Laos is a charming little country in Southeast Asia. It is situated on the geo-strategic axis of the Lower Mekong River, with a surface area of 236,800 square kilometers. Much of the country is covered by mountains and rivers, which gives its stunning natural landscapes. Theravada Buddhist is the major religion in this country. With just over five million inhabitants, Laos is one of the least populated countries in the region.
Agriculture is the main occupation of the people. They rely on the rich fertile soil along the 1,865 kilometers segment of the Mekong River that flows through Laos. The Mekong is therefore the country’s main thoroughfare.
When one sees the warm, welcoming smile of the people in Laos today, it is hard to believe that they have been through such difficult times. The visitors to Laos today will experience the richness of the Theravada Buddhist culture, the long history of the country, the life style of several different interesting ethnic minorities, breathtakingly beautiful nature and especially absence of 21st century opulence.
Vientiane is the capital of Laos. Among its major attractions are religious monuments such as the golden That Luang, built in the third century A.D It is said to contain the relic of the Buddha and is considered to be the most sacred Buddhist monument of the country. Wat Sisaket is a traditional Laotian monastery built in 1818 during the reign of King Anou, making it the oldest monastery in Vietiane. It is one of the most important buildings in the city, having survived the Thai invasion in the early 19th century. Other interesting sites in Vientiane include the Buddha Park, the Cultural Center, Friendship Bridge, weaving village, Wat Pakeo, Victory Gate and the Talat Sao (Morning Market).
Luang Prabang was the capital of Lane Xang, the first Laos kingdom during the reign of Far Ngum. Situated at the confluence of the Mekong and the Nam Khan Rivers, Luang Prabang is a charming little town, known for its rich cultural heritage, relaxing atmosphere, stunning scenery of the valley and friendly people. Wat Xieng Thong is one of the finest pagodas in Luang Prabang. Built in 1559 by King Setthathirat, it represents the most typical example of the Luang Prabang style. The National Museum (former Royal Palace) contains a collection of 15th to 17th century Buddhist statues including the famous Golden Buddha and the a rare Khmer bronze drum. This small wooden palace was built in the early 20th century by the French in Khmer Style. Phousi Hill, a hill-top temple, provides a panoramic view of Luang Prabang. Other interesting sites around Luang Prabang include: Pak Ou Cave, Ban Sanghai Village, Ban Phanom and the Kuangsi Waterfalls.
Major attractions of this province are the mysterious plain of jars and the devil bombing zone that gained its reputation during Indochina war. Thousands of jar-shaped stones, some large others small, found in this field are believed to e at least 2000 years old. Many studies have been done but no clear explanation for what these jars were used is yet to be found.
PAKSE – CHAMPASSAK
A province to the south where Wat Phu, a temple built in Khmer Architecture is found. Wat Phu is believed to be at least four centuries older than the Angkor Wat of Cambodia. Located at the confluence of the Mekong and the Xe Don Rivers, Pakse is a charming old colonial town. It was the former French administrative center for the South. Other attractions in this province are Si Phan Don (the Four Thousand Islands), Li Phi Waterfalls praised to be one of the most beautiful in Asia, Khong Island where the rare fresh water dolphins can be seen, and the Phabeng waterfalls which is probably the wildest waterfalls in the world.
MUANG SING – LUANG NAMTHA – OUDOM XAI
These provinces are in the northern parts of Laos bordering on China and Myanmar. Travel on the main road to these places as well as on the local roads in the provinces can be quite testing. However, the intrepid tourist can be rewarded with some exciting experiences indeed. Up hill and down valleys, cutting through the dense foliage of trees are not experience one can have just about anywhere. Taking in the fascinating panorama from each summit and making acquaintance with the many different ethnic hill tribes busy with their daily bartering offer a unique opportunity to peek into a totally different culture and civilization altogether.
