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  • Overview

    Known since ancient times as Lan Xang (Land of the MillionElephants), Laos offers the modern world a glimpse of oldIndochina. Visitors will encounter a country that is less developedthan its neighbours China, Thailand and Vietnam, and perhaps morereserved than any other stop in the region. They will also find anintoxicating mix of natural beauty, shy hospitality, originalBuddhist culture and French influences.

    Laos' lifeline is the Mekong River, which flows the length ofthe mountainous, landlocked country and provides water foragricultural lands. It's also a major means of transportation. Theunassuming capital, Vientiane, sits on its banks, giving travellersa comfortable introduction to the Laos' charms. However, mostvisitors would regard Luang Prabang as the destination's highlight.Among other things, they delight in the district's architecturalblend of whitewashed houses and splendid golden temples.

    Regarding its history, Laos has suffered French colonisation,internal conflicts and assertive communism, all of which isolatedit from the outside world. Today, visitors can enjoy the country'sold-fashioned ways. Tourists willing to brave the lack ofinfrastructure will discover charming towns and rural villages,smiling, endearing people, splendid scenery, and a slow, relaxedpace of life.

    Laos' lush landscape and serene temples are a feast for thesenses and a balm for restlessness. Visitors can expect to presspause, reset and dissolve their cares in the company of solemnmonks and friendly lay-people.

    Vientiane and Luang Prabang are the most popular stops fortourists, though the entire country has retained a gentle gracewithin Southeast Asia's frenzy of development. Pristine waterfalls,caves of Buddhist statues, ornate stupas, and a meadow full ofancient, mysterious stone jars are all part of the experience.

    That Luang Stupa

    That Luang Stupa is a symbol of Buddhism and Lao rule, and isthe country's most important religious building. The golden templeand its spire are visible from afar, and are an unforgettablewelcoming sight for travellers. King Setthathirath built the shrinein 1566 and his statue stands in front of the temple, where thesetting sun enhances the beauty of its already stunning goldensurface. The central stupa is deeply symbolic. Resembling a curvedlotus bud, its three tiers represent different aspects of Buddhism.More specifically, the base deals with hell, the middle revolvesaround 30 Buddhist teachings and the top tier is about heaven.Visitors should explore the area with a local guide, who canexplain the site's significance. They will also need to dressmodestly, covering their knees and shoulders. Women can borrowtraditional Lao skirts at the entrance. Regarding fees, visitorsmust pay to access the base of the stupa, while access to theReclining Buddha and surrounding temples is free.

    Address: That Luang Village, Xaysettha District,Vientiane
    Opening time: Tuesday - Sunday: 8am to 12pm; 1pm to 4pm. Closed onMondays.
    Royal Stupa at Sunset Royal Stupa at Sunset Oliver Spalt
    Royal Palace (Haw Kham)

    The former Royal Palace is a mixture of French and Laoarchitecture, and is now a museum. It preserves the monarchy'spossessions and has one of the glitziest interiors around. Athree-headed elephant sheltered by the sacred white parasol sitsabove the entrance, and is the symbol of Lao's monarchy. All thingsconsidered, the Throne Hall is the most impressive room in thecomplex. The dazzling interior comprises mirrors, mosaics, anddisplays of royal regalia that include glittering swords and theformer King's elephant saddle. The Pha Bang (delicate Buddha) isthe museum's most prized item, and is housed in a small, barredshrine that was the King's personal sanctum. Believed to have beencrafted in the heavens, it is the country's most sacred image andspiritual protector. The museum has information in Lao and Englishbut is worth visiting with a local guide, who can share myths andlegends as well as history. Shoes and bags must be left at theentrance. Photography is not allowed.

