LAO PEOPLE'S DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli
We had heard that there is a good French
Restaurant in Laos. Since the French spent so much time there, no doubt
they taught the locals their ways regarding food. So we flew to Luang
Prabang, in northern Laos, for dinner. We ended up staying thirteen days!
Luang Prabang is the most laidback place on earth. It seems nothing has
changed here for 100 years. It’s as if time stopped. Other than
electricity and a few internet cafes, things are just the way they were
LAID BACKED LUANG PRABANG
This small mountain encircled town, nestled along the mighty Mekong
River, is known for its many temples, weaving, silver, and the Royal
Palace museum. Buddhist Temples seem to be everywhere, and early in the
morning, you often awake to the rhythmic sounds of chanting monks.
Most travelers blow through this town, spending a
night or two on their way to that ever elusive paradise. Later, they regret not having stayed longer.
However, we were constantly on the move, finding one thing after another
to occupy our time. Sitting in one of the numerous cafes
with a Beer Lao or a coffee shake, watching the simple Lao life pass by,
is enjoyable anytime.
Wat Phou Si, the impressive landmark located
in the heart of the historic district, sits high up on a hill overlooking
the town and the Mekong River valleys.
We recommend making the 330 step climb, once in the cool morning, then
again for the popular sunset. Your 50 cent ticket purchased in the morning
is good all day. Another lofty view can be found at the Pan Sea Hotel.
Plan on taking a long lunch in their rosewood dining room overlooking
their infinity pool to the hills surrounding the city.
INFINITY POOL AT PAN SEA WITH WAT PHOU SI IN DISTANCE
But the real charm of Luang Prabang is the fact that it is situated on
the banks of the Mekong, and river travel is the norm.
Continuously, large boats loaded with cargo, or smaller
river taxi can be seen running on the river.
Our choice was to hire a boat and driver ($10
USD) to take us twenty kilometers up river, to the Pak Ou Caves, stopping
at a couple of riverside villages.
Confident and steady, Batung navigated our long wooden boat past the
many rocky hazards and eddy pools towards our destination.
Arriving at the caves, a sense of "something special" is
perceptible. Pak Ou Caves for centuries have been a gathering place for
Laotians to come and gain merit by ritually bathing the many broken images
of Buddha. Entering the lower grotto, it is impressive to see the
thousands of Buddha figures placed there.
The upper cave is certainly not to be missed. Eerie,
mysterious and not well lit, flashlights are available for a small
rental fee. This larger hollow has even more Buddha images. Dusty, covered with spider webs, the antiquity is
easily felt, and the effect is awesome.
RIVER BOATS DOCKED ON THE MEKONG RIVER
Back on the river, now heading down stream, Batung
guided our craft ashore to what’s called "Whiskey Village".
Here the famous Lao Lao rice whiskey is made. Cooked in 55 gallon drums
with water directly pumped from the Mekong, the liquid is then siphoned off into handmade clay pots. From
there it moves to the “bottling line“. Giant scorpions or baby cobras
have been placed in glass containers to add potency to the whiskey, which
a small Lao girl pours inside.
We sampled the products, both red and white rice wine, and the Lao
whiskey, and lived to write about it. Each bottle was selling for $1 USD,
a fair price, but we declined the offer to buy.
Returning to Luang Prabang, the sun began to set over this mighty
waterway and all who take their sustenance from it. Memories of village
life, Buddha images and the calm river all intermingle as daily routines
continue in the age old, undisturbed style of Laos.
PAK OU CAVES
Now we all know, that writers don’t make a lot of money, and need to
count pennies. . So when two gorgeous twenty-something British girls asked
if they could join our boat a couple of days later, it only made good financial sense to invite them along and share the cost.
Fours dollars each was the agreed upon price with the
boat captain, and our gang was on its way, cruising south on the Mekong
River to Kwang Xi Waterfalls. The one hour ride went by quickly, chatting
with the lovelies, learning about their lives and ambitions. The scenery
outside the boat was nice too!
Disembarking, we took a short hike up a
muddy hill, a dreadful, dusty tuk tuk ride on a bumpy road, and finally
arrived at Kwang Xi Waterfalls. Our group anteed up the small fee that
foreigners must pay to enter the national park.
KWANG XI FALLS
By now, the roar of the falls could be heard, louder with each step,
until they appeared. The picturesque, multilevel falls, starting some
200 feet above, spill through a series of crystal blue pools, creating a
great spot for a picnic, and tables are provided.
Unlike most parks we've visited in the West, here one is able to wade
through the water, walk across rocks, go anywhere to take that certain
photo. In fact, many were swimming in the clear ponds below.
