Laos

Laos in South East Asia may be landlocked, but this beautiful mountainous land has no shortage of natural beauty.

As the mighty Mekong River makes its way through the hilly jungles of the north to the flat southern lowlands – mainly undiscovered this is a real opportunity to step off the beaten track and to see some of the most authentic unspoilt lands that remain today.

The opening of these lands to travellers will undisputedly change the face of Laos, visiting now whilst tourism is young will guarantee that you see how this civilisation has existed, untouched by the excesses of the Western world – this opportunity won’t be around forever, so be sure to make the most of it whilst you still can.

In the main the country has traditionally catered for the backpacking community with luxury hotels confined to only the cities but as the influx of tourists has increased so has the available accommodation, and there is now a much wider range of hotels available throughout the country, advance booking at the more luxurious hotels is recommended though, particularly in the peak season.

The Settha Palace hotel in the capital of Vientiane is a perfect example of how grand the colonial luxury can be –  dark carved wood and ornate marble bathrooms set the tone of the rooms, although small the hotel is perfect in every way; the landscaped gardens and perfect outdoor pool being the icing on a very fancy cake.

The cuisine of Laos is very similar to that of Thailand with emphasis on spicy and sour flavours, there is however also a huge French influence in the country with the larger towns and cities enjoying a wide range of imported foods – the increase in tourism has led to a growth in international restaurants, although these are rarely seen in the rural districts.

The evening hours bring out the street vendors and food hawkers, this is a perfect way to enjoy the best of the local cuisine, stick to those with a fast turnover of food and always ensure that your food is thoroughly cooked through, these simple precautions should ensure that the food is perfectly safe to eat.

The Gibbon experience has to be the most unusual of holiday experiences, but for those that are physically capable it is beyond compare; short stays in treetop houses amongst the vast hillside jungles with nothing more than zip wires to travel around on is most certainly exciting, but the main point of these short trips is that part of the cost supports Gibbon conservation work, and although spotting one is quite unlikely, there is a distinct satisfaction in hearing the sounds of this endangered creature as it ‘sings’ in its natural habitat.

River cruising through the delta lowlands in the south of Laos is a perfect way to see the best of the magnificent Mekong River, this is the ultimate in relaxation as you take in all the sights of rural Laos and its traditional village life – the two sights to look out for are the mighty falls and the pink dolphins that frequent the waters.

The hottest time of year is during March and April, when those that find intense heat unbearable should avoid travelling, this heat is followed by the rainy season which last until October, and whilst the rain can be cooling, this brief interlude soon becomes humid which may be problematic for some travellers.

The months of November to February are the driest period and although hot, have not yet reached the extreme highs to come; this is the best time to travel to Laos, and although this might be considered to be peak travel time the country is sufficiently undiscovered to remain tranquil throughout.

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