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Laos Introduction

Thanaleng Border

Thanaleng Border

Dara market

Dara market

Pak Ou Caves

Pak Ou caves

Laos is the only landlocked ASEAN nation as well as the least visited countries in the world. Being isolated for many years has meant that Lao PDR retains a remarkable serenity and timeless charm. The country is mountainous, making travel difficult with limited internal flight and adventurous travel along Mekong River. The capital, Vientiane, is small (140.000) charming and picturesque, sitting on the banks of the Mekong. It contains some colourful and sacred pagodas, fascinating museums, wide boulevards and attractions like Patuxai, Vientiane’s Arc de Triomphe.

 

The border crossing to Thailand and the Friendship Bridge are at Thanaleng. Budha Park here is a bizarre collection of concrete religious icons. Nam Ngum Dam in the north of the city is a peaceful retreats with restaurants, fishing and small chalets. The former capital Luang Prabang, is one of the most serene town in ASEAN. Much of the town and its pagodas are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are about 32 historic pagodas here whithin easy walk of each other.

 

The Dala market sells many local products especially those of nereby hilltribe people. The Royal Palace Museum contains many Lao treasures. Trips on the Mekong river are popular especially to the Pak Ou limestone caves thet contain hundreds of Buddhist images. The Plain of Jars near the small town of Phonsavan has intrigued archaeologists for centuries.

 

The purpose of the huge 2,000-year old stone jars is open to speculation. In the south of the country, Pakse is a point of departure for the Bolaven Plateau and the Khmer ruins at Wat Phu. The area is also famous for tasty coffee. The Khon Papheng Falls on the Mekong river are a 13- kilometers stretch of rapids and cascades.

 

There are 68 minority tribes in Lao PDR and they offer tourist insight into many ancient tradition and arts. The Lao people are skilled carvers and many pagodas display this art. Cotton and silk weaving is highly developed, distinct and prozed.

 

Many festivals correspond to the Buddhist calendar.

 

Boun Pimal: the Lao New Year is celebrated in mid April throughout the country. The Luang Prabang festivities include a procession, a fair, a sand-castle competition on the Mekong, a Miss New Year pageant folk performances, and cultural shows. Make sure you’re booked and confirmed in hotels before you go.

 

Buddhist Lent (Boun Khao Phansaa): At local temples, worshippers in brightly colored silks greet the dawn on Buddhist Lent by offering gifts to the monks and pouring water into the ground as a gesture of offering to their ancestors. Lent begins in July and lasts 3 months. Monks are meant to stay at their temple throughout this time, for more rigorous practice. Lent ends in the joyous Boun Ok Phansa holiday in September, usually commemorated with boat races (below), carnivals, and the release of hundreds of candle-bearing paper and bamboo floats on the country’s rivers.

 

Boun Souang Heua: is the boat race festival is held the day after Ok Phannsa Crowds gather at the Mekong river to watch 45 paddlers, rowing wooden pirogues to the beat of drums in competition for th coveted trophy.

 

Boun That Luang: is a three-day religious festival celebrated at full moon in November in Vientiane. This major Buddhist fete draws the faithful countrywide and from nearby Thailand. Before dawn, thousands join in a ceremonial offering and group prayer, followed by a procession. For days afterward, a combined trade fair and carnival offers handicrafts, flowers, games, concerts, and dance shows.

 

Hmong New Year: End of November/beginning of December, in the north. Although this is not a national holiday, it’s celebrated among this northern hill tribe.

 

National Day: December 2, nationwide. The entire country celebrates a public holiday, while in Vientiane, you’ll find parades and dancing at That Luang temple.

 

Despite Laos is a place to tread lightly, foreign travelers are made quite welcome and encouraged to do their part to preserve and participate in cultural practices. The beauty of Laos exists not only along the Mekong at sunset, but in smiles at the market or impromptu Lao lessons on the street corner, things that are easily missed if you’re in a hurry. It’s an enchanting land that demands that you slow your pace to match its own, and even the shortest visit might add tranquility to your travels.

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