The only South-east Asian country which has no oceanic privilege – Laos PDR turns out to be the most unreal beautiful land for travelers to discover in the region. While we are seduced by breath-taking roads to up-north of Vietnam, mysterious ancient complex in Siem Reap of Cambodia and fabulous islands in the Phillipines, others are way off their beaten track to Laos and see something unique. What would that be? The bucket list Laos to fulfill your life experience?
1. Discover pagoda history in the ancient capital Luang Prabang
Historically in the 6th century B.C, a group of Mon people originated from Thailand and Myanmar border made their way down to West Laos, bringing tons of Buddhist essentials and great Srilanka monks. Hence, they spread knowledge about Theravada for local residents and seemed to accomplish their great mission. The most visible trait of this achievement is proudly presented in local pagodas, especially in the old ancient capital of Laos – Luang Prabang.
Wat Xieng Thong is the first pagoda to be mentioned. Located at a cross point between Mekong river and Nam Khan river, it was built under the reign of King Setthathirat with spectacular architectural designs, especially the art of mosaic on the walls to remind us of legendary stories
Pagodas in Luang Prabang are located nearby each other, making it more convenient to visit around. They are connected by many small paths. Locals gather near pagodas living in a harmony. You can discover Wat Saen, Wat Sop Sickharam, Wat Sensoukharam, Wat Sirimungkhun, Wat Si Bun Heuang on Sakkarin street. Continue to Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham which has been well-known for its glamorous 5-layer red tile roofs and keep your eyes open for a far away view of Phou Si mountain – best place for Mekong river sunset which is a must-see in Luang Prabang. There is a tower worth your visit on Phou Si which its name is Chom Si.
Wat Wisunarat is the oldest one in Luang Prabang. It has been proudly presented on Word Heritage list. Despite it had been renovated, some authentic ballusters are still remained.
Besides Wat Xieng Thong, Wat Mai and Wat Wisunarat which requires visitors to pay entrance fees, others in Luang Prabang are free, giving us a home-coming feeling. Please take off your shoes, dress decent before entering the pagodas.
2. Attend alms giving in the morning
Alms giving is an unique and interesting cultural feature of Laos Theravada in particular and some other South-east Asian countries in general. Thereon, locals will contribute their food for monks once a day around 6 AM in the morning. This activity usually last for half an hour.
Traditionally, monks go in line, one by one, pass by households and receive all of the alms they give, regardless rich or poor, delicious or not so delicious. There will be no sneaky eyes, no noisy chatting sounds, no standstill in front of the market. However, one monk can receive alms from maximum 7 households. Bowls of them are made from glaze, not from pricey metals, bronze or silver and covered by fabric net and attached with a string.
Alms include sticky rice, cakes, water and cooked dishes. There is no allowance for raw or fried dishes and money. Monks receive alms, then pray for the people. Water are poured gently to the ground or trees for the dead people’s wish of peace. After going for a round in town, all monks gather and eat their alms together in the pagoda.
To attend an alms giving, you can buy a pack available from vendors on streets then wait for monks to pass by. Please lay the alms into their bowl respectfully and sincerely. At that moment you can feel the inner peace from your action, which is a precious experience for any travelers who had a lot of vibrant vibe when travelling across countries.
3. Visit Plain of Jars
Centuries past by and the mystery of Plain of Jars in Laos has still been a question. It is a popular tourist attraction in Xieng Khouang province with the square 25 ha in total containing about 1969 big stone jars, mainly located in 52 sites. Almost of them are formed by granite. Their heights are about 1 meter to 1.2 meters. The interesting fact is that there is only one jar among thousands of them having cover.
Nowadays, the site still remain many dangerous bombing zones caused by American troops. Visitors should follow strictly instructions of the site to explore the mystery and avoid life risk.
4. Immerse yourself in Kuang Si waterfall
If you are looking for a place to chill nearby Luang Brabang, then choose Kuang Si waterfall. Locals call it Tat Kuang Si, which is combination of 3 words: Tat means waterfall, Kuang means a deer and Si means made by digging the land. Legendarily told, it was created by wise men who collect water from Nam Xi river by digging deep down into the soil. When the area had water, a gold deer appeared and built a house under a stone of the waterfall.
Travelling to Kuang Si waterfall is way more convenient nowadays. You can reach via 2 ways: roads or waterway. It takes you an hour if travelling on roads by bike or tuk tuk from Luang Prabang (estimated distance: 30 km). Or you can take a boat trip down Mekong river.
The unique feature of this site comes from its water which has an absolutely eye-catchy teal sapphire color. The picturesque, multi-tiered waterfall tumbles over limestone rock formations into crystalline jade and turquoise-colored pools. The encroaching, wild jungle completes the look and feel of being in an untouched oasis.