    Royal Palace Royal Palace Adam Carr
    Wat Xieng Thong (Golden City Temple)

    Situated at the tip of Luang Prabang's peninsula, the GoldenCity Temple is the country's most enchanting monastery and perhapsits most talked-about tourist attraction. Its grandest feature maybe the graceful, sweeping tiled roof of its main temple, though thestencilled gold designs on its walls are marvellous too. The latterdepict many traditional tales. At the rear, visitors will find asplendid coloured-glass mosaic illustrating the 'tree of life'. Thecompound garden's peaceful atmosphere features several shelters,which house rare Buddha images and the gilded royal funerarycarriage. From a tourism perspective, general consensus is ifvisitors can only explore one of the country's monasteries, isshould be Wat Xieng Thong. Travellers should bring a guide book orhire a local guide before visiting. That way, they can fullyappreciate the temple and its history. Evenings see the lightreflect beautifully off the glass and gold of the walls, while themonks are called into prayer by drums.

    Wat Xieng Thong Wat Xieng Thong Rich Middleditch
    Phou Si

    Phou Si is a hill near the confluence of the Khan and Mekongrivers. Many visitors use it as a navigation landmark, as it'svisible all over town. The hill is also home to several caves,small temples and Buddha images, and offers spectacular views ofLuang Prabang from its summit. Visitors will find the city's oldesttemples on the lower slopes, though the area's most prizedspiritual structure is the golden stupa of That Chomsi. Indeed, ithas become a symbol of Luang Prabang's spiritual significance toLaos. Travellers reach the stupa by climbing 300 steps and passingvarious temples and shady trees along the way. Early morning visitsare especially worthwhile, given that the temperature is cool andthe temples are at their most active. Sunset trips are alsotremendous, though tourist crowds tend to visit around this time ofday, making the overall experience less serene. The climb is a biteasier from the back of the hill, where a trail winds upwards andthere are only about a hundred steps, rather than 300-plus. Some ofthe most interesting Buddha statues can be found via this backentrance. Climbing up one way and down the other would allowvisitors to appreciate all the hill's sights and views. Travellersvisiting in the evening can stop at the night market, which they'llfind in front of the Old Palace at the foot of Phou Si.

    Phou Si Phou Si Matsuoka AkiraKaoru
    Victory Gate (Patuxai)

    Modelled to mirror the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, Laos' VictoryGate is definitely a sight to behold. Indeed, Laotians decided toone-up their former colonial masters by building theirs slightlyhigher and with four gates instead of two. Patuxai also has anumber of decorative Buddhist ornamentations. As a matter of fact,the Royal Laotian Government constructed the monument with Americanfunds and cement that were intended to build an airport, earning itthe nickname, 'vertical runway'. Seven flights of stairs or a liftlead to the top, which offers great views of downtown Vientiane.Visitors will find souvenir shops in between flights of steps,though they're quite expensive. The area is also home to the WorldPeace Gong (presented to Laos by Indonesia), and a musicalfountain. Travellers won't struggle to find excellent photoopportunities.

    Victory Gate Victory Gate Tim Wang
    COPE Visitor Centre

    The COPE Visitor Centre can be a sobering reality-check for manytourists, but is definitely worth a visit. Statistically, Laos isthe world's most bombed country, made so by a US precautionarypolicy during the Vietnam War. Essentially, the US militaryconsidered it unsafe for planes to land with unused ordinance, sothey dropped their bombs over Laos. Many are unaware of this tragicand embarrassing aspect of the Vietnam War. Today, Laos still has asignificant amount of unexploded ordinance (UXOs), particularly inrural areas along the border with Vietnam, where many residentshave been victims. The COPE Visitor Centre does vital work ineducating the public and tourists. It also provides help for thosewho have lost limbs or loved ones to bombs. The centre includes agift shop and a selection of short films on Laos and UXOs. Visitorsmay have to request to see the films, but the staff are helpful andknowledgeable. As the centre isn't far out of town, many touristshire bikes and cycle to it. Visitors will only need an hour to tourthe place and explore an important aspect of the country's past andpresent. Also, anyone planning to travel off the beaten track inLaos should know how to recognise and react to UXOs.

