LAOS - KINGDOM OF MILLION ELEPHANTS

LAOS - KINGDOM OF MILLION ELEPHANTS

Lao PDR, or “Please Don’t Rush” is such a funny but a right way to describe the life in Laos. There, the atmosphere is very different compared to its neighboring countries of China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Troubled by the past two Indochina wars, Laos appears to be isolated from the rest of the world. This land lives in slow-motion, where locals seem to become one with the tranquil and wild nature and not to pay attention to the hours passing by.

Happiness counts more than anything else there and the Lao people enjoy the present as if it was the last moment of their life. The fauna is certainly the most abundant of Asia, far from the architectural changes of modernity. The country is enchanted by the underground river caves and the jungle, and charms us with its karst mountains. The spin of those lands is situated in the Mekong Delta where as you take a ride on the river, you will be captivated by the beautiful landscapes. You will also find your happiness in spending time to relax on Vang Vieng, a very peaceful town by the Mekong River.

However, the richness of this land is also found in its people. Laos has indeed one of the most diversified ethnic groups in Asia. From the Hmong people in the North to the Kahu and Alak ethnic minorities, each of them owns their fascinating traditions. Lao people truly respect their customs and as the Wat are an important element in their life, all the locals have a temple in their village. Theradava Buddhism gives rhythm to the daily life of these locals, generous and humble by nature. 

The Lao culture is also colorful and captivating with the popular theater of Mo Lam and the majestic Ramanaya ballet where dancers give a special performance during the New Year. Due to the years of colonization, the French influence is still anchored in Lao cuisine – importing the infamous “baguette” – architecture and culture. Laos will certainly make you become real foodies and explorers as you follow the flavors of the succulent Lao specialties and discover the impressive places of this land. From the golden That Luang of Vientiane to the great monastery of Wat Mai in Luang Prabang, Laos has many exciting treasures to show you. Off the beaten tracks, from the amazing nature of Vang Vieng with its waterfalls and green paddy fields, to the surprising UNESCO World Heritage of the Plains of Jars in Phonsavan, as well as the architectural site of Wat Phou - the most fabulous legacy of Khmer civilization in this land – your feet will continuously take you to unique discoveries

Click HERE to visit VIETNAM

Click HERE to visit CAMBODIA

Click HERE to visit MYANMAR

 

CHAMPASAK

Go To Gallery

XIENG KHUANG plain of jars

Xieng Khouang, the ”Horizontal City”, a fantastic green mountain province in the North-East of Laos is inhabited by the Thai and Hmong minorities. In the hills, the slash and burn rice cultivation and poppy cultivation are practiced. During the Second World War, the central part of Xieng Khouang was a real battlefield. Though you will especially notice the hundreds of huge stone jars dominating the landscape. This surprising place listed as an UNESCO World Heritage, is actually called Plain of Jars, located in Phonsavan. Nowadays, their use is still unknown!

Go To Gallery

VANG VIENG a piece of heaven on earth

At 160 km north of Vientiane, the amazing site of Vang Vieng is surrounded by the peaceful Nam Song river, its caves, cliffs, waterfalls and green paddy fields. The sacred caves are protecting Buddha statues where devout pilgrims during important days. In this beautiful area of Laos, a motorcycle tour, trekking and tubing will allow you to become one with nature.

