Boun That Luang takes place every November, over three days around the full moon. The stupa in Vientiane is the national symbol of Laos and is said to house a piece of Buddha’s breastbone. Thousands of pilgrims gather at That Luang to give offerings to the monks who come from all over Laos. Processions, parties, and a trade show follow. Even if you don’t make it to the festival, the stupa is a sight to behold any time of year. Join the faithful and place offerings of flowers, candles, and incense at the alter, or quietly stroll around the massive enclosed yard.
Along with the Champasak Cultural Landscape, the 5th century Khmer ruins of Wat Phou is the second inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List of Laos. Wat Phou, meaning ‘mountain temple.’ Blended into the surrounding nature, the remains of Wat Phou are dotted all over the mountain face. Oriented toward the east, the ruins have two large reservoirs on either side of a long column-lined road, leading toward the mountains. Past the palace ruins, up a steep staircase, you’ll find the sanctuary with a modern Buddhist shrine and a natural spring considered to be sacred.
Tad Lo is 56 miles (90 kilometers) away from the southern town of Pakse. Soak in the visual and aural splendor of the falls or take a dip and cool off from the heat. Three cascades make up the falls: Tad Hang, Tad Lo itself, and Tad Suong. Accommodations are available to spend the night and enjoy the surrounding scenery. Tad Lo is an impressive three-tiered waterfall in Salavan Province. Several guesthouses and restaurants around the falls make it an ideal lunch spot or stopover for trekking, swimming, and tubing. Tad Lo is accessible by bus, motorbike, or as part of a group tour package of the Bolaven Plateau.
Swim in the Mekong at 4000 Islands
French Bridge at Sunset on Don Det |
Don Det has a beach at its northern tip that doubles as a ferry landing. You can also take a dip in the Mekong, the largest river in Southeast Asia, on either of the two beaches on Don Khon–one by Liphi Falls and one farther south. Easy Go Backpackers Hostel on Don Det has a beach area and Don Som Riverside Guesthouse has a swimming spot on Don Som. If river swimming isn’t your thing and you’d rather lounge by the pool, check out the one by Little Eden Guesthouse at the north end of Don Det or the Blue Lagoon Swimming pool at the southern tip of the island.
Tat Kuang Si
Thirty kilometers southwest of Luang Prabang, Tat Kuang Si is a many-tiered waterfall tumbling over limestone formations into a series of cool, swimmable turquoise pools; the term 'Edenic' doesn't do it justice. When you're not swinging off ropes into the water, there's a public park with shelters and picnic tables where you can eat lunch. Don't miss the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre, where wild Asiatic moon bears, confiscated from poachers, are given a new lease of life.
Many cheap eateries line the entrance car park at the top end of the Khamu village of Ban Thapene, selling everything from local snacks to grilled chicken and fish.
Visiting Kuang Si by hired motorcycle is very pleasant now that the road here is decently paved and allows stops in villages along the way. By bicycle, be prepared for two long, steady hills to climb. A tuk-tuk from Luang Prabang costs 150,000K for one person, and 50,000K per person in a group of three, so it's best to get a group together. A private minivan will cost 350,000K.
Plain of Jars
Plain of Jars’ thousands of mysterious megalithic jars are scattered throughout Xiang Khuang Province in northeastern Laos. Dating from the iron age, the oldest jars go back to 500 BC. The largest “King Jar” is at Site 1 and the longest jar is at Site 2. It’s possible to hire a guide to take you on a trek from Site 2, which is behind a rice paddy to Site 3, which is in the forest on top of a hill. The leading theory suggests these stone vessels were used in burial rituals. Evidence suggests that bodies were distilled in the jars until only bones remained. The bones were then removed and interred in a ceramic jar or on the ground. Nine of the 90 sites containing jars have been cleared of UXOs, so stick to the established routes and bring a guide out trekking with you.
Kuang Si Falls
In the north of Laos lies Luang Prabang, a portion of the old town that is a UNESCO World Heritage-listed site. Ride or cycle to Kuang Si or Tad Saw waterfalls, take a boat cruise down the Mekong river, and eat local Lao or fantastic French food at one of the restaurants in town. This former royal capital is home to some of the most elaborate and best-preserved temples in the country. Visit the Royal Palace and the watermelon-shaped Wat Wisunarat or hike up Mount Phousi for sunrise or sunset.