Land-locked Laos has become a firm favourite with travellers, and it’s not hard to see why. Crowd-pulling attractions, such as the lovely town of Luang Prabang (and the not-so-lovely tubing mecca Vang Vieng) continue to grow in popularity, but most of the country retains an off-the-beaten-track vibe, appealing to those in search of an unexplored corner of Asia. With Laos’ natural beauty, well-preserved culture and air of mystery, it's a dream destination for thrill-seekers. Here are 10 of our favourite adventures.
Kayaking the Four Thousand Islands
Many people head to Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands) to kick back and relax, but this stretch of the Mekong has too much to see to spend all your time motionless in a hammock.
The laid-back archipelago is one of the best spots in the country to kayak. Paddle through gentle waters, and a few more challenging spots, taking in the stunning scenery and stopping off at villages and islands as you meander along the river. Trips range from a few hours to multi-day with the chance to spot the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin.
Exploring ancient Khmer temple ruins
If you fancy yourself as a Lara Croft or Indiana Jones type then Wat Phu, the ancient Khmer temple ruins in the Champasak province, are a must-see. Explore ornate crumbling temples and palaces, stunningly situated along the slopes of the Phu Pasak range. Though on a much smaller scale than Angkor Wat, Wat Phu is delightfully crowd-free, giving this Unesco World Heritage Site a mythical quality.
Zip-lining through forest
For a truly unique experience, thrill-seekers should head to northern Laos where they can take on The Gibbon Experience. Flying at high speed through lush forest and valleys on zip lines up to 500m long, this adventure will fulfil all your childhood fantasies. Part of the fun of the three-day trip is staying in tree houses that are only accessible by zip-line. The surrounding forest is home to the black gibbon and the cost of the experience helps to support the conservation of their habitat.
Rock climbing the limestone landscape around Nong Kiau
The government only started offering climbing permits in Laos in 2002 and much of the action is centred around the backpacker hub of Vang Vieng. But if you go a bit off the beaten track, it’s possible to have a rock face all to yourself. Nong Kiau, a small settlement on the bank of the Ou River in the northern Laos, is a great base for it. From here you can scale the surrounding limestone mountains in one of the country’s prettiest landscapes.
Boating through a 7km limestone cave
One of the highlights of a trip to Laos has got to be a visit to Tham Kong Lo cave. Hidden deep in the wilderness of central Laos, the limestone cave is an awe-inspiring 7km long and up to 300 feet high in places. Hop in a small boat and navigate the vast river passage, stopping off to explore on foot.
Trekking the '100 waterfalls'
The '100 Waterfalls' hike, which involves scrambling up a series of cascading falls in northern Laos, was only discovered in 2008 and remains off most travellers’ radars. The falls themselves aren’t particularly dramatic, but their sheer number won’t fail to impress. The sleepy village of Nong Khiaw makes an ideal base for the trek.
Exploring Vieng Xai’s bomb-shelter caves
The vast Vieng Xai cave system is one of Laos’ most important and unusual historical sites. During the Vietnam War, 20,000 people lived here to escape the relentless bombing. They built hospitals, markets and even a theatre in the network of 450 caves. Experience what life was like by taking a tour of the site where signs of its wartime past still remain.
Living as a mahout
Elephant trekking is a popular activity in Laos, but for a more immersive experience take a mahout course and learn to ride an elephant yourself. Some of the top spots for mahout training are found around Luang Prabang. The All Lao Elephant Camp (www.alllaoservice.com/elephantcamp.html) offers courses ranging from one to four days.
Exploring the country by bike
Laos is a fantastic country to explore on two wheels. Whether you take a tour or go it alone, cycling is one of the best ways to enjoy stunning scenery, meet locals and experience remote and less accessible parts of the country. From strolling a gentle path through the rice paddies to mountain-biking up peaks and winding through jungles, there is an adventure to suit everyone.
Trekking to remote Katang villages
The best treks take you to somewhere unexpected, and the hike to the Katang villages of Dong Phu Vieng National Protected Area won’t disappoint. After a day walking through sacred forest, trekkers can stay with Katang villagers and experience a way of life in stark contrast to the rest of the country's population. The villagers believe strongly in spirits and visitors are taught how to avoid taboo behaviour that may disturb them.