Laos is a quiet and thinly populated country, best appreciated for its small-scale rural attractions and its true wilderness. I think it’s one of the real highlights of Southeast Asia, and it’s especially easy to recommend now that improving infrastructure makes it more accessible.

If you came to Laos to party then you have been sadly misinformed. This is a thoroughly sedate country and nothing at all like Thailand. You also won’t find the sort of chaotic and buzzing cities on the scale that you’ll find in its neighboring countries.

But that’s just what’s so wonderful about Laos. It’s all about exploring its gentle rural villages, enjoying its Buddhist calm and awe-inspiring nature, and sampling its phenomenal (and underrated) food. Mass tourism hasn’t gotten its grubby hands on Laos, which seems a lot more focused on eco- and community-based tourism. It’s a destination truly made for explorers, with some of the region’s best opportunities for trekking and other outdoor activities.