It’s definitely not enough when only mentioning huge impact of Buddhism while speaking of Laos, but it would be a serious miss without that feature. Coming to Laos with curious eyes of an agnostic, I had a journey to Laos, to the old and new capitals of the country and myself successfully catch a glimpse of a rich culture.
Day 1: When in Vientiane
Taking a flight with Laos Airlines from Vietnam in a sunny morning of March, Vientiane welcome a wanderlust with an usual laid-back vibe. I spent 2 days in Vientiane because my trip started and ended here. After hotel check and taking a rest, I couldn’t wait to explore the city. First stop of the journey is a well-known pagoda Wat Sisaket, an early 19th century Buddhist monastery. It’s the oldest temple of the town that is still in its original form. Wat Sisaket opens daily from 8 am until noon and from 1pm until 4pm.
From the pagoda, I continued to reach Pha That Luang. Pha That Luang is the most significant religious monument in Vientiane Laos. The name Pha That Luang in Laotian means the great golden stupa, representing the national religion of the country – Buddhism. This masterpiece of Laotian will be more fantastic to contemplate the monument from outside. If coming to the temple on the occasion of the Boun That Luang Festival, you can join one of the most interesting things to do in Laos with many unique celebrations of the locals.
I’ve heard about the to-dos in Laos, and one was to climb up Patuxai Victory Monument. As a free mind, in the late afternoon, I didn’t hesitate to try that in perhaps the most prominent landmark in the city, also known as the arc de Triomphe of Laos. Then I stopped by a local shop and had a bowl of noodle before going back to hotel. Having been traveled for a week, a chilling Lao massage in my hotel was the best reviving method ever. My very first day here was great.
Day 2: Welcome to Luang Prabang
Leaving Vientiane, my heart was into Luang Prabang then. My bucket list was alarming while in Luang Prabang as it was the most traditional well-preserved city of Laos, and Asia in general. The city of pagodas has it all to seduce visitors by its 32 magnificent temples and the history of Buddhism influence. My very first stop was Wat Mai, one of Luang Prabang’s largest and most richly decorated temples, also among few temples that survived the destruction by Chinese invaders in 1887. Both its interior and exterior are extensively adorned with black and red lacquer decoration and gold leaf. Then I walked down the road and discover many small temples along the way, before heading to Mount Phousi to admire Mekong sunset view. On the mountain, there was a Golden Buddha Stupa worshipped in a pagoda named Wat Chomsi.
My first day in Luang Prabang was full-filled with a chilling night at a night market, where my mouth was filled with Laos local delicacies and my eyes was dazzled with sparkling and colorful Laos textile. Today I tried khao niaw (sticky rice) with stewed pork with local herbs, nang khem (dried water buffalo skin), papaya salad and finished with sugar cane juice. It costed me only 5 USD for all! What a meal!
Day 3: It’s not all about Buddhism
As said, impacts of Buddhism on Lao culture is huge. Today my first stop was also a pagoda in the town. Found at the tip of the Luang Prabang peninsula is one of Laos most beautiful and richly decorated temples – Wat Xieng Thong. After that magnificent look, I boarded on a cruise to enjoy Mekong river view, then reach to Pak Ou Caves. What special about the caves? Located 25 km far from north of Luang Prabang, this destination is where Mekong river meets Nam Ou river, and stored hundred of myriad Buddha images. En route, I had a chance to stop at Ban Huang Xay of which reputation is local whisky and had a sip of those tasty drink, and other local villages to wander around and enjoy the rural scenery, especially try making a Saa paper at Ban Xangkhong and Ban Xienglek and hand weaving at Ban Phanom.
Day 4: I am a local
All right so this might be the most recommended activity of all time while in Luang Prabang – attending morning Alms giving ceremony. Known as the only Buddhism nation still preserve this custom, Laos gave me a totally respective look on it, since when you look deep into the Laotian’s attitude towards the tradition, you can feel both outer and inner peace. That lines of monks leisurely appear on streets in the early morning, formally dressing in brown or orange, simple Laotian live a simple lives in a Buddhism land of which atmosphere was full of incense smell, and the sun shines bright creates a fantastic scene ever.
Laos cuisine seems a bit flat-flavor, yet there are many Lao dishes which won my heart from the very first bite. Craving for food after the ceremony, I rushed to morning Phosi market and had tons of local dishes: still my favorite dried buffalo skins, local teas and saltpeter among the many chickens, vegetables. Of course, I couldn’t miss beer Lao. Then I took a trip to Ock Pop Tok to learn about Lao traditional weaving method. It was an awesome experience.
An early afternoon began with a trip to Kuang Si waterfall. Trust me, this fall is a must of everyone while in Laos. After days of travelling in a tropical country, what would be more wonderful when jumping into a jelly fresh water from a cliff? Let’s Kuang Si.
Back in the town of Luang Prabang late in the morning, I set down a sunset view trip at Wat Sisouphabat.
Day 5: Mission fullfilled
The National Museum and the Central Market in the morning were not-to-be-missed today before saying goodbye to beloved Luang Prabang and heading back to the capital. Then I continue my exploration for Buddhism influence in the nation by taking a trip to Buddha Park, located 25 km southeast from Vientiane in a meadow by the Mekong River and had an unforgettable time of discovering here.
Day 6: Home and memories
Such a final chilling day with a start of hunting for food and souvenirs at morning market. I even manage myself to visit a weaving village Ban Nong Bouathong before catching my flight back home as scheduled.
As I traveled from Vietnam, below are some travel information for you to try on my journey from Vietnam.
How to travel to Laos from Vietnam?
Flight. Flying is the easiest way to get into Laos. Direct flight from Vietnam (HAN Noi Bai international airport or HCM Tan Son Nhat international airport) to Vientiane and Luang Prabang can be found with Laos Airlines, Vietnam Airlines or Cambodia Angkor Air…
Sleeping bus. There are 6 border gates you can choose to go to Laos from Vietnam: Tay Trang, Na Meo, Nam Can, Cau Treo, Lao Bao, Bo Y (from north to south). There are tons of sleeping bus choice for you there.
Bikes. If you are adventurous, try this! You can refer to those above 6 border gates to go too. However, There has been some conflicting information about crossing the border in Tay Trang with a Vietnamese motorbike. but there are now some reports that travelers are denied access into Laos with a motorbike from Vietnam due to vehicle registration issues. Please do a research about this if you really insist on bike transports.
Like a sleeping beauty of South East Asia, Laos has many things to offer you after you get a bit enough of Thailand, Vietnam or Singapore. The journey to explore Buddhism influence is among those once-in-a-life-time experiences which you have to do in Laos.
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