By Jamie Lynn
Laos is not a country that was high on my list, but since I was already planning a trip to Asia, I decided to take a few days to explore this small but beautiful country.
The Lao People’s Democratic Republic, known as Laos, has a population of approximately 6.5 million people. The per capita GDP is just under $5000 USD.
We didn’t know what to expect from Laos, but out of the three countries visited on our trip (with Thailand and Cambodia), it turned out to be our favorite. We entered Laos at the Chiang Khong – Huay Xai border crossing, where we boarded a long boat for a 2-day cruise down the Mekong River.
I was blown away by the scenery; the lush mountains, the wildlife along the coast, and the beautiful villages we passed. During the cruise, we stopped at the villages of two of the Hill Tribes, the Hmong and Khmu. Walking through these villages transported us to another world. The children were eager to have their photos taken to they could see themselves on the screens, but the adults were weary of being photographed for fear of what would happen to their photo (some religious beliefs caused them to believe if their photo was buried, for example, that they would die). The woman patiently showed us their weaving techniques and some of the men showed us how rice whiskey is made.
We stopped for the night in Pakbeng, Laos. This was a very small village with one temple and a market, but many people and shops. It had the feel of a close-knit neighborhood but was more of a place to pass through than a tourist destination.
The next day we continued on our way to Luang Prabang with a stop at the Pak Ou caves, a small attraction filled with thousands of Buddhas.
When we arrived in Luang Prabang, we immediately felt that this was an Asian city with European flair. The architecture and gardens throughout the small city were stunning. A breathtaking view can be had by climbing the stairs to Mount Phou Si (there is a less steep set on one side, but I recommend taking the steeper steps down the mountain for more sculpture gardens and interesting foliage).
A short car ride away is Kuang Si Falls, a gorgeous set of waterfalls inside a park. There is a bear sanctuary at the entrance that is also worth a visit. Bring your swimsuit if you want to cool off (the water is freezing!)
Also in Luang Prabang is the Living Land Organic Farm, where you can spend a half day learning what it takes to be a rice farmer. This was an unforgettable experience! We spent time planting and picking rice, plowing the fields, learning how to dry and process the rice, and learning about all of its various uses. All of this is done in a setting that is almost indescribably beautiful.
Although we didn’t know what to expect from Laos, it turned out to be one of the most memorable parts of our trip. There aren’t many attractions that are known the world over, but this UNESCO Heritage site is certainly worth a visit.
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