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4000 Islands (Si Phan Don)
Don Khong, Don Det and Don Khon among some
Right before the Cambodian border, where the Mekong river drops into a series of waterfalls, lie a series of tiny sandy islands. Home to tranquil farming and fishing villages, shady trees and mud covered water buffaloes, the Four Thousand Islands (in Lao Si Phan Don) is the near-perfect setting for some quiet days in the hammock. Besides some lazy tubing (this is not the new Vang Vieng), Irrawaddy dolphin spotting and exploration on crappy bicycles, there isn't much to do other than chill and watch the gorgeous sunsets from your bamboo balcony.
Northern Laos, like Xieng Kok
The Akha people is one of the many hill tribes in Laos. They live in the mountains in small villages made up of bamboo houses raised from the ground. They are mainly farmers growing dry rice and corn, but previously they were also keen opium producers, a production the government is now trying to put an end to. The women are fairly easily recognized by their headdresses that are adorned by silver coat buttons. It is possible to visit and stay overnight in an Akha village on a trekking trip, which is a great way to support the otherwise poor tribe.
In the tranquil riverside town of Savannakhet lies this tiny Dinosaur museum. The palaeontological finds are all from the area and the one room exhibition is a very low key affair. A dinosaur is drawn in full size along three of the walls and outlined by Christmas lights. The curators are very friendly, though not speaking much English, and will pull out drawers to show you hidden stuff up close. You might even get a tour in the store room behind, where all the new finds are. Don't expect a lot of explanation, all signs are only in Lao and French. We like... bravo!
Giant water bug
The Lao people eat pretty much anything, so why not giant water bugs? The Latin name for these insects is Belostomatidae and they can reach up to a monster size of 9 cm. The locals love them and you can probably get used to the gooey bits that explode in your mouth when chewing them.
Ho Chi Minh trail
The Ho Chi Minh trail was not a single trail, but rather a network of trails and dirt roads that lead from North Vietnam to South Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia in the bloody years of the Vietnam War. The Viet Minh, who were based in North Vietnam and led by Ho Chi Minh, used it to supply their allies in the South, the Viet Cong, with arms and men, so they could fight the Americans and the South Vietnamese army. Since both Cambodia and Laos were officially neutral, the Americans decided to secretly bomb the area where the Ho Chi Minh trail went through. Just in Laos, the Americans dropped more than 2 million tons of bombs, making Laos one of the most heavily bombed countries in the world. Today there isn't much evidence of the Ho Chi Minh trail, but at the dirt square in Pa-am village you can still see a Russian surface-to-air missile launcher (with missile) that the North Vietnamese troops managed to drag down here.
All over Laos, eg. Phou Khoun road junction
It seems that anything that can be shot down with a slingshot is considered a delicacy in Laos. Most local markets in northern Laos have a few vendors selling freshly killed jungle animals, like squirrels, forest rats, mouse-deers and other jungle rodents, along with smoked bats and colourful birds. There might even be a few live animals hidden in a basket somewhere. The hunters normally use either a slingshot or a home-made shotgun that uses ammo made of UXO (unexploded ordnance), war leftovers from the heavy bombing of Laos during the Vietnam War. Though jungle meat is a part of Lao food culture for some ethnic minorities, we strongly discourage you to try it.
Nam Tok Katamtok
Katamtok Waterfall is the second highest waterfall in Laos. The few meters the it's lacking in height compared to the Tat Fan (the highest waterfall in Laos), is redeemed by the unspoiled setting. It is almost hidden in the jungle and though a small sign on a tree gives it away, chances are that you will have it for yourself (at least until the road is sealed). Similar to Tat Fan, it plunges out of the jungle where the Bolaven Plateau breaks off and disappears 100 m or so below in more green stuff. Very nice, very low key, very Lao.
Kong Lor cave
50 km from Khoun Kham village
A 7.5 km long cave in the bottom of a gorgeous valley protected by steep limestone cliffs. At Ban Kong Lo, you can take a boat trip all the way through the cave to the other end (and back, of course) where it opens up into another valley. One section of the cave has a nice range of stalactites and stalagmites, where some are still growing. Unfortunately, the local tourists are having a hard time keeping their hands off the fragile formations. The rest of the cave is just one long tunnel that bends around big boulders that once have fallen from the ceiling high above. Sure it's a nice cave, but it is its extremely long length that makes it extraordinary.
Kuang Si Waterfall
32 km from Luang Prabang
It's worth the drive out to Kouang Si Waterfall if you are in Luang Prabang for a few days. The crowds do not make the emerald green river any less spectacular. The water is cool and refreshing on a hot day. The big falls are beautiful to sit under, and, if you are lucky, a rainbow will form in the mist. Continue on the trail to the top of the waterfall, and you will be rewarded with a wonderful view overlooking the valley. Keep in mind it is most busy midday, so for a more intimate experience, head out very early or late in the afternoon!
Luang Namtha town
Luang Namtha Province
Luang Namtha town is beautifully located among rice fields at the banks of Namtha River. The town itself is a rather uninteresting one-main-street affair, but the surrounding countryside is sprinkled by small villages inhabited by some of Laos many ethnic tribes. It is estimated that Luang Namtha Province is home to about 39 out of Laos' 100 different tribes, where Khamu, Lanten, Hmong og Akha are some of those that can be meet in Luang Namtha. Furthermore, Ban Nam Dee waterfall, which is located in a Lantan village, is only a bicycle ride away. If you want to do some trekking, Nam Ha Protected Area is close by (but needs to be booked).