Laos is one of the South East Asia's most intriguing and appealing travel Destinations. The country's swift development, particularly in terms of tourist services means it can cater equally well to budget travellers or luxury guests. Spectacular unspoilt scenery with mountainous countryside and jungle filled valleys alive with flora an fauna make Laos a nature lover's dream. The country's rich history also draws visitors from around the globe. Enduring Buddhist beliefs co-exist with a strong political ethos, while colonial influences remain evident in the country's architecture, language and cuisine.
The Communist government kept Laos closed to the world until the 1990s. Since then the country has welcomed increasing numbers of international visitor every year. In the last decade the country has enjoyed a tourist boom, coupled with a massive increase in foreign investment both in the hospitality sector and also in other more industrial areas.
Laos is undoubtedly being transformed from a sleepy enclave into a fully equipped developing nation. Yet the country's sheer size and remote, mountain topography means many parts remain largely unexplored. This means that adventurous travellers can still look forward to some unique travel experiences.
Currently, tourists tend to favour the same destinations in Laos. Luang Prabang is undoubtedly the most popular city with its ancient temples and colonial streets lined with cafes and shops, while the capital Vientiane also attracts plenty of tourists and offers a good blend of cultural attractions and historical monuments. Van Vieng offers a more laid back rural alternative and is still a popular gathering place for budget travellers. More adventurous souls may head for the northern provinces where trekking to visit hill tribe villages is now a popular activity. The legendary Plain of Jars sits right in the country's remote heartland, which suffered badly during the Vietnam war and still shows the scars of chemical warfare.
To the south, visitors are gradually discovering the beaty of the Mekong around Si Phan Don, where the islands of Don Khong, Don Dhet and Don Khon offer a relaxed retreat from the world complete with dramatic river views, authentic village life and a good choice of accommodation and food.
Laotian textiles and silver are particularly popular with tourists and the markets in Vientiane and Luang Prabang do a roaring trade. Wood carvings and Buddha images also make attractive souvenirs and the hand woven hangings produced by the hill tribes are some of the most intricate and exquisite in Asia.