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For those who enjoy the pleasures of nature and the outdoors, Laos is a place to really stretch yourself in the most pristine and interesting of surroundings. For cycling, Laos is ideal. You are best off bringing your own bicycle if you can, though, since those for rent tend to be clunkers designed only to get around town. The riding can be tough but the rewards are immense. Getting villagers to understand that you pedal for pleasure even though you could actually afford a vehicle with an engine might take some doing. If you prefer, you can take an organized tour.

Trekking in Laos (particularly the north and the center around Khammouane) is now very popular. It is a good way to get a taste of the real rural Laos. Most tour companies and many guesthouses will be able to organize a trek for you or put you in touch with those who can.

After what happened in Thailand and Nepal in the '80s and '90s, when trekking became an industry that often bought rapacious operators into delicate ethnic communities, there was real worry that Laos could go the same way. Happily that hasn't happened and operators have acted responsibly to preserve the natural and cultural environment. Ordinarily a day's trekking costs about $20 per person. Bring stout shoes, a hat, and sunblock.

Kayaking and even white-water rafting are popular on the northern waterways of the Nam Ou, the Nam Ming, and the Nam Xouang as well as the Ang Nam Ngum reservoir between Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Local tour operators and some guesthouses in Vientiane, Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang, and Luang Namtha will be able to enlighten you as to your potential options.

Looking at all that amazing karst limestone scenery around the country, it is no surprise that rock climbing is an increasingly popular activity in Laos. Vang Vieng now attracts world-class climbers and is in the running for Southeast Asia's primary rock climbing destination.

One of the country's principal operators, Green Discovery (www.greendiscoverylaos.com) is the activity tour specialist with offices in Vientiane, Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang, Luang Namtha, and Pakse. Their website offers a wide range of options for every activity. They also run tours offering a combination of activities. Remote Asia (www.remoteasia.com) offers a "Work up a sweat" 11-day activity tour of the north, involving dirt biking, trekking, kayaking, caving, mountain biking, and stays in hill tribe villages.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.