The Far East is one of those places where we frequented the most when it comes to choosing an exotic location to simply unwind. And it was from one of these special trips where we completely and utterly fell in love with Laos. As a country, it is very small with a population of only 7M people. But what it lacks in number, this small Asian gem makes up in charming and memorable landscape. Our 18 day journey comprised of Cambodia, Laos and Northern Thailand with wonderful tales to share. Nevertheless, this article is all about our 5 day experience in Laos with more adventures from Cambodia and Thailand set for future posts.
The Laos adventure started when we arrived in Pakse, south of the country. In order to get to our accommodation at the La Folie Lodge in Champasak overlooking the Mekong River, we had to take a boat. It was an unforgettable first memory of this small country when we simply floated over calm water that was glistening under the evening sunset. Now that I look back, the entire journey throughout Laos echoed how we first felt on this boat journey, a feeling of live and let live.
After a restful night at the lodge (photos of the hotel in the early morning hours below), we set out to explore Si Phan Don (or also known as 4,000 islands) stretch out along the Mekong.
We spent the day exploring both the river and land with various stops along the way including the picturesque Khone Falls, the largest waterfall by volume in Southeast Asia. Life here is very stripped back and simple. It is a rural area with some historic evidence remained from the French Colonial dating back to the 1800’s. However, what is left now is a sense of time that seemed to stand still while we breathed in the very sense of every being from the calm water buffalo happily enjoying themselves in the river to a riveting orange road that seemed to stretch out into another world of mysterious wonders. Overall, it is a very small place and coupled with a serene calmness that seemed to envelop the surroundings, the whole experience was quite spiritual and certainly unforgettable.
Next up is Luang Prabang but en route we visited the 5th Century Wat Phou temple, a pre-Angkorian Hindu architecture with its own sacred spring and once an active Hindu temple where volunteer virgins would be sacrificed to appease Shiva. Set at the base of surrounding mountains, the temple is a vast place. Be certain that you will need your most comfortable shoes because there are many stairs or I would see it, life hurdles to climb until you reach peace and tranquility where the most beautiful landscape spread out all around you. Along the way, there are many interesting facets of this place to contemplate and ponder on. But however high you climb, just don’t forget to pause and look back to appreciate the journey that has brought you to this very point in time of your life. Regardless of your religious belief, this is a place for everyone and the entire journey was quite humbling and uplifting.
After a spiritual day at the Wat Phou temple, we flew to Luang Prabang, our final leg of this journey. Luang Prabang is the most visited town in all of Laos and having been there, we certainly agree with this popular conclusion as it was one of the most charming and memorable places we have ever set foot on. Part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995, this little gem is a blend of the country’s traditional architecture and those from the European colonial time. Shops and restaurants lay along the river with more winding paths to golden temples and urban houses adorned by different types of interesting roof structures that seemed to stretch out all along the town walls and river.
We stayed three days at the Alila Luang Prabang Hotel and the experience was thoroughly relaxed as well as rejuvenated, especially after a long day touring the city. It is a very romantic and calming place with excellent restaurant and hotel services. One of my best memories staying here were the evenings spent under the stars while reminiscing the events that unfolded throughout the day. It was a magical time.
The main religion in Laos is Theravada Buddhism, hence, the spiritual tour that we seemed to be taking on this trip. Besides the charming architectures the town embodies, there are 30 beautifully gilded temples spread out throughout Luang Prabang. Everyone is welcome here and especially during the praying hour. Money as a form of gift is never allowed and certainly not with the Buddhist monks, except in the form of foods and purely vegetarian.
At one of the afternoon’s praying sessions
Another interesting experience was when I participated in the daily tradition of early morning offerings to the local monks. At dawn, saffron-robed monks walked down the streets between buildings while collecting food donations from the locals or in this case, tourists like myself, under the slowly gentle rise of the morning sun.
After Laos, we traveled to the Golden Triangle via the Luangsay Cruise Boat up the Mekong River into the Thai border at Huay Xai with an overnight stay at the Luang Say Lodge in Pakbeng. In essence, it was a two day journey to Thailand via the Mekong with incredible sights and places where more fascinating life memories are being experienced. The boat ride was wonderful where we met other interesting travellers from all over the world while together enjoying more sacred sights along the way including Tham Ting caves famed for their miniature Buddha statutes.
Because of our vast travels, we always think that we have seen it all. But in reality, we simply have not. If anything, as the French Writer, Gustave Flaubert once said, “Travel, makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” Laos might be a distance memory in our travel book at this point in time, but there will always be a very special and humbling place in our hearts for this mystical gem.