In the heart of Southeast Asia, somewhere between Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand lies the nation of Laos. This country is often overlooked by many, known for its tumultuous and long, bloody history, especially during the Vietnam War Years. Laos nowadays is very different than the country many knew all those years ago.
The country not only has a rich history and culture, but it boasts steamy jungles, breathtaking landscapes and some pretty friendly people who call this nation home. The Mekong River is a vital source of livelihood and travel for many people both travelers and natives alike who use it to their every advantage, whether it be for fishing or transport.
One of the best cities to visit in Laos is Luang Prabang in the north, the largest city in the region. Steep mountain highlands covered over in jungle greenery, small villages and farms are just a few of the images that the mind reverts to when thinking of the country and even Southeast Asia in general. Luang Prabang is home to many “Living Land” farms which strive to create more sustainable forms of agriculture throughout the world. However, more often than not farmers, particularly rice farmers, still use the old ways that have been in practice for centuries, using oxen to plow the fields and paddies and millstones to grind up the rice.
Another amazing sight that Luang Prabang is noted for is the early morning processions to the Buddhist temples. Early in the morning, residents and shopkeepers will wake up and wait on the side of the streets for the Buddhist monks who make the trek up the mountain every day and will make money and religious offerings for the monks to keep. It’s definitely a picture that’s worth much more than a thousand words.
One place that travelers are definitely encouraged to go (well several actually) are the many waterfall parks that are littered throughout Luang Prabang. Not only is it an experience to be able to see monks from the local temples coming to take photos or to meditate, but it is also one hell of a swimming spot. The best way to describe this place would be “that swimming hole every kid has dreamed of finding while on summer vacation.” Plus the mists from the falls are an excellent way to beat the heat.
For those who really want a vacation to remember, Vang Vien is home to the legendary Mekong Pub Crawl. Tourists, college students and backpackers often make the journey here to have fun and experience one of the most unusual pastimes that won’t appear on any kind of typical tour pamphlets. It’s unbelievably fun, but be forewarned that it can be dangerous if people drink too much (it’s kind of a “no duh” statement). All the same it’s definitely worth checking out and exploring.
Whether it’s a crazy pub crawl along the river or staying at an off the beaten path hostel in the middle of the jungle, there can be no denying that Laos is worth exploring. Despite the problems of the past it continues to grow and hopefully one day, more travelers will be able to go and see this amazing diamond in the rough travel destination.