Compared to well-established, tourist-heavy areas of Southeast Asia (and despite prolific delicious food, beautiful temples and lush green rice paddies flanked by limestone mountains), Laos remains relatively under the radar, leaving plenty of quiet corners perfect for outdoor adventurers. These are some of our favourites.
Outdoor adventures in Laos
1. Meet the elephants in Luang Prabang, Laos
Laos was once known as the “Land of a Million Elephants”, but due to poaching, deforestation and the illegal logging trade, these days the numbers are rapidly diminishing – current estimates dip as low as 400. If the numbers continue to drop at this rate, the elephant population in Laos will disappear completely by 2060.
The Mandalao Elephant Camp in Luang Prabang is working to change this sad statistic, harnessing responsible tourism to fund rehabilitation and raise awareness. The focus here is firmly on elephant welfare, and the organisation works with the local community to give retired working elephants the closest possible experience to living in the wild. Where possible, they even return captive elephants to the wild.
Organisations like Mandalao are the best (and only) way for travellers to meet these gentle giants ethically, and it’s one of the most wonderful experiences you can have in Laos.
2. Nam Et-Phou Louey Trek, Laos
A trek through the 4,229 square kilometres of Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area (NEPL-NPA) is a real road less travelled experience. Get a small taste of the wilderness on a night safari or take a full-blown intrepid adventure with a five-night challenging trek to the summit of Phou Louey, the third highest peak in Laos. With difficult days climbing hills and staying in simple jungle huts, the latter isn’t for the fainthearted!
Whichever you choose, you’ll get to learn about local wildlife and might even spot endangered species including tiger, gaur, sambar deer, and white-cheeked gibbon.
3. Swimming at Kuang Si waterfall, Laos
With a laid-back atmosphere, elaborate architecture and pretty streets, the UNESCO World Heritage Town of Luang Prabang is a must on all Laos itineraries.
Take a break from sightseeing in the town for the 32 km sojourn to the Kuang Si Falls. Turquoise waters skim over a series of limestone tiers, collecting at the base – the perfect natural pool for cooling off in on a warm day. When you’ve had your fill of floating in the blue, the surrounding woodland is a picturesque place to take a walk, and at the nearby Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre you can visit animals rescued from poachers.
4. Kayaking at Nong Khiaw, Laos
The Nam Ou River is a tributary of the Mekong that twists and turns from Luang Prabang through northern Laos’s towering limestone mountains and past sandy banks that lead to small villages. With caves, waterfalls and mountains, the riverside village of Nong Khiaw is a particularly picturesque base from which to go kayaking.
5. Tree Top Explorer, Laos
Down in southern Laos, the Tree Top Explorer zip-line takes you through the lush thick jungle of Doung Hua Sao National Park. Start your trip through the national park at the village of Ban Nongluang, before trekking through coffee plantations, over a canopy walkway and past gorges and the 120m high “Kamet” waterfall.
After seeing the area on land, get a new perspective by swishing between the trees on a 400m zip-line. You’ll sleep well in your jungle treehouse after all that.