VIENTIANE AND SURROUNDINGS
Vientiane, the capital city of Laos is a riverside city set on northern bank of the Mekong River. For many years sleepy backwater capital of an equally backwater state, Vientiane is changing and developing fast. Home to a vibrant wealth of hotels, bars and restaurants, Vientiane still retains its sleepy tree-lined dirt roads and somnolent temples – and people – and while it lacks the overwhelming charm of Luang Prabang, Vientiane still has enough sights and attractions to garner interest for a day or two.
The north of Vientiane lies Vang Vieng – packed with tourists and stoned travellers pigging out of banana pancakes and magic pizzas while watching Friends episodes back to back – indeed a disheartening place to visit for those who saw it before all these changes hit. There’s not a less Lao town in Laos than Vang Vieng . There is more to the region though than Vientiane and Vang Vieng – Nam Ngum dam, Lao Pako and the sculpture garden to name but three – look around a bit and chances are you’ll find somewhere interesting.
THE NORTH OF LAOS
Bisected by the Mekong River, the lofty mountains and sheer riverine valleys of the north attract the bulk of backpackers and travellers who make it to Laos. With the centre dispersed, the roads rough and the rivers slow, with a couple of exceptions this part of Laos is never all that crowded , this is a relaxed, low key part of Asia which is well worth exploring. Despite the increasing volume of tourists, the former royal capital of Luang Prabang , one of the most romantic cities in all of Asia , remains the highlight of a visit to Laos. Further afield, trekking centres are developing in Phongsali and Luang Nam Tha, while closer to Luang Prabang, Muang Ngoi and Nong Kiaow have developed into backpacker favourites. In the far northeast, beyond the Plain of Jars and Phonsavan lies the Pathet Lao homeland of Sam Neau which is slowly becoming a destination for the more intrepid traveller.
The provinces in northern Laos are Luang Prabang , Phongsaly , Luang Nam Tha , Bokeo , Hua Phan , Xieng Khuang and Udomxai
THE SOUTH OF LAOS
The south of Laos can be a rewarding part of the country to explore, with some great obscure sites along with a package of traveller favourites. Although most tend to dash straight down to the far southern backpacker favouite at Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands), there’s a lot in between that is well worth exploring. Tha Khaek offers plentiful options for exploration from funky caves and colonial swimming holes to aging French buildings and the seductive Mekong riverbank. From Savannakhet you can head into the hinterland to explore some of the parks — don’t make the mistake of thinking you can only go trekking in northern Laos. Further south still, Pakse is the gateway to both the Boloven Plateau and the sublime Four Thousand Islands. The interior behind the Boloven covering the provinces of Salavan, Sekong and Attapeu , is a highlight for those who want to rough it and get well and truly off the beaten track.
The provinces in southern Laos are Champasak , Attapeu , Khammuan , Bolikhamsai , Savannakhet , Salavan and Sekong