Something of a forgotten nation in Southeast Asia, the sleepy republic of Laos is a dream come true for a traveller of the right temperament. Especially when held in comparison to its bustling and busy cousins, Laos has retained a delightfully slow and quiet atmosphere, allowing ample opportunities for visitors to get off the beaten track and experience a way of life that has all but disappeared elsewhere in the world.
The Mekong River runs through much of the Laotian countryside, and both Luang Prabang and Vientiane are situated along its banks. One of the best ways to see the interior of Laos is to skip out on a direct flight to the major centers and instead opt for a leisurely boat cruise, which allows visitors to travel in comfort and style while taking in the incredible natural sights, stopping off at local villages that have remained the same for centuries, their hardworking people living off the land and celebrating nature through festivals and colorful craft. Cruising the river can also provide an interesting insight into the past, as the many varying influences that have come and gone in Laos over the ages can be seen in ruins and monuments that sit alongside the flowing waters.
The Mekong River also offers some of Asia's most incredible natural wonders. Those looking for an adventure are able to break up the trip with side trips such as white water rafting through challenging rapids. For more of a relaxing time, some travelers prefer to go to one of the local villages alongside the river for a meal, or some local shopping. The villagers are always eager to see fresh faces, and some will usually be able to act as a guide for a small fee, providing local insights and information about significant sights and beliefs. This is a rare opportunity to truly interact with local people on a personal level.
For those who prefer to stay dry, renting a bicycle can be a fun and adventurous way to explore the Lao countryside, which is full of mountains and waterfalls. More experienced riders may find a trip to the top of a mountain an exhilarating and challenging day out, the views providing the ultimate reward for their efforts. Less strenuous rides are of course possible as well, and exploring rice paddies or simply looking around town makes for a unique adventure. Perhaps one of the best features of renting a bike is the freedom of movement and scheduling it affords. Sometimes being on holiday can seem restrictive when all the decisions made for you about where to go and when. By taking control of your transportation, you take control of your whole holiday and the slow pace of life in Laos suits this most relaxing of pursuits.
With so much to do and see in Laos, it is sometimes hard to believe that the country has avoided so many of the pratfalls of mass tourism. Whether you are looking for a cultural experience or the best in natural beauty, a good night’s sleep after an exhausting day or simply some time to relax and be pampered, a trip to Laos is the perfect answer. Ideal for families, couples and single travellers alike, Laos offers a tourist experience like no other and with one of the world's mightiest rivers running right through its heart, the chance to see Asia's remote countryside is a definite bonus.