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Laos

Main attractions

Phra That Luang, Laos
Gold covered Phra That Luang / Chris Feser, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Only in recent years Laos is emerging on the stage of international tourism – this beautiful country for decades was dragged in terrible wars and post-war isolation period.

Contrary to most countries of the world, Laos still is largely covered with primeval forests and numerous areas of the country are little explored. For example, just a few years ago in Laos was discovered one of the largest and most magnificent caves of the world – Khoun Xe. Scientists consider that botanically and also zoologically Laos is little explored and further research could make it one of the most biodiverse countries of the world. Thus – there are known at least 500 species of orchids met only in Laos and in most cases – in very limited area.

Highlights of Laos are:

  • karst landscape, especially caves;
  • unique megalithic monuments;
  • Hinduist and Buddhist temples.

Natural monuments

Caves

Pak Ou Caves, Laos
One of Pak Ou caves with statues of Buddhas / einalem, Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Chom Ong Cave – Odoumxay. More than 16.4 km long cave with enormous passages and beautiful speleothems – including travertine terraces. Cave goes through mountain and thus has two entrances.
  • Khong Lor (Kong Lor, Konglor) – Khammouane. 7.5 km long river passage in cave – giant tunnel which in some places is even 100 m high. Whole cave can be travelled in a boat. One of the caves where lives the giant huntsman spider (Heteropoda maxima Jaeger, 2001) with legspan – 30 cm.
  • Khoun Xe – Khammouane. Giant and unique cave, 13.6 km long. Upstream entrance represents giant sinkhole. Contains the largest known rimstone pools (gour pools) in the world – up to 60 m wide. Xe Bang Fai river flows through the cave for 7 km long stretch, the average flow of river is 68 m³/s, thus making it one of the most powerful cave rivers of the world. Width of this underground river - 56 – 100 m. Ceiling of the cave is up to 120 m high, width up to 200 m. Cave contains largest known cave pearls in the world – 32 cm in diameter and even larger weird formations called Alien Eggs. Stalagmites over 20 m tall. More than 130 species of fish live in cave, some several metres long. Giant, very fast cave spiders including the giant huntsman spider.
  • Pak Ou Caves – Luang Prabang. Two caves – Tham Ting and Tham Theung overlooking Mekong River, accessible only by boat. Both caves serve as pilgrimage sites and contain some 4,000 sculptures of Buddhas, for most part made of wood, often covered with gold.
  • Pha Pa Cave (Pa Fa) – Khammouane. In 2004 in this previously unexplored cave have been found 229 ancient, more than 600 years old statues of Buddha. Entrance in the cave leads from the lower part (but not base) of 200 m high cliff.
  • Viengxay Caves – Houaphanh. Group of some 480 limestone caves which served as shelter for up to 23,000 people including communist leaders during the bombardment in the 1960s – 1970s. This area has high scentic beauty.

Waterfalls

Khone Falls
Khone Falls / , Flickr CC-BY-2.0
  • Khone Falls (Chutes de Khone) - Champassack. At 10,783 metres, this is the widest waterfall in world. The total height of the cascade is 21 metres.
  • Kuang Si Falls (Kwangsi) – Luang Prabang. Waterfalls over tufa formations forming numerous blue pools. The total height of cascades is 60 - 50 m.
  • Nam Tok Katamtok falls (Tad Katam Tok) – Sekong. Beautiful, free falling plunge, approximately 100 m high. Falls emerge from dense jungle.
  • Tad Fane Falls (Taat Fang, Dong Hua Sao) – Champassack. Twin falls, approximately 120 m tall, falling in deep canyon which resembles sinkhole.
  • Tad Lo Falls – Salavan. Picturesque, comparatively low and wide falls falling over cliff steps.
  • Tad Xe Falls (Tat Se, Tat Sae) – Luang Prabang. Exotic falls – water here is flowing over numerous smaller tufa steps and numerous trees are growing right in the falls – thus creating impression of flooded forest.

Other natural landmarks

Naga lights rise above Mekong
Mysterious Naga lights rise above Mekong Image from Tourism Authority of Thailand.
  • Dinosaur Museum and Ban Tangvai fossil beds – Savannakhet. Unique find of fossilized bones of dinosaurs, molluscs, crocodiles, tortoises and other animals.
  • Khammouane sinkholes – Khammouane. Possibly the largest concentration of enormous sinkholes in the world, most are not explored. May hide the largest sinkholes by volume - there are stories about sinkholes up to 230 million m3 large!
  • Nam Pha Thene depression (Khammouane) is a canyon like gorge surrounded by up to 400 m high cliffs, total depth of valley – 600 m.
  • Naga fireballs of Mekong - Nong Khai, Thailand and Vientiane Province, Laos. Unique phenomenon - glowing reddish balls rising from the water of Mekong River and going upwards in the air. Local people even organise festivity at late nights of October to observe this weird sight. Sometimes there are seen thousands of such balls over one night. It is possible that this is combustion of gases emanating from the sediments of river.
  • Nam Ou gorge at Muang Ngoy – Luang Prabang. Beautiful, narrow, forested gorge with up to 600 m high cliffs.

