Pha That Luang
Located in the center of Vientiane, Pha That Luang is one of the most significant monuments 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.
Along with the Champasak Cultural Landscape, the 5th century Khmer ruins of Wat Phou is the second inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List of Laos. Wat Phou, meaning ‘mountain temple’. Blended into the surrounding nature, the remains of Wat Phou are dotted all over the mountain face. Oriented toward the east, the ruins have two large reservoirs on either side of a long column-lined road leading toward the mountains. Past the palace ruins, up a steep staircase, you’ll find the sanctuary with a modern Buddhist shrine and a natural spring considered sacred.
Kuang Si Waterfall
It’s a 32-kilometer journey through the winding hills to get to the most famous and most often visited waterfall in Laos: Kuang Si. Resist the temptation to rush to the falls and wander around the beautifully curated, Dutch-run Kuang Si Butterfly Park located 300 meters before the entrance. Once you buy your ticket to Kuang Si, you’ll walk through the Sun and Moon bear sanctuary before reaching the aquamarine pools. Swim at the bottom or the hidden pool at the top. Food vendors sell snacks and grilled meats at the base of the multi-tiered falls. You might even decide to stay over night in order to leisurely enjoy the nature. Make a pit stop at the Laos Buffalo Dairy on the way out, try some cheese, ice cream and feed the baby buffalo.
Pak Ou Caves
Bring your headlamp and take the slow boat up the Mekong to Ban Pak Ou. Pak means mouth and the two caves at the mouth of the Ou River are Tham Ting and Tham Theung. Hike up the long staircase to the pitch-black upper cave, Tham Theung. The lower cave, Tham Ting, is smaller and less busy with some sunlight shining through. Both caves are pilgrimage locations for devout Buddhists who have been leaving carvings of the Buddha in the caves for centuries. Over 4,000 statues are located inside.
Wat Xieng Thong
Wat Xieng Thong is one of the most elaborately adorned temples in the UNESCO World Heritage portion of Luang Prabang. It lies at the junction of the Mekong and Nam Khan on the north end of the peninsula. Enter one of the smaller shrines and test your strength and conviction by attempting to lift a seated buddha statue while kneeling and thinking of a wish. The temple was built in the mid-1500s by King Setthathirath and functioned as a royal temple until 1975. The temple has been restored several times over the years and has over 20 buildings on the property.