This Frequently Skipped Southeast Asian Destination Offers Unmatched Natural Beauty

Southeast Asia has long been hailed as a mecca for globetrotters and backpackers seeking exhilarating adventures. With its cascading waterfalls and breathtaking hikes, this enchanting corner of the world is jam-packed with everything an outdoor enthusiast desires on an adventure. Yet, among the handful of countries that backpackers visit while traveling the area, there is one that is frequently left off itineraries: Laos. 

Nestled quietly among its more celebrated neighbors, Laos still remains a hidden treasure awaiting discovery. Whether due to time constraints, or perceptions of it being "less developed," many travelers opt to bypass Laos. But, for those who have been, we know that this is a regrettable oversight. 

Laos' natural beauty is unrivaled, boasting untouched mountains that jut high above the ground, and serene landscapes adorned with ancient temples and tranquil rivers. For backpackers planning their first backpacking adventure, or seasoned travelers contemplating their next escapade, Laos holds a promise of unforgettable experiences that outdoor enthusiasts should not miss. If you're still not convinced, these five adventures might just do the trick. 

Trek through Nam Ha Protected Area

Trekking through the Nam Ha Protected Area offers a transformative journey into the heart of Northern Laos' pristine wilderness. As one of the country's largest national protected areas, Nam Ha is a sanctuary for biodiversity and indigenous culture, making it a prime destination for eco-adventurers seeking an immersive experience. 

Treks usually begin in the charming town of Luang Namtha, the gateway to the Nam Ha Protected Area. Here, travelers are introduced to local guides, often members of ethnic minority groups such as the Khmu and the Akha, who possess an intimate knowledge of the terrain and its secrets. Trekkers have the opportunity to visit remote mountain villages, where they can catch a glimpse into age-old customs and traditions. One of the most unforgettable experiences for many trekkers who pursue this excursion is the opportunity to camp under the starlit sky, away from the light pollution of neighboring cities. The sounds of the forest lull trekkers into a peaceful slumber, and birdsong wakes campers as light first breaks through the canopy. 

Lucky trekkers may have the opportunity to encounter wildlife as well. While chances may not be as high as they are in Yellowstone or the Smokies, fortunate hikers may be able to spot Asian elephants bathing from afar, or even witness macaques performing acrobats in nearby tree branches. 

Kayak through Don Det in the 4000 Islands

At the border of Cambodia and Laos lies the 4000 islands, a breathtaking archipelago inside the mighty Mekong River. One of the largest islands in this cluster, Don Det, beckons kayakers with its serene waterways, lush vegetation, and laid-back atmosphere. As kayakers meander through the maze of waterways, they encounter a myriad of natural wonders along the way. Hidden lagoons, carved out by centuries of river erosion, offer secluded spots for a refreshing swim or peaceful moment of reflection. 

One of the highlights of kayaking through Don Det is the opportunity to witness the traditional fishing communities that dot the riverbanks. Passing by wooden stilt houses, kayakers witness the symbiotic relationship between the people and the river that sustains them. 

Wildlife enthusiasts will also delight in the diverse array of species that call the 4000 Islands home. The Mekong River is home to the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin. If you're lucky, you might see them hopping through the water from afar. Up in the sky, kayakers can gaze at the fluttering wings and listen to the melodious calls of birds like those of the graceful heron or colorful kingfisher. While looking up at the sky, kayakers can also take in the panoramic vistas of the Mekong at dusk. As the sun begins to dip below the horizon, the golden glow it casts across the water serves as a fitting finale to a day of exploration.

Trek to Attapeu Waterfalls

Located in the remote province of Attapeu, the trek to these waterfalls offers a captivating journey through the untamed wilderness of southern Laos, culminating in the breathtaking beauty of pristine natural surroundings. The excursion begins with a venture into the lush jungle. Trekkers traverse rugged trails and navigate winding paths, completely enveloped in the sights and sounds of nature. 

As you move further along, the sound of rushing water grows louder, signaling the approach to the Attapeu waterfalls. At last, emerging from the foliage, the falls greet with you with a mesmerizing sight: a series of cascading tiers, plunging into crystal-clear pools below. Trekkers can swim in the emerald pools, bask in the sun on smooth rocks, or even camp in the jungle as it comes alive with nocturnal creatures. 

While many of Southeast Asia's destinations offer waterfall views and dips, the Attapeu Falls are distinct because of their remote location and the challenging trek which deters massive crowds of tourists from making the trip this far. Without restrictions or crowds, visitors can immerse themselves in the unspoiled wilderness, and enjoy the falls in peace. 

Explore the Xe Bang Fai River Cave

After centuries of natural erosion, the entirety of Southeast Asia is littered with natural carvings and caves. Of these, Xe Bang Fai offers some of the most spectacular stalactite and stalagmite formations, sculpted over millions of years by the slow drip of mineral-rich water. The sheer size and intricate beauty of these formations rival those found in more well-known caves around the world. 

To get to the river caves, one must hike through rugged terrain, where limestone karst formations dominate the landscape. As the journey progresses, the landscape becomes increasingly winding and treacherous, where travelers have to squeeze through dangerous passes and cross rushing rivers. As adrenaline shoots up, trekkers arrive at the mouth of the caves, greeted by the cool darkness and the sound of rushing water echoing from within. 

Stepping into these cavernous depths, travelers are transported into a world of awe-inspiring beauty and mystery. Illuminated by the soft glow of headlamps, the internal rock formations create a mesmerizing spectacle that captivates the senses. 

Trek through the jungles north of Luang Prabang

In the past, Laos' untamed wilderness was a haven for soldiers, providing them with dense foliage ideal for camouflage during the Vietnam War. Today, the  lush canopy of the jungles offers exhilarating adventures into the heart of Laos. 

Just like many of the U.S.'s national parks, Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage site, renowned for its ancient temples and traditional architecture. From here, hikers venture into the surrounding countryside, leaving behind the hustle and bustle of the city. Trekkers have a myriad of options and paths to choose from in Luang Prabang. Each path is adorned with traditional villages, alive with the sounds of animals, and decorated with unnamed lagoons and hill passes. Some travelers may opt for day hikes to nearby viewpoints and mountains in order to catch a bird's-eye view of the towns. Others may prefer to visit the hillside tribes to learn more about traditional and sustainable living practices. Either way, travelers departing from Luang Prabang are bound for unforgettable experiences.