Provider: BikeHike Adventures
Length: 13 days
With only 10 percent the population of Thailand and Vietnam and far fewer visitors, the little-known Southeast Asian country of Laos remains both wilder and far less touristy than its more popular neighbors. The landlocked nation has no beaches or worldly metropolises—a downfall for a certain segment of travelers—but that means it's easier for those who do come to enjoy what Laos does offer: some of Asia's most authentic cultural and natural experiences.
"Laos is still relatively untouched compared to Thailand and Vietnam, which is more appealing to many adventure travelers," says Trish Sare, director of BikeHike Adventures, which launches its first itinerary in Laos next year. "The people are still innocent [to mass tourism], so travelers get authentic experiences with the ethnic communities."
BikeHike's trip takes travelers to Laos' north, where you'll explore its remote hills and villages by foot, bike, and kayak. Around the UNESCO World Heritage city of Luang Prabang, you'll ride elephants and mountain bike to some of the area's many waterfalls and villages. "The local people are thrilled to see us, especially because we are on bicycles, and they ride up beside us all of the time," says Sare. "We often get invited into local homes to taste local delicacies."
Heading further north, you'll kayak down the Nam Ou River. "The Nam Ou River winds through the mountains and is covered in thick, lush forest," says Sare. "Life on the river is abundant with fishermen in small wooden boats, women washing clothes, and happy children playing in the river. There are many great opportunities along the river for interaction with the local people." On several treks to visit hill tribes like the Hmong and Khamu minorities, you'll stay in homes with locals and learn about their farming practices, religious beliefs, and family life.
Departures include January 18, February 15, March 29, April 19, May 17, September 6, October 11, and November 22. Rates cover accommodations, most meals, ground transportation, activities and equipment, and guides. Airfare is extra. Round-trip April airfare from Los Angeles to Bangkok, Thailand starts at $1,066, including taxes, on Asiana Airlines. From Bangkok, you can fly to Luang Prabang for about $360 plus taxes on Bangkok Airways.