Some of the most striking and exotic scenery in Southeast Asia lies to the north and west of Luang Prabang, along the courses of the Mekong and its tributary, the Nam Ou. The great rivers have both worn a wonderland of deep, jungle-covered valleys, rock formations and caves from the limestone bedrock, creating a fabulous landscape that’s a joy to explore on foot or by boat.
A popular soft trekking route, starting in the riverside town of Nong Khiaw, is the 100 Waterfalls loop. Climbing a mile up from river level via fast-flowing streams, it covers the full gamut of local landscapes, from lush rice terraces to dense jungle, and affords fine views over the Nam Ou valley.
The other main hub in this area for outdoor activities is Luang Namtha, springboard the minority villages and rich tropical forests of the Nam Ha Nat Protected Area, in the Golden Triangle region close to the border with Myanmar.
Although less dramatic than the deep valleys of the north, the Si Phon Don (‘4,000 Islands’) region of southern Laos, where the Mekong flows through a succession of spectacular cataracts, is well worth a detour. As is the adjacent Bolaven Plateau – a rolling upland of coffee and spice plantations.
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