Serene Luang Prabang, elegant Vientiane and the surrounds of Pakse, bursting with culture, tea and coffee plantations, glorious waterfalls and thick jungle. The UNESCO World Heritage city of Luang Prabang is enchanting – Hundreds of monks live and study in the many ancient temples of the city. The site of the monks padding silently through the streets of the town, and the reverence shown to them by the Lay people defines the soul and pace of life in Luang Prabang.
Vientiane is nestled on the banks of the Mekong River and is a city of surprises. Here you will find fields of rice and vegetables hidden behind tree lined avenues. French colonial architecture sits next to gilded temples. A highlight is the ‘Plain of Jars’, the mysterious ancient 300 stone jar dating back nearly 2,000 years. The gentle people, relaxed atmosphere and combination of stunning temples and handsome French architecture of Laos are guaranteed to seduce any traveller.
Considered as the centre of Lao culture, the city offers a fascinating glimpse into the Buddhist religious practice and traditional lifestyle of the various hill-tribe groups in this northern region. Nearby attractions include Pak Ou Caves which house thousands of Buddha images, Kuang Si Waterfall and several cotton-silk weaving villages. it is worth the early start to participate in offering alms to hundreds of saffron-robed monks – an incredible sight.
KJuang Si (Xi) Waterfall
The biggest waterfall in Laos with three tiers leading to a 50-metre drop into spectacular azure pools below which make great swimming holes.
Pak Ou Caves Located around 25km north of Luang Prabang there are two natural caves set in the limestone cliff. The caves are noted for the thousand of miniature Buddhist statues that are placed here by local villages and pilgrims to express their devotion to Buddha.
Vientiane Located along a bend of the Mekong River, the city exudes a laidback atmosphere and old world charm with its mix of Chinese shop houses and French colonial architecture. The tree-lined boulevards and low traffic density makes the city an ideal place for walking and exploring ancient temples and pagodas. There are also excellent shopping for silver jewellery and hand-woven textiles which can be found at the Morning Market and a number of boutique shops. A visit to Vientiane is not complete without a relaxing sundowner at one of the many riverside bars along the Mekong River to enjoy a spectacular sunset view.
Plain of Jars Located between Vientiane and Luang Prabang lies the Plain of Jars, an intriguing archeological site which is a collection of mysterious antique stone jars scattered across the countryside. There are more than 60 jar sites which are made up of sandstone, granite and limestone.
Laos has two seasons. The rainy season runs from May through October and the dry season from November to April. For the most part, Laos is hot, although there is a good deal of fluctuation between summer and winter temperatures at higher elevations.
The capital, Vientiane, ranges from the upper-20s Celsius in January to mid-30s Celsius in April and May. In the mountainous region, however, temperatures can plummet to near freezing in December and January. During the rainy season, the highest precipitation is in southern Laos.
Laos is one of the hidden secrets of Asia and a fantastic country. I was touched by it’s beauty and the quiet charm of her people during my visit. Somewhat of an enigma, it is one of the few remaining communist countries in the world but life is dominated by the Buddhist religion. You will see the saffron robed nuns and monks everywhere and their stunning golden temples are found throughout the land. Vientiane, the capital, is really more like a large version of a small town but fun to explore. But it is Luang Prabang you must visit. Situated at the confluence of the Khan and mighty Mekong Rivers, it blends French and IndoChinese architecture creating a lovely fusion of styles. This fusion also spreads into the great food available and eating out is both really affordable and the dishes delicious. Wandering the streets of this town is both safe and delightful; around every corner you come across another temple, wonderful old French era colonial house or local market.
I was lucky enough to be there in mid April during Pii Mai which is a celebration of the beginning of the new agricultural year. The festivals held during this period are really colourful with lots of interesting music being generated by the odd range of Laotian musical instruments. Not far from Luang Prabang I visited the amazing Pak Ou caves which sit above the Mekong and offering wonderful views of the countryside below. They are a really important pilgrimage site for the followers of The people are so friendly and the countryside very appealing. Go visit and see for yourself! Chris
Currency Lao Kip (LAK) is the official currency, with the US Dollar widely accepted.
Language The official language is Lao, with 5 main dialects spoken – the most predominant being the Vientiane Lao dialect. French remains the official second language, however the use of English is also on the rise.
Why we love it The gentle people, relaxed atmosphere and combination of stunning temples and handsome French architecture are guaranteed to seduce. Watching the hundreds of monks padding silently through the streets of town, and the reverence shown to them by the Lay people defines the soul and pace of life in Laos.
Weather Monsoons are a significant feature of the Laos climate, occurring during their wet season from June to October when the Mekong River and its tributaries can often flood. This is followed by their cool, dry season (November – January) which is typified by low humidity and lower temperatures. In contrast, from February until May the temperature begins to climb, along with the humidity, and consequently thunderstorms are not uncommon. Average annual temperatures range from 28oC – 38oC.
Social customs & quirks Charming and easy-going is an apt description of the Lao people. Buddhism is their main religion which is apparent in their temples, festivals and tolerant nature, and quite obvious when you see lines of brightly orange-clad monks filing silently by on many town streets as they make their morning rounds to receive offerings. They possess a strong sense of courtesy and respect for all and are unique in that the traditional south-east Asian lifestyle is still practised by the (mainly rural) Lao population.
Festivals & events Boat racing and water festivals are popular forms of celebration in Laos, based on religious principles where offerings to the dead and candlelight processions around temples form the basis of the festivals. Spectacular scenes abound as hundreds of colourful floats decorated with flowers, candles and incense can be seen adrift on the Mekong River – then there is the excitement of the actual races! Music, dance, fireworks displays, food and handicraft stalls are a feature of many of the Lao events.
Health* There are currently no compulsory heath requirements to enter Laos, other than a Yellow Fever certificate if entering from an infected area. Being up to date with your general immunisation programme is recommended, as is having malarial prevention medication. Please contact your health practitioner for full and current details.
Notes *Please be aware that Health information is subject to change at any time and you should always double check these requirements at the time of booking and before travel.