There are two basic types of backpackers: the daredevils, for whom the more obstacles mean the better fun, and the "I'd love to but I'm not sure it's safe" ones, who expect the hardships of trekking to be rewarded with oriental marvels and a little bit of pampering. If you belong to the latter group, Laos is quite possibly the best place on earth to probe. Here you can take a spine-tingling elephant ride into the heart of the jungle and rest assured the way back will be fast and unhampered, or give a go to local food but have French banquettes in reserve just in case the Lao staple diet is not to your taste. But whatever you do, Laos and its 5.5 million laid-back inhabitants will shed some totally new light on your concept of unhurriedness.
Despite encroaching commercialization, Laos remains the most pristine gem of South-East Asia, with nature, culture, and mentalities virtually intact. Even Vientiane (the capital ) and Luang Prabang (the biggest tourist magnet) still mesmerize with their sleepy blend of French Indochinese architecture, profuse Theravada Buddhist temples, and orange-clad monks languidly performing their daily chores, almost as if the murky, yellowish Mekong was dictating the leisurely pace of life with its snail-like flow.
Outside the cities, both in the far south and the northern provinces of the country, independent travelers will have the time of their lives, roaming from one idle village to another in the scenery of coffee plantations and dramatic waterfalls of the Bolaven Plateau, having to pick and choose among the adventure activities of karst-hugged Vang Vieng, or pondering the origin of hundreds of huge stone urns that cover the mystical Plain Of Jars. Follow the well-trodden paths (just a handful of them but on the increase) or blaze your own trails - Laos gives you green light to weave your own traveler's design onto its precious fabric at the same time ensuring you're not going to have your fingers pricked.