Go To Gallery

LUANG PHRABANG where time stands still

Listed as a World Heritage by UNESCO, the third largest city of Laos is admired for its beauty. Luang Prabang is laden with history and full in religious monuments. Crossed by the charming waters of the Mekong River and the Nam Khan, this town is characterized by its charming wooden houses and its well-protected 33 gilded wats. Lines of saffron-clad monks gather daily to receive their alm. You’ll be impressed by the tranquil atmosphere ruling at the foot of the temples which their gates are well guarded by the nagas, considered as snake goddess of Hinduism. In the chapel, where stands a lying Buddha, the infamous Wat Xieng Thong is still the most visited. The city also hides one of the most magnificent monasteries, Wat Mai. Everyday, in early morning, visitors come to participate in the daily morning ritual of saffron-clad monks. An impressive long queue of monks, with their black alms-giving bowls, are waiting along the street to receive offerings and sticky rice from the local people. Like its neighboring town Vientiane, Luang Prabang still preserves its French influences in its architecture and cuisine. Besides the incredible heritage of this fascinating city, the nature lovers will fall in love with the waterfalls and green mountains, where you can have the chance to take a trekking or a kayaking trip, biking around or board on a river cruise to admire the beauty of the landscapes.

Go To Gallery

VIENTIANE laid-back capital

Compared to the other Asian capitals, Vientiane has definitively more a tranquil atmosphere. With its old colonial villas and large avenues, this city has preserved lots of its French influences and has still not known the big architectural changes of the modern society. Thus, visitors are very delighted to adventure in such an authentic place. Wander in the historic old quarter of Vientiane, and as you explore the city, your eyes will immediately stare at That Luang, the most important religious building in Laos, where no far away, the Golden Reclining Buddha is peacefully lying down. Buddhist monks walk for their daily pray and tuk-tuk drivers stay on the side waiting for riding you around the charming narrow streets. From Wat Sisaket – the city’s oldest temple – to Wat Simuang, the spiritual atmosphere seems to be at every corner. Cross the street markets and stroll near the upscale boutique accommodation, the lovely cafes and restaurants. You might fall in love with the old-fashioned style of the bakeries and take away a Beer Lao home after an amazing night watching the sunset over the Mekong.

Go To Gallery

The first recorded history of the Lao begins with the unification of Laos in 1353 by King Fa Ngum.  He established his capital at Luang Prabang and ruled a kingdom called Lane Xang, literally million elephants, which covered much of what today is Thailand and Laos. His successors helped establish Buddhism as the predominant religion of the country.

In the 18th century Lane Xang entered a period of decline caused by dynastic struggle and conflicts with Burma Siam, now Thailand, Vietnam and the Khmer kingdom. In the 19th century the Siamese established hegemony over much of what is now Laos. The region was divided into principalities centered on Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Champassak. Late in the century the French supplanted the Siamese and integrated all of Laos into the French empire. The Franco-Siamese treaty of 1907 defined the present Lao boundary with Thailand.
During World War II the Japanese occupied French Indochina including Laos. In September 1945 Vientiane and Champassak united with Luang Prabang to form an independent government under the Free Lao banner. In 1946 French troops reoccupied the country and conferred limited autonomy on Laos following elections for a constituent assembly.

France formally recognized the independence of Laos within the French Union in 1949 and Laos remained a member of the Union until 1953. Pro-Western governments held power after the 1954 Geneva peace conference until 1957 when the first coalition government led by Prince Souvanna Phouma was formed. The coalition government collapsed in 1958 amidst increased polarization of the political process. Rightist forces took over the government and a communist insurgency resumed in 1959.

In 1960 a paratroop captain seized Vientiane in a coup and demanded formation of a neutralist government to end the fighting. The neutralist government newly in place was driven from power later that same year by rightist forces. In response, the neutralists allied themselves with the communist insurgents and began to receive support from the Soviet Union. The rightist regime received support from the U.S.
A second Geneva conference was held in 1961-1962 and provided for the independence and neutrality of Laos. Soon after accord was reached the signatories accused each other of violating the terms of the agreement and with superpower support on both sides the civil war soon resumed.

In 1972 the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) joined a new coalition government after the Vientiane agreement of February 21, 1973 went into effect that same year. Nonetheless the political struggle between communist’s neutralists and rightists continued. The collapse of Saigon and Phnom Penh in 1975 hastened the decline of the coalition. On December 1975 the king renounced his throne in the constitutional monarchy and entrusted his power to the Lao people but the LPRP dissolved the coalition cabinet and the communist Lao People’s Democratic Republic (LPDR) was established.