This is located not too far from Pakse at the height of 1000 meters above sea level. The plateau is known for its rich fertile farmland and is now covered by coffee and cardamom plantations. its upland position provides cool breeze, an excellent place escape from the heat of the lowland. Today the plateau is inhabited by a colorful mix of ethnic groups. Tat Lo a popular resort, well worth a visit is also located on Boloven Plateau
This is situated to the Northwestern part of the country in the Golden Triangle area sharing borders with Thailand and Myanmar. The town is an important trade area and for transportation. It is also famous for precious gem stones and sapphire, rubies and gold mining.
The remoteness and simple lifestyle of hill tribe people are a highlight of Hong Sa although conditions are very basic. Today we take an elephant ride through the primeval jungle to the Lu hill tribe village where we have a chance to visit local homes and enjoy a traditional performance
Situated 160 kilometers north of Vientiane, the driver to Vang Vieng follows the valley of the Nam Ngum north to Phonghong and then climbs steeply onto plateau where Vang Vieng is located. The area around Vang Vieng is particularly picturesque, with its craggy karst limestone scenery, riddled with caves, crystal-clear pools and waterfalls. The area is inhabited by Hmong and Yao Hill tribes, and there are a number of 16th and 17th Century monasteries in town such as Wat That. Vang Vieng is becoming an attractive town, additional it is a town where visitors can stop on their way to Luang Prabang.
Visitors to Laos can obtain a 15 days tourist visa from the Lao Embassy or consulate office abroad and upon arrival at the Vientiane Wattay Airport, Luang Prabang Airport, Pakse Airport and at the following international border check points:
China-Laos : Yunan-Luang Namtha via Boten
Vietnam-Laos : Vinh-Lak Xao, via Nam Phao
kuangchi-Dansavanh at Lao Bao Nge An to Xiegkhouang at Nam Kane.
Thailand-Laos : Chiangkhong(Thailand) -Bokeo province at Houeisay Nong Khai-Vientiane at Friendship Bridge Nakhonphanom-Thakhek
Ubon Ratchathani-Champassak via Chongmek & Vang Tao
A valid passport must be presented along with payment of US$ 30 fee (in USD cash only) and 2 passport size color photos. Visitors who wish to cross Cambodia-Laos border (Steung Treng – Vernkham), will need to have visa ready prior to arrival at the border.
Lao currency is the Kip. The exchange rate as of May 2006 was approximately 10,000 Kip to one US dollar. Thai Baht and US dollars are widely accepted, especially for the purchase of more expensive goods. Credit card such as VISA., American Express and Master card are accepted in major hotels and more up-market establishments only. Traveler’s checks are only accepted by major banks, which charge a commission of 3% per check.
Laos has a hot humid tropical climate. Hot season: March and April, with the temperature often exceeding 35°C. Rainy season: May to September, with the temperature around 30°C. Cool season: October to February, with the temperature varying from 10°C to 20°C. The northern region of Laos is mostly mountainous, where the temperature at night can drop as low as the freezing point. It is advisable to bring a jacket along if visiting Xiang Khuang, Luang Prabang, Sam Neua, Phonsaly, Udomxai, Luang Namtha and Houei Xay during these months. The cool season is recommended as the best time to visit Laos.
Direct flights to Vientiane are available from Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Ho Chi Minh City, Kunming, Chiang Mai, and Hanoi. Airlines currently operating to and from Vientiane are: Lao Airlines, Vietnam Airlines and Thai Airways International. Bangkok Airways operates direct flight daily between Luang Prabang and Bangkok and PB Air one flight per week. Thai Airways operates 3 flights per week from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang. There is also direct flights between Pakse and Siem Reap operated by Lao Airlines.
Postal service in Laos is generally reliable and inexpensive, but there is no guarantee of speedy delivery to destination. Most hotels in the main cities have an IDD line but calls are expensive. Internet service is available only in major cities, such as Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Pakse.
The departure tax for international flight is US $10, payable in that currency. The departure tax for domestic flights is 5,000 K
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