The stunning natural environment that surrounds cities like Luang Prabang and Vientiane provide visitors with the perfect location for a range of outdoor pursuits. In Laos, everything from waterfalls to remote mountain peaks and hill tribe villages, not to mention adventurous river trips and extreme sports are available to visitors surrounded by natural splendour.
A boat trip along the Mekong River is one of the most relaxed and interesting ways to enjoy Laos. Cruising gently past tropical forest, passing beneath mountain peaks, looking out over teak plantations and rice paddies. Quaint riverside villages are home to a colourful range of ethnic communities and ancient Buddhist temples add a sense of history and spiritual intensity to the rural setting. Drifting down the Mekong gives visitors a rich insight into this bountiful, unspoilt part of South East Asia while at the same time removing them from the stresses and strains of the developed world.
Adventurous travellers can choose river rafting as a more exhilarating way to enjoy the powerful Mekong River and its tributaries. Many travel agents, resorts and tour companies offer rafting excursions that take visitors close to nature and the local cultures that inhabit the riverbanks. Trips often feature a visit to a traditional village where local food is served in a relaxed setting and visitors can take in the peaceful atmosphere and admire the simple surroundings. Different types of raft can be hired for these trips, while two person canoes are also popular as they allow people to explore independently.
Cycling is another great way to enjoy the Laos countryside, even the cities. The streets in and around places like Luang Prabang, for example, are relatively quiet and therefore easy to navigate. Most of the best sights and attractions can be seen in one day by bicycle, which is certainly a great way to travel around the city. Visitors can also join guided cycling tours which give them more chance to experience the suburbs and ancient buildings without getting lost or confused by the traffic.
It's also possible to join longer bicycle treks in Laos that take in natural sites such as waterfalls and ancient temples in the countryside. The 30 km ride to Kuang Si Waterfall is a challenging but rewarding adventure. This spectacular natural attraction can be visited year round and there are tracks leading to the top of the falls with stalls offering drinks and snacks on the way up.
Hiking is another popular adventure activity from Luang Prabang. Trekking from from Muang Khai to Ban Na Haew means passing through stunning mountain scenery to reach secluded Khmou and Hmong hill tribe villages. Guides can be hired for the trip, which is advisable because in many places the routes are not signposted. For more serious climbers Laos boasts a number of challenging mountains but it is necessary to apply for a permit in advance before attempting such trips.
For those who prefer less strenuous adventures, Elephant treks are also available out of places like Luang Prabang. The ancient capital is surrounded by rich forest and the hills play home to a number of interesting hill tribe communities. Riding through the wilderness on an elephant is perhaps one of the most memorable way to see the Lao countryside. These tours also keep elephants employed and well fed. Youngsters can even learn how to take care of the pachyderms and have the chance to feed them and watching them enjoy a bath in the river after a long day's trek.