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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Laos.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Laos.
Luang Prabang, with its meld of Franco-Indo-Chinese traditions, architecture and food, was once the capital of Laos and still has that air of importance. The sacred-to-Buddhists Mount Phou Si has gorgeous views of the city and the surrounding mountains and rivers.
Wat Xieng Thong, the region’s most magnificent Buddhist temple and monastery, is lavishly gilded and utterly peaceful, housing a standing Buddha as well as a rare reclining one. Wat Wisunarat is one of the oldest temples, with a sizeable collection of Buddha statues calling for rain. The Royal Palace Museum houses the crown jewels of Laos, as well as a carefully preserved retelling of the country’s history, and the solid gold Prabang Buddha statue. If you’re an early riser, cover up and watch the Alms Giving ceremony, where Luang Prabang’s monks practise walking meditation around the town, receiving rice and food for the day.
For something different, try the Bamboo Tree Cooking Class, which gives you the full experience, from shopping to prep and eating what you cook.
Take a day-trip to Kuangsi Waterfalls by shared minivan or tuk-tuk, and enjoy the beautiful falls. Sharing transport will lower costs as well as turn the day into a picnic of sorts.
The Pak Ou Caves is another great day-trip destination. The upper and lower caves are famous for the thousands of Buddha statues and images left behind by travelling pilgrims to mark their journey. Take the opportunity to cruise down the Mekong River.
LEAVE ON A JET PLANE: Return flights start at 545 USD from Mumbai and 638 USD from New Delhi
VISA: 42 USD (on arrival)
GET AROUND: Luang Prabang is very easy to explore on foot. So give your legs a stretch or treat yourself to tuk-tuk rides. Tourists are chared around 1.5 USD for short tuk-tuk rides. Bike rentals cost around ? 1.5 USD to 3USD/ day, and offer more flexibility.
The eco-friendly E-Bus is a cheap and unhurried way to get around, especially the green line for visitors.
STAY: Luang Prabang’s hostels aren’t too highly recommended, but its guesthouses are quite reasonably priced. Try these options: Villa Ban Lakkam, Lao Wooden House and Lan Kham Riverside. Sala Prabang is not cheap, but is worth the splurge.
EAT AND DRINK: Feasting is a national pastime in Laos, and Luang Prabang is no exception. Fresh, sharp flavours abound, with a variety of succulent meats and robust Laotian coffee on offer. Try the Colonial Cafe Le Ban Vat Sene. Some of the best Lao food in town is at tiny Cafe Toui. Head to the Night Market after 9pm for desserts, like sticky rice and coconut cream, hibiscus smoothies and more.
WHEN TO GO: March to May is hot with hazy skies, but that’s also when the Pi Mai or Lao New Year celebrations take place. June to October is the off-peak monsoon, so prices and numbers plummet. The best time, and peak season, is November to February – this is when reasonable prices and comfortable climates meet.
the yawning gash in the rock face marked the gaping door of the cave, which was said to house a holy spirit no one would ever dare cross. The spirit protected the Laven minority people of central Laos, and there was a time when locals would never have risked entering the darkness beyond its illuminated hallway. Every year, they honoured it by sacrificing a cow or a buffalo, and as if proof were needed, none of their families had ever died while collecting the high-up swallows’ nests – to make bird’s nest soup – even when they fell.
In 1995, French cavers arrived with a map and told the Laven locals of nearby Nong Ping village that it was possible to pass through the cave and emerge at the opposite end, but the villagers, frozen with fear, refused to go. Instead, they rambled over the top of the ridge to meet them on the other side.
Then, in 2007, the Laos government, the tourist board and a German development organisation persuaded the then chief of the village, Kea Lewnalie, to enter the cave. He thought he would die, but when he emerged unscathed, the locals cried:
“What’s it like?” To which the sexagenarian chided: “It’s just a cave!” to peals of laughter from his 200- strong community.
