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Certainly Asia’s least trodden and best kept secret, Laos stays off the radar, as it doesn’t have any coastline, throbbing nightlife, or ruins on the scale of Angkor Wat. What it does have though, is plenty of space, natural beauty, and charming friendly people, combined with one of the region’s most beautiful towns, Luang Prabang, Asia’s sleepiest capital in Vientiane, and all sorts of ecotourism opportunities whether they be in the pristine Nam Ha Protected Area up north or in the mesmerizing 4,000 islands in the Mekong in the south. If you are looking for a relaxing holiday, Laos is definitely a top choice.

Luang Prabang is another French colonial gem and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Straddling the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers, this small town surrounded by mountains has become a favorite on the Asian trail. Some of the top boutique lodgings in Asia are to be found here, such as the opulent Amantaka or restored palace Xieng Tong, as well as the Lao-French styled Maison Souvannaphoum, and haute cuisine French, Lao, and other gourmet offerings is the norm here. In addition to waking up at dawn to see the famed morning alms procession by the monks and visiting Luang Prabang’s exquisite temples, this is the spot to embark for a luxury tour on the Mekong River or go visit a classy elephant camp, where you can see the role of the elephant in Lao history and enjoy a luxury camp in the jungle.

Many claim there is nothing to do in Vientiane, but that is precisely the reason why others find it so charming. Sitting on the Mekong enjoying a cocktail, barbecue, and watching the sunset is a favored pastime, as is sitting in one of the numerous quaint cafes in Fountain Square, enjoying a croissant with a cup of strong Lao coffee and watching the world go by. Of course there are some sights to see, such as That Luang, the most revered temple in Laos, and site of one of the country’s biggest festivals each year, with pilgrims thronging to the golden pagoda by the thousands. Vientiane is also home to a thriving arts industry, with plenty of private galleries offering top notch silk and textiles, carvings, and other objet d'art for some refined shopping.

Northern Laos is an explorer’s paradise, with the highlight being the vast Nam Ha Protected Area, which combines jungle, rivers, and traditional ethnic hill tribes untouched by the modern world. Pay a visit to the Lanten or Yao minorities up here, go kayaking or rafting on the Nam Tha River, or head up to the Chinese border to remote Phongsaly, a town perched on a mountain top above the clouds. Also up north is the fascinating Plain of Jars, where mysterious giant stone jars dot a landscape that has an interesting war torn history and is now open to tourism.

Visitors might avoid Laos because they think it doesn’t have any beaches, but they are missing out on the 4000 islands in the Mekong, known in Lao as Si Phan Don. During the dry season, thousands of small islands rise above the Mekong, and several of them now have a fledgling tourist industry, where you can go kayaking, take a look for the endangered Irawaddy freshwater dolphins, or just enjoy the relaxed pace from a hammock, and you can even stay on a Robinson Crusoe style island, where one luxury resort built by a French count is the only thing between you and the sand and water.

Also worth a visit in the south is Champasak, which is home to Wat Phu, a Khmer ruin that has UNESCO Heritage status and is the site of a huge religious festival each year. The ruins are well preserved, atmospheric, and you can reach them on a luxury cruise from the southern capital town of Pakse. Kept Secrets will ensure that you uncover all of Laos’ wonderful treasures.