    Address: Boulevard Khou Vieng, Vientiane, Laos
    Cluster bombs Cluster bombs Department of Foreign Affairs andTrade
    Ho Phra Kaew

    Ho Phra Kaew is one of Vientiane's oldest and most grandiosetemples. Its extremely interesting history sheds light on Laos'past relations with Thailand. More specifically, King Setthathirathbuilt the temple in 1565 for the express purpose of housing theEmerald Buddha, which he had pilfered from Chiang Mai City inNorthern Thailand. Made of gold and green jadeite, the statue wasrecaptured by the Siamese army in 1778 and returned to Bangkok -where it has remained. Yet even without the Emerald Buddha, Ho PhraKaew should easily make the bucket list of anyone interested in theregion. Indeed, this national monument exposes visitors to Laos'varied cultural heritage. The museum's displays include a heavilylacquered 16th-century door carved with Hindu images, and acollection of stone-cut figures representing Khmer deities.Photographs are permitted and there is a small entry fee.

    Address: Rue Setthathirath, Vientiane
    Opening time: Daily: 8am to 12pm; 1pm to 4pm.
    Monk at Ho Phra Kaew Monk at Ho Phra Kaew Tevaprapas
    Talat Sao (Morning Market)

    Vientiane's Talat Sao (Morning Market) has two decidedlydifferent sections. Depending on their budget and the type ofexperience they're looking for, visitors can choose between theshopping mall and the original Morning Market. The mall has a rangeof shops and services over five floors, and its air-conditioningprovides a much appreciated break from the country's tropical heat.Shoppers will find a food court, a cinema, a supermarket and achildren's play area in the complex. Clothes stores stock practicalrather than cutting-edge-fashion items; naïve travellers haveunwittingly bought replica electronic products in the past. Thebustling market operates from early morning to mid-afternoon, andis a labyrinth of clean, tiled alleyways. Shoppers can expect anauthentic experience, with vendors coming from all over Laos tosell and source goods. Hand-woven fabrics, silver jewellery andother local handicrafts are favourite purchases. Bargaining isexpected and generally good-natured, so tourists should remember tosmile while trying to beat down a price.

    Address: Talat Sao Mall, Lane Xang Avenue, Vientiane
    Opening time: Monday to Friday: 7am to 6pm (some stalls may closeearlier).
    Talat Sao Talat Sao yeowatzup
    Luang Prabang Alms Ceremony

    The morning Alms Ceremony is one of the main attractions inLuang Prabang. Male Laotians study Buddhism in the district for atleast a year of their lives, keeping the city full of boys and mendressed in saffron-coloured robes. Visitors will not soon forgetthe ancient and ritualised ceremony. It takes place every morningand sees monks proceed through the village along the main street,where they collect alms to consume during the day ahead. Touristscan buy rice and foods for the monks. In light of past scams whenvendors sold stale leftovers to naïve tourists, visitors shouldcheck that whatever food they purchase is fresh. Otherwise,visitors should remember that the ceremony is a serious event.Onlookers should be respectful at all times, particularly if takingpictures. It's also extremely rude to touch a monk, more so forwomen than men.

    Phrase Book

    English Pronounciation

    Laos has a tropical climate, with year-round high temperaturesand two distinct seasons. The wet season runs from May to October,and the dry season lasts from November to April. During the wetseason, the topography of mountainous Laos means there is the riskof landslides. Temperatures are lower during the wet season,averaging 73°F (23°C), with August being the wettest month. The dryseason has two distinct periods: the cool dry period from Novemberto February and the hot dry season from March to April. Dry seasontemperatures average at 82°F (28°C), and the hottest month isApril. Between March and May, Laos experiences a very hot season,with day-time temperatures reaching 104°F (40°C).

    The best time to visit Laos is between November and March, whenit is dry and temperatures are pleasant. However, this is hightourist season and accommodation prices may be higher than they areat other times of the year. For visitors travelling on a budget, itmay actually be better to brave the wet season.

