It wasn't until the 1990's that international tourists began choosing Laos as a travel destination in earnest, but in a short time it has become one of the most popular countries for visitors to South East Asia.
Such attention has led to improvements in access and infrastructure, as well as a significant increase in the number of accommodation and food options available to tourists in the country's many towns and villages. The combination of untouched natural beauty, spiritual integrity and a fascinating colonial history means that many visitors choose Laos as their top travel choice. The country also appeals to a wide range of visitors, from backpackers to luxury travellers.
Vientiane is the bustling capital of Laos, but still very relaxed when compared with other major cities in the region. Vientiane's riverside location, ancient temples and historical buildings make it a perfect starting point for tourists visiting Laos. France and then Russia both occupied the city for extended periods, which means the architecture is an intriguing blend of international influences. Some of the most attractive French colonial houses and mansions have now been converted into hotels and restaurants, affording some parts of the city a distinctly European atmosphere.
Luang Prabang is the most popular destination in Laos. A ancient spiritual capital filled with temples, saffron-robed monks and beautiful heritage architecture. Tourism has added a lively spark to the city in recent years with the streets of the old town boasting stylish cafes, upmarket boutiques and luxury hotels.
The third biggest destination for tourists in Laos is Vang Vieng. Budget travellers particularly enjoy the secluded riverside ambiance and gather there to relax, share travel tales and party surrounded by striking mountain scenery. Further north, provinces like Phongsali are gradually attracting more tourists, particularly those in search of some authentic mountain cultures. Travel can still be quite challenging in this area of the country, but the rewards include total peace and fascinating hill tribe villages. The famous Plain of Jars in the northeastern region also draws visitors, but the area has yet to be developed for tourism.
In the south of Laos, tourist development is moving more quickly, especially around the beautiful river islands of Don Khon and Don Dhet. These islands already offer a good choice of accommodation and dining, as well as the chance to experience gentle village life, admire the French colonial architecture and visit striking natural attractions such as the Li Phi waterfalls. Visitors to these islands also have an opportunity to see Irrawady dolphins, which are both rare and seldom encountered elsewhere in the Mekong region.