Laos is a Southeast Asian country traversed by the Mekong River and known for mountainous terrain, French colonial architecture, hill tribe settlements and Buddhist monasteries. Vientiane, the capital, is the site of the That Luang monument, where a reliquary reportedly houses the Buddha’s breastbone, plus the Patuxai war memorial and Talat Sao (Morning Market), a complex jammed with food, clothes and craft stalls.
The city of Luang Prabang is known for temples like the 16th-century Wat Xieng Thong, once a coronation site for Lao royalty, plus the French-colonial–era Royal Palace Museum. Highlights of Northern Laos include the Pak Ou Caves, filled with miniature Buddha statues, and the Plain of Jars, an archaeological site with more than 4,000 ancient limestone containers. Vang Vieng offers dramatic limestone karsts, backpacker bars and river tubing trips. In Southern Laos, the temple complex of Wat Phou stretches up a mountainside. The Four Thousand Islands are home to endangered Irrawaddy dolphins and the powerful Khone Phapheng waterfalls.