Laos - officially known as the Lao People's Democratic Republic - is one of the great travel frontiers; landlocked and mountainous, swamped by jungles and promising Indian Jones adventures in remote tribal villages and ancient Buddhist caves.
With Thailand on one side and Vietnam on the other, you might expect Laos to be commercial and crowded, but this is Asia’s backwater, where life moves as slowly as the churning waters of the Mekong River, which forms the border with three countries – Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia – as it snakes south towards the Gulf of Thailand.
Landlocked and to some extent ‘culture-locked’, Laos possesses both Southeast Asia’s most pristine environment and possibly its most culturally intact heritage.
More than any other destination a visit to Laos provides the visitor with a sense of going back to a more relaxed time where the urgency of modern life is wonderfully absent. Even in the capital Vientiane, life ambles along only a little faster than the languid Mekong river flows by the city’s charming riverfront.
In the historic royal city of Luang Prabang – a Unesco World Heritage site – hundreds of monks in saffron robes glide between centuries old temples unperturbed by the growing number of visitors gazing on in silence at a scene they thought only existed in films. Luxurious boutique hotels in Luang Prabang serve exquisite food in historically preserved settings, drawing on French and local culinary traditions.
Beyond the cities visitors can discover the haunting Plain of Jars and the majestic Four Thousand Islands (Si Phan Don) where the Mekong river expands and its waters gather pace.
For the more intrepid traveller more active, but no less rare, experiences of tropical adventure can be had in jungles seemingly untouched by the passage of time.
In fact wherever you travel in Laos there is a sense that this chapter in its history where locals and foreigners can meet with such equanimity may not last long.
So visit now, for the unique appeal of Laos will soon reach far and wide and inevitably a rush of sightseers will impact what, for the moment, remains a most beguiling and inspiring land.
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