Despite a limited infrastructure, Laos is a wonderful country to visit. Laotians are some of the friendliest, gentlest people in Southeast Asia—devoutly Buddhist and traditional in many ways. Laos has a rich culture and history, and though it's been a battleground many times in the past, this is a peaceful, stable country today. Fewer than 7 million people live in this landlocked nation whose countryside is dominated by often impenetrable forested mountains. Not yet inured to countless visiting foreigners, locals volunteer assistance and offer a genuine welcome.
Luang Prabang and its historic sites are the country's primary claim to fame and the reason most tourists visit, but as a destination Laos also excels with its abundant nature and the chance the small towns and villages here provide to escape normally overcrowded Southeast Asia. In many ways a visit to Laos is a placid throwback to what travel in Thailand was like two decades or so ago. Many parts of the country—among them 4,000 Islands in the Mekong, or Phongsaly, Muang Ngoi, and Luang Nam Tha in the north—offer a fabulous opportunity to unwind, relax, and get away from the stresses of big cities and got-to-see-everything travel. Most visitors to Laos enter via Vientiane, but even here the rhythm of life is calmer than in its regional counterparts. As you venture forth from the capital city, as nearly all visitors do and should, the vibe becomes mellower still.