This region of the country is known as being the richest in terms of wildlife, biodiversity and geographical features.
Regions of Central Laos.
Central Laos consists of provinces of Houaphan, known for its Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area; Vientiane, where the country’s capital Vientiane and popular backpackers town of Vang Vieng are located; Xiangkhoang, world famous for the Plain of Jars; Bolikhamxai, location of the Nakai–Nam Theun National Biodiversity Conservation Area (NBCA); and Khammouane Province, which shares the Nakai-Nam Theun NBCA with its northern bordering province Bolikhamxai, together with Hin Nam No NBCA, and Phou Hin Poun NBCA.
Central Laos is also home to many Important Bird Areas (IBA), and many endemic and rare wildlife species. Other landmarks include many religious edifices and sites, including That Sikhottabong (Sikhottabong Stupa), the Great Wall built of stones, Wat Pha Sokkhamsene Temple, That Thumphavang Stupa, natural sites such as Dong Phu Vieng NPA, Tad Kham Waterfall, Tham Kong Lo, or Kong Lo Cave, the biggest in Laos, and many other.
Exploring Central Laos
National Protected Areas in Central Laos
Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area (NPA)- located in the northeastern part of the country, covering an area of 5,959 km2 . It is one of the largest NPAs in Laos and covers 7 districts and three provinces: Houaphan, Luang Prabang and Xieng Khouang. The NPA is mostly hilly or mountainous and is the source of many rivers. It is named after its two main features, the Nam Et River and Phou Louey Mountain (“Forever Mountain”). The area features a high level of biodiversity, and a number of endangered species including tiger, gaur, Sambar deer, and white-cheeked gibbon.
Dong Phu Vieng NPA- also spelled Don Phou Vieng, this National Protected Area covers an area of 1,970 sq km in Savannakhet Province. The NPA is located in the center of the province, south of Muang Phin, and is home a number of species such as elephants, cattle, tigers, pangolin, Oriental pied hornbill, etc. There are also many villages of the Katang people, where tourists can experience the local way of living first-hand.
Nakai–Nam Theun NBCA- located on the border of Khammouane and Bolikhamxai Provinces, this area is famous for the discovery or rediscovery of rare mammal species. This NBCA is also known for Sai Phou Louang (Annamite) Mountains, which are located within the NBCA.
Hin Nam No NBCA- also located in the Khammouane Province, it covers an area of around 900 sq km. This area has prominent limestone escarpments and many caves, including a 5 km cave along the Xe Bangfai River.
Phoun Hin Boun NBCA- another NBCA located in the NBCA-rich province of Khammouane. Many rivers flow through underground caves. The largest is 7.5 km long and spreads between Konglor and Natan village on the Nam Hinboun and is navigable by boat.
Phou Phanang- this NBCA is located just 13 km north of the country’s capital Vientiane. It contains species such as Gibbon, inornate squirrel, and, of course, elephant.
Other natural sites
Vang Vieng is a popular hotspot for backpackers and adventure tourists. It is situated some 160 km north of Vientiane, and surrounded by karst hills, and other natural sites, such as the famous Elephant Cave, which is a sacred cave for Buddhist in Laos.
Plain of Jars- one of the most famous and mysterious sites in Laos is located to the southeast of Phongsavan city, in Xiangkhoang Province. The stone jars appear in clusters, ranging from a single or a few to several hundred jars at the lower foothills surrounding the central plain and upland valleys. Some jars are as tall as 3.25 m. The jars are thought to be over 2,000 years old, but, no one knows from where they came from.
Old Thakhek Town- Khammouane Province’s capital, Thakhek, sits on the banks of the Mekong River, and early 20th century French colonial construction accounts for much of its architecture. The town's name literally means "guest landing" in Lao, a reference to its earlier role as a boat pier for foreign traders. The center of Old Town can be found around the fountain square near the river, where many old buildings remain.
Kampaeng Yark (The Giant Wall)- it is still not clear whether this 15-km-long giant wall is a natural sandstone formation, or a man-made wall built for defense purposes. The French had constructed a small shrine that contains a statue of the Virgin Mary at this location, some 8 km north of Tahkhek town.
Buddha Cave- also known as the Tham Pa Fa Cave, it is located in Thakaek District near Na Khang Xang Village. More than 200 Buddha statues, ranging in height from 15 cm to over 1 meter, are situated in this cave. It is still not determined who built the statues, or who brought them here, which adds to the cave’s enigma.
Sikhottabong Stupa- the 29-meter-high, golden-tipped stupa, one of Laos’ most sacred sites, stands just 6 km south of town on the banks of the Mekong. It was originally built by the Sikhottabong Empire to keep relics of Lord Buddha around the 6th century. However, the Khmer Empire renovated the stupa in Hindu style.
Wat Pha Sokkhamsene Temple-this ancient temple is located about 1 km from Nongbok District and about 37 kilometers from Thakhek District.
That Luang Stupa (Great Sacred Stupa)- this stupa stands 45 meters tall and is believed to contain a relic of Lord Buddha. The gold colored centerpiece of this stupa echoes the curve of an elongated Lotus bud.
Wat Sisaket Temple- located in the center of Vientiane City, it is the oldest temple in the city. The courtyard walls house hundreds of little niches and shelves containing a total of 6,840 Buddha images.
Wat Phabath and Wat Phonsanh Temples- an important pilgrimage site between Vientiane and Pakxanh, with a huge “footprint” of Lord Buddha, colorful murals and nice view of the Mekong River.
Wat Inghang Temple - built during the reign Sikhottabong of King Sumitatham about 2,000 years ago, it was meant to mark the place where Lord Buddha rested while visiting the Kingdom of Sikhottabong. The temple is located at Ban Thad Village, in Savannakhet Province.
That Phon Stupa- also located in the Savannakhet Province, it was constructed between the years 557 to 700. Many festive rites are held annually and are organized in the first full moon of the lunar calendar to pay respects to Phra Shiva and other Hindu Gods.
Of course, the list of endemic natural and mysterious and grand religious sites in Central Laos does not end here, but these are some of the most accessible and intriguing ones. Some are yet to be explored or explained, some are already world famous, but all of them are worth seeing and experiencing.