after all walking and climbing. Papaya salad, fried bananas, and cold Lao beer are among the popular snacks. It also has a store for souvenirs and toilets. There is a small fee for both photography and admission into the park.
Compared to its neighbors in Indochina, the difficulty of traveling within Laos and its higher living costs can discourage tourists from planning a trip. The slow pace of development makes daily Laos feel like an uncharted adventure. Laos has earned a reputation among visitors over the past couple of decades as a remarkably safe place to travel, with little crime reported and few of the scams often found in more tourist places like its neighbour countries.
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