TOP THINGS TO DO
• Ascend Mount Phousi for a panoramic view of Luang Prabang and surrounding rivers and hills.
• Swim in the lower pools of the Kuang Si Waterfalls, situated 30km (19 miles) from Luang Prabang and bathe in the two hot springs some 52km (32 miles) north of Phonsavan: Bo Noi and Bo Yai.
• Spot the wildlife: Laos’s pristine landscape hosts a variety of flora and fauna, including rare primates, mammals and birds. Take official advice about which areas to avoid as there is still some unexploded ordnance.
• Head to the hills and trek independently or as part of a locally organised tour. A number of guest houses offer hiking trips starting from Muang Xing, a small town on the river plains in the mountainous Luang Namtha province in the far northwest.
• Follow the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a clandestine route used by the North Vietnamese Army. It was bombed by the USA during the Vietnam War and parts of this devastation can still be seen. Take a guide as parts of the route still contain unexploded bombs.
• Lazily float along the Nam Song river in a rubber tube in Vang Vieng. The scenery is stunning and enterprising locals will tow the thirsty in to riverside bars for Beer Lao. Many of the bars have zip lines and water slides.
• Head to the Bolaven Plateau in Champassak province for elephant riding andtrekking. Pakse, home to many ethnic minority groups, is the region’s capital and the ideal base from which to explore the plateau.
TOP THINGS TO SEE
• Check out the old French colonial architecture and numerous Buddhist wats and stupasin Vientiane, one of Asia’s most relaxed and quiet capital cities, suitably nestled in fertile plains on the banks of the Mekong River.
• Visit Laos’ cultural and religious centre, Luang Prabang. This ancient royal city has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995. Located between the Mekong and Khan River, it boasts 33 large temple complexes and around 1,000 resident monks.
• Marvel at the mysterious Plain of Jars, near Phonsavan. Hundreds of stone jars, some weighing up to 6 tonnes, are scattered over the landscape. Legend says they were used to ferment rice wine in the sixth century to celebrate a victory in battle.
• Be awed by Wat Xieng Thong, one of Laos’ most impressive temples. Decorated with coloured glass and gold, it is testament to the fact that Luang Prabang had been the royal capital until 1975. The royal palace itself contains fine artwork and gifts made for former kings.
• Drop in on a traditional community in Ban Phanom. The village is famous for its weavings and offers the opportunity to purchase bargain-priced silk and embroideries.
• Do not miss the fascinating Pak Ou Caves. The two caves, Tham Ting and Tham Phun, are full of Buddha images that have been left there over hundreds of years by worshippers. They are easily reached by speedboat from Luang Prabang.
• Admire the breathtaking views across the Mekong Valley from the Wat Phu temple, constructed on a mountain top near fresh spring water by the Khmer Hindus, who went on to settle their empire at its former capital – Angkor Wat (Cambodia).
• Head south to the supremely laid-back Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands), an archipelago on the Mekong river, to see the spectacular Khone Phapheng (the largest waterfall in South-East Asia (by volume)) and the endangered irriwaddy dolphins.