Travel blog of an Indian family as they journey the world.

Sabaidee – Our Laos Experience

May 30, 2014  //   by raj   //   comments(2)  //  Destinations

travel blog on Laos

Of all the countries that we visited in the second leg of our world tour in South East Asia, we had the least expectations from Laos. It is a country that is not on the popular tourist itinerary from India. Nor is it associated with a world famous monument (like Angor Wat in Cambodia) or a spectacular natural wonder (like Halong Bay in Vietnam).

We chose Laos because of two reasons. One, it offers Visa on arrival for Indians. For long term travellers like us, this is a bonus and second, its location was very convenient between Thailand and Vietnam.

We spent around three weeks and the country pleasantly surprised us. Laos is an easy going country. Things move at a leisurely pace. Even in the capital Vientiane, there is no mad rush of traffic, no screaming street vendors or pesky touts – things that you would associate with any other capital city. The average Laotians are among the gentlest people that we came across in South East Asia.

Wat Sisaket in Vientiane

Wat Sisaket in Vientiane

Vientiane, the capital of this land locked country, has a charm of its own. We spent around a week here – exploring Lao cuisine, visiting historical monuments and simply soaking in the laid back lifestyle of the city. There are several beautiful Buddhist temples in Vientiane including the national monument Pha That Luang. Among all the temples, we loved Wat Sisaket the most. Architecturally, Wat Sisaket is not an extraordinary structure. What stands out are thousands of statues and statuettes of Buddha, many of them tucked in the niches in the wall. The big statues have a striking silk golden shawl draped around them.

Vientiane has its own version of Raahgiri or Cyclovia every evening. The road in the riverfront area of Vientiane is closed to traffic every evening. This road along with the park next to it turns into a long walking promenade. The entire stretch is spilled with Vientiane families walking, lazing around or practising Tai chi and aerobics. At one end of the road, is the famous night market of Vientiane where you can buy trinkets, T shirts, souvenirs and paintings, among others.

Cave in Vang Vieng

Cave in Vang Vieng

The second place that we went to in Laos was Vang Vieng, known as Party Capital of Laos. This is where thousands of backpackers from across the world spend their days and nights in hedonistic pursuits. Its reputation as party central however has overshadowed its spectacular natural sights.

Vang Vieng is surrounded by limestone karst mountains and in these mountains are hidden caves, and natural springs. You can spend days exploring each of these surrounding mountains or indulge in Vang Vieng’s most famous sport – Tubing. In this activity, you are ferried in a tuk tuk to the upper reaches of the Nam Song river. You will be given a bus or truck tyre tube. You slip into the tube slowly float down the Nam Song river. Along the way, are bars where you can join for a drink or a dance.

One of our favourite spots in Vang Vieng is the Tham Phu Kham cave and the Blue Lagoon. We hired a bike and spent more than one hour biking through a dirt track to the Ban Na Thong Village. The naturally formed blue lagoon had clear emerald water. Abig tree with branches looms large over the pool. The most adventurous would climb to the top most branch and dive from there. This is quite a sight with cheering onlookers doing the countdown. Those with vertigo can dive in from the middle branches or just swing in from a rope Tarzan style.

The limestone caves of Tham Phu Kham with its stalactites and stalagmites are a good introduction to spelunking to a beginner like me. It is a fairly easy and interesting trek inside the caves and you can easily do a round of the caves in less than thirty minutes.

Old quarters of Luang Prabang

Old quarters of Luang Prabang

Our favourite city in Laos was Luang Prabang where we spent over a week soaking in its part French colonial and part Buddhist ambience. The old colonial quarters of Luang Prabang where were stayed has low rise French colonial buildings along with Laotian style wooden houses and Buddhist wats.

The old quarters is made for walking. We spent a lot of our mornings and evenings in our one week in Luang Prabang, walking around the old town. Each time, we discoved either a charming old building, a new restaurant or a café or a place selling old knicknacks. The must see tourists attractions of the town like former Royal palace that has now been turned into a museum, Wat Phou Si situated on a hill that gives you a panoramic view of the town and the impossibly angular Wat Xieng Thong are all in the old quarters.

The French influence is visible in the many bakeries, cafes and restaurants dotting the city. Many of these bakeries and cafes with their exquisite croissants, baguettes and pain au chocolat are run by expats lending a lot of authenticity to the cuisine. For the good old baguette Laotian style, there are several roadside joints that sell Baguette sandwiches freshly made in front of you.

Luang Prabang is spectacularly set against the confluence of the Mekong and Namkhan river with limestone karst hills as the backdrop. A ride on the slow boat on the Mekong is a part of the essential Luang Prabang experience. If you want to see some breathtaking nature scape, an hour away from Luang Prabang is the Kuang Si Waterfall. This is not your standard Niagra type falls, but a waterfall across several levels. As you climb up the hill, the same waterfall manifests itself in different avatars on the various inclines. The piece de resistance of every version is the clear turquoise pool that forms at the bottom of the waterfall. For someone who has been brought up in the sanitised chlorine filled environment of a swimming pool, this swim in the emerald waters of Kuang si was my most refreshing one ever.

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