While on my first trip to Indochina I read the following quote several times: “The Vietnamese plant the rice, the Cambodians watch the rice grow, the Lao listen to the rice grown. “ I don’t know about the first two parts, but I definitely felt the last portion while in Laos.
Laos was very relaxed and peaceful. And I felt that if I had more time there, I might be able to hear through the noise in my head and in the world around me. You get this feeling most when sitting on the banks of the Meekong river delta in Vientiane to watch the sunset with elderly couples, families, and even monks.
I didn’t have any expectations for Laos. I added it to our trip because of its geographic, cultural and historic ties to Vietnam and Cambodia. And frankly, if I didn’t go now, when was I going to go?
But I was limited on time, and only able to devote three days to the entire country. After all, Vietnam and Angkor Wat were the real destinations. But even though I only had a short time, I wasn’t going to let them go to waste and I spent hours researching how to make the best use of our time. And I left the country with a completely different frame of mind and I will definitely be back.
Before I get into specifics, let me start by saying, Laos is unbelievably beautiful. Its lush green mountains that touch the clouds make it seem other worldly. I apologize for not having any photos that do it justice.
I would also like to return to Laos to spend more time in the rural north, visit the plain of jars, spend a few days in Vang Vieng, and to do something on the water.
I would love to get out of the cities to hike, camp and explore the mountains and river deltas. However, Laos was also the most bombed country in the world… and during the American War in Vietnam, Laos was bombed the equivalent of every 8 minutes for 9 straight years. Today over 30% of those munitions and remain unexploded and lying dangerously in the ground.
Laos traces its heritage to the 14th century and was at its peak in the 17th century. But for most of its history, it has been under the rule of China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, the French and Japan. Outside of its role during the Vietnam War, there isn’t a lot of fiction or nonfiction reading (or movies) on Laos. However, I was able to find two: Laos, A Work in Progress by Robert Cooper and the Dr. Siri Paiboun series by Colin Cotterill. I would recommend both books.
My next two blogs will be about Vientiane (the capital) and Luang Prabang. But as an initial overview, our favorite stops and activities in Laos were:
- Luang Prabang – just the overall town
- Wat Xieng Thong (Luang Prabang)
- Tat Kuang Si Falls (Luang Prabang)
- COPE Center (Vientiane)
- Xieng Khuan (Buddha Park outside Vientiane)
- Laotian Massage
Of note, the country doesn’t feel communist. There are no Stalinist buildings dominating the skyline. There is only a single market economy (although very weak and poor). There is little propaganda dominating the loud speakers and bulletin boards. English was widely spoken and at the time of this post, the United States along with 3 pages of other countries can get visas on arrival. You pay in USD and the price varies per country.
The people we meet were relaxed and generous. I will be back to explore more…