    Wattay International Airport
    Location: The airport is six miles (10km) fromVientiane.
    Time: Local time is GMT +7
    Transfer Between Terminals: The terminals are within easy walking distance of eachother.
    Getting to the city: Taxis and tuk-tuks are available outside both terminals. Manylocal hotels offer free shuttle transfers for guests by priorarrangement.
    Car Rental: Avis by Asia Vehicle Rental and Sixt are represented at theairport. However, visitors are advised not to hire a car. Instead,they should book a car with a driver through their hotel or travelagent.
    Airport Taxis: Taxi counters are located near the exit of each terminal;passengers must buy a taxi coupon before leaving the airport.
    Fascilities: Facilities at the airport include banks, bars, restaurants,duty-free shopping, a post office and a couple of shops.
    Parking Parking is available at the airport.
    Money:

    The Lao Kip (LAK) is the legal currency unit. US Dollars, Eurosand Thai Baht are also accepted in many places and are moreconvenient to carry than large stacks of the local currency. Banks,hotels, and jewellery shops all offer currency exchange services.For everyday expenses, visitors should carry a mix of US Dollarsand Kip. For larger items, or when the exchange rate is favourable,travellers should use US dollars. For local transport, street-foodstalls and minor purchases, Kip will serve visitors better. When inrural areas, travellers should carry a supply of small notes aschange can be hard to come by.

    Major credit cards such as Visa and MasterCard are accepted atmost international hotels, many shops and restaurants, and a fewtourist-orientated establishments in Luang Prabang and Vientiane.In other parts of the country, visitors should assume that onlycash is accepted.

    Banks are generally open Monday to Friday from 8am to 12pm, andthen again from 2pm to 3pm. ATMs are available in Vientiane, LuangPrabang, Pakse and other major towns. Travellers should note thatATMs distribute only Lao Kip, with a maximum of around 1,000,000Kip per transaction.

    Language:

    Lao is the official language, but some English and Frenchare spoken.

    Electricity:

    Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. A variety ofplugs are used, including the European-style two-pin, the UK-stylethree-pin, and the flat two-pin type.

    Entry Requirements:

    US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least sixmonths beyond the date of their arrival in Laos. A visa isrequired, and can be obtained for a maximum stay of 30 days ifpossessing a confirmed hotel reservation in Laos, one passportphoto, two unused visa pages, and all required documents for thenext destination.

    British citizens must have a passport that is valid for at leastsix months beyond the date of their arrival in Laos. A visa isrequired, and can be obtained for a maximum stay of 30 days onarrival if holding a confirmed hotel reservation in Laos, onepassport photo, and all required documents for the nextdestination.

    Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for atleast six months beyond the date of their arrival in Laos. A visais required, and can be obtained on arrival for a maximum stay of30 days if holding a hotel reservation in Laos, one passport photo,two unused visa pages, and all required documents for the nextdestination.

    Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for atleast six months beyond the date of their arrival in Laos. A visais required, and can be obtained on arrival for a maximum stay of30 days if holding an address in Laos, one passport photo, twounused visa pages, and all required documents for the nextdestination.

    South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for atleast six months beyond the date of their arrival in Laos. A visais required, and can be obtained on arrival for a maximum stay ofup to 30 days if holding a confirmed hotel reservation in Laos, onepassport photo, and all required documents for the nextdestination.

    Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for at leastsix months beyond the date of their arrival in Laos. A visa isrequired, and can be obtained on arrival for a maximum stay of upto 30 days if holding a hotel reservation in Laos, one passportphoto, and all required documents for the next destination.

    US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least sixmonths beyond the date of their arrival in Laos. A visa isrequired, and can be obtained for a maximum stay of 30 days ifpossessing a confirmed hotel reservation in Laos, one passportphoto, two unused visa pages, and all required documents for thenext destination.

    New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for atleast six months beyond the date of their arrival in Laos. A visais required, and can be obtained on arrival for a maximum stay ofup to 30 days if holding a hotel reservation in Laos, one passportphoto, two unused visa pages, and all required documents for thenext destination.

