Despite being prey to all the distressingly common destructive forces that annually diminish the World’s biodiversity, the dramatic scenery of Laos easily lends itself to ecotourism, and fortunately its popularity and thereby economic importance serves to temper some potentially harmful development.

Some 14% of the country is classified in National Protected Areas (NPA), which can be found throughout the country. Recognising this, the National Tourism Administration is actively marketing Laos as an Eco destination and adventure playground.

The 20 National Protected Areas of Laos are all home to a rich variety of wildlife, with over a hundred mammals including 5 species of Gibbon, 5 species of Macaque and four species of Leaf Monkey, Sun Bears, Black Bears, Tigers, Clouded Leopards and Elephants among the better known animals. Trekking the numerous trails in the National Protected Areas is a highly rewarding experience and some of these locations also provide interesting supplementary adventure activities to deepen the experience.

In 1997, the discovery of a population of black-cheeked Gibbon, previously thought extinct, inspired the creation of the protected area of Bokeo Nature Reserve to ensure their survival. As well as the Gibbons, Elephants, Bears and Tigers also benefit from the protection afforded by the reserve.

Visitor numbers are restricted to small groups for the two or three day ‘Gibbon Experience’ trips, a true innovation in eco travel. The accommodation is in canopy-high thatched tree houses, ranging in capacity from 2 to 8 persons with semi-private bedrooms, and aside from the many walking trails, you can enjoy the thrill of exploring the canopy on a network of zip wires.

Another of Lao’s innovations is the award winning Night Safari at Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area and is one of best trips affording a truly realistic prospect of seeing the rarest of creatures in the wild.

The journey is by long-tail boat upriver in the afternoon and floating downstream with stilled engines through the night, spotting wildlife, which is highly successful and brings much benefit to the local ethnic inhabitants, who are in turn financially rewarded according to the number of species spotted, thereby instilling a motivational local culture of protection.

The highest benefits are obtained from sightings of the most endangered species, such as Tigers, and provide extra conservation incentives to protect these creatures. Accommodation is at an Eco-Lodge.

Elephants are always a popular encounter for tourists, and in Xe Pian, also one of the most diverse of the National Protected Areas, several Elephant riding treks are a good way to explore the area. Other prominent elephant riding trails include the Elephant Park Project near Luang Prabang and at Hongsa, where the trails can last from a couple of hours to up to three days.

If you want to see elephants in the wild, an overnight stay in the purpose built tower at Ban Na Elephant Observation Tower in Phou Khao Khouay National Protected Area offers the chance to see these noble creatures within one their own last remaining natural habitats.

In the area of the ‘four thousand islands’ on the Mekong River around Don Khone, it is still possible to see the endangered Irrawaddy River Dolphins swimming in the vast and complex system of waterfalls and rapids. Though not for complete novices, the rapids can also be negotiated by Kayak and Rafting.