But it isn’t just a cave. Through Xe Bang Fai River Cave flows 6.5 kilometres of navigable water, its walls ballooning to 200m wide in places an d up to a staggering 120m high. It is considered one ofthe world’s largest active river caves, yet has barely been heard of – even locally. In the previous dry season, just 224 travellers visited its depths, hidden beneath central Laos? Hin Nam No National Protected Area. But I was curious to see them for myself, and to explore a part of the country still dealing with the legacy of a war that ended over 40 years ago.
Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam share ancient and contemporary histories of war and French colonial influences, but it’s the Mekong River that both links them and in many places separates them geographically, running along much of Laos’s border with Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand, then through Cambodia and Vietnam and into the South China Sea.
The river was once the major artery of the Angkor Empire, and remains an omnipresent symbol and lifeline of Indochina, along which its principal sites and cities were built and flourished. Today, glimmering Khmer temples, forgotten villages, and bustling markets line its timeless banks and dot the rich countryside.
A three-day Mekong cruise aboard Vat Phou – a handsome refurbished barge with just twelve cabins – provides a fascinating crash course on the hypnotic and little-visited Laotian segment of the river, viewable from the vessel’s rich varnished-wood deck, which has the inviting charm of a wide veranda.
But shore excursions call, including some of Laos’s most imporant sites: the pre-Angkorian temple of Wat Phou, the roaring waterfalls of Phapheng (the largest in Southeast Asia), and the 4.000 islands that sprinkle the lower Mekong near the Cambodian border. As you drift serenely downstream, the gracious service of your Laotian stewards and convivial French owner-cum-chef-extraordinaire add just the right degree of distraction.
Those seeking an extended journey on the Mekong can sail Zolotrips’ twenty-two-day Mekong cruise through Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, departing from Houey Sai, Laos (via Bangkok), and ending nearly three weeks later in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). You’ll spend your nights in guest houses along the way.
Most places in Laos are apt to take you back in time, but this is especially true in somnambulant, temple-filled Luang Prabang (City of the Buddha of Peace) in the mountainous north. With a population of just 15,000, it is Laos’s second-largest city, still untouristed despite its former role as royal capital and the center of Laotian Buddhism.
More than 600 saffron-clad monks inhabit its thirty pagodas, of which the most exceptional is the 16th-century Wat Xieng Thong, the Golden City Temple, built by royalty who held court in Luang Prabang until 1975, when the monarchy was abolished. Its many Thai-influenced structures, containing impressive images of Buddha, escaped an 18th-century invasion by Chinese pirates, making it the oldest in town.
Beyond the temples, visitors will find the city’s unpaved back streets exude the same kind of Buddhist calm, with roosters roaming and children at play, while the main streets are lined with handsome French colonial architecture, including the former villa of Crown Prince Khampha.
Now a hotel owned by the prince’s daughter, it offers eleven simple but attractive rooms, a lovely courtyard, and an inviting upstairs veranda, but the Villa Santi Hotel’s chief draw is its surprisingly sophisticated open-air restaurant, which serves full-course Laotian dinners. It’s the most animated spot in town, but even here things are relaxed. Settle in for dinner after a stroll through the daily Nauvengkhan Market.
Built in stages between the 6th and 14th centuries – and thus predating Cambodia’s Angkor Wat by 200 years – the hilltop temples of Wat Phou contain some of the best Khmer art in Southeast Asia. Even though centuries of abandonment left little of the original temples intact (they were only rediscovered in 1866), the scale and age of the complex is breathtaking, as is the hike up the massive stairs to the ruins of a 9th-century temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.
From this fantastic setting against the majestic mountain Linga Parvata, you can view the spectacular landscape – on a clear day as far as Vietnam and Cambodia. Below, the broad expanse of the Mekong River with its narrow fishing boats winds through fertile lowlands dotted by small villages.
Farther downstream, and often included in the same organized tour, is the Oum Moung, a less-elaborate Khmer temple that was probably used as a station for pilgrims on their way to Wat Phou.
Little more than a romantic ruin, with less extensive and brilliant carvings than those at Wat Phou, Oum Moung is most interesting for the jungle walk that takes you there, beginning at a riverside settlement where life seems not to have changed since the 13th or 14th century, when the temple is believed to have been built.