Northern Laos is part of a chain of wild and mountainous country stretching from north Thailand and on to northern Vietnam. Dramatic limestone scenery dissected by rivers sometimes torrid and sometimes tranquil provides the setting for hill tribe settlements, enigmatic remnants of past empires, and vast wild areas of immense ecological worth.

Set among all of this stunning scenery is the jewel of northern Laos and indeed Southeast Asia as a whole -- Luang Prabang. Many a traveler's tale in Luang Prabang begins like this: "Well, I was only supposed to stay here for a couple of days, but ..." The quiet street-side cafes, ancient temples, and laid-back, friendly locals give this town a tranquillity that has sucked many unsuspecting visitors in for weeks (or years) at a time. A visit here feels like a vacation from your vacation.

The town is fed by rivers and a journey up either the Mekong or the Nam Ou will take you through a land of incredible mountains, dense forests, and contorted limestone outcrops alternating between being clothed in mist, grilled by the sun, and pounded by intense monsoon rains.