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LAOS:

(LAO PEOPLE’S DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC)

 

Laos is known as the “land of a million elephants,” and is a landlocked nation bordered by China to the north, Myanmar and Thailand to the west, Vietnam to the east, and Cambodia to the south.  There are a million elephants!  Who would have thunk it?  The nation’s population is only 6,700,000.  The nation ranks among the most sparsely populated and most impoverished in Asia.  It is roughly the size of Utah.  Over 70% of the nation is mountainous and/or forested hills.  What little flat terrain is on the plateaus: it is here that crops produce staples such as rice, peanuts and spices for the Laotian diet. 


Sadly, annual tourism to Laos is less than 225,000, mostly adventure-seeking backpackers. 

 

Navigating around Laos is challenging as the nation’s paved highway system is all but non-existent.  Driving is not recommended as the roads are very narrow, hilly, and emergency mechanical assistance is difficult to obtain in a time of need.  Train service does not exist.  Most residents are clustered along the Mekong Delta - the river and boating therefore is the main means of transport. 

 

Walk gently and be careful where you step!  It is estimated that one-fourth of Lao’s villages are socioeconomically affected by unexploded ordinance.  At the current rate of clearance progress of the land mines, it will take at least 50 - 60 years to eradicate the nation of the problem. 

 

DOCUMENTATION:  

Valid, in-force Passport, Laotian visa, separate Customs forms for both arrival (completed) and departure, extra passport photo is required. 

 

LANGUAGE: Lao.  Thai and Hmong are also spoken.

 

CURRENCY: Kip (KN).  The U.S. dollar and Thai baht are commonly accepted. 

 

MAJOR SIGHTS: Friendship Bridge, Pak Ou Caves, Wat Phu, and Wat Xieng Thong. 

 

CUISINE:  

Laap: ground meat spiced with herbs and chilies. 

 

BEST TIME TO VACATION: 

Mid-November to February is best to avoid the Monsoon season.  There are more moderate temperatures during this time.  May and July are also pleasant in the mountain areas. 

 

Dry Season: December to April. 

 

AVOID: Rainy season is May to mid-November.  The heaviest rains are between July and October.  If you like river travel, the water conditions are ideal. 

 

January is the coolest month. 

 

MAJOR EVENTS AND FESTIVALS: 

Pi Mai: New Year. 

Mid-April: The Laotian New Year (Luang Prabang). 

Boun Bang Fay: The Rocket Festival. 

Boun Lay Heua Pay: The Water Festival. 

Boun That Luang: That Luang Festival. 

October: The Lao celebrate the end of the Buddhist Lent: many lively parties plus boat races on the Mekong River. 

 

 

LUANG PRABANG:

 

Luang Prabang is a small World Heritage city of only 30,000 residents and is known for its meticulously restored French colonial homes and 33 Buddhist religious temples. 

 

TIME ON YOUR HANDS IN LUANG PRABANG: There’s a lot to do here, so carefully plan your time and make this a multiple night stay.  You must be somewhat adventureous to enjoy Luang Prabang.  You’re in Laos!  Haven’t you always wanted to ride an elephant?  Compare prices at several local travel/tour firms that offer elephant day outings to Visit Elephant XL Camp for a short bamboo raft trip or kayak trip across the river.  Be forewarned that elephant rides of a lifetime inclusions and costs vary greatly. 

 

Witness the daily, early morning (5:45 a.m.) procession of over 100 orange-robed monks carrying metal begging bowls, as they traverse the city streets seeking to be fed rice by the citizenry. 

 

Walk the city’s streets in search of Temples (wats) both regal and spartan.  The Laotian people are a friendly and non-intrusive lot, particularly hospitable to tourists.  Happily, Laos has not succumbed to “Americanization” and has clung to its identity, shunning the introduction of fast food outposts.  Refreshingly, you will not be besieged by unrelenting street vendors or beggars. 

 

Ambitious travelers will want to tackle the challenge of ascending 328 steep steps to the top of Mount Phousi in order to enjoy the incredibly rewarding views of the city and Mekong River below.  The best viewing time is sunset. 

 

You will not want to miss visiting the nightly street vendors at the Night Market on Sisavangvong Road, a dazzling array of woven silks, clothing, jewelry and local crafts. 

 

A visit to the Royal Palace Museum to see the dazzling Throne Room is a must. 

 

Last, but not least, definitely take the 15 mile boat cruise up the Mekong River to the Pak Ou Caves.  You’ll discover over 4,000 Buddha statues in the caves.  Waterfalls are nearby. 

 

TASTY DINING IN LUANG PRABANG: 

Dine on French and Lao cuisine. 

 

 

VANG VIENG:


Vang Vieng is a hip backpackers' haven.  Vang Vieng is a small town jump off point for adventuresome tubing enthusiasts on the Na Song River.  Begin at the tubing cartel’s storefront location.  Tubers ply the river in search of makeshift huts converted into bars (beer, liquor, and mixed drinks) and zip lines, swings and slides.  Combining booze and zip lines invites potential trouble - obviously an undertaking recommended only to the most adventuresome risk takers, not families.  It’s best to confine your water sports to your home town water park! 

 

Also visit the Tham Phu Kham Cave. 



VIENTIANE:

 

Vientiane is the capitol of Laos.  

 

TIME ON YOUR HANDS IN VIENTIANE: 

Hire a local guide that speaks fluent English. 

 

Your tour should include visits to Pha That Luang (The Great Golden Stupa), and the Patuxai, a gigantic concrete arch, (Lao’s answer to Paris’ Arc de Triomphe), Wat Sisakhet, and Wat Phra Keo. 

 

Explore the Riverfront Morning Market, the nation’s largest.  Wear earmuffs as the music is loud! 

 

Aching?  Head to the Wat Sok Pa Luang Massage, housed in a tree house, for the massage of all massages.  No hanky panky, strictly legitimate. 

 

WINDOW SHOPPING IN VIENTIANE: 

Stroll the Mekong River and visit Carol Cassicy’s Lao Textiles - 30 weavers working on silk in a colonial villa downtown.

 

The so-called Morning Market is actually opened all day.