Laos is situated near the Cambodian border and the Mekong awakes from its slumber into Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands) and disintegrates into a series of churning rapids. Downstream, you can find the rare Irrawaddy dolphins who seek solace in a deep river pool.<br />Kayaking or bicycling around these bucolic islands is the signature southern Laos experience. The rest of this incredibly diverse region is home to Angkorian temples, highland cultures, huge waterfalls, prime trekking, and raw off-the-beaten-track experiences. These remained off the radar until recently. Exploring the area by rented motorbike makes it a very rewarding trip.<br />It's no longer just the realm of backpackers, southern Laos now has a scattering of upscale rural lodges and boutique hotels. New highways and dams are changing the landscape forever.