Vientiane, capital of Laos is Asia's biggest village. Busy and hectic in comparison to the rest of the country, it is quiet compared with any other city in Asia. Vientiane, as all of Lao's major cities, is situated on the Mekong river which forms the lifeline of the country. Vientiane is the hub for all travel in the country. The city has a population of 450,000, about 10% of the country.
Vientiane is a city full of surprises. Here you can find fields of rice and vegetables, agriculture hidden behind tree lined avenues. French Colonial architecture sits next to gilded temples. Freshly baked French bread is served next to shops selling noodle soup.
There is little modern in Vientiane. Old French colonial houses are being restored as offices and as restaurants and hotels. There are only a handful of modern buildings which sometimes look remarkably out of place in this quiet capital.
The northernmost province of Laos is the home to many minority ethnic hilltribe people, their cultures and villages amids rolling hills after hills of natural scenery. The province borders with China and Vietnam in the north, east and west. It is the most inaccesible place in Laos. Maybe because of this it still retains many of their unique cultures untouched by the damaging effects of tourism and other business and non-business operations.
It is estimated that there are 22 groups of ethnic minorities, among them Hmong, Iko , Phunoi, Kheu, Lolo, Hanyi, Yao, Thai Khao, Thai Lu, Phuan, Phai, Khamu, and Mien to name a few. The Ethnic Museum in Phongsali city center is a place where visitors can see traditional costumes and lifestyles of the locals.
The hilly region with many river streams is in cool weather all the year round. Phu Den Din National Biodiversity Conservation Area (NBCA) covers more than 1300 square km in the north-eastern part of the province along the Lao-Vietnamese border. This area is hilly with highest elevation of around 1934 meters; and is home to many threatened endangered wildlife.
Nowadays construction of roads and facilities have started eating into this largely forested region. In the future the travel to this beautiful place will be much easier than present. It is the responsibility of the tour operators, travel agents, tourists, local people, as well as policy makers to carefully create a sustainable limited tourism. Good education must also be made available to the local people
Located in the northern part of Laos, Luang Namtha shares its northwestern border with Myanmar and its northeastern border with China. The province is mountainous, home to large numbers of minorities.
The Nam Ha National Biodiversity Conservation Area is located in the southwest of Luang Namtha - a pristine habitat of dense tropical rainforest covering almost all of the protected area.
UNESCO are funding a ecotourism project in Luang Namtha that will be capable of sustaining sustainable development in the province. The concept of the project is to provide education, conservation, management and sustainable economic benefits for the local population. The province is home to a 39 minorities the largest number in the country.
Bokeo Province - Houei Xay
Bokeo province is the smallest province in the country and borders Thailand and Myanmar. This is the Lao side of the 'Golden Triangle'. The province has 34 ethnic groups, the second most ethnically diverse province in Laos. The photo shows a group of Akha (Ikaw or Kaw) people from the Golden Triangle area taken in 1900.
Huay Xai is the border town with Thailand, the city is busy and prosperous.
Located in the center of Huay Xay is Chomkao Manilat temple. The view from the the temple hill over Houy Xay city,the Mekong river and surrounding mountains is a definite reward for making it up the many steps.
Huay Xai is reached by ferry from Chiang Khong in Thailand. This boreder entrypoint does not currently issue visas on entry. Unless you are travelling with a pre arranged tour, a visa in advance will be required.
Chiang Rai airport in Thailand is served regularly by Thai Airways International. Chaing Rai airport is an hour or so away from Chiang Khong.
Houa Phan province is situated in the northeast of Laos and was the base of the Lao People's Revolutionary Army activities. There are over 100 caves in the Vieng Xai district of Houa Phanh many of which were used as hideouts and bunkers during the Indochina war.
The most famous caves in the area are:
Tham Than Souphanouvong: formerly known as Tham Phapount. In 1964, Prince Souphanouvong set up his residence in this cave. Tham Than Kaysone: formerly known as Tham Yonesong, was established for the residence of Mr. Kaysone Phomvihane. Tham Than Khamtay: was the residence of Mr. Khamtay Siphandone, consisting of many area, such as a meeting room, reception room and research room.
