Must see attractions in Central Laos

  • Sights in Hin Namno NPA & Around

    Tham Lot Se Bang Fai

    The most impressive, and yet least visited, cave in Khammuan is the amazing Tham Lot Se Bang Fai. Located in Hin Namno NPA, the cave results from the Se Bang Fai river plunging 6.5km through a limestone mountain, leaving an underground trail of immense caverns, impressive rock formations, rapids and waterfalls that have been seen by only a handful of visitors. The cave wasn't professionally mapped until 2006, and the Canadian-American who led the expedition concluded that Tham Lot Se Bang Fai is among the largest river caves in the world. Traversing the entire cave involves eight portages and is only possible during the dry season, from January to March. Local wooden canoes can only go as far as the first portage, about 1km into the cave, making inflatable rafts or kayaks the only practical option for traversing the entire length of the cave. The website is a terrific source of information (and legend) on the cave. The base for visiting the cave is Ban Nong Ping, a mixed Lao Loum/Salang village about 2km downstream from the cave entrance. The village now has electricity, and has built a tourist lodge (80,000K per person), although visits are really only possible outside of the rainy season. To get there, you'll need to make your way along the approximately 40km of very rough road (passable only during the dry season) from Lang Khang to Bualapha, then via an even rougher road to Ban Nong Ping. This is a trip that can only be done with an off-road vehicle; don't even think about attempting it on the city scooter you hired in Tha Khaek. Green Discovery offers two-day (US$375) and three-day (US$454) excursions to the cave for groups of two people. It's also a good idea to check in with the Tourist Information Centre in Tha Khaek.

  • Sights in Dong Phu Vieng NPA & Around

    War Museum & Ho Chi Minh Trail Site

    Twenty kilometres east of Sepon, Ban Dong (Dong Village) was on one of the major thoroughfares of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and was the site of the only Lao–Vietnamese military collaboration during the war. Most of what was previously scattered around the area has been gathered into the gated front lawn of the so-called War Museum (the official name is 'Museum of Lao-Vietnam Legacy of Joined Victory Battle on the Road 9 Area'). These include two American-built tanks used during Operation Lam Son 719, a disastrous Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) assault on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in February 1971. Despite support from US combat aircraft, the ARVN troops retreated across the border at Lao Bao after being routed by seasoned North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops at Ban Dong. To see the tanks, part of a plane, guns and other scrap, as well as photos and displays, the museum is at the eastern edge of Ban Dong and is bordered by a baby-blue-and-pink fence. The dirt road that borders the War Museum was one of the main branches of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and is today one of the most accessible points. Elsewhere you'll need a guide.

  • Sights in Savannakhet

    Dong Natad

    Dong Natad is a sacred, semi-evergreen forest within a provincial protected area 15km east of Savannakhet. It's home to two villages that have been coexisting with the forest for about 400 years, with villagers gathering forest products such as mushrooms, fruit, oils, honey, resins and insects. It's possible to visit Dong Natad by bicycle, motorbike or tuk-tuk from Savannakhet. Marvelaos and Savannakhet's Tourist Information Centre offer various programs, ranging from multi-day homestays to one-day cycling trips. These community-based trips have had plenty of positive feedback and the combination of English-speaking guide and village guide is a great source of information about how the local people live. If you visit, there's a good chance you'll encounter villagers collecting red ants, cicadas or some other critter, depending on the season; all are important parts of their diet and economy. Make arrangements at least a day ahead.

  • Sights in Nakai–Nam Theun National Park & Around

    Nam Theun 2 Visitors Centre

    The Nam Theun 2 Visitors Centre is set in a traditional Luang Prabang–style house, which looks a touch out of place in the middle of nowhere. It has a very well-organised display on village relocations, the construction of the dam and the science behind hydropower, but it's obviously coming from a pro-hydropower point of view and not an environmentalist angle.

  • Sights in Savannakhet

    St Theresa's Catholic Church

    Built in the 1920s, St Theresa's is a Savannakhet landmark and the largest Catholic church in the city.

  • Sights in Savannakhet

    That Ing Hang

    Thought to have been built in the mid-16th century, this well-proportioned, 9m-high thâat is the second-holiest religious edifice in southern Laos after Wat Phu Champasak. It's located about 11.5km northeast of Savannakhet via Rte 9, then 3km east and the turn-off is clearly signposted. Going by bicycle or motorbike is the easiest option. The Buddha is believed to have stopped here when he was sick during his wanderings back in ancient times. He rested by leaning (ing) on a hang tree (thus Ing Hang). A relic of the Buddha's spine is reputed to be kept inside the thâat. Not including the Mon-inspired cubical base, That Ing Hang was substantially rebuilt during the reign of King Setthathirat (1548–71) and now features three terraced bases topped by a traditional Lao stupa and a gold umbrella weighing 40 baht (450g). A hollow chamber in the lower section contains a fairly undistinguished collection of Buddha images; by religious custom, women are not permitted to enter the chamber. The French restored That Ing Hang in 1930. The That Ing Hang Festival is held on the full moon of the first lunar month. Any northbound bus can stop here, or you could haggle with a sakai-làap (jumbo) driver to take you here (you'll do well to knock the price down below 100,000K return).

  • Sights in Phu Hin Bun NPA & Tham Kong Lor

    Khoun Kong Leng

    Nestled amid the limestone karsts of the Phu Hin Bun NPA is Evening Gong Lake. The luminescent green waters spring from a subterranean river that filters through the limestone, making the water crystal clear. Unfortunately, in recent years, development has spoiled some of the natural vibe here. It's about 50km northeast of Tha Khaek. You must ask at the village before swimming in the lake. Once you get approval, only swim in the stream that flows from the lake, near the wooden footbridge, and not in the lake itself. Fishing is banned. To get here from Tha Khaek, head north along Rte 13 and turn right (east) at Km 29 onto a dirt road. After 2km, turn right (south) again, and bump up over hills and through villages for 16km until you reach Ban Na Kheu. It's another 1km to the lake.

  • Sights in Dong Phu Vieng NPA & Around

    Sepon Kao

    On the banks of the Se Pon, Sepon Kao was bombed almost into the Stone Age during the war. Although a handful of villagers have since moved back, they live among a few rapidly disappearing reminders of the war, including a pile of bricks surrounding a safe, which was once the town's bank. If you're on foot or bike, head east from Sepon and turn right just after Km 199; the sign says 'Ban Meuang Sepolkao'.

  • Sights in Savannakhet

    Wat Rattanalangsi

    Wat Rattanalangsi was built in 1951 and houses a monks' primary school. The sĭm (ordination hall) is unique in that it has glass windows (most windows in Lao temples are unglazed). Other structures include a rather gaudy Brahma shrine, a modern săhláh lóng tám (sermon hall) and a shelter containing a 15m reclining Buddha backed by Jataka (stories of the Buddha's past lives) paintings.

  • Sights in Savannakhet

    Musée Des Dinosaures

    A major dig in the 1930s near a village 145km east of the city unearthed 110-million-year-old dinosaur fossils. The underwhelming Dinosaur Museum is the place to learn about this history. Savannakhet Province is home to more than a dozen dinosaur sites with bones from six distinct species.

  • Sights in Savannakhet

    Savannakhet Museum

    The rather dusty Savannakhet Museum houses old photos, war relics, artillery pieces and inactive examples of the deadly unexploded ordnance (UXO) that has claimed the lives of more than 20,000 Lao since the end of the Secret War.

  • Sights in Savannakhet

    Wat Sainyaphum

    One of the oldest and largest monasteries in southern Laos and an important centre of local Buddhism. The sprawling grounds include some centuries-old trees.