Laos is an amazing country!
I had the privilege to visit the North part, together with a dear friend, on July 2018. We landed in Luang Prabang, where we rented a car and drove all the way down to Vientiane, 340 kilometres in 3 x days, through a road that most of the time was really good, but on occasions presented large areas of massive potholes (huge!), so the renting of a 4x4 (get it automatic!) is highly recommended.
Facts: To enter the country at Luang Prabang airport you need to pay about $30, and have a passport-size colour picture of yourself at hand.
We stayed in the best hotel in town, a place called "Maison Dalabua", sensibly far away from the river and a short-walk distance from the town center; with an extraordinary Laos-style breakfast buffet, this place is a jewel. The hotel has a very pleasant to the eye pond, extremely romantic, with water lilies saluting you as you pass by and orchids showing off their beauty while hanging on coconut trees. The place also has a pool to chill out, but without any doubts the best part of it are its staff: from day 1 till the very end we were flooded with smiles, help and gratitude that contributed to the joy of our visit.
Facts: If you fancy a gin&tonic at a kind of in-appropriate time of the night for Laos's standards, and have run out of ice, sneak out to the breakfast area near the pond, turn left, left and then right to reach the restaurant and express your wish to the late staff, they will understand straight away what you need with a smile.
Luang Prabang is a World Heritage city, which is not surprising given the variety of Monuments and museums that surrounded the town center. My dear friend had been living in the "neighbour" for around 2 x years, in Malaysia, where the tropical climate is very similar to the one we faced in Laos, it is very easy to feel dehydrated in this part of the world, so while in Laos drink water even if you are not thirsty!
We visited the Wat Xieng Thong temple, and I was impressed by the energy irradiated from a particular statue placed in front of a rare bronze reclining Buddha.
Ock pop Tok
There is a lovely place just outside Luang Prabang that I will you stress on visiting: Ock pop Tok (East meets West). My dear friend and myself got there together with our dear 4x4 rented car, which by the way proved to be very keen and knowledgeable in regards to the places we were going to sleep every night. There where my dear friend decided to park by her free will, there was the car just pointing us the hotel where we were going to stay.
Facts: Ock pop Tok is a fair trade place using sustainability business practices that produce complex and beautiful texting products using local Lao resources. They ethically employ women from nearby village, which consequently enrich their families and add value to the communities around Luang Prabang.
There should be more places like Ock pop Tok all around Asia. We were given a revealing tour of around 30' that illustrated the manual process of creating and colouring the textiles threads, used by the village woman to create their stunning clothing.
Before you leave, have lunch at the café that they have, inspiring views of the Mekong River, and if you are lucky enough you might as well enjoy the company of a cute "Gizmo" dog (dutch bulldog), be kind to him!
Travelling to Vientiane is a hard business, no way you can make the journey in one day and enjoy the country at the same time, so we decided beforehand to stop at Vang Vieng.... only if we get there. Once again, my dear friend saved my life by the fact that she was mindful enough to carry an iPad+mifi, invaluable objects to circumnavigates the tantalising roads of Laos. The Internet, however, was shinning by its absence, and there was no reception whatsoever in between the roads that zig-zagged the valleys. Inevitably we got lost somewhere in the country (yes! "perdidos en la Conchinchina", alias Indochina). Couldn't be with a better person than with my friend for that to happen! We survived thanks to the pure and good souls of the locals... and their exquisite cuisine.
Facts: Do not ever fall sleep on a closed room in a tropical country without turning on the air conditioning, you most likely will wake up with an anxiety attack in the middle of the night, short of breath and looking for a bit of oxygen that is nowhere to be found. Only a visit to the dentist on a Friday can be worse!
The one thing you must do while in Laos, if your soul feels it, is to attend the "Alms Giving" ceremony, an intimate ritual of the Buddhism. Every morning, just before the sun rises, the monks of nearby monasteries patrols the streets and roads, where the people willing to exercise the powerful yet humble ruling-fabric of the Universe called gratitude can offer to the monks whichever food your believe it may be appropriate for them. My dear friend and I were lucky enough to participate in such uplifting ritual in Vientiane, in our last day, and I can say firmly that we both truly enjoyed it. Not so much the waking up at 5 am though!
I am thankful to the country of Laos, to my dear friend, to all the people that we met on the way, the places that we visit and above all to all smiles of any kind that we encountered during this journey.
London, 11 August 2018