Other attractions include Keo Nong Vay Temple located in Xam Neua district.
Hot springs in Xam Tay district are located about 154 km away from Xam Neua the waters reach a temperature of around 40 degrees Celcius. Xam Tay waterfall is located Xam Tay district.
Saleu and Nasala villages, well known for their weaving activities, located in Xieng Kor district on the road No: 6 to Xieng Khouang province 125 km away from Xam Neua.
Sayabouri is situated in the north west of Lao; sharing borders with Vientiane and Luang Prabang in the east and Thailand in the West.Sayabouri is the most attractive destinations with sights and charms peculiar to itself and picturesque North-west region.There are many beautiful things to see in Sayabouri. The principal town in commonly called Muang Sayabouri, where many impressive temples such as Wat Ban Thin, Wat Ban Phapoun and Wat Ban Natonoy are located
The landscape of Sayabouri is magnificent by several peaks altitudes of more than 1000 meters; the meadows and pastures with flower in full boom; the thick and tangled virgin forests etc.
The area of Muang Phieng, such as Ban Fainamtan, Ban Nakhem and Ban Nampoui have a tradition of agriculture because the land is fertile suitable for agricultural production; particularly rice, water melons, cabbages and sugar cane.
Xieng Khuang is a province in northern Laos. It is becoming more and more famous among tourists to Southeast Asia, as it is the place to view the mysterious Plains of Jars. The best way to reach Xieng Khouang - as we did - is to fly from Vientiane, the capital of Laos.
Xieng Khouang presently (2006) has a population of about 200,000. It was heavily bombed during the Vietnam War, mostly by the Americas. Today, twenty years after the war, there are still UXO's (Unexploded Ordnance, that's to say, mines, shells, grenades, bombs) that continue to injure and maim the folks in this rural province.
For much of its history, Xieng Khouang has been something of a battleground, the reason mostly due to its location, between the capitals of Laos and Vietnam. As it is a highlands plains, the weather here is pleasantly cool, and during the end of the year, can get quite chilly at night.
Xieng Khouang was briefly ruled by the Lao Kingdom of Lan Xang. The Siamese and Vietnamese have also ruled it at other times. When Vietnam annexed it in 1830, the local inhabitants were forced to adopt Vietnamese dressing and custom. Any attempts by the proudly independent Xieng Khouang people to be independent have usually been thwarted by one of its many powerful neighbours.
The provincial capital of Xieng Khouang is Phonsavan, a town that was established when an earlier capital was wiped out during the Vietnam War.
Plain of Jar ( Xieng Khuoang)
In the 18th and at the beginning of the 19th century, Xieng Khouang was the center of a kingdom of the Hmong (Meo). In 1832, it was conquered by the Vietnamese, annexing the entire region.
The town of Xieng Khouang was totally destroyed during the Vietnam War. Even though it has been rebuilt in 1975, the name Xieng Khouang is now primarily used in reference to the province of the same name.
The provincial capital is Muang Kham. The most important place near the Plain of Jars is Phonsavan with a small airport serving the region.
The Plain of Jars is some 10 kilometres southeast of Phonsavan, at about 1,000 metres above sea level. Scattered over the plain are hundreds of enormous clay jars, each about 1 to 2.5 metres high, with a diameter of about 1 meter.
There is still no explanation as to how the clay jars found their way onto the plain, nor what purpose they served. Archaeologists have come up with the wildest theories, among them a claim declaring them brewery cauldrons. More likely, the jars are enormous urns.
Many jars have been destroyed or damaged during the Vietnam War, when American planes bombed positions of the communist Pathet Lao.
Bolikhamsai - Pakxan
Bolikhamsai province contains part of the wilderness area known as the Nakai - Nam Theun National Biodiversity Conservation Area the largest conservation area in the country at 3700 sq km. The area is home to over a dozen threatened species including Asiatic black bear, clouded leopard, elephant, giant muntjac, guar, Malayan sun bear, and tiger.