Man made landmarks

Megaliths

Plain of Jars, Laos
Plain of Jars - one of fields / Vera & Jean-Christophe, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Hintang Nalae menhirs – Loung Namtha. Several clusters of standing stones located on mountaintops. Contrary to most other megaliths, here the stones are incised with various designs. Most likely this has served as a ceremonial site.
  • Phou Assa – Champassack. Group of enigmatic, up to 2 m high conic towers made of flat stones.
  • Plain of Jars – Xiangkhouang. More than 90 separate sites with unique megaliths – giant, 1 – 3 m high stone jars, occasionally with stone lids preserved. In some sites is just one jar and in some – even 400 jars. In Ban Phakeo site stone lids are adorned with animals. Megaliths created in 500 BC – 500 AD and used as human burial sites. Most investigated and most photographed is Site 1, as well as several more which have been cleared of unexploded bombs. Site 52 contains 392 jars – the largest number.
  • San Kong Phanh and other megalithic sites of Hintang Houamuang – Houaphan. Some 20 sites with numerous standing stones – menhirs - from 1000 – 500 BC. Menhirs here are made of long, narrow blades of schist and are erected over the burials excavated into the bedrock, often accessible by descending a chimney with rock-cut steps.

Temples

  • Phra That Luang (Pha That Luang) – Vientiane Capital. Most important Buddhist monument in Laos – stupa built on sacred land, where already in the 3rd century was built Hinduist temple. Later in the 11th – 13th century here was built Khmer temple, which most likely was not existing in the 16th century when current Buddhist stupa was built. The architecture of structure has high symbolism to Lao people and in many ways symbolises their culture. Structure is covered with gold, 45 m high.
  • Sayfong Temple city – Vientiane Capital. In the southern part of contemporary Vientiane once were located at least 300 Buddhist temples developed since the 11th century AD and retaining importance until the 16th century.
  • That Ing Kang Stupa – Savannakhet. Beautiful stupa, built in the 16th century.
  • That Sikhottabong – Khammouane. One of the most sacred sites in Laos, contains 28.9 m tall stupa, built in 1568.
  • Vat Phou (Wat Phu, Wat Pho) – Champassack. Khmer Hinduist temple complex from the 11th – 13th century AD, converted to Buddhist temple around the 15th century. Temples have been built here since the 5th century AD and is located on steep hill which has a natural cliff – a representation of ligam – on its top. Complex of beautiful buildings – two palaces, temple, sanctuary and library, as well as different stone carvings.

Urban planning monuments

Vat Pa Phay temple in Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang, Vat Pa Phay temple / Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, Flickr, CC BY 2.0
  • Luang Prabang – Luang Prabang. Former capital of Laos until 1946. This city contains numerous beautiful temples, monasteries and urban houses and represents a unique mix of Laotian, French and Vietnamese architecture, planning and art. Area of the city is inhabited at least since the 7th century AD. Important landmark is the ornate Royal Palace – a fusion of European and Laotian architecture built in 1904 – 1909 with the golden statue of Buddha Pha Bang inside. Wat Xieng Thong temple is built in 1560 and is lavishly adorned with guilded carvings. Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham is one of most richly decorated temples in Luang Prabang, built in the 18th century.
  • Nakhon Souvannakhomkham Ancient City – Bokeo. Remnants of ancient city, developed since early centuries AD, but mainly in the 16th century. Ruins are scattered over huge area, contain impressive 7.22 m tall Buddha statue.
  • Phongsali historical centre – Phongsali. One of few urban centres in Laos which has survived the bombing during the Vietnam War. In the centre have been preserved houses with ornate wooden facades in Yunnanese style.

Other man made landmarks

  • Ban Koma tea plantation – Phongsali. Plantation with some of the oldest tea trees in the world, up to 400 years old. As these tea trees due to their age have reached deeper soil level, tea has specific aroma and taste.
  • Ban Phosy Great Wall – Khammouane. Mysterious fortification wall stretching 15 km from Ban Phosy to Sebangfai River. Reaches height up to 15 m, partly natural and partly man made formation.
  • Patuxai – Vientiane Capital. Ornate triumph arch, built in 1957 – 1968 to commemorate the struggle for independence from France.

List of described attractions by regions

Laos is divided into 17 provinces and capital - Vientiane. Here below they are listed in alphabetical order:

Attapeu
Bokeo
Bolikhamxai
Champassack
Houaphan
Khammouane
ArrowKhoun Xe CaveCaves
Loung Namtha
Luang Prabang
Odoumxay
Phongsaly
Salavan
Savannakhet
Sekong
Vientiane Capital
Vientiane Province
ArrowNaga fireballs of MekongMeteorological phenomena, Sites of legends
Xaignabouli
Xiangkhouang

Map of Laos

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