The new communist government imposed centralized economic decision-making and broad security measures including control of the media and the arrest and incarceration of many members of the previous government and military in “re-education camps”. These draconian policies and deteriorating economic conditions along with government efforts to enforce political control prompted an exodus of lowland Lao and ethnic Hmong from Laos.  About 10% of the Lao population sought refugee status after 1975.  Many have since been resettled in third countries including nearly 250,000 who have come to the United States.  The situation of Lao refugees is now nearing its final chapter and many have resettled in their homeland.

Laos is a landlocked country bordered to the north by China, to the east by Vietnam, so the south by Cambodia, and to the west by Thailand and Myanmar. Apart from the Mekong River plains along the border of Thailand, the country is mountainous, particularly in the north and in places densely forested.

Culture and etiquette

While history may have given them ample reason to distrust outsiders, the Lao are a genuinely friendly people and interacting with them is one of the greatest joys of travelling through the country. Always remember, though, that Laos is a Buddhist country and so it’s important to dress and behave in a way that is respectful.

Because of the sheer diversity of ethnic groups in Laos, it is difficult to generalize when speaking of “Lao” attitudes and behaviour. The dominant group, the so-called “Lao Loum”, or lowland Lao, who make up the majority in the valleys of the Mekong and its tributaries, are Theravada Buddhists and this has a strong effect on their attitudes and behaviour. The focus here is on dos and don’ts within that culture; customs among the hill-tribe peoples are often quite different from those of the lowlanders.

Dress and appearance

Appearance is very important in Lao society. Conservative dress is always recommended, and visitors should keep in mind that the Lao dislike foreigners who come to their country and dress in what they deem a disrespectful manner. This includes men appearing shirtless in public, and women bearing their shoulders and thighs. Be aware also that dreadlocks, tattoos and body-piercing are viewed with disfavour by lowland Lao, although hill-tribe people are usually more accepting. Dressing too casually (or too outrageously) can also be counterproductive in dealings with Lao authorities, such as when applying for visa extensions at immigration.

When in urban areas or visiting Buddhist monasteries or holy sites, visitors should refrain from outfits that would be more suited to the beach. Women especially should avoid wearing anything that reveals too much skin or could be conceived of as provocative – this includes shorts and sleeveless shirts. Sandals or flip-flops can be worn for all but the most formal occasions; in fact, they are much more practical than shoes, since footwear must be removed upon entering private homes, certain Buddhist monastery buildings or any living space. The habit of leaving your footwear outside the threshold is not just a matter of wanting to keep interiors clean, it is a long-standing tradition that will cause offence if flouted.

Manners

Lao social taboos are sometimes linked to Buddhist beliefs. Feet are considered low and unclean – be careful not to step over any part of people who are sitting or lying on the floor, as this is also considered rude. If you do accidentally kick or brush someone with your feet, apologize immediately and smile as you do so. Conversely, people’s heads are considered sacred and shouldn’t be touched.

Besides dressing conservatively, there are other conventions that must be followed when visiting Buddhist monasteries. Before entering monastery buildings such as the sim or wihan, or if you are invited into monks’ living quarters, footwear must be removed. Women should never touch Buddhist monks or novices (or their clothes), or hand objects directly to them. When giving something to a monk, the object should be placed on a nearby table or passed to a layman who will then hand it to the monk.

All Buddha images are objects of veneration, so it should go without saying that touching Buddha images disrespectfully is inappropriate. When sitting on the floor of a monastery building that has a Buddha image, never point your feet in the direction of the image. If possible, observe the Lao and imitate the way they sit: in a modified kneeling position with legs pointed away from the image.

Social invitations

Lao people are very hospitable and will often go out of their way to help visitors. Especially in rural areas, you may find people inviting you to join them for a meal or to celebrate a birth or marriage. This is a real privilege, and even if you don’t wish to stay for long, it’s polite to join them and to accept at least one drink if it’s offered to you. More than anything, it gives you a chance to experience local life, and gives Lao people a good impression of the tourists that come to their country, and an opportunity to learn more about the world.

