I have been curious to explore Laos for its beauty and silk-textile weaving. Activities we would like to include in a 14- to 21-day tour are elephant trekking, purchasing silk and cotton weaving, river cruising, jungle walking and a trip to Siem Reap in Cambodia. My husband and I are in our late 50s. We're considering a tour rather than independent travel. The best time for us to travel is June/July. What advice do you have regarding weather conditions? - Alison

Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett & Lee Slater write:

Independent travel in Laos is relatively easy and the most rewarding way to experience the laidback lifestyle.

Most tourists visit between November and February, when it rains the least and is not too hot. It's also Laos' main season for bun (festivals).


The southwest monsoon arrives in Laos between May and July, and lasts into November. This is followed by a dry period (from November to May). If you plan to focus on the mountainous northern provinces, the hot season (from March to May) and early rainy season (around June) are not bad, either. Southern Laos, on the other hand, is best avoided from March to May, when temperatures soar.

The rainy season is not as ghastly as you may think. Although it will rain - heavily - the downpours are often brief and can be bracketed by long periods of sunshine. Of course, travel in remote areas may be impossible.

Ban Na and Ban Hat Khai, northeast of the capital Vientiane, are good launching points for treks into Phu Khao Khuay National Park to spot wild elephants. See the Vientiane Tourist Information centre and see trekkingcentrallaos.com.

The Mekong island of Don Kho and nearby village of Ban Saphai in southern Laos are famous for their silk and cotton weaving. Nearby Pakse is also a good starting point for a hop into Cambodia to visit Siem Reap and the Khmer ruins of Angkor Wat.

From Pakse you can catch a Sorya bus to Kampong Cham, then catch one to Siem Reap.

I intend to tour Madagascar in April, landing in Antananarivo. I would appreciate a typical itinerary for a 20-day visit. I will be alone, am a 60-year-old male and would like to see as much of the biodiversity as possible. - Phillip Millar
Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett & Lee Slater write:

Madagascar's flora is incredibly diverse - about 6000 species are known to science, including the bizarre octopus trees and seven baobab species.

The island's vegetation can be divided into three parallel north-south zones: the hot, arid west consists of dry, spiny desert or deciduous forest; the central plateau has now been mostly deforested; and the wettest part of the country, the eastern seaboard, supports extensive tracts of rainforest. Mangrove forests grow along the coast, particularly near large estuaries.


From Antananarivo, head down to the jungle-carpeted Parc National de Ranomafana, home to the rare bamboo lemur. Further south, ogle flora in lofty Parc National d'Andringitra, including 30 species of orchid.

En route to coastal Tulear, take in the desert canyon landscape of Parc National de l'Isalo and cool off in one of the piscine naturelle. From Tulear, fly north via the capital to Sambava and the mountainous rainforest of Parc National de Marojejy.

Next, head inland and on to the northwest coast, where three lush parks await. Our pick is the Reserve Naturelle Integrale de Lokobe, where you're likely to spot many wonderful plants, from ylang-ylang trees to vanilla orchids. Return to Antananarivo from Nosy Be after lounging on the beaches or snorkeling.

The shoulder seasons of April to May and November to December are great times to travel, as temperatures are pleasant and there are fewer visitors.