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Top 3 unmissable regions in Laos

Runner-up at this year's Wanderlust Travel Awards Bamboo Travel, reveals its top three places not-to-miss on your next trip to this exotic destination

Discover something different in one of 2012's hottest destinations (jmhullot)

A visit to Laos is always a real pleasure. Even now, having been a number of times, it is exciting to return to one of the most charming, and laid back, destinations in South-East Asia. If you're considering a visit to this enticing country any time soon, seek out these three unmissable regions.

1. Luang Nam Tha

Luang Nam Tha province, in the north-west of the country, is home to a multitude of hill tribes and some spectacular landscapes. It is one of the most beautiful provinces in Laos and offers plenty of opportunities for walking, trekking or engaging with the local folk. Near the province’s Burmese border lies Muang Sing, which at one time was an independent kingdom. It became part of Laos in the 19th century, after discussions between British and French negotiators who were establishing the border between Burma and Laos. Prior to this the town had been a meeting place for traders from China, Vietnam, Burma and Laos and today’s colourful market keeps this tradition alive.

In addition to walking and trekking tours, and colourful markets, the Luang Nam Tha region is a great place for kayaking trips on the Nam Ha River, mountain biking along well-carved trails and home stays in remote Khmu and Lanten villages.

One of my personal favourites in the region is the Boat Landing Guest House, an eco-lodge with an idyllic setting on the banks of the Nam Tha River.

2. Four Thousand Islands

Southern Laos also has its fair share of wonderful scenery and dramatic highlights, but in my opinion the Four Thousand Islands are a must see if you have time to explore this far south.

Set in the middle of the Mekong River, near the Cambodian border, is a stretch of water which, in the dry season, is home to thousands of islets, or islands, which give the region its exotic name. The largest of these islands are inhabited and are a wonderful place to relax, enjoy luxuriant tropical scenery and observe a fascinating way of life.

The island of Don Khone is my favourite spot where the pace of life slows to almost a standstill, making it a great place to kick back and read a book on one of the many waterfront hammocks. Don Khone also has a number of flat trails for walking or cycling, and some interesting relics from the French colonial past, which include old colonial houses, a section of the first Lao railway and a rusting locomotive.

The lack of real development here means that accommodation is low key, but I have always found the Sala Don Khone to offer very comfortable rooms in a great location.

3. Luang Prabang

As you might imagine, with its UNESCO World Heritage status, Luang Prabang is a wonderfully well preserved colonial town with a unique blend of French villas and Laotian temples, which can be visited as you walk or cycle around. The town’s relaxed, and friendly, atmosphere together with some fine hotels and a great position overlooking the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers means that is worthwhile spending a few days here sampling the indigenous culture and getting to know the locals.

Apart from the stunning temples, and famous night market, other things to enjoy in Luang Prabang include a climb up Mount Phousi to watch the sunset over the heart of the town. This can easily be combined with a visit to the National Palace to see a Royal Ballet performance in the palace gardens. Much underrated, this ballet is worthwhile attending not only as part of your evening’s entertainment but also to support a very talented troupe of artistes who seek to preserve a part of the nation’s cultural heritage that could quite easily have been lost after the revolution of 1975.

In order to learn a little bit more about your hosts, you should consider rising early one morning to watch the incredibly colourful spectacle of Takbat, as monks from all over the town walk barefoot through the streets receiving their daily food from the locals. In high season many travellers gather, armed with cameras, to capture this evocative moment, so you would do well to steer away from the crowds and enjoy the spectacle in a more peaceful setting and take pictures at a respectful distance from the monks.

Wonderful accommodation abounds in Luang Prabang but one reasonably priced hotel that is fast becoming my personal favourite, is the Apsara, which is located in the heritage district. Alternatively for those who like top-notch accommodation in a quirky setting the new Hotel de la Paix offers spacious suites in what used to be the old colonial prison. Don’t worry they don’t lock you in at night anymore!

Tim Milner is the founding director of Far East specialist Bamboo Travel. His passion for the area has taken him from the heights of Tibet to the lowlands of the Mekong Delta and he has been travelling in the region for over 20 years. Bamboo Travel offer fabulous holidays to Laos and can tailor-make trips to suit your every want and need.

It's been a bumper week for Awards on the Wanderlust website; not only did Luang Prabang win Top City in the Wanderlust Travel Awards 2012, but Bamboo Travel was awarded Silver in the Top Tour Operator category and Laos came sixth in the Top Country category. Find out more about the Wanderlust Travel Awards here.

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