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Laos map - provinces
Provinces

  1. Phongsali
  2. Luang Namtha
  3. Bokeo
  4. Oudomxai
  5. Luang Prabang
  6. Huaphan
  7. Xayabouri
  8. Xieng Khouang
  9. Vientiane province
  10. Vientiane prefecture
  11. Saysomboune
  12. Borikhamsay
  13. Khammouane
  14. Savannakhet
  15. Saravan
  16. Sekong
  17. Champasak
  18. Attapeu
M = Mekong river

Phongsali
The northernmost province of Laos is the home to many minority ethnic hilltribe people, their cultures and villages amids rolling hills after hills of natural scenery. The province borders with China and Vietnam in the north, east and west. It is the most inaccesible place in Laos. Maybe because of this it still retains many of their unique cultures untouched by the damaging effects of tourism and other business and non-business operations.

It is estimated that there are 22 groups of ethnic minorities, among them Hmong, Iko , Phunoi, Kheu, Lolo, Hanyi, Yao, Thai Khao, Thai Lu, Phuan, Phai, Khamu, and Mien to name a few. The Ethnic Museum in Phongsali city center is a place where visitors can see traditional costumes and lifestyles of the locals.

The hilly region with many river streams is in cool weather all the year round. Phu Den Din National Biodiversity Conservation Area (NBCA) covers more than 1300 square km in the north-eastern part of the province along the Lao-Vietnamese border. This area is hilly with highest elevation of around 1934 meters; and is home to many threatened endangered wildlife.

Nowadays construction of roads and facilities have started eating into this largely forested region. In the future the travel to this beautiful place will be much easier than present. It is the responsibility of the tour operators, travel agents, tourists, local people, as well as policy makers to carefully create a sustainable limited tourism. Good education must also be made available to the local people.

Luang Namtha
Luang Namtha is the home of variety of ethnic minorities and textiles, which borders with Myanmar on the west across the Mekong river, and with China on the north. The mountainous, pleasently cool year round, and scenic province is a good place for eco-tourism as well as to get to know the locals. Many groups of people including Hmong, Yao, Iko, Thaidaeng, Tai Lu live in the province and beyond. Each group has their own style of dress and ways of living.

The conditions of the roads most of them are laid along the mountains are not so good. Many of them are passable only in the dry season between November to June. The Mekong on the border and other rivers offer alternative mode of transport in which you can travel slow-motion and interact with the local people. The rivers in the hilly regions (mostly in the north) have many rapids to pass though. Between Luang Namtha town and Houixai (capital town of Bokeo province) the journey on the Nam Tha river in a slow boat would take two days and a night stop at a village, either upstream or downstream.

The highway no. 3 connecting Houixai (across Thailand's Chiang Khong over Mekong river) and Luang Namtha can be used in the dry season, and is suitable for rough trucks in the wet season. Luang Namtha to Muangxai (Udomxai province) road (highway 1) is in similar conditions.

Nam Ha NBCA is located in the north where the head waters of Nam Tha river are, close to the China border. The area consists of rugged hills, fast flowing streams and healthy forest. Thus it is believed that there could be at least some sizeable numbers of wildlife.

The border crossing with China is at Botene check point. On the China side is Mihan of Yunnan province.

Bokeo
Located at the three border intersection of Laos, Thailand and Myanmar, Bokeo is a part of golden triangle famous for its former drugs activities by the international powers as well as local followers fighting for their ideas, belief, economy and power expension. It is hilly in the north which slope down to the Mekong valley in the west and south.

Several groups of people live in the province. One of the popular business is gold panning and digging for precious stones along the rivers. Vegetables farming, cattles raising, trading goods with Thailand, Myanmar and China, as well as some tourism activities are among popular economies for the locals.

Houixai is the provincial capital town. On the opposite of the Mekong river is Thailand's Chiang Khong. The town is where people can cross the river to and from Thailand. It is also a landing-point for merchant boats and passenger boats. From here ones can find boat down the river to Luang Prabang via an overnight stop at Pak Beng. It is also possible to go upstreams along Nam Tha river (which meets the Mekong at Paktha village - an hour boat from Houixai) to Luang Namtha, though there are no regular boats.

