Pakse is synonymous with Wat Phou like Siem Reap is to Angkor Wat. Wat Phou was built by the founder of the first Khmer empire, Jayavarman II. It is much smaller than Angkor but still a rival to that ancient empire. It is the capital of Champasak Province and an unspoiled place for the travellers. Southeast Asia's highest waterfall, Khong Phapeng, and many interesting islands on the Mekong River can be found near Pakse.
The Wat Phou Park predates Angkor by 30 years but the two centres co-existed for much of their dominant periods. The oldest structures in this pre- and intra-Angkorian site date from the 6th century. Some of the buildings are still intact. Located on a hill with beautiful flowering trees, it is quite picturesque. There is a great view from the top. Look for the crocodile and elephant stone at the top and for the holy spring. The associated museum has a number of artifacts and some English explanations of the various figures you will see.
Champasak was once, 1400 years ago, the centre of power in the lower Mekong basin. It later became a revered outpost of the Khmer Angkor Empire and, later still, one of the three kingdoms to rule over the remains of Lane Xang. The magnificent Angkorian temple complex was recently made a UNESCO heritage site and is considered one of the finest Angkor-inspired edifices outside of Cambodia.
Vang Vieng is a small idyllic town en route from Vientiane to Luang Prabang; it is popular with backpackers for an activity called tubing. Tourists sit themselves down in giant rubber tyres and float down the Nam Song River, making stops along the way at little riverside makeshift bars for some cheap Beerlao, making visits to several large complexes of caves to explore, and jumping off swings and cliffs.
Savannakhet is located in the south of the country and Southern Laos is the most Laotian region of the country. It is the country's most popular province for communication and commerce. Some of the main tourist attractions are the That Inghang temple, the ruins of Khmer, Heuan Hinh, Wat Xayaphoum, and the Dinosaur museum. There are also a number of buildings in the central business district that remind the visitor of Laos’s old French colonial heritage. Besides that, you can witness some Chinese influence. Furthermore, the knowledgeable spectator might notice the Vietnamese influence. A Mahayana Buddhist temple is the most obvious proof of that. The city is actually located opposite the small Thai town of Mukdahan. If you want to enter Thailand you have to cross the river and a ferry brings you to the Thai side. No special permission is necessary.
Phonesavanh is located in the North of Laos and is home to one of the last mysteries of Asia; the intriguing Plain of Jars. Despite many theories and speculation by archaeologists, there is no accepted explanation for the hundreds of giant stone jars, some as large as 3.25 m (33.6 ft) high lying scattered over the plateau. Some of the jars were destroyed by the secret American bombings of Laos. A visit to this area is enhanced by visits to the local ethnic minority villages of the Hmong. The hot springs at Meuang Kham district are worth visiting, and Tham Piu cave is a sobering historical site, used as a bomb shelter by the villages during the Vietnam War.
Houeixay is in the Northwest corner of Laos on the border with Thailand and only kilometres from Myanmar. The Thai/Chinese influence is evident in the local architecture and culture. This area of Laos is not widely travelled by tourists because of the connection with the Golden Triangle. Those who venture to the area will be impressed with the natural beauty and the friendliness of the locals. While many new guest houses and restaurants are available, most people stop here to catch a boat on the Mekong River South to Luang Prabang.
Luang Namtha is the Northeastern most remote province of Laos and an upcoming tourism destination. It shares a border in the north with China and to the west with Thailand. It's still very much a backpacker’s paradise, and can be reached by road via Luang Prabhang-Oudomxai, or by air from Vientiane or Luang Prabang. The province has some 25 ethnic tribes, most of whom depend on agriculture. The Nam Ha Biodiversity Conservation Area is pristine, and an adventurer's wonderland.
Muang Sing is just 90 minutes Northwest of Luang Namtha. Located in a valley, the Chinese border is only 10 km north although only locals can cross here. Once at the heart of opium trade in the Golden Triangle, now local handicrafts can be purchased in the new market. Muang Sing still has several temples to see and from here you can make arrangements to travel to and stay in tribal villages. There are two banks, a tourist center and a rather nice museum with tribal costumes and artifacts on display. There are also many new guest houses and many good restaurants.