The saola (spindlehorn) or Vu Quang Ox - Pseudoryx nghetinhensis was discovered in neighbouring Vietnam in 1992 and sighted since then in Laos in the conservation area. Only two other land mammals have been classified with their own genus this century. The first live saola was captured in neighbouring Khammouane province in 1996.
The capital of Bolikhamsai is Paxxan, which can be reached from Vietntiane by bus in about three hours.
Khammouane province contains two vast wilderness areas known as the Khammuane Limestone National Biodiversity Conservation Area and the Nakai - Nam Theun National Biodiversity Conservation Area.
The Kahmmuane Limestone is a maze of limestone karst peaks forming a stone forest of caves, rivers and pristine jungle. For most of the wet season, the area is not accessible by road - most 'roads' being tracks with log bridges across deeps streams. These tracks are often routes across rice paddies near the river banks - during the rainy season, the only way to get around is by boat.
The National Tourism Authority of Lao PDR is currently investigating ecotourism projects in this beautiful region.
The capital of Khammouane province is Tha Kek, situated
Savannakhet town is situated on the banks of the Mekong river opposite Mukdahan in Thailand. The province bridges the country between Thailand and Vietnam and the town is a very active junction for trade between the two countries. The town itself can be easily explored by foot and has a number of interesting temples, including Vietnamese temple and school and a large Catholic church. Much of the town's architecture is French Colonial. Numerous examples of French architecture tell of the town's importance during the colonial era.
You can reach Savannakhet by boat from the north (Vientiane, Tha Khek) or the south (Pakse), although these services change regularly.Buses run several times a day from Vientiane, Tha Kek and Pakse. The journey takes up to nine hours from Vientiane.
From Thailand: Savannakhet is a designated international border checkpoint, although visas are not available on entry. You will need a visa in advance or you will have to make arrangements with a tour company. The ferry from Mukdahan, in Thailand runs all day between 0830 and 1700 on weekdays, with some restrictions at weekends.
From Vietnam: The Vietnamese border town of Lao Bao can be reached 180km west of Savannakhet on Route 9. Tourists can freely pass between Laos and Vietnam, but note that visas are required in advance by both countries.
The Hochiminh Trail
During the Vietnam war, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) used a network of trails, caves and gravel roads to move ordnance, tanks, trucks, men and provisions to South Vietnam. The trail became known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail and its existence at the time was denied by the NVA. The USA, on the other hand, denied saturation bombing the Trail, within Laos - with 900 sorties per day and over one million tonnes of explosive.
All of the jungle area of the Trail, previously destroyed with defoliants and herbicides has grown back. It is possible to visit parts of the trail - but this must be done with a guide, since there remain tonnes of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in the area. Venturing off by yourself is not recommended!
Khanthebouly's main attractions are its noteworthy temples such as the beautiful Wat Saya Phoum and That Inghang.
That Inghang Stupa
That Inghang stupa is one of the national stupa, which is the holiest edifice in southern Laos, housing a hollow chamber with a distinguished collection of Buddha images. It was built by King Sikhotabong and located about 15 km east from the provincial capital of Khamthabouly.
That Phon stupa is one of the significant stupa since it was contracted between the year of 557 to 700. The contraction was taken quite a long time. Festival rite is annually organized in the full moon of the first month of lunar calendar to play respect to Phra Shiva and other Lords of Hinduism.
Heuanehine or Stone House, the rocky house designed by Kham people is also one of the most interesting sites in this province. Not as old as these prehistoric relicts, but of no less significance, is the northernmost example of Khmer art at Heuan Hin (stone house). The building were constructed between 553 AD and 700AD. Today little more than unrestored ruins remain.Near Muang Phin, on the route to Vietnam, dinosaur remains are on display. A French scientist discovered them in the 1930s. Dinosaur Exhibition Hall is situated in Khanthabouly, the capital city of the province. Daily opened from 8.00 to12.00, and afternoon from 13.00 to 16.00, starting from Monday to Friday.
