What see and do in Laos
Beautiful Laos is perfect for touring. Its destinations offer opportunities for everything from cycling and kayaking to visiting heritage sites and enjoying delicious cuisine, so it really does have something for everyone.
Scenery and relaxation
Laid-back Laos seems made for relaxation. Flooded with fine scenery and blessed with a slow pace of life, it gives western visitors a taste of a different way a living, not to mention the simple chance to admire some of the world's most sublime views and unwind. It's impossible to go on holiday in Laos and not encounter wonderful scenery, but there are some destinations that particularly stand out, such as the Four Thousand Islands, known locally as Si Phan Don.
Magically, Si Phan Don can only be experienced during the dry season, when receding waters reveal hundreds of islands that, in the rainy season, are hidden beneath the mighty Mekong. It has a reputation for being the most laid-back place in Laos, which is especially impressive in a country renowned for its slow pace of life. Plus, the scenery is beautiful and can be explored with languid swims and boat cruises - bliss.
Luang Probang Province also offers a tempting mixture of scenery and relaxation. The city is home to an excellent range of boutique hotels and, as it sits on the Mekong and Khan rivers, beautiful scenery is never far away. Waterfalls and scenic green mountains can be reached in moments.
Vang Vieng, meanwhile, is widely considered to be the most scenic spot in Laos - paddy fields and cliffs perch prettily over a river.
Visiting Laos, you get a real sense of venturing into unchartered terrain; so, adventure isn't hard to find. There are definitely activities that enhance this feeling. Keen climbers, for example, can visit Vang Vieng. Not only is this one of the most beautiful parts of Laos, but it's awash with opportunities for adventure. For example, why not climb limestone karsts? There are options for everyone from beginners through to experts. Kayaking in the Nam Song and caving are just some of the other possibilities here. Another great spot for adventure is the Four Thousand Islands, which is one of Laos' top kayaking destinations.
For the ultimate thrill, take a trip to Tham Kong Lo - a vast limestone cave that can only be reached with a breathtaking journey along a twisting river.
Laos holidays also have plenty to offer those seeking less daring but no less fun activities. In Si Phan Don, for example, it's possible to swim, kayak and go dolphin spotting, while on dry land you can cycle to take in the scenery. In fact, cycling is one of the very best ways to see much of Laos, especially as bikes are readily available to rent in most destinations. Cycling makes it possible to explore less accessible destinations, meet the warm, friendly local people and enjoy the wealth of beautiful scenery. Plus, all kinds of cycling are possible, from gentle trips to more challenging experiences up mountains and even through jungles.
All tours of Laos should include visits to some of its wonderful heritage sites - especially as, unlike in most destinations, these sites aren't crowded with tourists. The Luang Prabang Province is a great place to begin, being home to the amazing Phu Si - a 100 metre high hill topped with the 24 metre tall That Chomsi, a beautiful gilded stupa. This beautiful sight can be admired from a distance in the old city in Luang Prabang, but it's well worth walking to the top to enjoy the excellent city views - especially at sunset.
Also in Luang Prabang are Wat Xieng Thong - the destination's most celebrated monastery - and the Royal Palace Museum, which houses the nation's finest historical treasure, Pha Bang. This representation of buddha is 83 cm tall and is housed in its own specially built wat.
Also worth a visit for those hunting for heritage are the Pak Ou Caves, which are packed full of buddha images, Khmer temple ruins (Wat Phu) in the Champasak province and, perhaps most importantly of all, the Vieng Xai Caves. This is one of the country's landmark historic sites, being where some 20,000 fled to during the Vietnam War. This network of some 450 caves included hospitals, markets and much more.
Culture and food
Culture and cuisine are also cornerstones of luxury holidays to Laos. Enjoying the colourful cooking and warm smiles of Lao people is one of the best ways to get a feel for what this country is all about, and Vientiane is a great place to do exactly that. Take a stroll around to explore historic old quarter populated by statues, temples and excellent cafes and restaurants. The number of places to eat here really is impressive! And for the keen foodie, Luang Prabang also boasts a wealth of cafes and bakeries to visit.
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Neil Murray, a writer from The Telegraph, has recently taken a tour with Voyages Jules Verne to Laos and Cambodia to explore the delights of south-east Asia. The tour stopped off at attractions in both countries, including the impressive Angkor Wat, waterfalls, a floating village, cruises on the Mekong River, night markets, and the Killing Fields under the guidance of professional tour experts.
Laos has recently reported a 10 per cent year-on-year growth in the number of international arrivals in 2014 with 4.16 million arrivals. In an effort to build on its current success, the Southeast Asian country recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China aimed at developing Laos' infrastructure and services.