Greetings and salutations to all! I just spent the last 8 days in the lovely country of Laos and strongly recommend putting this wonderful country on your south east Asia bucket list! If you have been following my blogs, then you should guess where we are headed….the map! We flew from Hanoi Vietnam on an one hour flight on Lao airlines to the Laos capital Vientiane. We stayed a couple nights, then drove up to Vang Vieng for a couple nights, then drove up to Luang Prabang for 3 nights, then we jumped on a boat on the Mekong River for 2 days to heading to Thailand, stopping overnight in Pekbang Laos before getting back on the boat for a second day.
Laos! Beautiful and interesting!
Well I’ll be honest, I really knew nothing about Laos before I went. They are one of the poorest countries on earth, and suffer a lot of devastation from the secret war. So what’s the secret war? During the Vietnam war when the Americans would bomb Vietnam, they loaded their planes with B-52 bombs and if they weren’t able to make their Vietnam target, they had to drop their load somewhere as it’s dangerous to bring that load back to their base. So where did they drop it? Laos. They had designated “free drop zones” over Laos. So they basically bombed the shit out of Laos for no reason. Laos was not involved in that war. Isn’t that horrifying! They bombed innocent poor people. Now this went on for 9 years. Of all the millions of bombs dropped, they estimate about 30% didn’t detonate. But today this has caused serious health, social and psychological problems. As people farm, dig, make a fire etc, they sometimes contact one of these undetonated bombs which then blows up. Still happening today! This causes death, blindness, loss of limbs, people are pychologically scarred as they are afraid to farm, walk in fields, make a fire, let their kids play, build homes etc, and they are always fearful of coming in contact with a bomb. Like I said, it’s one of the poorest countries on earth, they have very fertile lands, but there is fear in farming in some areas. People in the rural areas live with this fear daily. There’s the choice of take the risk of getting killed or maimed or let your family starve. Also, some of the free drop zone areas are completely ruined and resemble the moon, therefor killed any chance of growing anything. Since it’s quite a poor country, social services and supports are few and far between. We visited a non profit organization that gives amputees prosthetic limbs and support called COPE. They are throughout the country and are a lifeline to many of these victims. Laos holds the title of the most bombed country per capita, yet no one has officially declared war on them.
If you want to know more or donate, checkout http://www.copelaos.org, they know most of the world is unaware of this secret war, so they would like to get their stories out.
Well that’s a horrifying downer isn’t it. Positives of the country? Very beautiful landscapes, and the people are very friendly and welcoming. I found the people to be genuinely nice, humble and a bit shy. They did not make me feel like a walking attraction as I felt in parts of Cambodia and parts of Vietnam. I was told they are very greatful for tourists, and that they are the nicest people in south east Asia. I can see that. It’s also a very chilled out and relaxed vibe. There’s only 8 million people in the whole country, so you don’t get crazy traffic or tons of people everywhere. It was also cooler weather. Hovering around 20-24 degrees Celsius with no humidity. It was so nice to not be constantly sweating and my makeup to be running off my face while sitting in the shade.
I walked up to the very top of this Arc de Triomphe replica where the window is, nice view of Vientiane. I also appreciate how the plaque on the wall describes this Arc as “from a closer distance, it appears less impressive, like a monster of concrete”.
They use the Kip. It’s crazy high numbers like the Vietnamese Dong. The only 2 countries I was walking around with millions in my purse. 1 million Kip = about $160 Canadian. So I really had to think of the conversion as you were always dealing in the thousands. Many places also accept the Thai Baht or the American dollar, but I never had an issue using the Kip. We were told in Vietnam that it was going to be expensive in Laos, I didn’t find that at all, I felt it was much more cheaper than Vietnam and Cambodia.
Laos has very good food. They really have a mix of Thai, Vietnam, Cambodia and French. They were once colonized by the French, so they make a mean baguette and coissant. They win best baguette over Cambodia and Vietnam by a landslide. They have coffee shops and bakeries everywhere and most were excellent. They also grow coffee, so they make a delicious cup of coffee, and an even better iced coffee. As you’ll see below, if you get an ice coffee to go, sometimes it goes in a plastic bag with a straw then in a paper bag. I filmed him making it, quite entertaining. They also have a lot of sandwich places, who knew they could make a great sandwich. It’s also very common in many of these South east Asia countries to dip certain sweet or sour fruits into salt, chili or soya sauce. Green mango is common, and below is the star fruit. It gives very contrasting flavours, it’s quite nice.
