Laos - Must Visit Country

Laos is unique in that for a socialist country it has opened its doors to tourists. Since the latter part of the 1990s, Laos has been happy to welcome visitors from all over the globe. The reason behind their campaign to attract tourists, “Visit Laos” was because the economy was in a downward spiral and it was thought that tourism dollars would help to boost the economy. Lucky travelers can now experience the wonder of the sights and sounds of Laos.

Khone Phapheng is the largest waterfall that can be found in Southeast Asia. Located at Si Phan Don at its southern end, it is also considered home to Irrawadaddy dolphins, a rare species. The waterfall is a stunning sight and the presence of the dolphins makes it even more so. Day trips for viewing the dolphins often include a visit to Khone Phapheng.

Another important sight in Laos is Pha That Luang. Not only is this monument important for its relation to the Buddhist religion, it is also a monumnet to the sovereignty of Laos. Looking upon it from a distance, it gives the impression of a cluster of gilded missiles. In the early part of November, the temple is the location of one of Laos’ major festivals.

Pak Ou Caves can only be reached by boat and one can be caught at Ban Pak Ou. It is a spectacular sight as the setting is carved into a cliff made of limestone that faces the river. Inside the cave there are a plethora of images of Buddha in every style and shape, but many of them represent the classic standing Buddha, Luang Prabang. Tours are easily arranged by tour operators as well as many of Laos’ guest houses.

Other popular places to visit in Laos are the cities of Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Luang Prabang was given the distinction of being honored as a Unesco World Heritage city for its stunning, tranquil natural surroundings as well as its unique and beautiful architecture. This city is one of the top tourist destinations in Laos.

Laos the Top Destination for 2008

The International Herald Tribune has voted Laos as the Top destination for 2008 beating Lisbon and Tunisia.

Laos is shaping up to be Indochina's next hot spot. Ancient sites like the Wat Phou temple complex and the capital city of Vientiane are drawing culture seekers.

Luxury teak houseboats are cruising down the Mekong. And global nomads are heading to Luang Prabang to sample the Laotian tasting menu at 3 Nagas (www.3nagas.com) or hang out by the infinity pool at the seriously upscale RĂ©sidence Phou Vao (www.residencephouvao.com).

Luang Prabong, Laos

Prabang is the oldest religious centre of the eastern Asian country and giving alms to the monks is a time-honoured tradition among the town's residents.

Plenty of tourists get up early to witness the spectacle and they buy rice from local peddlers in order to stand at the roadside and donate a small amount to each passing monk.

Daily life in Luang Prabang is just as tranquil. A late-morning cup of coffee at the Sala Cafe is fresh and invigorating and from under the green fronds of the roof, visitors can gaze over the Nam Khan river wending its brown and sluggish way before embarking on the next temple tour.

It is easy to navigate around the streets of the old quarter of this town on the isthmus between Mekong and Nam. The promenades run parallel to the rivers and in between are rows of gabled temples and monasteries.

Back in 1995 UNESCO awarded the architecture of Luang Prabang and its natural surroundings the status of a world cultural site.
The oldest and arguably the most handsome monastery complex hereabouts is Xieng Thong. The sweeping roof is reminiscent of bird plumage and the glass stones in the famous tree of life mosaic on the back wall glint in the sun.

Yet however remarkable the architecture may be, the most lasting impression of Luang Prabang is the friendliness of its residents and their smiling faces.

The novices from the monasteries are keen to try out English phrases on visitors and there are plenty of opportunities for doing so. Around 100,000 tourists a year visit the town of 40,000 people, most of them from other parts of Asia.

The streets become noticeably more busy in the afternoons when villagers from the outlying villagers flock to the town on their spluttering mopeds, usually with several people perched on the pillion.

Before long the streets under the Phou Si peak are alive with shoppers and hawkers and the daily market opens for business. On sale are Buddha figures in all shapes and sizes, home-woven blankets, pillows and bags along with scarfs made of silk.

The prices vary widely, but there is something among the varied wares to suit every holiday budget.

Success comes to those who sweat and toil, say the gods - a thought which must have been shared by Buddha himself. A total of 328 steps lead to the golden stupa of That Chomsi on top of Mount Phou Si, past the carved figures of fire-breathing dragons and huge snakes.

Those who make the effort are rewarded with a commanding view of the royal place and the roofs of the many Buddhist temples. The Mekong and Khan rivers are clearly visible against a dramatic mountain backdrop.

The ascent is especially popular in the evening when the golden orb of the sun bathes the town's old quarter and the green hills beyond in a gentle reddish glow. When that moment arrives, time in Luang Prabong seems to stand still.

Welcome to Laos

Here then, are my top suggestions for sites to take in during your holiday in Laos.

When you visit Laos you will notice immediately how important the culture, heritage and Buddhism are to its inhabitants. Laos is located between Vietnam and Thailand in the south east of Asia. It is a beautiful country with many rivers, rugged mountains, forests, plains and plateaus. Laos has been isolated from outside influences so the tourist gets a unique view of traditional Southeast Asian life. With its fertile lowlands of the Mekong River valley and the rugged Annamite highlands, Laos has got to be one of the highlights in Asia.

Laos has a tropical monsoon climate with the rainy season during the months of May to November and the roads can become washed out & the dry season starting from December to April. The weather is not too hot and there is less rainfall between November and February. The most popular time that tourists actually visit Laos are December to February but the good thing is there are not too many during these times.

For trekking or visiting the mountains, May and July are good, warm, dry months to experience them.

One of the most beautiful places in Laos is Luang Prabang and it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995. It is a magical ancient city that seems to have stood still in time surrounded by its mountains.

In the centre of the city of Laos is Mount Phousi. From this amazing standpoint you will witness stunning views of the hills and temples that surround it.

Khone Phapheng is considered to be the largest waterfall in Southeast Asia and with this in mind makes it an amazing place to experience. You will find this waterfall at the southern end of Si Phan Don home to the rare Irrawaddy dolphins.

The Pak Ou Caves are an absolutely spectacular sight to behold. One of the caves is filled with hundreds of statues of the Buddha which can be seen through a rugged hole in the cliff face. If you want to see this amazing scene up close then it is possible to climb out onto the dock where the beautifully carved stones will lead you up to the entrance of the cave. There are statues of Buddha's absolutely everywhere that you look, balancing on stone shelves, lining the stairs and in the nooks and crannies in the cave.

Pilgrims and kings have gone to the caves to worship for at least the last 500 years. Pha That Luang is a Buddhist temple in Vientiane, Laos which was built in the 16th century. The temple was destroyed by a Thai invasion but has since been restored to its former glory. There are some people that believe that relics of the Buddha are housed in this temple. This temple has become a symbol of Lao nationalism due to the architecture including the Lao people's culture and identity.

There is a wonderfully unique place known as the Plain Of Jars, located in the remote north east of Laos, where you will find hundreds of huge stone urns. These stone jars cover an area of several square miles and have become a great crowd puller. The urns are one of the most enigmatic ancient sights in Asia. To this day the many jars have kept their secret from the many historians who have tried to date them and discover what they actually signify.

In the province of Champasak you will find an amazing mountain Temple dating back to the 5th century which is known as Wat Phu, is an impressive ruin of Khmer style. There are a number of carved rocks above the temple site, each of them resembling different animals including a cobra, an elephant and a crocodile. Some believe that these rocks may have been used for human sacrifice in times gone by.