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Laos has a low population density, unspoiled diverse ethnic lifestyles, and perhaps the richest, most extensive network of ecosystems on the Indochina Peninsula. There are over 800 species of birds and more than 100 large mammals already identified in Laos, with new species being discovered every year. Some of the more exotic species include tigers, clouded leopards, douc langur monkeys, gibbons, the Irrawaddy dolphin, hornbills, peafowls, ibis, crested argus, and silver pheasants. A network of 20 national protected areas was designated to protect and conserve its ecosystem. It is often cited as one of the best designed protected area systems in the world. It covers nearly 14% of the country with large tracts of tropical monsoon forest, diverse wildlife populations, spectacular karst limestone formations, and a diversity of minority ethnic groups.

Eco-Tourism

Laos has been fortunate in many ways, because conservation and environmental protection took hold very quickly after the country opened up to mass tourism in the early '90s. Both the government and many tourism-related businesses took the message very seriously and acted on it. This doesn't mean that everything in the garden is rosy, but what it does mean is that Laos is relatively sophisticated in the support it gives for an ecofriendly infrastructure.

Although most of Laos's protected areas are remote and difficult to reach, there are opportunities for eco-tourism-themed activities such as trekking, kayaking, bird-watching, and camping that allow you to experience firsthand the country's magnificent natural and cultural diversity.

For a list of specifically ecofriendly activities and places to stay all over Laos, visit www.ecotourismlaos.com. This website is maintained by the Lao National Tourism Administration and reflects its enthusiasm in pushing the eco-tourism agenda.

Sustainable Travel Tips for Laos -- While in Laos, you can make your trip a constructive one by following these simple guidelines:

  • Eat Lao food as much as you feel able. Purchasing fresh foods in the market and eating Lao dishes ensures that your money stays local and supports Lao farmers. When on a tour, request to eat in the village instead of taking food with you from town. This will provide villagers with income and you with an authentic Lao meal.
  • Purchase local crafts. Purchasing handicrafts in markets or villages directly supports local artisans and their traditional crafts.
  • Use local guides. Taking a village guide and/or a local guide from town will make your trip more enjoyable and will help employ local people. Inquire about packaged tours that include local guides, local food, and local accommodations.
  • Stay overnight in villages. Staying overnight in a village as part of an organized tour provides a genuine and rewarding experience of Lao culture and Lao people. Remember to compensate villagers for accommodations and for food and to visit villages with a local guide.
  • Visit national protected areas. Visiting national protected areas can help generate income and awareness to support the protection of threatened wildlife and forest ecosystems.

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.