    Passport/Visa Note:Visa:

    Most foreign passengers to Laos can obtain a visa on arrival,provided that: (i) they are arriving at one of the followingairports: Vientiane International, Luang Prabang, Pakse, Warray;(ii) they are holding a return/onward ticket and the necessarytravel documentation for their next destination; (iii) they have aconfirmed hotel reservation in Laos; and (iv) they are inpossession of one photograph, size 3 x 4 cm (however, it is alwaysrecommened to travel with more than one) (v) their passportcontains at least two unused visa pages. These tourist visas arevalid for 30 days. Note that a yellow fever vaccination certificateis required to enter Laos, if arriving within six days of leavingor transiting through an infected area. NOTE: It is highlyrecommended that your passport has at least six months validityremaining after your intended date of departure from your traveldestination. Immigration officials often apply different rules tothose stated by travel agents and official sources.

    Travel Health:

    Travellers planning to visit Laos should seek medical adviceabout vaccinations and endemic diseases at least three weeks priorto departure. With the exception of Vientiane, malaria existsthroughout the country, and typhoid and cholera occur in someareas. A typhoid vaccine is recommended for all travellers, exceptshort-term visitors who will restrict their meals to hotels andmajor restaurants. Other risks include hepatitis E, plague, denguefever, and Schistosomiasis if swimming in the Mekong River.Travellers' diarrhoea is a problem for many visitors. The bestpolicy would be to only drink bottled water and avoid dairyproducts, uncooked meat and fish, salads and unpeeled fruit.

    Medical care in Vientiane is extremely basic, and there are noreliable facilities to deal with medical emergencies outside thecapital. As medical evacuation is difficult to organise and veryexpensive, travellers are advised to take out comprehensive medicalinsurance. Visitors who have an unstable medical condition shouldconsider avoiding Laos. A yellow fever certificate is required fromanyone entering from an infected area.

    Tipping:

    Tipping is becoming more widely practiced in tourist hotels andrestaurants, where 10 percent is expected. Elsewhere, there is noneed to tip. Many of the more up-market restaurants tend to includea 10 to 15 percent service charge in their bill.

    Safety Information:

    Most visits to Laos are trouble-free, though crimes such asrobbery are on the increase. Passport theft is a problem andtravellers are advised to take care, avoid carrying large sums ofmoney and keep valuables and documents in a safe place.

    Making copies of important travel documents is also a good idea.Travel in some rural parts of Laos is dangerous because of banditryand unexploded ordnance, and visitors should never stray fromwell-worn footpaths. Visitors should also note that an ID documentor passport should be carried at all times and should be presentedon demand or else a heavy fine could be imposed.

    Visitors to Vang Vieng are advised to be particularly vigilantof their belongings, and aware of their personal security as therehave been reports of petty theft in the area. Staying at atrustworthy and secure hotel or guesthouse while in Vang Vieng isrecommended.

    Although Laos is known for its laid-back and friendlyatmosphere, the travel risk is somewhat increased by the lack oftravel infrastructure and medical facilities.

    Local Customs:

    Skimpy or revealing clothes are generally not acceptable,especially in places of worship. Public displays of affection aretaboo in Lao society. The Laos government prohibits any sexualcontact or relationships between Lao nationals and foreigners,unless married under Lao law; penalties may involve heavy fines orimprisonment. It is illegal not to carry an identity document.Photographing military sites is prohibited.

    Business:

    Laos' hot, tropical climate demands that business peopletypically wear lightweight suits, usually with a tie. Visitorsshould also bear in mind that the country is generally ratherconservative and act accordingly. Business cards should be givenand received using both hands and should be treated with respect.Handshakes are common, though the traditional greeting is the nop.It is similar to the Indian Namaste, where palms are placedtogether as if in prayer, and held in front of the chest or face.Surnames usually come before first names, which can be confusingfor visitors. French is more widely spoken and understood thanEnglish, though translators are available. Business hours areusually from 8am to 12pm, and 1pm to 4pm, Monday to Friday.

