Northern Laos does ‘off the beaten track’ extremely well, whether you’re keen to trek to traditional villages or contemplate life on the banks of the Nam Ou River from the peace of a bamboo balcony. Temperatures are cooler in the north and life feels, somehow, less complicated. Accommodation ranges from natural spa resorts to rustic riverside retreats; although you're just a day's drive from Luang Prabang, you're a world away from the typical tourist circuit. This is somewhere to tune into nature and drop off the grid for a while.
Obviously there's a lot more, this is just to get you started...
Sipping a cup of slightly floral, yet strong, Laos' coffee as you watch the morning mist rise above the river is just one of the simple pleasures afforded to you in Muang La. This is an area all but bereft of tourists, where you can trek or cycle through forested mountain foothills, and pad quietly across tiled temple floors, without worrying about when might be the best time to visit. Head to a traditional village and you'll be treated to the warmest of welcomes, as well as having the opportunity to observe communities working in harmony with nature. Muang La also hides some superb spa lodges where you can spend a couple of nights indulging in natural hot springs, Laotian cookery classes and five-course taster menus.
Set on the unspoilt banks of the Nam Ou River, Nong Khiaw was once only accessible by boat. These days, however, a three-hour drive from Luang Prabang places you right in the heart of the region’s rugged scenery. The combination of river and mountains make Nong Khiaw a must for anyone looking to get away from it all and become fully immersed in an untouched natural environment. Mountain trails stretch across the surrounding slopes, and there's no better place to sit and enjoy a cold Beer Laos than on the balcony of your thatched bamboo bungalow as the river flows beneath.
The people of this remote, tea-growing region of Laos are sometimes considered to have more in common with neighbouring China; seeking out the cultural heritage museum in Phongsali's cobbled old town is great for learning more. If you're looking for an altogether more interactive experience, undertake a guided trek into the tea plantations that surround the villages on the forested slopes of Mt Phu Fa. The climate is far cooler here, and life is very simple. Step away from any expectation of 5-star hotel living, and you'll be rewarded with an unfiltered version of life in northern Laos that not many other travellers get to witness.
A two-week journey through Laos’ laid-back cities and rural landscapes, exploring the country’s rich cultural heritage, meeting the friendly locals and going on an adventure or two.