However, travellers wanting to head to this part of the world should not be deterred: the region’s newer, less well explored destinations – Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos – have an immense amount to offer – including breathtaking landscapes, timeless rivers (not least the Mekong), world-class ruins – and diverse minority tribes.
Why go Laos
Landlocked Laos has a relaxed pace of life and indifference to tourism that make it an idyllic escape. Luang Prabang is one of the most beguiling cities in Asia, with Unesco World Heritage status and faded French charm. Start the day watching alms-collecting monks file down the streets at dawn, and then visit a glittering Buddhist temple. At sunset, drink a Beer Lao on the banks of the Mekong before shopping for local crafts at the lantern-lit night market.
Travellers seeking the comforts of boutique hotels will find them here and in the country’s capital, Vientiane, alongside colonial villas, pleasant boulevards and Laos’s most important golden stupa, the 150ft-tall Pha That Luang.
To get off the beaten track, take a boat along the bucolic Nam Ou river from Luang Prabang, and drift past caves filled with images of the Buddha and dramatic karst scenery, ending up in sleepy village backwaters. Accommodation is rustic, but nothing beats swinging in a hammock and letting time pass Lao-style.
Ecotourism is blossoming at Luang Nam Tha in the north, where it is possible to walk to the villages of the animist Akha people. Alternatively, head south to the Mekong islands of Si Phan Don, home to fishing villages, waterfalls and rare Irrawaddy dolphins.
Tips: Lao food is relatively unknown, but there are some tasty dishes. Try some jaew, chilli dipping paste for balls of sticky rice, and laab, a fresh, spicy, minced-meat salad, tossed with mint and coriander.