Sexual attitudes

Public displays of affection – even just hugging – are considered tasteless by the Lao and is likely to cause offence. Though the gay scene remains very underground in Laos, gay travellers are unlikely to be threatened or hassled. Sexual relations between an unmarried Lao national and a Westerner are officially illegal in Laos – in Vientiane especially, the law prohibiting Lao nationals from sharing hotel rooms with foreigners is sometimes enforced.

 

Buddhism first appeared in Laos during the 18th century A.D.  The unified Kingdom of Lane Xang, in the 14th century declared Buddhism as the state religion and urged the people to abandon animism or other beliefs such as the cult of spirits.

The policy was meant to develop the Laotian culture around one common faith, Theravada Buddhism.

Today, this form of Buddhism is now the professed religion for 90% of the Lao people.  Buddhism is an inherent feature of daily life and casts a strong influence on the society.  Lao woman can be seen each morning giving alms to monks, earning merit to lessen the number of their rebirth.  Lao men are expected to become a monk for at least a short time in their lives.  Traditionally, they spend three months during the rainy season in a Buddhist temple.  But nowadays most men curtail their stay to one or two weeks.

 

Laos enjoys a tropical climate with two distinct seasons, the rainy season from the beginning of May to the end of September and dry season from October through April.

The yearly average temperature is about 28 C (82F), rising to a maximum of 38 C (100F) in April and May.

In Vientiane minimum temperatures of 19 C (66F) can be felt in January. In mountainous areas, temperatures drop to 14-15 C (58F) during the winter months, and during cold nights easily reach the freezing point.

The average precipitation is highest in southern Laos, where the Annamite Mountains receive over 3000 mm (118 inches) annually.

In Vientiane rainfall is about 1500-2000 mm (59 to 79 inches), and in the Northern provinces only 1000-1500 (39 to 59 inches) mm.

How to get there?
As Laos is often part of a wider trip to the region, many people choose to travel there overland, with the crossings from Vietnam or Thailand. There are currently no direct flights to Laos from outside of Asia – most visitors fly via Bangkok, from where it takes just over an hour to reach Vientiane, and just under two hours to Luang Prabang. Connections are also possible from  Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi (Vietnam), Chiang Mai and Udon Thani (Thailand), Siem Reap (Cambodia), Kunming (China) and Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia).

When to go to Laos?

November to January is the best time to visit lowland Laos, when daytime temperatures are agreeably warm, evenings are slightly chilly and the countryside is green and lush after the rains. However, at higher elevations temperatures are significantly cooler, sometimes dropping to freezing point. In February, temperatures begin to climb, reaching a peak in April, when the lowlands are baking hot and humid. During this time, the highlands are, for the most part, equally hot if a bit less muggy than the lowlands, though there are places, such as Paksong on the Bolaven Plateau, that have a temperate climate year-round. Due to slash-and-burn agriculture, much of the north, including Luang Prabang, becomes shrouded in smoke from March until the beginning of the monsoon, which can at times be quite uncomfortable, and of course doesn’t do your photographs any favours. The rainy season (generally May to September) affects the condition of Laos’s network of unpaved roads, some of which become impassable after the rains begin. On the other hand, rivers which may be too low to navigate during the dry season become important transport routes after the rains have caused water levels to rise. 

Money

Lao currency, the kip, is available in 50,000K, 20,000K, 10,000K, 5000K, 2000K, 1000K and 500K notes; there are no coins in circulation.

Although a law passed in 1990 technically forbids the use of foreign currencies to pay for goods and services in local markets, many tour operators, and upmarket hotels and restaurants quote their prices in dollars (especially common when the price is above 350,000K). Many shops, especially those in more touristy towns, and tourist services will accept Thai baht or US dollars in place of kip.