Hiking up a slippery moss laden wet side to
the halfway point of the falls, we were able to look directly down the chute! Pretty amazing; no guard
rails, no steps, no signs telling us not to do this or that, and yet, no
one got hurt.
After a couple of hours, it was time to head back up
river to Luang Prabang. More chatter with the lovelies and viewing the
sites, both inside and outside the boat, made for the perfect day trip.
WEAVER SHOWING HER WORK
There is more to discover in LP besides its
natural beauty. Laos is celebrated for its high quality textiles, and we
were hoping to get a few at a good value to bring home.
Knowing a little about fabrics and having confidence to pick out
quality from imposters, we were taken aback by the sheer number of
vendors, shops, looms and woven fabrics for sale. It took us days to
discern patterns, the different threads used, and the prices asked for
the finished pieces. What initially began as overwhelm, started to
sort out quite nicely.
Traveling by small motorbike with a two seater side car, we visited
several villages to witness the weaving of these spectacular cloths.
What we found remarkable was how such beauty could come from these
simple and humble origins.
Looms were everywhere, under stilted
homes, in back yards, on porches, behind doors, by shop sides or in
small factories. Women of all ages were involved in the manufacture of
these artful cloths, and children often played by the side of the loom
as an older sister or young mother went about her daily production.
At the night market (which simply cannot be
missed, as it sets up on the main street each evening), beautiful Lao
women show off these handmade weavings. It takes anywhere from four days
to three weeks to complete a woven cloth, and bargaining for fair prices
Children again were there, at Momma’s knee, or with their own mats,
all learning the trade of selling. On occasion, a child would facilitate
a sale by speaking in English for an older woman; a relative or
neighbor. At other times, Mother or older sister would assist a younger
girl who got stuck in negotiating price. All of this was done with
gentleness and humor, teasing and sometimes a bit of pleading for
"give luck toodaay, buy from meee". Occasionally there would
be a bit of prodding "good for yoo, good for mee, luckee".
BEAUTIFUL LAOS TEXTILES AT NIGHT MARKET
On the whole, the weaving is not only of the textile itself, but of the fabric of the
society from whence it comes. Work, childrearing, friendships, business,
survival and the creation of beauty from the stuff of every day life.
Our purchased items of cloth are stunning in pattern, exquisite in the
reflection of humanity. Something to be cherished, and remembered for
years to come.
Because Laos has only been open to tourism
since the 1990’s, we discovered that the people themselves were
innocent and untouched by cynicism of any kind. Now is the time to see
Laos, as much building is going on in restoration of this World Heritage
site. Upscale shops and restaurants are making their way into the main
streets along with their upscale pricing. But for the moment, you will
still see monks with their umbrellas walking from one wat to another,
and whole families on small motorbikes or bicycles going about their
STILL A COMMON SITE
About that French restaurant…. There are many in this
small village, but a few to sample are: Auberge et Café Les 3 Nagas, with price
fixed menus, you cannot go wrong. Try the Buffalo Medallions with green
peppercorn sauce.…awesome. Or at the Café et Décor, a little more casual, the
plates were well presented and the flavors matched.
LP can be reached by air from
many Asian cities, with direct flights on Laos Air from Chiang Mai and
For the more adventurous, from northern
Thailand you can take a two day river boat trip, or from Vientiane in
the south, a bus or mini van.
A 15 day visa will cost $20 to $30 depending on how much time you
plan ahead. There is a large selection of lodging available, from Guest
houses and mid range hotels conveniently located, to high end resorts,
just out of town. Whatever your pricing needs, or accommodation
preferences, you will easily find a suitable choice.
For a step into the ancient past, with relative comfort and unhurried
style, Luang Prabang offers quality, variety and warm smiles.
Lao Air departs Chiang Mai at 13:30, every Tuesday, Friday, and
Sunday, 4,680 Baht RT.
Not to be missed:
The pastries at Phounsab Guest House. Though the surroundings are not
fancy, we found their pastries far surpassed those in more costly
Wat Xieng Thong, built in 1560. Worth the small entry fee. Many
buildings on the site, murals made from colored mirrors. Spectacular.
The onion rings at The Pizza Restaurant. Right in the center of town,
this restaurant makes the best onion rings we ever had. Rolled in
coconut and deep fried, they are served with a slightly sweet chili
sauce. Pizzas are baked in a wood burning oven.
About the Authors
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are
recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on
topics of finance, medical tourism and world travel. With the wealth of
information they share on their award winning website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com,
they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since
1991. They wrote the popular books, The
Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your
Retirement Dream IS Possible available on their website
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