Lao People’s Democratic Republic (aka Laos). It’s like Thailand’s country cousin. A strong similarity in language, food and culture but it has yet to see the big city lights. Apart from a few small urban areas, the infrastructure is limited. The pace is slow and the GNP is small. A bit of a time warp and that is perhaps one of its attractions. Seeing Laos is similar to experiencing Thailand 75 years ago. That said, there are some fabulous resorts here with top-notch staff. The choices of activities are on the increase and new destinations are opening up. There are some wonderful UNESCO world heritage sites to be seen. Take on a class about silk weaving or cooking. Bike through its rural lands or kayak along the rivers. The Mekong is its bloodline. The banks are dotted with various temples and shrines. In many places the river is still the main means of transportation. If you have the time and patience then there are a multitude of local, ethnic villages that can be accessed. Laos can be a great combination with Thailand or Vietnam. It’s worth going now … instead of later!
Perhaps one of the most enchanting towns in Southeast Asia is Luang Prabang, the former royal capital. Although it has a new, larger airport (back in the early 90s it was literally just a shack) you won’t need your Google Map app for this place. It’s very hard to get lost or disoriented. You can walk the town in an hour. As part of Indochina it took on a wonderful look of French colonial architecture but kept its Buddhist heritage with wats and pagodas dotting the neighborhoods, one after the other. Even to this day, monks in saffron robes go about their daily lives walking along the streets, like the common man.
Like all towns over time, it has expanded in some ways but because of its geographical location, and UNESCO world heritage endorsement, it still retains a charm that enthralls all travelers. Its “living museum” status has worked in its favor. Sure, some parts are more popular with tourists, having handicraft shops, cafes, and a night market, but other areas (again, within minutes of walking) can still be quaint and quiet. The views in all directions are stunning. Mountains and the Mekong. The food is amazing. It’s similar to Thai but in a lighter way, and with more cold salads accented with subtle spices.
There are nearby, famous sites that are listed in all guidebooks. Pak Ou caves with its thousands of Buddha icons, etc. but of late there are other options. With such choices you don’t have to walk away with just quaint photos … you can have memories of participation in an unique culture that, frankly, might not be intact forever …