Sunday, 13 July 2014

Loop around Laos

My first trip to Asia and one of my first overseas trips was to a country I'd rarely heard of.

I knew of "Laos", but wouldn't have been confident placing it on a map.
Travelling down the Meekong River

I was being sent on a trip there by my newspaper employer at short notice.  It was a quick week's lap around the small land-locked country, via Bangkok.  I didn't really care where it was at that point or what I was going to see - a week out of the newsroom sounded perfect.

But given it was one of my first overseas trips, it left one of the biggest impressions on me.

It was also my first taste of Asia - both the huge, chaotic cities (Bangkok) and the simple and traditional lives people led in the lush countryside.

I had my new backpack overstuffed with things I would discover were completely unnecessary, my passport, and a vague idea of where I was going.

My instructions were simple: I was simply to join a guide and small group at Bangkok airport, and together we'd journey fly to Chiang Rai, cross the border at Huay Xai, boat down the Meekong River to Pakbeng and Luang Prabang, before driving to Vang Vieng and the capital Vientiane.

If I didn't know exactly where Laos was, I had even less of an idea about these places I was about to visit.
Life by the Meekong
To this day, Luang Prabang in Laos stands out as one of my favourite and most memorable travel destinations.

I don't have many photos from this trip.  This was strictly pre-digital camera days and for this trip I had just one roll of 36-exposure film (it was only when I was back home that I discovered if the camera had focussed or had been fogged up from humidity).

Looking down on Royal Palace at Luang Prabang
Formerly a capital of the kingdom, Luang Prabang is tucked alongside the Meekong River and surrounded by rainforest.  It's became a favourite of backpackers throughout Asia - and for good reason.
Ku Si Waterfall near Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang has an almost serene atmosphere.   It feels like there's a beautiful gilded temple or stupa on every street corner and that every second person is a monk clad in saffron-coloured robe.
Luang Prabang temple
Monks collecting alms
Each morning, these monks wander the streets to collect their daily alms.  Every evening, they gather to chant pray.   Life here seems to have a peaceful simplicity.  Time also moves a little bit slower - and you too thanks to the humidity.

Of course, Laos has had more than its share of conflict.   My only knowledge of the country then was from it's involvement in the Vietnam War.   Before that, it was also a colony of the French (who kindly left behind pretty architecture and baguettes).

French legacy

This loop around Laos was quick, but gave me a taste of the country and of southeast Asia.

What I remember most is not just the sights and sounds, but also how it felt to be a traveller; the freedom,  the excitement of discovering new things, and the foreign but familiar way people live around the world.

Pak Ou Caves

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