Laos (Picture:Sunset over the Mekong)

As a tourist town, maybe Luang Prabang provides a wrong impression of the country of Laos. As it was the only place in Laos we visited I can only comment on what I saw. But if the rest of Laos is only half as gorgeous as Luang Prabang then it would rank pretty high amongst places to visit. We stayed for nearly 4 weeks (the limit of our visa). In that time, we found a couple of great places to stay, especially Khoum Xieng Thong Guest house, where we settled for the bulk of the visit. By far the best things to do here for us were visits to the various elephant attractions. Mandalao was really great to walk and spend time with the elephants and most of all learn about conservation, but the Elephant Village was by far the most fun. Riding on the elephants, without a Howdah, down to the river to give them a bath is an unforgettable experience. It is clear that the elephants and the mahouts also have great fun. Other great activities in Luang Prabang are various museums, including the UXO museum and the cultural centre which explains about the key local ethnic groups. There are a variety of temples to look around including the Phousy temple at the top of the hill, which is great for a view of the sunset over the Mekong. We also found some other entertainment in the La Pistoche pool attraction and a great little restaurant (Le etranger) that doubles as a mini-cinema and shows free movies provided you order food or a drink. Other great attractions include the The Bamboo experience, where you learn all about this unique plants contribution to the local society and economy. Basically, you can make anything out of it, from a fish trap, to a basket, to a toy gun and a delicious meal.

There is a lively night market and lots of lovely places to stop and eat, or just have a coffee or a smoothie. Finally, to leave here and get our next destination of Chiang Mai, we elected to take one of the boats up the Mekong to Huay Xai via Pak Beng. This takes 2 days but is relaxing and enjoyable way to travel. We decided it would the best of the all the alternates, including flying and taking a 20-hour bus ride. To be fair once the boat ride is over it is a good 4 hours by mini-bus to Chiang Mai, but all this can be booked from Laos in advance.