Oudomxai
The ruggedly hilly province is sandwished between Phongsali on the north, Luang Prabang on the east, Luang Namtha and Bokeo on the west, and Xayabouri on the south. It also has a short border with China's Yunnan province in the north. As in the other mountainous provinces there are many groups of people living there namely Hmong, Akha, Thai dam Thai khao, Thai Neua, Khamu, Lao Huay, and many others.

Muang Xai, the capital of the province in the northern section, is the junction of the highways connecting the Lao northern provinces: Phongsali, Luang Namtha, Bokeo and Luang Prabang. Better roads are on the northern part of the province, while in the southern part people depend more on the river travel. The lower part of Nam Tha river is in Oudomxai province, where travellers can take boat from Paktha village (where Nam Tha drains into Mekong river) upstream to Luang Namtha taking two days and a night in a village house normally prepared by the boat-man.

Pak Beng on the Mekong river is a famous stop-over place for tourists traveling in slow boats between Luang Prabang and Houixai (border with Thailand's Chiang Khong over the river). It also offers eco- tours to the nearby tribal villages. There are several accommodations available there. The road from Pak Beng to Muang Xai is good in the dry season, and can be passable by tough vehicles in the wet months.

Luang Prabang
The provincial capital Luang Prabang is the former royal capital and religious center of Laos. It is situated 344 km north of Vientiane via highway 13, it is surrounded by scenic hills the homes of many tribes. The far north of the province is bordering with Vietnam.

In 1995, the city was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Today, Luang Prabang is one of the most visited destinations in the country. Wat Xiengthong built in the 16th century, Mt. Phousi temple, the old town with buildings and houses in traditional architecture at the confluence of the Mekong and Khan rivers, former royal King's palace are highlights of the town. 24 km upstream along the Mekong there is Pak Ou cave housing thousands of Buddha images inside; and the famous Khoung Si waterfall is located 27 km south of the town.

The old town can be explored on foot or by cycling. Early risers can witness the scene of hundreds of monks lining the streets to receive the offerings from the local people. Lao new year festival in the middle of April is a most celebrated ones in Luang Prabang.

Outside of the town there are many opportunities for the eco-tourists to explore the countryside in the mountains. Local guides and operators can arrange trekking and village home stay trips lasting from a day return to several days. The river travel on the Mekong, Saung Ou river which originates in Phongsali province, can be done using appropriate river vehicles. Saung Ou in the upper north is consists of many rapids.

Luang Prabang is connected to other provincial capitals by highways and domestic flights. International flights from Chiang Mai of Thailand, etc. are available. Please check with the airlines. Accommodations of many types and prices are available.

Hua Phan
The north-eastern province is bordering with Vietnam to the north and east, Luang Prabang to the west, and Xieng Khouang to the south. The mountainous region is home to many ethnic groups such as Hmong, Phu Noi, Khamu, Yunanese, Thai Nuea, Vietnamese, etc.

Nam Xam NBCA is located at the north-eastern corner of the province bordering Vietnam. The topography is limestone mountains, caves, headwaters of many rivers. Good amount of healthy forest and wildlife still exist in the province.

It is also the starting place of Lao Pathet (revolution) movement. Some of the caves used in the revolution, located near Vieng Xai town, are open to public. The hot springs in the north of Sam Neua town are among tourist spots. The textiles made by the tribal groups are famous for their design and materials.

The roads are mostly unpaved dirt tracks, thus good for dry season and very difficult in the wet months. Most of the few number of foreign tourists the province receives come by flight. Vietnamese visitors and traders come in the motor vehicles since the road to the border is in better shape.

Xayabouri
The province lies almost entirely on the western side of the Mekong river. It borders Thailand to the west, Vientiane and Luang Prabang provinces to the east (over the Mekong river), and Oudomxai to the north, also across the Mekong.

The border areas with Thailand is of high mountains, the highest being 2155 meters above the sea level. The province is rich in timber especially teak and lignite. Elephants are used extensively in the timber extraction. The low land plain areas close to the Mekong are rice bowls of the country.

Many ethnic tribe groups live in the province, many of which have family ties with those on the Thai side. The main economies are timber and its related businesses, and agriculture. Since local Lao people still lack international communication experience, outside brokers regularly come and act as coordinators cum promotors.

