Laos - the kingdom of a million elephants
Landlocked between its much larger neighbors Thailand and Vietnam,
this beauty of a Southeast Asian country is slowly becoming a better-known travel destination. And for good reason: pristine nature, intact traditional culture and a relaxed national attitude welcome visitors to discover all that is Laos for themselves.
The premier destination is the royal city of Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage site, exceptionally lovely and languid with its charming mix of Buddhist temples, French colonial era architecture and an early morning
procession of silent monks in saffron robes.
Kayaking, biking and communal trekking are great ways to view gorgeous
Laotian nature and meet friendly locals. The still sleepy capital of Vientiane
is a good place to end your trek, perhaps with a cold Beerlao in one of the
many beer gardens situated among the banks of the Mekong River.
Cambodia - heart of Southeast Asia
On your visit to the temples of Angor, discover remains of the mighty Khmer empire which once ruled most of Southeastern Asia. The most impressive is of course Angkor Wat, a stunning complex of temple architecture to rival anything man has ever built, but surrounding areas are worth visiting too, preferably at sunset or sunrise. Today, Cambodia has even more to offer the adventurous traveler. Ecotourism is beginning to thrive with wildlife jungle trekking in the Cardamom Mountains.
For a coastal jaunt, go south to visit the tropical beaches of offshore islands
and stop at the seaside resort town of SihanoukVille or the river town of Kampot.
Then, go a bit further south to Kep, a quiet colonial-era beach town that has yet
to be rediscovered, for some amazing seafood. Mekong River cruises from Kratie
in the north offer the chance to spot endangered freshwater dolphins. Lastly, the
captivating capital of Phnon Penh, verging on a boom, is both charming and chaotic.
Myanmar - a step back in time
The beautiful country of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has much to offer.
Long-suffering locals eagerly welcome visitors to their isolated country.
Some of the most amazing Buddhist shrines in Asia are the pagodas of Myanmar
and a visit to Bagan offers over 2000 well-preserved examples from the 11th
and 13th century.
Be sure to stop by a lacquerware workshop while there.
Opportunities abound for ecotourism, trekking and safaris and there are
several Buddhist retreats for the serious traveler. Enjoy water sports on
lovely beaches at undeveloped coastal resorts.
Catch a traditional theatre, dance or marionette performances and include
a stop in Mandalay, the cultural soul of the country, and in Yangon, a most
charmingly dilapidated and evergreen city with tropical parks and lakes.
A trip to Burma is a step back in time for old-world adventure travel, Asian-style.
Vietnam - expect the unexpected
A country of dramatic coasts, soaring mountains, vivid rice fields and
fast-paced cities, Vietnam is a captivating travel destination offering
unexpected sights and sounds. Learn to cross the street slowly and
predictably to avoid buzzing motorbikes in the large cities like Hanoi
while enjoying the exciting architectural mix of colonial French,
traditional Vietnamese designs and modern skyscrapers.
One of the most popular destinations for visitors is Hoi An, a charismatic
riverside town known for its thousands of tailors. This is also the place to
explore with your taste buds if you haven't surrendered to the aromas of
Vietnamese cuisine already. For history and culture, a stop in the old
imperial capital Hué is a lovely spot to enjoy pagodas, tombs and temples.
Beaches are Vietnam's secret treasure and the most impressive coastal site
is mesmerizing Halong Bay, where thousands of tiny islands dotted with
grottoes emerge from emerald waters. Finally, plan an early morning
excursion to Phong Nha Cave, the largest and most remarkable example in a
country of wonderful sites.