“When people ask about spending a week in Laos, we try to talk them out of it. You can’t begin to appreciate this Indochinese gem in less than two weeks.”
Time slows down in Laos. Whether it’s the languorous flow of the Mekong River as it winds through the southern lowlands, or the heavy, humid stillness of remote mountain valleys, there’s something about this small landlocked country that inspires you to lessen your pace – to sit quietly, watching and listening.
With a complicated history of colonial and then communist rule, along with a culture that blends rich influences from hundreds of ethnic groups, Laos is a place that rewards patient exploration. We can introduce you to a leading anthropologist who will explain how this land of tranquil rice paddies evolved from a Khmer kingdom to a French imperial outpost to a modern socialist republic. And along the way, we’ll help you learn a few words of greeting in some of its many regional dialects.
The ancient capital of Luang Prabang is a great place to start your journey. Situated at the foot of a steep mountain range, this UNECSO heritage city is home to a thriving monastic community. We’ll take you inside an ancient wat, where you can join saffron-robed monks in quiet meditation before meeting the temple’s abbot for some green tea and a chat about Buddhism’s place in the 21st century. Or, to get a taste of Laotian cuisine, you can explore the morning markets with an acclaimed chef – sampling sugarcane and riverweed, breathing in the sharp scents of chilli wood and lemongrass – and then watch or lend a hand as she prepares a meal of sticky rice porridge and steaming kao soi noodle soup.
A sunrise helicopter flight can whisk you over the jungle canopy to Xieng Khouang plateau and the mysterious Plain of Jars – a surreal landscape scattered, as our historian guide will show you, with countless fragments of megalithic pottery. Alternatively, you can journey by boat up the Mekong, maybe stopping for a picnic of local delicacies on one of the many islands that dot the river.
As you fly southward, Laos unfolds as an expanse of lush wetlands dotted with patchwork rice fields. At Si Phan Don, or the Four Thousand Islands, tributaries of the Mekong spread out like giant fingers, creating a freshwater archipelago that’s home to an amazing variety of aquatic life. Here you can swim the river with rare Irrawaddy dolphins – the friendly cousins within the killer whale family – or paddle a kayak through the rapids around spectacular Khone Phapheng Falls.
Wherever you choose to travel and whatever diversions you pursue, your one constant source of delight will be the people. The warmth of Laotian hospitality is reflected in your host’s perpetual smiles – as if everyone is in on a secret that they just might share with you, provided you’re ready to sit quietly, watch and listen.
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