hello everyone. has anyone here ever been to laos? if so, would you be kind enough to share your insights of “southeast asia’s best kept secret”?
Beautiful, peaceful, relaxing, poor (I believe I read somewhere that their primary export is toothpicks). Of course you must spend a few days in Luang Prabang, the UN heritage site with all the beautiful old temples by the river. Personally, I find Laotian temples to be among the most beautiful in Asia – more intricate than crude, simple Chinese temples, but less gaudy than overly-ornate Thai temples. The temples aren’t just tourist attractions either, as one feels in some Bangkok temples, but have been used daily by monks for hundreds of years, and it’s all so lazy and peaceful that it’s nice to sit in the back of the temple for a while as the monks are chanting.
One of my unique experiences in Laos was a 3 day slow boat ride down the river (rather than the speed boats, which I figured would give one a headache and you’d miss all the sights), stopping at small villages along the way where the kids were reeeeaaaaally excited to see foreigners. The boat was cramped, bare wood, no frills, cows and chickens were loaded in with us from time to time, but it was a great experience.
And I enjoyed just sitting at the open-air cafes by the river in the capitol city, drinking great fruit drinks and watching the kids playing in the river and playing that volleyball game where they kick and head a wicker ball back and forth over the net. I also scored some weed in the market (discretely available) and went to a public pool several times, which was much appreciated given the great heat and all the dust. There’s also a great temple next door to the pool where one can take an herbal sauna and get a good massage for about a dollar or so. Very nice.
I agree with MT on this one. I ventured into Laos from Yunnan Province in the PRC. Went to Nam-tha, where Air America was headquartered during the Vietnam War. Cool little town. I took a UNESCO rafting trip near Namtha. Then I took a bus on a 17-hour 120 km (yes, the roads are that bad) trip to the mountain city of Phongsali. On the way, we were stopped by the police who found herion on our bus. We were all questioned at the most scary Communist police building I will ever remember. Two locals never got back on the bus. Then, like MT, I took the speedboats to a sleepy town near Luang Probang. LB is a cool city, full of beautiful wats and temples. Overall, I really liked the country. Lots of lazy NGO people though, especially the EU ones.
Interestingly enough, it is illegal in Laos to sleep with a local. Some of the government propaganda cartoons were damn funny.
Laos is a wonderful place as long as you’re not among the Hmong. That said, the people are poor but very honest. Twice when buying roasted treats from street vendors the price was signaled to us with two fingers – we started to whip out 20,000 kip to pay them and were immediately corrected by the vendors that it was only 2,000. Likewise, I dropped a huge wad of bills on the ground while getting something out of my pocket – the teens nearby alerted me to it very politely.
Odd thing is that you can see remnants of the secret war everywhere. PSP (perforated steel planking) is used for ramps leading up to storefronts, fencing, walls for barns, etc. One bomb casing, prepared in July 1970 according to the yellow stencils, was being used as a flower planter at one Vientienne home. Lots of old-school military jeeps.
The food is great, the people are great, and it’s an extraordinarily low-stress vacation. Lots of people organizing white-water kayaking and other trips there. Vang Vieng is a big center for that sort of stuff. Everybody also has to go up to Luang Prabang, including me (missed it when I was there last time).
I’m going to Laos this summer and I can’t wait. I’ve found that the Lonely Planet has some great info in it and it was just republished this year.
BTW this is a great resource for looking at pics from all over the world.
Here’s the Laos ones trekearth.com/gallery/Asia/Laos/
I’m looking for a book written from the prospective of an American living in Laos for 2 years. It’s called Another Quiet American by Brett Dakin. I went to Page One in 101 but they don’t have it. If anyone has this and wants to sell it I’ll buy it. Or if anyone has seen it at another book store in Taipei could you let me know. Thanks.