Laos is an amazing travel destination and you’ll never be short of activities to make the most of your free time while there. Many volunteers spend their weekends exploring historical sites and temples in Vientiane as well as taking some trips further afield to see the natural beauty that Laos has to offer. We’ve listed below some of the popular sites that volunteers should try to experience while on the IVHQ Laos program. The IVHQ Laos program is based in the capital city of Vientiane which is also the country’s largest city.
In and around Vientiane
Vientiane is a reasonably small and quiet city compared to most South-East Asian cities, however there is a wealth of culture and history, with plenty to see and do!
Night Markets along the Mekong
Every evening after 6pm this is the place to be in Vientiane! The main road, running parallel to the Mekong River, is closed to traffic for local people, along with tourists, to gather. Take a stroll along the Mekong witnessing the spectacular sundown, shop at the various market stalls and enjoy the many riverside eateries and bars. The markets offer a wide variety of products including souvenirs, clothing and accessories, and local street foods, all in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
Tour some Temples
There are a tremendous amount of beautiful temples scattered throughout Vientiane and you can easily view these as you travel the streets of the city. Phat That Luang is regarded as the most important national monument in Laos and is a national symbol. This monument is surrounded by temples and other Buddhist artifacts that are more than worth a visit. Another must see is Wat Sisaket and the neighboring museum. Wat Sisaket is the oldest temple in Vientiane, famous for its beautiful wall paintings, over 2000 Buddhist images and the reclining, golden Buddha.
Peruse the Parks
Vientiane is host to many spectacular parks which are worth a wander during your time in the city. Buddha Park is a beautiful and unique sculpture park containing over 200 religious statues, influenced by a mixture of Buddhist history and Hinduistic myths. Vientiane Waterfront Park spreading along the Mekong riverside is a great place to relax, or cycle through, and is home to a large statue of King Settathirath. Patuxay Park is one of the most popular spots in town and host to Patuxai, an amazing war monument which is often considered the Laotian version of the ‘Arc de Triomphe’. The view from the top is exceptional and the monument is surrounded by a lovely park, beautiful fountain and boulevards, making this an attraction that shouldn’t be missed when visiting Vientiane.
Many volunteers choose to travel further afield while in Laos to see more of what this wonderful country has to offer. Below we have selected a few of the popular weekend activities for volunteers.
Adventure in Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng is a popular backpacker-town located about three hours from Vientiane, making it very easy for volunteers to visit on the weekend. The town is quiet and relaxed with the area boasting striking limestone mountains, waterfalls, and beautiful Laotian countryside. Volunteers with a sense of adventure will enjoy the many outdoor sports on offer including; mountain biking, kayaking, climbing, caving, trekking, rafting and more! For those after a more laidback weekend, Vang Vieng offers a wide variety of very affordable eateries, local markets and an organic farm which is worth a visit!
Leisure in Luang Prabang
Volunteers can take a long weekend to visit Luang Prabang, the former capital city of Laos and a UNESCO World heritage site. This ancient town, situated along the banks of the Mekong River, has a nice mixture of authentic Buddhist temples and French colonial architecture including historic sites such as Wat Xieng Thong temple and the Haw Kham Royal Palace Museum. For our volunteers who can’t get enough of nature, the area is encircled by beautiful mountains and also home to an array of natural sites including Pak Ou Caves, Tat Sae Waterfalls and Kuang Si Falls. As one of the most popular cities to visit in all of Southeast Asia, this is one for volunteers not to miss!
Cruising the Mekong River
In Laos, the Mekong flows through endless mountains and rain-forests, with occasional villages along the banks and a cruise is a great way for volunteers to take in the incredible beauty of this country! There are several cruises that volunteers can take on different stretches of the Mekong River. The most beautiful and impressive stretch of the river is between Luang Prabang and Huayxai, and can be covered in a two-day cruise, over a long weekend from Vientiane. For volunteers with less time, there are also faster boats available that cover the trip in one day and there are river cruises available on other stretches of the Mekong River, closer to Vientiane.