One food that I quite like is fried bamboo, it’s actually really good. This dish is with pork. The coffee here is similar to Vietnam as they use the condensed milk as seen on the bottom. It’s hard to keep fresh milk due to refrigeration, so I figured that’s how the condensed milk started? Either way it’s the best. The other brown things are like plain donuts that are not sweet. People also dip these in condensed milk, also good.
Heres a gold coloured Porsche we came across in Vientiane. Never seen a gold car like this before. Maybe when I return to Canada, I’ll see if they can do this to a Toyota.
Century old eggs! These are both chicken eggs, the white ones are your regular hard boiled egg, while the pink ones are the century old eggs. They go through a process with different ingredients, then buried for weeks or months in the ground. They become black inside, then you eat them. They dye them pink so they know which is which. I didn’t try it lol.
But I did try the rice wine with snakes, turtles, centipedes and geckos in the jar. Apparently it enhances the flavour. I figured I drank the tarantula rice wine in Cambodia, why not up my game in Laos. Let’s just say it was rather potent. And the guy who was selling it, seemed like an interesting character, but very nice. So why not…when in Laos! My before and after lol.
Luang Prabang, UNESCO world heritage city, is known for its markets. They have the title of one of the best handy craft night markets in SEA. One thing about Laos is most places close down by 11pm or so, so not really a partying country. Even the night market was packing up shortly after 9pm, usually those stay open quite late. But there’s no pressure in selling, you can actually look without being hassled. Also it’s usually quite easy to haggle. So it was a fun experience, some countries it can be overwhelming and difficult. What I liked is you’ll see below the street in the daytime, then transformed into a night market. To set up and take down everyday, my god that’s a lot of work. I would say most sellers were women, and they often had their small children with them. As it would get past 9pm you would see and hear some of the little ones just crying and rubbing their eyes, trying to cling to their moms, and the mom was trying to make her sales, I can only imagine how difficult that must be for all of them. They are probably up very early in the morning to do work. Very hard lives, yet they always gave you a genuine big smile.
The morning markets are different, more food based and more for the locals. Also there was more random animals to buy at this one like baby owls and frogs. Not sure for what, but when you see any type of animal at a market, I just assume it’s for eating. ( I was told by my travel companion Racine that we were told by our guide that the Owls were sold for pets or set free), so you can draw your own conclusion.
I just liked this sign, but I rarely heard a horn, the traffic was quite peaceful. India could use a few of these signs here and there.
Theres a popular temple with 328 steps to the top to see the sunrise and sunset. I did it for the sunrise, I dunno why I thought climbing that at 5:30 am was a good idea, but I did it with some peeps from my group, once I caught my breath, it was fun.
Theres also a famous waterfall and moon bear rescue place outside Luang Prabang. You can swim at the lower points of the waterfall, it was a hot day, and the water was freshwater and quite cold, very refreshing. Reminded me of Canadian lakes. The pics aren’t that great as I only had my go pro, I’ve learned that me and my point and shoot camera and water don’t mix well.
The giving of alms to Monks!
This is done everyday in Luang Prabang. Monks are suppose to have very little and only eat breakfast and lunch. Monks are out at sunrise on the main streets. If you want to give alms, you must find a spot on the side of the road where they walk. You give food such as a scoop of sticky rice, fruits, vegetables, packaged foods or meats, anything really. They have their bowl, they walk by you in line and you put whatever you want in their bowl and they keep walking. The lines goes the most senior monks to the most junior. We are sitting as we have to be below the monk to show respect. Also, no touching. You must be appropriately dressed, covering the shoulders, knees and shoes off with a scarf around your body. It was a really interesting experience. I had a container of sticky rice, so I was told to scoop it out for about 15 monks, well they just kept coming. I ran out half way through, it felt like when it’s Halloween when you run out of candy but the trick or treaters just keep coming. Except the monks don’t keep ringing your doorbell and yelling.
Overall, I really enjoyed Laos. There’s many tourists around, but at the same time it doesn’t feel touristy. Like I said the people were genuinely nice and respectful. You will get guys offering tuk tuk rides or boat rides but they back off right away if you say no. I felt very safe here walking around day and night. Also, motor bikes will stop for you, that sure doesn’t happen in Vietnam. I highly recommend visiting this gem!