Laos: Indochina’s forgotten Gem

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Forgotten Laos had been pushed to the bottom of my Asia ‘to do’ list for some reason and as a result it took me several years at World Odyssey before I made it there.

As I arrived into Bangkok, I had a brief stop before taking another short flight to Pakse in the South of Laos. I eventually reached my home for the next couple of nights, La Folie lodge in time for dinner.

As the sun came up and I wandered down for breakfast, I found myself on an isolated island along the banks of the Mekong River, looking out to beautiful, unspoilt mountain scenery and ahead to the hotel’s ‘beach’, where there were dozens of water buffalo roaming free – I already loved it!

La Folie Lodge
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Water buffalo - La Folie Lodge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Images – La Folie Lodge, Laos

Pakse is the gateway to several points of interest in Southern Laos, the closest being Vat Phuo (Wat Phu) temple.

Wat Phu (meaning mountain temple) was recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2002 and is older than the Grand temple complex at Angkor Wat (with far fewer visitors!). The location of the temple is situated on a hillside and offers stunning views of the surrounding landscapes and Mekong River. Art lovers and historians will be amazed by the incredible workmanship within this ruined Khmer complex.

Wat Phu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image – Wat Phu

Further South lies the 4,000 Islands region or Si Phan Don – an area of the Mekong River that fans out across a 10kmwide stretch, creating a labyrinth of shallow waterways and islands. Some of the Islands are so small that they are submerged during the wet season and others are large enough to have a few simple hotels, forests, mountains and waterfalls.

4000islands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image – Traditional longboat in 4,000 Islands region

After spending some time exploring the 4,000 Islands region by boat we returned back towards Pakse stopping en route at the Bolaven Plateau, an area that spans 50kms across some of Laos’s most vegetated land.

At a higher altitude, the temperature is cooler and it is green all year round. Surrounding the Plateau are stunning landscapes, dense jungle, mesmerising waterfalls, national parks and some of the country’s best coffee beans!

Bolaven Plateau

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image – Bolaven Plateau Waterfall

Next up was Vientiane, which is without a doubt the most relaxing capital city I have ever been to!

Vientiane is the largest city in Laos and is steeped in history, first dating back to around 1,000 AD.

It’s very walkable place allowing you to fully appreciate the many significant Buddhist temples, monuments, tree lined boulevards and superb colonial architecture.

Golden Temple, Vientiane

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image – Golden Temple, Vientiane

Buddha Statues, Vientiane

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image – Buddah Statues, Vientiane

A short flight from Vientiane took me to Xieng Khuang province.

Plain of Jars represents a huge area of Xieng Khaung and is scattered with thousands of mysterious stone jars thought to date back to the Stone Age, the heaviest weighing in at about 6 tons!

No one seems to know anything about where they came from but it’s thought that they might have been funerary urns after bones were discovered within them by archaeologists.

The jars have been divided into 160 different sites but the main concentration is over just 3 areas – these are designated tourist zones as they have been cleared of undetonated land mines.

Plain of JarsPlain of Jars

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image – Plain of Jars, site 1

What I did not expect was how pretty the alpine landscapes would be here but behind the scenes is a deep history and sadness when you visit the fascinating museums and sites, relating to when the Americans bombed this region during the war, which on average was every 8 minutes for 9 years.

I drove overland from Plain of Jars to Luang Prabang, my final stop, which was an experience to say the least!

The pro’s – it was absolutely one of the most beautiful and interesting drives that I have ever done. There was so much to see out of the window that I didn’t even look at my book in 7 hrs!

I travelled through some amazing small ethnic minority villages, visited some authentic markets and roadside stalls but the most memorable thing was the mesmerising mountain scenery.

Mountain Scenery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mountain Village

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Images – Mountain scenery between Plain of Jars and Luang Prabang

The only con (which was not even the 7 hrs on the road) was the motion sickness – I don’t normally suffer with it but practically the whole way we were swaying from side to side around the windy mountain roads. Overall though it was a small price to pay and given the choice again I’d still choose the car journey.

By late afternoon I arrived into magical Luang Prabang.

Luang Prabang’s ancient town was designated as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1995 and is considered by many as the heart of Laotian culture. It is encircled by mountain ranges and is built on a peninsula formed by the Mekong and the Nam Khan River.

Luang Prabang

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image – Luang Prabang

There is nowhere else quite like it, with its superb 33 gilded Wats, colourful monks, exquisite cuisine and Indochinese Villas. Not to mention the numerous sightseeing options including trekking, elephant experiences, night markets, waterfalls, Pak Ou caves and river cruises. This place oozes charm and sophistication and I challenge anyone to come here and not fall in love with it!

Wat Xieng Thong

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image – Wat Xieng Thong

Kuang Si Falls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image – Kuang Si Falls

Alms Giving

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image – Monks alms giving

My time in Laos was only short but it was all I needed to take away plenty of fond memories of the spectacular scenery, the kind, gentle people and their rich and colourful culture.

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