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Plain of Jars
Huge stone jars, some up to 3 meters high, are spread out over large area. They are believed to be old burial jars for an ancient lost civilisation 2000 years ago, but nobody knows for sure. They are clustered in many groups, but only three are safe to visit. Other areas are still unsafe due to UXO (unexploded ordnance) from the Vietnam War (it's sadly one of the most heavily bombed places on earth). Group 1, as the biggest site is called, contains more than 250 jars. This is truly a unique site.
Route 13 by moto
Vientiane to Luang Prabang
Travelling the road from Vientiane to Luang Prabang by motorbike is not for the faint of heart. Potholes, landslides in the wet season, vertical drops with no barriers, narrow roads with endless blind corners and drivers happy to go around those blind corners on the wrong side of the road! Despite all the danger, the vivid green rice fields, stunning valleys and friendly locals along the way make it all worth it.
Many of the villages you pass along the way are found way up in the hillside. So the best way to experience the incredible panoramas and people, is to stop off for a warm beer or Pepsi and wait for the village to come out greet their newest guests.
Pha That Sikhottabong monastery
Laos is showered in stupas and pagodas, but some are apparently more important than others. The golden stupa at the Sikhottabong monastery is one of the important ones. Though not as grand, nor as shiny, as Pha That Luang in Vientiane, it is still worth the small trip from Tha Khaek – if nothing else then to chat up some friendly monks. The classic Lao-style temple, next to the stupa, has a big Buddha inside, along with the usual buddhist knickknacks that always leave us non-Buddhists in wonder and in awe.
Pakse – Tad Phousome – Tad Lo – Sekong – Tad Hua Khon – Paksong – Pakse
The best way to explore the beautiful countryside of southern Laos is with your own set of wheels. Rent a scooter in Pakse and take a road trip around and through the cool and coffee growing heaven of Bolaven plateau and see some of the best waterfalls in the country. There are so many waterfalls along this way with small villages that you will have to pick out the best ones and give the rest a miss. The saved energy can then be used for waving at all the kids along the way. The round trip can even be extended with a return trip to the trader town of Attapeu and even further east passing Pa-am village, heading into the jungle for a crazy attempt to reach the mythical crater lake of Nong Fa (as of 2010 we couldn't find any road all the way to Nong Pa, but it should be possible).
Tad Fan and the Bolaven Plateau
South of Paksong on the Bolaven Plateau
Bolaven is a plateau that rises to more than 1200 m and is home to the much praised and priced Lao coffee. Where the ground is flat, the plateau is covered in coffee plantations and ethnic villages, but elsewhere it is thick jungle that keeps going until it breaks off into the lowland. Highland rivers eventually find their way to the edge and plunge over the vertical drop into some impressive waterfalls. The highest of them all is the Tat Fan waterfall which drops more than 120 m into the jungle below that looks like something from Lost World. If the Thai tourists at the viewing area at the Tad Fane resort (sounds more posh than it actually is) spoil the experience, take the trail down for more adventurous viewpoints or hike some of the trails leading to the waterfall.
Tad Sae Waterfall
A tuk-tuk ride from Luang Prabang
Tad Sae's cascading water is a great day trip from Luang Prabang. It doesn't have any tall waterfalls like Kuang Si Waterfall (also a day trip from Luang Prabang), instead the water pumps magically out of the forest, covering the jungle floor in the wet season with turquoise water that flows from one pool to the next a level below, before merging with Khan river. If elephants are your thing, you can get a ride on the back of one through the jungle and some of the lowest pools. However, if you don't want to share this natural wonderland with the other visitors, just climb a few pools further up and disappear into the jungle.
Up the Mekong River by speed boat
The Golden Triangle
Travelling on the Mekong River can be other than a lazy cruise if going by speed boat. Sitting in the tiny flimsy boat, you doubt it will hold up to the continuously hammering into the ripples on the river surface, but luckily the roaring noise of the oversized engine will blow all common sense out of you. After a while, you will get used to the madness and enjoy the amazing scenery of dense jungle hanging over the river, small fishing villages and shiny pagodas in the distance. It is a wild experience to travel into the heart of the Golden Triangle with Myanmar on one side and Laos on the other.
Vang Vieng use to be the party capital of Laos. A "must do" thing for backpackers, who came here for the infamous tubing, the "happy" vibe and insane all-night-long parties - but that's all history. Today, you can still go tubing down the Nam Song River, but there are no more crazy party platforms along the riverbanks. Instead, the beautiful karst scenery around Vang Vieng is the attraction. The landscape looks like it is taken right out of a Chinese scroll painting with limestone mountains shooting up through a green carpet of jungle and rice paddy fields. There are caves below which can be explored and long stretches of the Nam Song River are perfect for some kayaking.
The party has ended and left a Vang Vieng that is all about the scenery, the very same reason why it became popular in the first place.
Capital of Laos
Lovely Vientiane is tiny and unpretentious, and doesn't feel at all like a capital. It is not many years ago when chickens ran around in the unsealed streets. Today, many of the fine old French colonial mansions have been done up and turned into stylish boutiques or artsy cafes for the increasing numbers of tourists, but Vientiane hasn't lost its innocence (yet). Monks stroll down the boulevards, one of the tallest constructions is still the golden stupa Pha That Luang and the best place for a cold Beer Lao is still the Mekong riverfront. So it is hard not to be spellbound by Vientiane's charm.
Wat Phu Champasak
46 km from Pakse and 10 km from Champasak town
An ancient Khmer temple complex built in Angkor style a bit earlier (11th century) than Angkor Wat in Cambodia (12th century). Bits and pieces were later added, so the similarities in design with its sister temple of Angkor are big, though it does not have any bas-reliefs. Wat Phu is built at the base of a hill, which due to its slight penis shape was considered a representation of Shiva, and therefore holy. Furthermore, a spring drips from the rock ceiling and, since the rock is Shiva's phallus, the water is therefore holy. So Wat Phu is a water temple in honour of Shiva and the only of its kind in the Angkor world. Additional fascinating things can be found on the site, like the crocodile rock and heaps of later added Buddha statues.