The road infracture is in its infancy. The only reasonably good road is from north to south; Luang Prabang to Kaen Thao village across the Mekong from Thailand's Loei province with the provincial capital Xayabouri in the middle. In the north the road connecting to Pak Beng is being developed. From Vientiane ones can go up the Mekong to Pak Lai, the town in the southern province, from where visit to several waterfalls are possible.

Hong Sa is a new tourist destination in the northern province. Eco tourists can enjoy the nature life, the hilltribe village life, and kinds of relaxation. The small town is reached from Pak Beng (on the Mekong river). Elephant ride and trekking are popular.

A border bridge over Heung river links Ban Na Kraseng village of Tha Li district in Loei province to Kaen Thao district of Lao Xayabouri (Thai people call it "Chaiyabouri") province.

Xieng Khouang
The land of high rugged mountains, valleys, water sources of many river streams make it one of the most beautiful landscape in the country. However the province was heavily bombed during the 1964-1973 war. Virtually all towns were bombed. Thousands of craters left by the explosion are being used as fish ponds. The former capital Xieng Khouang was entirely destroyed by bombs, and the new principal town was formed at Phonsavan.

The groups of people living in the province include Thai Dam, Hmong, Lao Lum and Phuan, and Vietnamese. The mysterious plain of Jars (Thong Hai Hin) is near Phongsavan. Hot springs and caves can be visited by road from the capital.

Vientiane province
Vientiane province sits to the north of Vientiane prefecture with its principal town at Phonhong. The southern and western parts close to the Mekong river are rice growing areas.

Tourist attractions are located at Nam Ngum dam lake and at Vang Vieng. The huge, beautiful, artificial Nam Ngum lake was created by damming the Nam Ngum river and flooding around 250 square km of forest land. The dam is located about 80 km to the north of Vientiane. The hydroelectric plant generates most of the power used in Vientiane valley, Luang Prabang town and export the rest to Thailand.

Vang Vieng, located roughly 160 km north of Vientiane on the highway 13, consists of limestone cliffs, caves, rapids good for white water rafting and kayaking on the Nam Song river, and tribal villages.

The highway 13 within the province is good for the year round driving. The road goes to Luang Prabang, and continues further north.

Saysomboune
This new province of Laos was a special zone barred to tourists in the past. Now tourists are allowed to travel, though many places still require use of registered Lao travel agents.

It is bordering Vientiane province and close to the Nam Ngum dam lake and its river in the north-east of Vientiane province. The province is full of forested hills and is sparsely populated. Lao highest mountain "Mt. Bia" or "Phu Bia" (over 2800 meters) is located in the province.

It is an inviting place for the nature lovers, trekkers and rafters. The Nam Ngum river offers many high level white waters during the rainy season between June and December. However The trekking and village home stay program must be arranged by a Lao based tour operator. It needs time and preparation of travel document.

Borikhamsay
The province is mountainous with lower hills sloping down to the Mekong river in the south. The capital Pakxan is located on the bank of Mekong river at the place where Nam San river flows into the Mekong.

In the past Pakxan served as a transit place for the road travellers, between the provinces in the north and south. The road no. 13 connecting Vientiane and Pakxan and to the south has been improved. Tourists are welcome to stay overnight and tour around in the province.

It has borders with Thailand over the Mekong river, and with Vietnam in the north-east. Border check point with Vietnam at Nam Pao (highway no. 8; drive from Lak Sao) is open to international travellers. The boat crossing to and from Thailand is open only to the local Lao and Thai people.

Khammouane
Combination of mountains (up to 2000 meters at Vietmamese border) and low hills in the east and central; and valley in the south-west where it is divided from Thailand by the Mekong river.

Phu Hin Bun National Biodiversity Conservation Arra (NBCA) occupies more than 1500 square km in the central province, between the highways 13 and 8A. Even though many of the area's wildlife have been killed by hunting and various developement the area is believed to contain some sizable population of endangered animals.

On the eastern side the Nakai-Nam Theun NBCA consists of huge 3700 square km of forested hills and river streams with lot of plant life and wildlife. On the eastern side it borders with Vietnam.

The province contains many limestone mountains, cave systems, and rivers flowing down the mountain slops and through the caves. Tham (cave) Khon Lore at the upper part of Nam Hin Bun river offers a 7 km long waterway navigable by small boat.

