Laos , a very small land locked country, filled with such a colorful and vibrant history and culture.
I’ve always had this fascination with Asia , specifically South East Asia, having traveled to Vietnam, Cambodia, and China. While planning my next foray into this region, the countries on my list were Laos and Myanmar – with their rich history of ancient grand Kingdoms and Buddhism widely practiced among the people . This culture has always piqued my interest. Ok, so it’s on the other side of the world…but here I go. I couldn’t find a traveling companion who shared my curiosity and enthusiasm– so – I go solo – and what an adventure it was! I did arrange my hotels and guides throughout the region (I’m not that bold ) beforehand-since I’m not the backpacker type of girl. I choose to go at the end of February through the first 2 weeks of March. This is actually the best time to go – weather is pleasant, balmy with plenty of sun.
The travel is intense…with connections and layovers the trip took 30 hours. I went from New York to China to Bangkok then onto Luang Prabang, Laos. I could’ve gone directly into Bangkok but I felt the need to stretch my legs and needless to say any way you slice it it’s a long journey. The weather was spectacular as I arrived into Laos – sunny and warm – with my guide right there waiting for me at baggage claim. My guide – Doua – would be with me throughout my sojourn in Laos. A soft spoken young man -his English understandable – we were off to a grand start. I later learned my Doua was originally from the Hill Tribe – his people a very integral part of Laos history. We then proceeded to my hotel – Villa Maly – a converted French home – which was small and quaint – beautifully appointed. As soon as I arrived I had a 2 hour massage (only $35!) , a wonderful meal of lightly curried vegetables and went to my room for a much needed sleep.
The next morning I woke about 5am to participate in offering alms to the hundreds of monks who walk down the streets. I arranged with my guide to prepare some food for me to give them as they did their morning ritual. I was among the many town people who do this every morning and was told this practice dates back many generations. It was an exhilarating experience. Afterwards, walking through the busy daily market ,I saw fresh produce, rice, fish, chicken, flowers , beans and a host of other foods being sold . I didn’t know which way to look first.
After breakfast Doua and I went to visit the many temples in the city. Lauang Prabang is a quiet little town with beautiful architecture. The small streets held the magic of the people. I enjoyed walking through town and seeing how the people lived – a culture so different from my own. That evening, after my guide left, I ventured into the center of town where a daily night market takes place as the soft melodious chanting of the monks filters from the temples nearby. The indigenous people from the smaller villages – artisans, wood carvers weavers and painters- offer beautifully crafted items for sale.
The next morning was the full day tour of the Pak Ou Caves. Boarding a long tail boat the journey took approximately two hours upstream on the Mekong River. It was a gorgeous day and the water, so calm and serene, offered magnificent views. When I arrived at the caves I didn’t know quite what to expect but, as I walked inside, I was surrounded by over 4,000 Buddha statues. It was amazing! The statues had been assembled there for centuries. It is considered disrespectful to destroy a Buddha image so now this has become a sacred site.
On my last day in Laos I went to a Hill Tribe. Approximately a 3 hour drive from Luang Prabang ,the village is home to the Tai Lu minority who had migrated from China in the late 18TH century. The homes in the village are all built on stilts. I was honored to be invited to lunch in one of the villagers home. It was a’ Zimmerman’ moment for sure. The food – very tasty, my hosts – very gracious. It was truly a unique experience to be invited into their home and enjoy a home cooked meal.
Laos will always hold a special place in my heart. The people so gentle….Loved it…
Stay tuned for Part 2 – Myanmar!!