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 that are perfect for outdoor adventurers.
Outdoor adventures in Laos
1. Meet the elephants in Sayaboury, Laos
While Laos was once known as the ‘Land of a Million Elephants’, 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 Sayaboury Elephant Conservation Center is working to change this sad statistic by making concerted efforts to help the survival of the species. They have a handful of retired elephants, a drop-in veterinary centre and opportunities for employment and English lessons for local mahouts. Play your part in supporting the work of ElefantAsia, the non-profit elephant protection charity that supports Sayaboury, by visiting the organisation and meeting these gentle giants, helping them at bath time and learning about their plight in the elephant museum.
2. Nam Et Phou Louey Trek, Laos
Having only recently opened to tourists, 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 laidback 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 to take a 32km 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.