Luang Prabang city has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Luang Prabang is the ancient religious capital of Laos and the most serene and spiritual city in the country. There are still many active monasteries here, and incredible golden temples with elegant, traditional roofs’ that inspire not only meditation but are also a photographers dream. Each morning you can see the procession of barefooted, saffron-robed monks who walk in the streets in silence to collect food (“alms”) to sustain themselves for the day. The monks rise every morning at 4:30 am, practice their meditation and religious chants before embarking on this daily ritual.
Vientiane is the small and peaceful capital of Laos, and although it is nowhere near as atmospheric as Luang Prabang, it has an intriguing mix of Chinese, French, Thai, US, and Vietnamese influences. Vientiane is a “sleepy” capital city when compared with Phnom Penh, Hanoi, or Bangkok. Tree-lined boulevards and numerous temples are a respite from the busy and noisy capitals of other Southeast Asian countries. Situated on the Mekong River, with Thailand on the opposite bank, Vientiane is a delightful place to relax and catch your breath, especially at dusk when you can sit at the riverside restaurants, eat, drink and watch the skies turn crimson.
The Plain of Jars is a large area around Phonsavan where huge jars have been found scattered over a large area, most weighing between 550 kgs to 1 tonne, with the largest approximately 6 tonnes. Archaeological studies have yet to see all the secrets of the jars, but they have all been carved from solid boulders, and nothing comparable has been discovered anywhere else in the world.
The Bolaven Plateau is probably the most productive agricultural region in the country with tea, pepper, cardamom, and rubber tree farms scattered amongst the huge coffee plantations, of both Arabica and Robusta beans. Laos produces over 10,000 tonnes of coffee beans from this area every year, mostly for export. The area is also the home of many ethnic tribal people including Suay, Alak, Katu and Ta-oy tribes. These people still maintain their culture, dress, and beliefs from a bygone era.
In 2001 UNESCO bestowed the Heritage tag on these 9th-century ruins built by the Hindu Khmers. An intriguing site to visit, this temple was created by a cult that is closely associated with the monarchies of ancient Indochina and the same monarchs who are responsible for building Angkor Wat.
The 4000 islands are situated just north of the Cambodian border, on a 50km stretch of the Mekong River that reaches a breadth of 14kms in places. When the river recedes after the monsoonal season, it leaves thousands of “islands,” and islets. The largest of the islands are inhabited all year round, and the tranquil river-oriented village life of the area makes this beautiful part of Laos somewhere to spend some relaxing time. If you are lucky, you will spot some freshwater dolphins, and there are some spectacular waterfalls and impressive river rapids in the area to visit.