Sustainable Travel in Laos

The only landlocked nation in Southeast Asia, Laos has one of the most diverse ecosystem networks on the Indochina Peninsula, including tropical monsoon forests and marshlands, and is home to over 800 species of birds and 100 large mammals. Over 70% of the country is covered in forested hills and mountains, primarily the Luang Prabang and Annamite Ranges, and its eastern border is dominated by the mighty Mekong River, a vital transportation route, food source, and heart of the nation’s hydroelectric industry. The earliest humans arrived in the region around 50,000 years ago, and the country today is home to more than 50 different ethnic groups. Laos was established in the 14th century as Lan Xang, or the 'Kingdom of a Million Elephants’. Today, the wild elephant population has sadly dropped below 500, joining other Laotian endangered species like the Eld’s deer, red panda, and Irrawaddy river dolphin. In addition to rafting, caving, and zip-lining, overnight homestays in small communities and among Laos’ diverse population facilitate cultural exchanges and help spread tourism dollars to rural areas. Other cultural highlights include exploring the atmospheric ancient capital of Luang Prabang - a UNESCO World Heritage Centre - and the mysterious archaeological site, Plain of Jars. With enchanting karst cliffs, a vast network of beguiling waterfalls, and genuinely welcoming and friendly local people, Laos is a glimpse of a still developing Southeast Asia mostly undisturbed by mass tourism.

What are they doing right?

Soon after opening to tourism in 1990, Laos established a network of twenty National Protected Areas (NPA) that cover 17% of the country and remain central to its community-based tourism initiatives. A 1999 project in northern Nam Ha NPA introduced ecotourism by providing alternative livelihoods to poachers who were trained as nature guides, lodge operators, and identifiers of biodiversity threats to support government surveillance. The project became a co-management model for NPA throughout the country and won the United Nations Development Programme’s ‘Equator Prize’ in 2006. Ongoing efforts to position Laos’ enchanting landscapes as premiere ecotourism destinations are supported by tourism strategy plans and best practice policies that guide sustainable development to help alleviate poverty and support conservation, while employing long-term monitoring systems to assess impact and inform ongoing research.

The Tiger Ranking

Alligator StarAlligator Star

One of the poorest nations, Laos still no railroads and few paved roads. The mighty Mekong River, much as our own Mississippi River once did, serves as the country’s main artery for distributing goods and spreading communications. As it turns out, Laos’ lack has turned around in at least one instance. The country’s farmers have been doing, as one article put it, “organic by default.” The farmers did not have the resources to buy chemicals and other products to use in food production, which meant they were producing food in sustainable manner – organically, before they even realized what that could mean. What they originally saw as a disadvantage turned out to be an advantage. These farmers were already using the principles of organic agriculture. As organic products became increasingly in demand, the farmers were connected to better markets and the revenues increased. Farmers began to apply for certifications to confirm the organic origin of their product. Many local and foreign NGOs support sustainable, organic agriculture, and the Lao government also has been a strong advocate. That support was asserted by putting in place “Strategic Plan for National Organic Agriculture Development 2025 and Vision Towards 2030,” which shows long term commitment to organic agriculture.

Why the Tiger Ranking?