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During French colonial rule, Laos was dubbed the “Land of the Lotus Eaters“, and it’s easy to see why. The beautiful country’s nonchalant air and gentle charms never fail to enchant.

One of the least developed nations in Southeast Asia, Laos only opened up to tourism in the last decade or so, and the country still offers an unhurried lifestyle long forgotten in many of its more visited neighbours.

Although mass tourism is yet to arrive here parts of Laos are firmly on thebackpacker trail, and there’s a well-trodden route taking in Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. Although there’s plenty more to see elsewhere, there’s certainly no harm in following this path through the country. The former capital of Luang Prabang is one of the most delightful towns in Asia with some lovely colonial buildings and a stunning collection of ancient temples. Vang Vieng, set amid the mountains, has become something of a hangout for young travelers in recent years, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on how “authentic” an experience you’re looking for. The obvious advantage of the surge in tourism in these areas though is that travelers are very well catered for in terms of cafés and guesthouses, which does make life fairly easy.

If you want to get off the beaten track however it’s not hard to do so and this relative remoteness contributes to Laos’s allure for more adventurous travelers. One of the most popular side-trips is to the enigmatic Plain of Jars– a huge field of stone vessels dating back a couple of millennia whose exact origins are still unknown. Arguably the most rewarding trips are boat rides along the Mekong River and its tributaries to remote hill villages where many of the country’s varied indigenous tribes live.

Wherever you go in Laos, you can expect a genuinely warm and unassuming welcome and, like the lotus eaters of mythology, no doubt you’ll be unwilling to leave.

Facts

  • Full name: Lao People’s Democratic Republic
  • Population: 6.3 million (UN, 2009)
  • Capital: Vientiane
  • Area: 236,800 sq km (91,400 sq miles)
  • Major languages: Lao, French (for diplomatic purposes)
  • Major religion: Buddhism
  • Life expectancy: 63 years (men), 66 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 new kip = 100 ath
  • Main exports: Clothing, timber products, coffee, gold, copper, electricity
  • GNI per capita: US $740 (World Bank, 2008)
  • Internet domain: .la
  • International dialling code: +856

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