Internet

Internet cafés are increasingly common in Laos, though there are still a fair few towns that don’t have access. Prices range between 6000 and 15,000K per hour; in most places, connections can be excruciatingly slow. Numerous cafés and many hotels and guesthouses in Vientiane and Luang Prabang now offer wi-fi – outside of these places wi-fi is limited to more upmarket accommodation and occasionally cafés in more touristy towns.

Electricity

Supplied at 220 volts AC. Two-pin sockets taking plugs with flat prongs are the norm. Many smaller towns, including several provincial capitals, have power for only a few hours in the evening or none at all, so it’s worth bringing a torch.

Health

The quality of health care in Myanmar is generally poor. Routine advice and treatment are available in Yangon and Mandalay but elsewhere the hospitals often lack basic supplies, and some suffer under corrupt administrations. Avoid surgery and dental work, as hygiene standards cannot be relied upon; if you are seriously ill then contact your embassy for advice, and expect international-quality care to be expensive (and possibly to require payment up front). As always, it is important to travel with insurance covering medical care, including emergency evacuation.

Minor injuries and ailments can be dealt with by pharmacists, particularly in major tourist areas where they are more likely to speak English. Pharmacists offer many things over the counter without prescription, although there are serious issues with fake and out-of-date medication.

Travel Insurance

Travel Insurance is a must-have. 

You should pack a copy of your policy, contact phone number and instruction on how to claim in case of an unlikely event.

Crime and personal safety

Laos is a relatively safe country for travellers. As tranquil as Laos can seem, petty theft and serious crimes do happen throughout the country – even on seemingly deserted country roads. Although crime rates in Vientiane are low, be on your guard in darker streets outside the city centre, and along the river. 

Money

Lao currency, the kip, is available in 50,000K, 20,000K, 10,000K, 5000K, 2000K, 1000K and 500K notes; there are no coins in circulation.

Although a law passed in 1990 technically forbids the use of foreign currencies to pay for goods and services in local markets, many tour operators, and upmarket hotels and restaurants quote their prices in dollars (especially common when the price is above 350,000K). Many shops, especially those in more touristy towns, and tourist services will accept Thai baht or US dollars in place of kip.

Health and Safety

The quality of health care in Myanmar is generally poor. Routine advice and treatment are available in Yangon and Mandalay but elsewhere the hospitals often lack basic supplies, and some suffer under corrupt administrations. Avoid surgery and dental work, as hygiene standards cannot be relied upon; if you are seriously ill then contact your embassy for advice, and expect international-quality care to be expensive (and possibly to require payment up front). As always, it is important to travel with insurance covering medical care, including emergency evacuation.

Minor injuries and ailments can be dealt with by pharmacists, particularly in major tourist areas where they are more likely to speak English. Pharmacists offer many things over the counter without prescription, although there are serious issues with fake and out-of-date medication.

Unless you hold a passport from Japan or one of the ASEAN member states, you’ll need a visa to enter Laos. The good news is that you probably won’t need to arrange it in advance; thirty-day visas are now available on arrival at most international borders. Note that all visitors must hold a passport that is valid for at least six months from the time of entry into Laos.

Visas on arrival take just a few minutes to process, cost around $35, and are available to passengers flying into Luang Prabang Airport, Pakse Airport and Wattay Airport in Vientiane. Those travelling to Laos from Thailand can pick up visas on arrival at any of the border crossings open to foreign tourists, as can those entering from certain places in Vietnam (Nam Khan, Bo Y, Tay Trang, Cau Treo and Lao Bao) and China (Mo Han). Only US dollars are accepted as payment and a passport-sized photo is required. Note that passport holders from a number of countries, including Pakistan, Turkey and Zambia, are not eligible for visas on arrival and must obtain one in advance. 

The Blue Sky Travel consultant team are well seasoned travel experts who think of every details. They have all the knowledge & experience you need to create your most memorable holidays. Call us on: (+84) 28 38 27 70 07

or get in touch

We are open from 8:00 - 18:00 our time (GMT +7)