Places to Visit in Laos and Cambodia
Lying on the Indochinese Peninsula, in Mainland Southeast Asia, Cambodia and Laos are fast becoming two of the most popular destinations in Indochina. Ancient lands filled with history and tradition, these predominantly Buddhist countries contain the remnants of one of Asia’s greatest empires. Once covering what is now Cambodia and Laos, as well as parts of Vietnam and Thailand, the center of the Khmer Empire was what is now known as the Angkor Temple Complex, a massive city of Hindu temples and palaces that covers a large part of what is now northern Cambodia. Built over a thousand years ago, these stunning examples of ancient architecture have stood the test of time.
All across Laos and Cambodia, ancient temples can be found, making it one of the richest historical areas in the world. But these two countries are more than just their temples, many of which lie in ruins now. There are many other sights to see and places to visit in Cambodia and Laos that will leave you awe-struck and amazed.
Traveling to Cambodia and Laos together requires some careful planning, so that you can make the most of both of these beautiful countries in the time you have available. Some of the best places to visit in the countries are the less popular with many of the foreign tourists, which makes them great places to include in your itinerary, since they will be less crowded than the big attractions at the height of the tourist season.
Top Places to Visit in Laos
Shaped a little like a bending palm tree, Laos is a country that is often missed out on by travelers to the peninsula, preferring to visit its neighbors, Vietnam and Cambodia. This small, landlocked nation was caught in two massive wars in Indochina, and has been long isolated from the world, until recently. An old-fashioned country, full of charm and beauty, the laid back people are friendly and the countryside is rich with history, and retains much of the French colonial influence. The lifeline of Laos, the Mekong River, flows the entire length of the country, while the rugged mountains of the Annamite Range run along the border with Vietnam, creating a buffer between the two countries. Laos is not a place to miss, and from the forest-encrusted northern mountains to the southern border with Cambodia, Laos has enough amazing sights to keep you going for months, perhaps even years.
Vientiane is one of the quietest and most peaceful of all the Asian capitals, and is more reminiscent of a huddle of villages hugging the bend of the mighty Mekong River. Vientiane has only been a free city for just over 20 years, and in that time the squalor and economic stupor the city faced has transformed many of the old French buildings into pizza restaurants and mini-marts, with thriving malls and excellent boutique hotels. Yet with all this fast modernization to cater to its burgeoning tourist industry, Vientiane remains a quiet and peaceful place, full of hospitality and tradition.
One of the best places to visit in Vientiane is the city’s oldest surviving temple, Wat Sisaket, and Wat Simuang, the biggest of all the temples in Laos. That Luang, the temple whose golden surface glows like an amber light with the setting sun, is one of the most astounding sights in the city, but Vientiane is much more than just its temples. The former royal temple of Haw Pha Kaew now houses the Lao National Museum, where you can discover more of the Laotian history, while the famous Buddha Park, with more than 200 religious statues, is a beautiful place for an afternoon stroll.
A little to the north of the city lies the Ang Nam Ngum reservoir, which offers some of the country’s most spectacular hiking trails , as well as relaxing weekend breaks, and regular trips to the half-sunken islands that now lie in the lake behind the dam. Vang Vieng, which can be reached in a day trip from Vientiane, is one of Asia’s biggest backpacker hotspots, and the birthplace of “tubing”. Set amidst the stunning scenery of the northern mountains, this natural wonderland is the perfect place for adventurous activities, and kayaking, hiking, caving, and climbing are all included here. It is also the perfect stop-off point on the way to another of the best places to see in Laos, Luang Prabang.
Lying at the confluence of the Mekong River and the Khan River, Luang Prabang has seen a rise in investment in the last 20 years, turning this once ruined town into one of the most fabulous places to stay in the country. Offering a combination of spiritual nourishment with first-class comfort, at an affordable price, the town is protected by UNESCO, and contains 33 gilded temples, refurbished French colonial villas, and a restaurant scene that takes Gallic cuisine to a new and exciting level. Aside from the beauty of the modern town, the surrounding area has its own natural beauty, with stunning waterfalls, trekking and mountain biking trails, with kayaking and river cruises all set amidst the ring of lush green mountains.