    Communications:

    The international access code for Laos is +856. The outgoingcode is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 001 for theUnited States). City/area codes are in use, e.g. (0)21 forVientiane and (0)71 for Luang Prabang. International Direct Dial isavailable in the major towns, but the service is expensive andinefficient. Hotels sometimes add a hefty surcharge to theirtelephone bills, so guests should check before making long-distancecalls. As mobile phones will only work in the major cities, andlocal mobile phone companies have few active roaming agreementswith other network operators, travellers are advised to check theircoverage with their service provider before visiting Laos.

    Duty Free:

    Travellers to Laos do not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes or50 cigars or 250g of tobacco; 2 litres of wine and 1 litre ofspirits; and 50ml of perfume and 250ml of eau de toilette.

    Useful Contacts:

    National Tourism Authority of Laos: www.tourismlaos.org

    Laos Embassies:

    Laos Embassy, Washington DC, United States (also responsible forCanada): +1 202 332 6416.

    Laos Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7402 3770.

    Foreign Embassies in Laos :

    American Embassy, Vientiane: +856 21 487 000.

    British Embassy, Vientiane, Laos: +856 30 77 00 000.

    Canadian Embassy, Vientiane, Laos: +856 21 35 38 34.

    South African Embassy, Bangkok, Thailand (also responsible forLaos): +66 2 092 2900.

    Australian Embassy, Vientiane: +856 21 353 800.

    Irish Embassy, Hanoi, Vietnam (also responsible for Laos): +8424 3974 3291.

    New Zealand Embassy, Bangkok, Thailand (also responsible forLaos): +66 2 254 2530.

    Laos Emergency Numbers : 1191 (Police); 1195 (Ambulance); 1192 (Tourist Police);1190 (Fire/First Aid)
    Laos
    Xieng Khuan (Buddha Park)

    The site known as Buddha Park is an otherworldly collection ofBuddhist and Hindu statues scattered around a riverside meadow.Priest-shaman, myth-maker and sculptor, Luang Pu, designed andbuilt the park in 1958, fusing philosophy with mythology andiconography. Visitors will discover that the detail on many of thestatues is decidedly atypical of Laos. Indeed, much of it is quiteunique. Visitors are sure to enjoy climbing and exploring thestructures and should look out for tourist pleasers such as thebeautiful Tree of Life sculpture and a pumpkin-like statue. Thelatter's steps lie inside its gaping mouth and lead to a viewingplatform. Visitors are free touch the statues, take photographs andexplore without much restriction. They'll also find a restaurantthat serves decent food. The trip to Buddha Park is fairly lengthy,though the region's rural scenery is interesting in its ownright.

    Address: Thanon Tha Deua, Vientiane, Laos
    Opening time: 8am to 6pm
    Buddha Park Buddha Park Preetam Rai
    Plain of Jars (Phonsavan)

    Located in the Xieng Khouang Plateau of Northern Laos, themysterious Plain of Jars is an unusual sight and a must-seeattraction. Visitors will find hundreds of huge stone jarsscattered about the landscape, some weighing as much as six tonnesand measuring around six feet in length. They're believed to beover 2,000 years old, though their origin and original functionremain unknown. The gaps in their narrative have allowed for manytheories and legends to develop. One story claims they were made toferment rice wine to celebrate a victorious battle against a wickedchieftain in the 6th century. Other theories have them assarcophagi or funerary urns. The jars are clustered into 90 groups,with Thong Hai Hin, or Site 1, being the largest and most easilyaccessible site. Only Sites 1, 2 and 3 are open to visitors, asunexploded mines from the war lie around the other locations. Manyguesthouses in the town of Phonsavan offer tours to the sites. As aprecautionary measure, town visitors should stop at the MinesAdvisory Group (MAG) and learn about the clearing of unexplodedbombs in the area and throughout Laos. The site is situated severalkilometres southeast of Phonsavan, which is a 30-minute flight fromLuang Prabang. Travellers interested in visiting can hire a driverand either a 4X4 or a small tuk-tuk for the day. More adventurousvisitors can hire a motorbike and drive out themselves. Sites 1 and2 are well signposted and 3 is easy enough to find. The drive fromPhonsavan is scenic and the people living along the road aregenerally friendly and helpful.

