After years of war and isolation, Southeast Asia’s most pristine environment, intact cultures and quite possibly the most chilled – out people on earth mean destination Laos is fast earning cult status among travelers.
Laos is developing quickly but still has much of the tradition that has disappeared in a frenzy of bulldozers, concrete and reality TV elsewhere in the region. Village life is refreshingly simple and even in Vientiane, it’s hard to believe this sort of languid riverfront life exists in a national capital. Then, of course there is the historic royal city of Luang Prabang, where watching as hundreds of affront-robed monks move silently among centuries-old monasteries is as romantic a scene as you’ll experience anywhere in Asia.
Away from the cities, the rivers that wind dramatically down to the Mekong, the forested mountains of the north, the gothic limestone karsts of central Laos and the 4000 riverine islands of the deep south form one of the most intact ecosystems in Asia. Not surprisingly, this wilderness is drawing travelers looking for nature, adventure or both. Kayaking, rafting, rock-climbing and biking are all available, but it’s the community-based trekking that is most popular because it combines spectacular natural attractions with the chance to experience the ‘real Laos’ with a village homestay – while spending your money where it’s needed most.
There is undoubtedly a growing tourist trait in Laos, but that just means there’s plenty of roads off Rte 13 where you can make your own trail. After all, half the fun of traveling here is in the travel itself – the people you meet, chickens you share seats with, wrong turns you take and lào – láo drink with the smiling family at the end of the road less traveled.