Bokeo Nature Reserve
The Bokeo Nature Reserve was created to protect its population of the black-cheeked gibbon, rediscovered in 1997, which was previously thought to be extinct. A visit to Bokeo Nature Reserve is not complete without a stay at the Gibbon Experience, an eco tourism conservation project. Guests stay in tree houses and travel by zip line through the forests in search of the Black Gibbon. Besides the elusive black gibbon, visitors to the reserve may also see elephants, bears, tigers and wild buffalo. The Gibbon Experience also works to rehabilitate and return to the wild animals that were captured by poachers. With mountains ranging from 1,600 to almost 5,000 feet in altitude, the reserve also is a good place to watch birds.
Buddha Park, with its amazing collection of Buddhist and Hindu statues, is adjacent to the Mekong River about 24 km (15 miles) from Vientiane. It contains more than 200 statues, including a 40-meter (131-foot) high statue of a sleeping Buddha. Travelers who want the best pictures of this famous sculpture park will need to deal with the demon. Shutterbugs need to climb a stone ladder three stories to the top of a pumpkin structure; the entrance is shaped like a demon’s mouth. The park’s best known statues include a Hindu god riding a three-headed elephant and another god with 12 faces and lots of hands.
COPE Visitor Centre
Laos is the most heavily bombed country in history, with about 30 percent of the ordinance failing to explode properly. Even though Laos is at peace now, these devices are still going off, killing and maiming people. COPE, short for Cooperative Orthotics and Prosthetics Enterprise, works to rehabilitate people whose lives have been destroyed by these devices, which include bombs and grenades. Visitors to the center can learn more about the problem of unexploded devices in Laos as well as the treatment provided to victims. An excellent gift shop offers fun, offbeat souvenirs that support a good cause.
Haw Phra Kaew
Haw Phra Kaew is considered one of the most beautiful and impressive temples in Vientiane. Built in 1565 as the chapel for the royal family, Haw Phra Kaew was home for a while to the Emerald Buddha that was stolen from Thailand. The name of this gracious building translates to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, though the Thais stole the statue back in the 18th century. It is now a museum, no longer used for religious services. The temple is famous for its wood and stone carvings, and collection of Buddhas. With a dragon guarding the temple, visitors can sit in peace in the garden to rest or meditate.
Lao National Museum
The Lao National Museum is a good place to learn about the Lao people from prehistoric times on as well as spend a few hours out of the sun. It’s located in an old French colonial building that is falling apart and some of the exhibits are faded, but this doesn’t detract from the contents. The bottom floor concentrates on the country’s early history, with dinosaur bones and pottery shards. The upper floor deals with a more modern Laos, including French colonization and fight for independence, and United States’ presence during the Vietnam War.
One of the most charming cities in south-east Asia, Luang Prabang is the most popular tourist attraction in Laos. Until 1975, when the communist took over the country, it was the royal capital of Laos. The main part of Luang Prabang is located on a peninsula between the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers. A collection of golden-roofed temples, wooden houses and crumbling French provincial buildings fill the main roads. At dawn, monks from the various monasteries walk through the streets collecting alms of rice.
Mekong River: The Mekong is Southeast Asia’s greatest river with an estimated length of 4,350 km (2,703 miles). Laos actually has the greatest share of the Mekong River. With few good roads and mountainous terrain, the river is Laos’ principal transportation. The Upper Mekong in Laos is considered one of the most stunning journeys of the entire river. A great way to enjoy the scenery is a boat trip from Huay Xai at the border with northern Thailand to Luang Prabang, or vice versa.
Patuxai is reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris but with Laotian characteristics, including four arches and five ornate towers at the top. The arch or gateway, as it translates, was built to commemorate Laos gaining its independence from France. This Vientiane attraction is dedicated to the Laotian soldiers who died in World War II and in the battles for independence from France. Patuxai is sometimes known as the “vertical runway” because it was built with American money and materials intended for a new airport. Visitors can climb up to the 7th story for a nice view of Vientiane.
Pha That Luang
Located in the center of Vientiane, Pha That Luang (“Great Stupa in Lao”) is one of the most significant monument in Laos. The stupa has several terraces with each level representing a different stage of Buddhist enlightenment. The lowest level represents the material world; the highest level represents the world of nothingness. Pha That Luang was built in the 16th century on the ruins of an earlier Khmer temple. Pha That Luang was smashed by a Siamese invasion in 1828, then later reconstructed by the French in 1931.
Plain of Jars
The Plain of Jars is a large area extending around the town of Phonsavan, where huge jars of unknown origin are scattered around the landscape. The stone jars appear in clusters, ranging from a single or a few to several hundred jars. The jars vary in height and diameter between 1 and 3 meters and are all hewn out of rock. The stone jars are undecorated with the exception of a single jar that has a human bas-relief carved on the exterior. Research of the Plain of Jars suggests that the stone jars are associated with prehistoric burial practices.
The Vieng Xai caves are an extensive network of caves that served as hidden city during the Vietnam War. The area was home to the Communist army, who were fighting the royalist forces based in Vientiane and was bombed by the US army. Up to 23,000 people lived in the caves, which contained a hospital, military barracks, bakeries, shops, and even a theater. The Lao government hopes to promote the caves as a tourism destination, similar to the Củ Chi tunnels in Vietnam.
Wat Phu (or Vat Phou) is a ruined Khmer temple complex located at the base of mount Phu Kao, in the Champasak province. The Hindu temple structures date from the 11th to 13th centuries. Wat Phu is small compared with the monumental Angkor-era sites in Cambodia but the tumbledown pavilions, enigmatic crocodile stone and tall trees that shroud much of the site give Wat Phu a mystical atmosphere. The temple is still in use as a Buddhist site today.
Wat Si Saket
Wat Si Saket is a Vientiane temple that is famous for a wall that contains hundreds of seated Buddhists sitting before thousands of tiny images in soft triangular shaped openings in the wall. The 6,800 images are made from wood, stone and bronze. This amazing collection of Buddhist art dates from the 16th to the 18th centuries. Savvy travelers will visit the temple early in the morning for the colorful Buddhist services. The oldest Buddhist monastery in Laos, Wat Si Sake sports a graceful architectural style that is enhanced with verandas and a five-tiered roof.