Social enterprises, stylish boutique stays and sun-soaked lap pools: the cosmopolitan rise of Cambodia and Laos

While the Tomb Raider connotations of Angkor Wat still prevail, a fresh wave of cutting edge start-ups and swanky independents is reshaping the must-see cities of Siem Reap and Luang Prabang.

Standing knee deep in shards of soft Laos light, I can feel tiny chunks of my toes being nibbled away. It’s not an unpleasant feeling. The dead skin is being stripped and repurposed by beautiful shoals of native garra rufa fish and, as my tired feet wilfully succumb to nature’s picturesque pedicure, I turn my focus to the emerald waters at Kuang Si Falls – a cinematic-worthy series of pools and waterfalls nestled deep in the lush-green boughs of Luang Prabang.

This is a Laos that celebrates gin-clear coves and independent cafes and local social enterprises and boujee boutique hotels. It is not the Laos that friends recall from their backpacking days through a haze of cheap rice whisky. And I’m glad to have discovered it later in life. I missed out on the ‘gap yah’ that defined so many twenty-somethings’ travels, choosing instead to tend to the delicate matter of earning a living. So, now, 15 years later, I’m embarking on a more authentic, more cultured, and infinitely more stylish traverse of Cambodia and Laos in a soul-enriching sojourn in the sun.

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