For those who want to catch one last glimpse of Indochina as it was before the massive developments that have taken place in Vietnam and Cambodia, Laos is the choice. Until a few years ago, Laos kept a determined isolation from the outside world that left its villages and important sites such as Luang Prabang and Vientiane as they have been for centuries. For the right traveler, a sleepy riverside city like Vientiane is a travel luxury. The land of Laos moves from North to South and from high mountains to the low lying delta area of the Mekong River. Thus its many rivers and forests have made Laos a favorite off-path destination for eco-adventurists who tube on the rivers, zipline through the forests and trek to remote villages

In Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with its multitude of temples, the eternal procession of monks in their orange robes between monasteries provides a rare glimpse back in time. Luang Prabang’s Pac Ou caves hold up to 3,000 Buddha images, many of them inlaid with semi-precious stones. Luang Prabang’s Villa Maly offers dinner and lunch cruises on the Nava Mekong. In the Plain of Jars, hundreds of burial urns as old as 2,500 years are scattered in clusters over a vast plain. Northern Laos, a mountainous region of thick forest and rice paddies up near the Chinese border, is home to a multitude of riverside hilltribe villages. Many visitors hike or ride 4WD vehicles or even cruise the rivers. The caves in Viengxayprovided shelter to 23,000 Laotians during nine years of aerial bombardment during the Vietnam War; they formed a cave city with hospitals, shops, schools, offices and even a theater.

In Laos three seasons divide the year. From March to May temperatures regularly surpass 100 degrees. From May to October it cools down to the mid 80s, though the rains are heavy in July and August. Tropical downpours are frequent (especially July-August), and some years the Mekong floods. From November to March, the dry season is characterized by temperatures in the 60s.

Similar to Thai cuisine, Lao food is known for its tropic spiciness. As in most Buddhist nations, there are plenty of vegetarian dishes as well as meat dishes. Sticky rice, a thick glutinous grain, is the staple starch and it’s eaten in balls. The French also left some of their culinary influence behind. Almost all American visitors enter Laos from Thailand either overland by bus across the “Friendship Bridges” that cross the Mekong or on short flights from Bangkok.