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Vientiane is Southeast Asia’s smallest capital city with a population of just over half a million inhabitants. Located along a bend of the Mekong River, the city exudes a laidback atmosphere and old world charm with its mix of Chinese shop houses and French colonial architecture. The tree-lined boulevards and low traffic density makes the city an ideal place for walking and exploring ancient temples and pagodas including Wat Ho Phakeo, a former royal temple, and Wat Sisaket, one of the capital's oldest temples which houses hundreds of small Buddha images. Apart from sight seeing, there are also excellent shopping for silver jewelry and hand-woven textiles which can be found at the Morning Market and a number of boutique shops. A visit to Vientiane is not complete without a relaxing sundowner at one of the many riverside bars along the Mekong River to enjoy a spectacular sunset view.
Getting here: Vientiane’s Wattay International Airport is the gateway to most domestic destinations. There are daily flights to/from Luang Prabang.
Formerly a pit stop between Vientiane and Luang Prabang, now Vang Vieng has become a destination for those keen to enjoy adventure activities such as kayaking, caving and rock climbing. The main attraction is the spectacular landscape and towering limestone rock formations riddled with caves, although the town is popular with backpackers for its river tubing and social cafes and bars.
Getting here: From Vientiane it is a 2½ - 3 hours drive and Luang Prabang 6-7 hours drive.
Luang Prabang, once the royal seat of the Lan Xang Kingdom or “land of a thousand elephants”, is a sleepy town nestled in a mountain valley at the confluence of the Mekong and Khan Rivers. Considered as the center of Lao culture, the city offers a fascinating glimpse into the Buddhist religious practice and traditional lifestyle of the various hill-tribe groups in this northern region. The town is endowed with a picturesque landscape of palm lined riverbanks, ornate golden temples, and ancient monuments amongst the backdrop of the towering Mt. Phousi. It is no wonder that UNESCO declared Luang Prabang as a World Heritage Site in 1995 describing it as an "outstanding example of the fusion of traditional architecture and Lao urban structures with those built by the European colonial authorities in the 19th and 20th centuries."
The town center has an outstanding range of restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops. With a population of 16,000 inhabitants, the town is relatively quiet with little activity and a non-existent nightlife. Due to the increasing popularity of Luang Prabang, the town can be inundated with tourists, especially during peak travel season. Nearby attractions include Pak Ou Caves which houses thousands of Buddha images, Kuangsi Waterfall and several cotton-silk weaving villages.
Getting here: There are direct international flights from Bangkok, Hanoi, Chiang Mai, Siem Reap, Kunming. There are daily domestic flights (40 minutes) from Vientiane. By road, it is a 9 - 10 hour drive from Vientiane and 6-7 hours from Vang Vieng.
The small dusty town of Phonsavan is the capital of Xieng Khuang province and gateway to the Plain of Jars. This region was one of the most heavily bombed in Laos and today is still littered with half a million tones of unexploded ordinance (UXO) and the evidence is everywhere. Bomb casings and other war remnants are used for every purpose imaginable such as fences, tools, and house decoration. Infrastructure in the town is still basic and accommodation consists of guesthouses and simple hotels.
The main attraction to this region is the Plain of Jars. The gigantic stone jars are to Laos as Stonehenge is to England – an enigma. While there are many theories, nobody really knows why hundreds of huge stone jars are scattered across several sites on a barren Laotian plain. They are between 2500 and 3000 years old, and again no one knows why they were built. Carved from solid rock, most of these containers weigh from 600kg to one tonne a piece; the largest weighs six tonnes. The jars are set amongst beautiful scenery of rolling hills which are covered with green grass and a smattering of pine trees during the wet season.
Getting here: There are flights from Vientiane on Lao Airlines. The flight takes 30 minutes.
Situated in southern Laos, near the Thai border, Pakse is the capital of Champasak province. The town itself features Franco-Chinese style architecture and a colorful market stocked with fresh produce grown in the nearby Bolaven Plateau, a highland region inhabited by a number of ethnic minority groups. The main attraction in Pakse is the Khmer archeological ruin of Wat Phu Champasak which was built by the founder of the first Khmer empire, Jayavarman II. It is much smaller than Angkor but still a rival to that ancient empire. Visitors to the complex should take note that some temples have very steep steps, as many as 70 steps, which can be difficult to climb. Although the tourism infrastructure is less developed than the popular north, the government has made efforts into promoting the region as an ecological friendly destination and improving the reliability of services. Other attractions in the Champasak region include the 4,000 islands of Si Phan Don near the Cambodian border; elephant trekking in Ban Khiet Ngong; Southeast Asia's highest waterfall, Khong Phapeng; and insight into authentic, traditional Laotian life on the islands of Don Kho near Pakse and Don Deng near Champasak Town.
Getting here:There are daily flights to Pakse from Vientiane (1hr 15mins) and 3 flights a week from Luang Prabang (1hr 50mins) on Lao Airlines.