You could be forgiven for failing to take note that Laos is a landlocked country. Surrounded by five bordering neighbours, China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, Laos is privileged to have the waters of the Mekong River meandering north to south, the length of the country. Whether you are sitting at a riverside bar at sunset enjoying a refreshing Beer Lao, absorbing the majesty and serenity of the towering limestone cliffs while travelling by slow boat, or wandering through markets located along its banks, the Mekong is at the heart of Laotian life.
Laos possesses the ability to ease yet entice your senses simultaneously. Time is of little consequence in this part of the world and some adjustment is often required from those accustomed to a fast-paced western way of life. This transition doesn’t take one long though as your senses are flooded with the colour, sounds and enticing aromas of a culture that has maintained its composure for hundreds of years.
If time restraints limit you exploring the length and breadth of Laos, then ensure that you at least visit the UNESCO heritage-listed city of Luang Prabang. Cradled between the mountains surrounding the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, this place is, to put it simply, breathtaking.
Rise early before dawn to the resonate sound of temple drums and join locals in offering alms to hundreds of solemn, orange-robed monks as they make procession through the streets. The predominantly French influence of the city is encapsulated in the coffee and pastry served at La Banneton Cafe and visiting the National Museum and Wat Xiengthong temple, with its iconic sweeping roof, is a must if you seek to understand the region’s history.
High in the hinterland, the ardent blue cascades of Kuang Si falls are set amid a jungle rainforest backdrop. This area is home to over 100 different Lao ethnic groups. Don’t pass up the opportunity to stop and purchase quality hand woven textiles or savour the aromatic tilapia grilled fresh over hot coals en route.
In the late afternoon, opt to climb the (over 300) steps to the summit of Mt Phousi and witness the setting sun transform the city into a glimmering golden landscape.
Descend down the mountain to discover the night markets sprawled throughout the city streets. A souvenir or two is always recommended, yet the reality of visiting this country is the lasting souvenir you inevitably take home. •
Photography by Joshua J. Smith