Luang Prabang: The Ancient Town of Luang Prabang in the center of northern Laos has been described as one of the most charming and best preserved towns in Southeast Asia. There are 34 Buddhist temples among Luang Prabang’s colonial and Chinese architecture, all set in a backdrop of lush green mountains. The Mekong River frames the town’s western border, and it remains an important commercial and recreational transportation link.
Vibrant cultural traditions, rituals and distinctive artwork such as temple murals, woodcarvings and pottery make Luang Prabang an attractive destination for a wide range of interests. Due to its outstanding cultural and natural features, the town was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.
The town is directly accessible by air from Bangkok, Vientiane and Chiang Mai, and travelers looking for a bit of adventure can opt for overland travel from all directions. There is also regular boat service on the Mekong (a two-day voyage) to and from Houeixai, which borders Chiang Kong in northern Thailand.
Vat Phou: The Vat Phou Temple Complex and the surrounding Champasak Heritage Landscape is located 500 km south of Vientiane on the east bank of the Mekong River in Champasak province. Vat Phou is an excellent example of early classical Khmer architecture, dating from the 7th to 12th centuries AD.
At the foot of Vat Phou is the ancient city of Shestupura, which was settled in the 5th century AD, and is believed to be the oldest urban settlement in Southeast Asia. Besides the main Vat Phou Temple Complex, there are several lesser-known archeological and nature sites nearby that can take some time to explore.
The quiet town of Champasak, gateway to Vat Phou, is accessible via short car or bus ride from Pakse. There is also a regular boat service on the Mekong to Champassak that takes 2-3 hours.
The Plain of Jars: The Plain of Jars is situated on the Xieng Khouang Plateau in north-central Laos, and is comprised of thousands of stone jars in clusters of up to 300, and varying from one to over three meters in height.
Local legend claims the jars were constructed to distill an alcoholic brew to celebrate a victorious military campaign over an ancient king. However, archaeological evidence suggests that the jars are funerary urns, carved by Bronze Age people around 2,000 years ago.
Due to its strategic location, the Plain of Jars played a pivotal role in the Second Indochina War and was the site of many ground battles and intense aerial bombardment. Xieng Khouang is now a peaceful area with cool weather, vast grasslands, several ethnic minorities, hot springs and caves.
Based on the Plain of Jars’ extraordinary heritage, the Lao Government is preparing a nomination dossier for submission to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre to inscribe the area as a World Heritage Site. Safeguarding the Plain of Jars Project is a collaboration between UNESCO and the Lao Government to protect this enigmatic megalithic landscape and rehabilitate the region; for more information visit unescobkk.org
The Plain of Jars is accessible by air from Vientiane. Overland travel is possible from northern and central Laos and north-central Vietnam.