Adventures from Vietnam: A Guide to Laos
It is no secret that the trend around the world has been all about integration.
The Lao People’s Democratic Republic or as it is more often referred to, Laos, is a landlocked country (the only one in Southeast Asia) sitting in the middle of Indochina. It is conveniently located to the Southeast of Myanmar and China, to the west of Vietnam, north of Cambodia and east of Thailand. Laos is a very poor country, but its people are among the most friendly you will encounter, anywhere.
The French ruled here between 1893 and 1953 and their influence remains to this day. The capital Vientiane, lies to the South of the country, near the Thai border on the banks of the Mekong River. In fact, the Mekong makes up much of the country’s western boundary with Thailand. The border with Vietnam is formed by the Annamite Mountain Range.
There is much to see and do in this fascinating and beautiful country.
Chilled Cities and Cool Countryside
The nation’s capital must be one of the most laid back capital cities in the world. At its heart the main square has a real French flavour to it, surrounded as it is by restaurants with pavement terraces. The city provides many great places from which to watch nature’s spectacular show as the sun goes down over the mighty Mekong River. Everything from cheap backpacker joints to expensive cocktail lounges can be found here. The Laos National Museum is a must visit attraction. Check in to your hotel, and slow down to the natural rhythm of this cool city.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang was inscribed in 1995 for its unique and remarkably well preserved architectural, religious and cultural heritage. This is a blend of rural and urban developments that has taken place over several centuries. The French colonial influence of the 19th and 20th centuries is self evident. Each morning, the photogenic spectacle of hundreds of orange-robed monks from the various monasteries can be seen walking through the streets to collect alms.
Pakse is the capital of the Champasak province in the south of the country. This is a town of magnificent temples, terrific restaurants, bars and glorious locations in which to watch the sun go down. One such location is Phou Salao, a large Buddhist temple complex built in 2011 near the Japanese Bridge by the river. The UNESCO site of Wat Phou is the finest example of a Khmer Hindu temple complex outside of Cambodia. Close by to Pakse there are waterfalls, and other places of scenic beauty.
Savannakhet Savannakhet is the second largest city in the country. The old French colonial quarter of the city is a shadow of its former self but nonetheless retains its old charm. However the town’s proximity to Thailand and their booming economy has brought ample commercial development to the northern part. In 2007, a second friendship bridge with Thailand was opened over the Mekong, bringing further prosperity to a much needed region. A thriving eco-trekking business in the nearby preserved forests is providing further much needed tourism.
Pretty Plains and Plateaux
The Plain of Jars
To the southeast of Luang Prabang lies a truly incredible archaeological landscape. The Plain of Jars contains thousands of stone jars, which are scattered around the upland valleys and foothills of the Xiangkhoang Plateau. The mainly sandstone jars are grouped in some 90 clusters, each containing anything from one to several hundred jars. Some of them are simply enormous and nobody knows the true story that they have to tell. One theory is that they were burial vessels.
The Bolaven Plateau
Immediately to the southeast of Paske you can find The Bolaven Plateau. In the late 1960s, during the Vietnam War, U.S. bombardment was intense and the plateau remains one of “the most heavily-bombed areas in the world”. This is an area populated by the fascinating ethnic minority of the Laven people, and to a lesser degree Mon- Khmer ethnic groups including the Alak, Katu, Taoy, and Suay.
“Laos people are among the most friendly you will encounter, anywhere.”
Thankfully tourism in Laos is finally being promoted and is the biggest growth sector in the country. Laos’ new tourism slogan, “Simply beautiful,” is truly stated. Whilst prices for many things are more expensive than we are used to in Vietnam, they are still well within most people’s budget. Laos is a wonderful place in which to holiday. It is full of interesting things to see and do, the cuisine is excellent and its greatest assets are its people.