5. Pay a visit to a picturesque Si Phan Don
Being well-known as “4000-island heaven”, Si Phan Don, located in the south of Laos, is just like a pure gift from paradise. Visiting Si Phan Don will bring you continuous surprises while there are many interesting activities awaiting.
When being here, the must do is joining a journey to seek for Irrawaddy fresh water dolphin. This creature only shows up in 3 places in the world: Irrawaddy river in Myanmar, Mahakam river in Indonesia and Mekong river. Guess you are lucky or not if seeing the herd cheerfully playing in front of your eyes?
Having its own unique geographical position, authentic and spectacular scenery, Si Phan Don is still like a sleeping princess. Please be noted that there are not so many touristy services on this haven. Don Khone and Don Det are 2 biggest and the most convenient islands for you to stay. If you want to escape away, then welcome to Si Phan Don!
6. Take your trip a bit further away to Phongsaly
People say if you go to Phongsaly, your feeling would be confused. It would be like no longer being in Laos, not yet in China.
Located in the farthest northern of Laos, Phongsaly province share its border with Yunan of China and Dien Bien of Vietnam, of which main land lies at a high altitude. The complicated and not-yet-fully-explained history somehow leaves the province behind the foggy net, waiting everyone go there and reveal.
Unlike any other cities in Laos, Phongsaly Town is the only one which hadn’t been destroyed by war in the past. Thus you still can see many Yunanese wooden architecture which is even hard to be found any in Yunan. Besides, trekking to remote villages is the most popular activity to be recommended. The local delicacies vary from Lao cuisine to Yunan cuisine and slightly influenced by Vietnamese northern cuisine. Remember to try the world-recognition Chinese-style green tea while you are around this lovely town.
7. Night hang out for glass of beer Laos and Laos delicacies
It would be a huge miss if coming to Laos without enjoying glasses of Laos beer. From the very first sip, you can tell the taste.
Laos beer is not brewed from buckwheat but jasmine rice which is quit pricey, slim-shaped and strongly fragrant. With those characteristics, Laos beer has better and long-lasting taste with cold drinking style, not ice please. Imagine yourself relaxingly lie down on a river bank with a bottle of Beer Laos, what a chilling day you have!
Together with Lamvong dance, Laos beer is an indentity of Laos culture. Both women and men enjoy this drink, even in Laos festivals, women are the one who invite men to drink with them first. And enjoy along Laos authentic delicacies such as: Khao Niaw, Tam Mak Hoong, Khao Jii Pate, Sai Uah, Sai Gok, Mok Pa…
8. Relax with Lao traditional massage
Massaging is a great treatment for your body after a long day of sightseeing, hiking, trekking or even doing nothing. Laos traditional massage methods contain lots of local herbs, tea which will relieve your body from stress and aches. If you want to rest at night but still want to have Laos things to discover, then it will be the best chilling choice.
9. Move you body with Laos traditional dance – Lamvong
Food, drink, body relaxing, and then what should be next to enjoy yourself the most? Shake your body with Laos traditional dances. There are five popular dances you can try while in Laos: Lamvong, Phra-Lak Phra-Lam, Lam Lao, Lam Luang and Lao Bamboo Dance. Try the Lamvong first because it is an easy-to-catch public dance.
Well I mean I mentioned shaking here but actually it would not be that hard. A Lao wedding will not be fulfilled without Lam Vong. It is normally enjoyed at parties, family gatherings and celebrations. Lam Vong captures Lao’s easy-going character. Don’t hesitate to join a wedding or celebration to show your Lam Vong charming move. Of course we should politely ask the host first and we know for sure they are more than welcome! Lam Vong is all about free expressions within a circle, so when you got invited to the stage of dance floor to join the rest in dancing the Lam Vong, please do so without any hesitation or fear! Time to shine!
10. Learn how to weave in Pop Ock Tok
This time turn yourself into a weaving master by taking a trip to Pop Ock Tok village to learn about Lao traditional weaving method. Let’s go back 700 years ago when it was invented by the Katu. Many Chinese traders discovered this when visiting the country and requested many orders to bring back to their home those beautiful pieces. Realizing it was a valuable treasure, local masters worked together to preserve the tradition and spread it to their younger generation.
Pop Ock Tok means East meets West. This village is actually an idea to support a traditional vocation of Katu people.
One of the popular product which are in common daily use of Lao women is a dress call “sin”, also attract many foreigners to buy. Men in family will join coloring the piece, and rest of the process will be women’s part. The way they make it varies from region to region.
With those above experiences in Laos, is the country worth your unique journey? Yes, it is, and with many people, it’s beyond expectation.