Situated between Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia in the south, and Myanmar and China to the north, little, landlocked Laos is often overlooked in favour of its glitzier neighbours. But it would be a mistake to miss this stunningly beautiful, deeply spiritual country, home to lumbering limestone mountains, verdant jungle valleys, vast cave systems, rolling rivers, rare wildlife, ancient Buddhist monasteries and some of the most welcoming people in Asia.
The main international portal to the country is Luang Prabang, once the capital of Laos and still considered its spiritual heart. A beguiling blend of French Indochine architecture, royal palaces and Theravada Buddhist temples awaits. Allow at least a few days to explore its bougainvillaea-lined streets, cool roadside cafés, arts and crafts scene and Unesco-protected sites. From here, most visitors strike out for the dramatic mountain, cave and riverscapes of Vang Vieng, Thakhék and Savannakhet, or gravitate towards the sleepy charms, easy pace and superb cuisine of Vientiane.
However, those willing to venture deeper into Laos’s wondrous countryside will reap the rewards, including the chance to see many different tribes, each clad in their distinct, brightly embroidered costumes, populating the higher elevations. For trekking, kayaking and wildlife adventures there’s Nong Kwiah, the Nam Ou river and Nam Et-Phou Louey national park, where you can take an overnight safari in search of rare beasts, such as sun bears, clouded leopards, civets, marble cats and white-cheeked gibbons. Or if lolling down the river on a bamboo raft is more your thing, try the 4,000 Islands, a scattering of pretty green isles located along the Mekong in the far south of the country.
While Laos remains communist, it is also a country in flux, with new, off-the-grid experiences and gorgeous hotels, plenty at the upper end of the market. And while change is inevitable (and for the most part welcome), there’s a definite air of ‘get there now’.
Tempted by what you’ve read? Need a few more ideas about where to go, what to see and how to go about it? Contact us – we’re always happy to help you choose your dream stay.