Hortai (Wat Nonglamchan village) is the old wooden building where the Buddha's words have been kept.
One of the tourist attraction in Savannakhet is the beautiful waterfall.
Salavan Province is best known for the Bolaven Plateau, which also extends into Attapeu, Champassak and Sekong provinces. The Bolaven Plateau is covered in the Champassak section. The plateau is best accessed from Pakse, in Champassak province.
Salavan province is home to the Phu Xieng Thong National Biodiversity Conservation Area, covering nearly 1,000 sq km in the western part of the province next to the Mekong river. It is thought that asiatic black bear, banteng, clouded leopard, Douc langur, elephant, gibbon, guar, Siamese crocodile and tiger and inhabit this area.
The least populous province of Laos is moderately mountainous and it is difficult to travel due to the lack of all-weather roads. Many diferent ethnic tribe people live in the low lands and in the hills of the province. The economy of the province is one of the worse in the country.
Xe Sap NBCA is located in the far north-east of the province at the Vietnamese border. The travel is almost impossible in the rainy season. Accommodations, medication, telephones, etc. are very rare in the eastern hilly parts. Major mode of transport is in a truck.
The province was heavily bombed during the last Indochina war. Remains of the bombs are still found along the former Ho Chi Minh trail
Champassak Province - Pakse
The province of Champassak is home to one of Asia's great, but least visited temples, Wat Phu. Pakse, the capital is situated at the confluence of the Se river and the Mekong (Pakse means 'mouth of the Se') and is a busy trading town. The province also houses much of the Bolaven Plateau, an area that is home to a number of ethnic minorities. To the south is Si Pan Don (four thousand islands), where the Mekong reaches up to 14km wide during the rainy season and the Khone Phapeng Falls.
Pakse has a number of comfortable places to stay and is a good base from which to explore the surrounding area. The town has one of the largest markets in the region. Within Pakse is the Champassak Museum where you can see relics from Wat Phu as well as from the Bolaven Plateau.
Champassak - Pakse - Getting There
Lao Aviation flies to Pakse from Vientiane
You can reach Pakse by boat from the north or the south, although these services change regularly.Buses run from Vientiane daily and the journey can take as long as 15 hours. This bus service also serves the towns of Tha Kek and Savannakhet.
There is an international check point at Ban Muang Kao on the Thai border with Chong Mek. You can get a Visa on arrival at this checkpoint. After entry into Laos, a short taxi ride to the new Bridge into Pakse. Coming from Thailand, the nearest airport, train station and bus terminus to Chong Mek is Ubon Ratchathani - about 1 hour by road from the border.
Wat Phu (mountain temple) is a site that dates back to the 5th century. The original temple was built by the Khmer Hindus at the top of a hill at the site of a fresh water spring. The peak of the hill is said to resemble a lingum or Shiva Phallus. The exact history of Wat Phu is unclear, but was certainly the site of a temple of the Khmer empire that eventually made Ankor Wat its capital. The temple is stunning, and very remote, with superb views of the Mekong valley. At the top of the temple site are a number of carved rocks, resembling a crocodile, a naga and an elephant. It is believed that these rocks were used for human sacrifice.
To get to the temple complex from Pakse, the most pleasant way is by chartering a boat down the Mekong. The journey to the town of Champassak takes about one and a half hours. From Champassak, a tuk tuk can be taken to the temple, about 8km away.
Attapeu Province is best known for the Bolaven Plateau, which also extends into Champassak, Salavan and Sekong provinces. The Bolaven Plateau is covered in the Champassak section The plateau is best accessed from Pakse, in Champassak province.
Attapeu province is rugged,wild and very scenic, but transportation is very difficult, especially by land in the rainy season.
The town of Samakhi Xai (Attapeu) is situated in a large picturesque valley. The population of the province is more Lao Loum than the neighbouring provinces.
Parts of the Ho Chi Minh Trail can be explored from Attapeu, although using a local guide is essential.