    Plain of Jars Plain of Jars Christopher Voitus
    Pak Ou Caves

    The Pak Ou Caves lie about two hours away from Luang Prabang andare only accessible by boat. They tend to divide opinion amongvisitors. Some find the area to contain an intriguing spiritualpower, while others don't see what all the fuss is about. Mostagree that the scenic boat trip to the caves is fun and worthwhile.The lower and upper caves contain and an impressive collection ofmostly wooden Buddha statues, which locals and pilgrims haveassembled over the centuries. Hundreds of pilgrims journey to thecaves every year, adding new statues to the gallery. The collectioncontains some unusual specimens, many of which are hard to reach.Visitors will need a flashlight to climb the stairs leading to theupper cave. The lower cave is visible from the river. Photos arepermitted and visitors often light candles as tributes. Manytourists combine trips to the caves with visits to the villagesalong the river banks or activities like elephant riding.

    Transport: Boat from Luang Prabang
    Pak Ou Caves Pak Ou Caves Matsuoka AkiraKaoru
    Kuang Si Falls

    Tourists frequently rate the multi-tiered Kuang Si Falls as thetop attraction in Luang Prabang. The serene location seesturquoise-green water tumble over a series of limestone terracesand collect in lovely pools, all of which are surrounded by lushgreenery. Walkways lead around the base and to the summit, andvisitors will find many places to picnic. The swimming is glorious,with rocks, branches and rope swings providing fun ways to enterthe water. Given their natural splendour, it's no surprise that thefalls get crowded. Travellers should visit as early as possible tofully appreciate the location and take good photographs. The fallsare about 18 miles (29km) south of Luang Prabang.

    Transport: Hire a motorbike or tuk-tuk and driver for the day.Motorbikes usually cost more for the day than tuk-tuks, and thelatter can accommodate up to four passengers. It is possible tobargain with the drivers and get a better deal.
    Kuang Si Falls Kuang Si Falls Anne Dirkse
    Si Phan Don

    The famous 4,000 Islands region of Laos unfolds at the MekongRiver's tail end. Situated in the far south and lapping over intoCambodia, the area is renowned for its tranquil village life,spectacular waterfalls, and unspoiled natural beauty. It's alsohome to the rare pink Irrawaddy Dolphin. The two most popularislands are Don Khong, which is the largest and most developed inthe region, and backpacker-magnet Don Det. Prices for food andaccommodation are some of the cheapest in Asia. Many tourists usethe area as an entry point into Cambodia, with buses frequentlymaking the one-hour journey to the border. Action lovers can lookforward to plenty of hiking, biking and swimming opportunities,while relaxation seekers can enjoy bungalows with watersidebalconies. Water safaris are a great way to see the dolphins,though travellers should ask guides not to go too far. They'll oweborder-crossing fees if they stray into nearby Cambodia. All thingsconsidered, Si Phan Don is a tremendous stop for young travellersor those operating on a tight budget.

    Don Kong Island Don Kong Island Dario Severi
    Houey Hong Vocational Training Center for Women

    In recent years, the Houey Hong Vocational Training Center forWoman has been among the most popular tourist attractions in Laos.The centre's mission is to provide training and education for Laowomen from disadvantaged backgrounds. Ultimately, the institutionhelps them transition into the contemporary economy by teachingthem skills such as natural dyeing, traditional Lao weaving,tailoring and small business administration. Visitors are not justcasual observers. Instead, they partake in half-day or full-daycourses of their choice, and are taught skills ranging fromtie-dyeing silks to traditional Lao weaving with a loom. The HoueyHong Center is a short tuk-tuk ride from downtown Vientiane andoffers tourists an unforgettable experience of traditional textilemanufacturing. Visitors keep whatever items they make, meaning theyleave with special souvenirs.

    Address: Lane 22, Houey Hong Village, Chantabury District,Vientiane
    Opening time: Monday through Saturday: 08.30am - 12.00pm, 1.30pm -16.30pm
    Houey Hong Vocational Training Center forWomen Houey Hong Vocational Training Center forWomen Shankar S