The provincial capital of Champasok in central southern Laos, Pakse lies at the convergence of the Mekong and Don Rivers, and it is not a place where many people tend to visit. For many people, it is merely the launch-pad for their travel into southern Laos. However, there is more to the town than just being the gateway to southern Laos. Nearby are the stunning attractions of Wat Phu Champasak and the Bolaven Plateau, as well as several national parks that focus on the unique bio-diversity of the southern areas of Laos. The town also plays host to one of the most beautiful Chinese Temples in Laos, and houses the Champasok Historical Heritage Museum, a place really worth visiting for the wealth of treasures it holds, including the ancient Dong Son brass drums that were dug up on the Bolaven Plateau that date back to the 15th century and a sandstone Buddha head in a Siamese style that is from the 7th century.
Places to Do in Cambodia
This apple-shaped country has seen some of the world’s worst horrors of the last century, but has come through them and is now a major tourist destination in Asia. Officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia, it was also once known in the west as Kampuchea, from the local name for the country, Preah Reachanachâk Kampuchea. This magical kingdom was the heart of the Khmer Empire, which ruled across almost the whole Indochinese Peninsula for more than 600 years.
Cambodia is a place where worlds collide, and where ancient and modern sit side-by-side to create your most awesome adventure yet. An empire built on temples is not all there is to Cambodia, however, and while Angkor is a must-see place for any traveler to the kingdom, it is not the whole of the country.
Inside the huge temple complex of Angkor, Angkor Wat is the most stunning of all the temples that can be found in this huge UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is a grand temple building with incredible details. The temple represents the earthly representation of Mt. Meru in Hindu mythology, the ancient home of the Hindu gods. It is widely believed to be the largest religious structure in the world, and is the heart and soul of Cambodia, even appearing on its modern flag. Unlike many of the other temples in the Angkor complex, Angkor Wat was in continuous use, and was never abandoned to the elements as the others were, leaving it the only complete temple in the site.
Well known for being the gateway city to Angkor Temple Complex, there is more to the city than many people think, and it has its own unique charm. Once you are done with the temples, Siem Reap will show you the true French-inspired chic of Cambodia. With everything from a wide range of local and international cuisines and top class wining and dining to the relaxing and spiritual spas and local shopping centers, Siem Reap is the modern city that caters to all tastes, and is the home of the country’s top contemporary circus. A cultural center of northern Cambodia, Siem Reap is filled with sights and wonders that will leave you awestruck.
No visitor to Cambodia can miss out on seeing the modern capital of this beautiful country, Phnom Penh. Located on the banks of the Mekong River, the capital is an amazing assault on the senses, with fast-paced traffic and fast-paced lives. Once known as the “Pearl of Asia”, Phnom Penh was almost completely ruined by war, but has risen from the ashes like a phoenix, to take its place once again in the world as one of the major capitals of Asia. Complete with a world-class restaurant scene, a delightfully Gallic café culture, and hundreds of busy bars and clubs, the city is now one of the hip destinations in Asia, while still being the center of commerce and culture in Cambodia.
Out to the west of the country, sitting pretty on the coast of the Andaman Sea, lies Sihanoukville, named after the previous king of the country before ceding power to the government and his son. Dominated mainly by casinos and bars, the city has become one of the commercial centers for tourism, and is often missed by many travelers. But look a little way outside the city itself and you come to the stunning white-sand beaches and awesome tropical island paradises that are every sun-lover’s dream destination. It is also an amazing place to rest during the day after a night of heavy partying for the backpackers who flock to Sihanoukville for the anything-goes nightlife. More than 20 kilometers of beaches lie at your disposal, with everything from fancy boutique resorts to palm-thatched huts sitting on the beach itself.
Most Popular Cambodia and Laos Tour Packages
16 Days Off-the-beaten-path Laos and Cambodia Tour
Vientiane - Sam Neua - Xieng Khuang - Luang Prabang - Siem Reap
This 16-day Off-the-beaten-path Laos and Cambodia tour will bring you to explore the famous cities in SEA one by one, includi ...