Laos was in our minds one of those countries you heard about but you have no clue what’s inside. We could guess jungle, temples and nice people but that was about it. Many compare it with Thailand or Vietnam. “Same same but different.” We think.
It’s of course not a surprise that Laos has a lot in common with its neighbors. Mainland South East Asia has been influenced by the Chinese and Indian traders for centuries, followed by the rise and fall of powerful Kingdoms, like the Champa, Khmer and Sukothai. The roots of Laos were born when the Khmer empire (Cambodia) lost power to Sukothai (Thailand). Fa Ngum, an ally of the Khmer, gained control back over the area of what is Laos today and founded, in 1353, Lan Xang, the ‘Land of a Million Elephants’. We saw six of them, sunbathing in the Mekong. 🐘
Glorious times, invasions and internal conflicts followed. Late nineteenth century, the French came and colonized Indochina, leaving their marks in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. After the decolonization and WOII the Mekong region became the battlefield of the cold war as well as civil wars, leading to many deep scars. A lot has happened at this part of the world. When traveling through this territory it’s interesting to see how the history of each country (and the world) is often closely linked.
And not only history. Today, Laos ranks right up there with countries like Thailand and Vietnam in the backpacker’s heaven ‘South East Asia’. A lot of same same! You can lose yourself in the party scene, book plenty of tours and activities with many others, get packed like sardines in tourist mini vans, bargain at night markets for ‘local’ souvenirs you can find all around Asia and eat banana pancakes at each corner of the street.
The good thing is that Laos is also Laos. Same same but Laos. From the bus and especially during our two-day cruise over the Mekong (~400km), we saw nothing but jungle. The majority is green and not civilized at all. That is to say if you ignore the few spots where high speed train tracks are being built by the Chinese… The only other interruptions are small villages with wooden houses occupied by a handful of families, chickens, dogs, goats, pigs and oxen.
We visited one of those villages where the people are almost self-sufficient, with their own traditions and language. Some do not even speak Lao. Times are changing though and families are moving out as they get better access to education and prosperity. There are hill tribes in Thailand and Vietnam too, however the ones promoted to visit come more across as a tourist theme park which would make us feel a little uncomfortable.
>>Watch the Quick Story of our slowboat trip over the Mekong. Ps. it’s very slow. 😵<<
The French influence is in Laos more pronounced than anywhere else we’ve been. Take Luang Prabang, the former capital. This historical town almost feels like Europe. Colonial buildings, bakeries with croissants and baguettes, French wines, coffee shops, olives, it’s all there. Likely with a bit of exaggeration for us – bon vivant – tourists, but still. The numerous gorgeous temples, the local people, street food and the night market betray that you are in Laos. We don’t complain, we like a glass of wine and we like Asia.
Above all, Laos is quiet. No big crowds, no traffic chaos, no constant flow of noises, but peaceful, despite that the South East Asian tourists parade found its way in Laos too. There are ways to escape the beaten track, but if you don’t, Laos is a good choice for easy traveling while enjoying the good life. Something we don’t mind at all at this moment in time. It’s all about balance, after all.
Speaking about balance. In Luang Prabang I take it a step further and surrender to a Yin yoga class, a slow-paced style, and move from a relaxed mode to completely Zen. When Wouter sees my shining eyes afterwards, I convince him to go together the next day. I don’t think Wouter liked me for that as the next day we end up by surprise in a 90 minutes session of advanced Vinyasa yoga: a fast-paced style with a constant flow into quite complex poses all synchronized to your breath. That is if you master it… which we obviously don’t. Man oh man, what a session! 😰 Somehow we manage to keep on going till the end, most likely not looking charming at all and we pulled out for the headstand. A headstand! Come on… Is that needed to become Zen? Hmm, not sure if I can convince Wouter again…
After all the good life in Laos, it’s once again time for a new adventure. As if it’s never ending. 🙂 The upcoming months we are going to give a twist to our travels. From hard core traveling to a more normal life. Well, normal… not really… of course not! More routine explains it better. One with weekends and holidays. One that requires to roll up our sleeves and crack our brains again!
What we will do? We’ve signed ourselves up for a Yacht master sailing course! ⛵ How cool is that!? We’re really excited and to be honest nervous as well. How will the coming months be like? Will it be challenging? We shall see. One thing is certain, we can’t wait to set sail and live this great new adventure to the fullest! To be at sea. Salt in the hair. Meeting new people. Out in the weather. Tropical islands and above all learn to sail. Another dream comes true. 😎
Life is beautiful.