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In the heart of Southeast Asia lies the landlocked nation of Laos. Remarkably untouched by the modernity which has swept across much of the region, Laos retains its magical old-world charm. Lacking the usual skyscrapers and mass-tourism, a holiday to Laos is a chance to get in touch with a slice of authentic Asian culture. The capital, Vientiane is a well-executed mix of French-colonial architecture and traditional Buddhist temples, situated on the banks of the eternal Mekong River.
The city of Luang Prabang is nirvana for intrepid travellers who crave the thrill of immersive culture. Monks fill the streets at dawn for the daily alms ceremonies and the city’s lowrise, peak-roofed buildings seem to blend seamlessly into the natural surroundings of lush forested hills. Situated in central Southeast Asia and bordered by Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, China and Vietnam, modern-day Laos remains proud of its heritage as the ‘Kingdom of A Million Elephants’, once one of the largest kingdoms in Southeast Asia.
A tour of Laos offers travellers the chance to experience the unique, yet effortless, combination of Buddhist traditions and French flair, leftover from the days of colonialism and seen most vividly in the nations flavoursome national cuisine. The natural wealth of this small and charming country, makes it one of the most beautiful in the world and a paradise for ecotourists.
The rich historical legacy of the great Laos kingdom has left behind many beautiful relics and temples to explore on a trip to Laos. Founded in the 14th-century the Kingdom of Lan Xang (a million elephants) adopted Theravada Buddhism as the state religion and fostered a prosperous and expanding kingdom which, at its height, stretched across much of central Southeast Asia. Lan Xang was an important centre for trade in the region due to its location. The Golden Age of King Sourigna Vongsa in the 17th-century marked the largest period of expansion.
During this time monks from across Asia came to study in the kingdom and elaborate artistic traditions were highly developed. Sadly, the following century saw the decline and collapse of this unified kingdom as neighbouring Siam took control over large parts of the kingdom. Much of Vientiane and its royal buildings were destroyed during this time. French forces came to the aid of the King of Luang Prabang and shortly thereafter the kingdom became a French protectorate. In the 20th-century, following the First Indochina War, communist organisations in Laos fought for independence, which they gained in 1949. A long and tragic civil war followed and in 1975 the Communist Pathet Lao came to power, at the time having very close ties with the Soviet Union. If you travel to Laos today, you’ll be visiting a nation that still remains an ethnically diverse socialist state at its core.
A paradise for nature-lovers, Laos is overflowing with natural wonders, ranging from jungle waterfalls to elephant sanctuaries. Unlike some of its more developed Southeast Asian neighbours, Laos’s landscapes retain much of their vastness and beauty, perfect for mountain hikes and jungle trekking. The Mekong River and the Annamite Mountain Range are just two of Laos’s most prominent natural features, whilst the nation’s climate has two distinct seasons: the rainy season from May to November and the dry season from December to April.
Natural highlights to enjoy on a holiday to Laos include the picture-perfect Kuang Si Falls, situated just south of Luang Prabang. One of the nations best-known sights, this three-tiered limestone waterfall, surrounded by pristine jungle scenery, is simply breathtaking. Another highlight is Mount Phousi. Situated in Luang Prabang this picturesque mountain is also home to gilded temples and stupas. A final must-see on a tour of Laos is the Kong Lor Cave, the largest cave in the country and a true geological wonder. An underground river means the cave and its amazing interior are only accessible by boat.
The beauty of Laotian culture can be found in the diverse nature of its population, the traditional Buddhist beliefs, which seem to permeate all area of daily life, and the fusion of ‘east-meets-west’, seen in the relics of French-colonialism. A tour of Laos is sure to include a number of the country’s grandiose temples, or a chance to watch the amazing dawn alms ceremonies of the country’s most devout monks. 65% of the population adheres to the beliefs of Theravada Buddhism, so it is an integral part of the national culture. Laotian folk music is still an essential and much-loved cultural practice, especially in rural communities and traditional clothing is widely worn, such as the colourful sinh, a patterned, hand-woven silk skirt.
Laos is a delight to explore. Imagine beautiful cities with exotic architecture, plentiful hiking trails, waterfalls, limestone cliffs, caves and underground rivers, charming villages, diverse ethnic groups, jungles, coffee plantations and endless rice paddies. Take a trip to Laos and get in touch with your most adventurous side as you immerse yourself in the culture of a true treasure of Southeast Asia.
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