Northern Laos’ majestic curves rise in steep green folds from the earth and layer the terrain with cliffs, mountains and high plateaus. Their formidable bulk hinders modernity and access, and preserves much of the mystique that attracts visitors to Laos in the first place.
Villages along the mighty Mekong and the subdued Nam Ou and Nam Tha waterways still cling to river transport and the pockets of unexplored territory are vast.
This striking natural heritage has greatly influenced the country’s human history. While lowland Lao migrants favoured the flatter, rice-friendly river plains of central and southern Laos, hill-tribe cultures from the more rugged territories of Tibet and southwestern China found the mountainous north suitable for small-scale farming of corn and opium, and the raising of domestic animals.
If you’re a fugitive from routine, northern Laos provides ample hiding spots. Isolation is thick in this part of Southeast Asia and the rich ethnic diversity of the region thrives as a result. The opportunities to acquaint yourself with homestays, hilltop tribes and traditional village life are profuse. Big ticket attractions include exquisite Luang Prabang, the archaeological Plain of Jars and inspiring ecotrekking in Luang Nam Tha, which has received support from the UN and accolades from around the world.
As more of the area opens itself to tourism, less-visited gems like village exploration in remote Phongsali, and the haunting Vieng Xai caves of Hua Phan gain great attention. Throughout northern Laos cycling tours and rafting excursions (without the ‘happy’ pit stops) present themselves and for every organised activity there is an avenue to cater to DIY junkies.