The oldest historic remains found in Laos are the enigmatic megalithic sites found in the northern Xieng Khouang Plateau, popularly known as the Plain of Jars, after the many thousands of Iron Age stone jars, some up to 3 metres high and hewn from solid rock, which are mysteriously strewn in groups of up to 400 in over 90 separate sites.

Due to American cluster bombing over the area during the war with Vietnam, some 80 million unexploded devices are estimated to litter the terrain, which has hampered research into the ancient culture, about which little is known. However several sites have been declared cleared, and a visitor centre has opened at Plain of Jars Site 1.

In a later era, as with neighbouring Cambodia and Thailand, The Hindu kingdom of Angkor once dominated these lands, and the remains of the UNESCO World Heritage site at the eleventh century Khmer city, Wat Phou, in Champasak, bears all the hallmarks of grand design associated with that culture, with superbly intricate sculptures and monumental architecture.

After the decline of the Angkor Empire, the Buddhist Kingdom of Lan Xang ruled Laos from its two major cities, Luang Prabang and Viang Chan, now better known by its French articulation, Vientiane, which became the Capital in 1563. The most splendid of Vientiane’s beautiful historic Buddhist buildings include Pha That Luang, Ho Phra Keow, Wat Ong teu and Wat Sisaket.

At the UNESCO World Heritage city of Luang Prabang, the delicately carved and finely decorated Wat Xieng Thong, dated to 1560 is the oldest of the former capital’s many fine temples. Thanon Phousi staircase takes you above the city to That Chomsi Stupa and is worth the exertion for the view over the beautiful city.

Along with neighbours Vietnam and Cambodia, Laos was subsumed into the French controlled entity of Indochine, in 1863. The French legacy in Laos is most evident in Vientiane, not only in the mansions and residencies, but also in its cuisine.

The prominent Patuxai ‘Arc De Triomph’, Independence Monument, even though a symbol of freedom from French rule, which Laos gained in 1946, also pays homage to French stylistic influence.