The provincial capital Thakhek is on the Mekong river bank. Some buildings from the French colonial era can still be seen. From Thakhek travellers can cross the Mekong river by ferry boat to and from Thailand's Nakhon Phanom. People can also cross border to and from Vietnam at Na Phao checkpoint on the highway no. 12.

Savannakhet
Savannakhet is the most populous province in Laos. It is a very active place for communication and commerce between Thailand and Vietnam. The road no. 9 lays east-west from the provincial capital to the Vietnamese border town of Lao Bao. The border is open for both locals, and foreign tourists with visa.

Most parts of the province is low land with some agriculture plots in the north and east of Savannakhet city. Goods flow across three countries on the only available highway no. 9. People and cars can cross the Mekong river between Savannakhet and Thailand's town of Mukdahan.

Most people living in the province are Lao Lum, Thai Dam, Phu Thai, some of the Mon-Khmer groups. The villages in the province are the attractions to the outside people.

Phu Xang Hae NBCA covers a hilly region in the middle of the province, where there are evergreen forest and some wildlife still surviving. Perhaps one of the most popular tourist attractions is the Ho Chi Minh trail used by the north Vietnamese during the last Indochina war to transport men and goods to the south Vietnam.

Saravan
Central low land plain is surrounded by the hill ranges. The forest on the eastern side of the Mekong river is in the NBCA. On the Thai (western) side is Pha Tham national park of Ubon Ratchathani province. The famous tourist place for eco-tourism is the Bolaven plateau area which actually covers Saravan, Sekong, Champasak and Attapeu provinces. The weather is cool and nice all the year round. There are hilltribe villages in the mountains.

The population includes Tahoy, Lavai, Katang, Alak, Laven, Ngai, Tong, Pako, Kanay, Katu and Kado, etc. Many villages grow coffee, tea and vegetable.

The north-western side of the province at the Vietnamese border had been bombed during the last Indochina war.

Sekong
The least populous province of Laos is moderately mountainous and it is difficult to travel due to the lack of all-weather roads. Many diferent ethnic tribe people live in the low lands and in the hills of the province. The economy of the province is one of the worse in the country.

Xe Sap NBCA is located in the far north-east of the province at the Vietnamese border. The travel is almost impossible in the rainy season. Accommodations, medication, telephones, etc. are very rare in the eastern hilly parts. Major mode of transport is in a truck.

The province was heavily bombed during the last Indochina war. Remains of the bombs are still found along the former Ho Chi Minh trail.

Champasak
The province is a combination of fertile plains where people grow coffee, tea, vegetable and rice; and the hills where eco-tourism is popular. In the south of the province the Mekong river drops and creates a large waterfall. There are many islands in the river in this place. "Si Phan Don" as the area is known is also where people can spot fresh water dolphins.

Many ethnic tribes live in the province. Main economy is farming. Some of them have been working in the timber business, as well as tourism. The Bolaven plateau region in the east is famous for its eco-tourism operations. Trekking, elephant ride, waterfall visit are popular, and accommodations are available. The Khmer style temple of Wat Phu on the western bank of the Mekong river, south of Pakse is a famous spot.

Pakse, the capital, is located on the eastern bank of the Mekong river. Border crossing at Vaeng Tao to and from Thailand's Chong Mek (Ubon Ratchathani province) overland is open for both local and international tourists. The bridge over the Mekong to Pakse makes the travel easier. The border crossing with Cambodia close to the Mekong river is also possible. However the procedure is often up to the immigration officers at the check point.

Attapeu
The mountainous province is bordering Cambodia to the south and Vietnam to the east. Due to the difficult travel situations it is believed that many of the wildlife could still survive in the forested rugged hills.

The population is thin and most people are of Lave Nge and Talieng ethnic groups. They do farming; growing coffee, tea and vegetable along with some mountain rice. The hill people share close tradition with the tribes in the Ratanakiri province in Cambodia. The capital Attapeu is in the valley surrounded by the mountains.

Ho Chi Minh trail passes Sekong and Attapeu provinces and thus were bombed heavily by the USA during the last Indochina war. This also made the population even thinner. For the hardy tourists who like to go out of the beaten tracks, the province offers specticular waterfalls, limestone cliffs, birds. However always travel together with local people who know the areas well.


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