Surrounded by Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south, and Thailand to the west, Laos is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia with a long history and a fascinating culture. It is calmer than the bustling chaos of its other neighboring countries, but still holds grand attractions, ancient temples, and beautiful scenery. Visitors to Laos will love relaxing into the slower pace of life here and watching the sun slowly set over the Mekong River while dining with friends.
It is best not to rush while exploring Laos, and instead to sit back and let this fascinating destination reveal itself to you.
Historical Luang Prabang
The city of Luang Prabang is located in north central Laos, in the heart of the mountainous region where the Mekong River meets the Nam Khan River. It is said that the Buddha rested here for a day on his travels, and prophesied that it would one day be the site of a rich and powerful capital city. His prediction came true when Luang Prabang became the capital of the first Lao Kingdom, known as Lan Xang or the "Land of The Million Elephants" in 1353. Although the city fell into decline in the latter half of the twentieth century, Laos has managed to recover and restore its historical beauty.
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage City in 1995, Luang Prabang is filled with beautiful old colonial mansions that have been restored as guesthouses and boutique hotels. It’s remarkably well-preserved townscape demonstrates a blending of traditional architecture with those built by the European colonial authorities in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Haw Kham Royal Palace Museum and the Wat Xieng Thong temple are just two of the many well-known historical sites that can be found in this beautiful and elegant city. The Royal Palace Museum was built in 1904 during the French colonial era for King Sisavang Vong and his family, and now is home to a national museum of Laos. The Wat Xieng Temple dates back to 1560 and contains many beautiful sculptures including a rare reclining Buddha as old as the temple itself. Also, many French provincial style houses can be seen throughout Luang Prabang.
Luang Prabang also has a beautiful natural aspect to as well, and Kuang Si Falls and Pak Ou Caves will impress visitors with their wild beauty. Kuang Si Falls is a lush oasis with a three tier waterfall that cascades from a height of 50m, and the turquoise blue pools are open to swimming for a refreshing dip on a hot afternoon. The Pak Ou caves overlook the Mekong River, and are well known for the hundreds of small wooden Buddha sculptures that are hidden within the caves.
Where the Rivers Meet: The Golden Triangle
Historically the Golden Triangle, where the three countries of Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand meet, referred to an area that was well known for the growing of opium. It was one of the most dangerous places in Southeast Asia.
However, these days the Golden Triangle cultivates tourists instead, as it is one of the most visited areas in northern Thailand. The drug-dealing hotspot has been transformed into a tourist park, with sculptures, entertainment, souvenir booths, cafés and river boat cruises. The Hall of Opium is one of the best attractions, as exhibits the history of opium around the world and in the Golden Triangle area.
Art and Culture of Laos
Laos has its own culture, distinct from the other Southeast Asian nations. Theravada Buddhism is a dominant influence, as well as Indian and Chinese culture. These influences are reflected through the art, literature, and performing arts of the region. Many traditional Buddhist festivals are celebrated in Laos throughout the year, such as the Boun Pha Vet.
The performing arts of dance and theater are the primary dramatic art forms in Laos. The classical dance dramas and shadow puppetry of Laos’s theatrical traditions were originally only performed for the royal court and are an amazing spectacle to behold.
Fresh and Flavorful: Laotian Cuisine
The cuisine of Laos has had an influence on the cuisine of its neighbours Thailand and even Cambodia as well. One of the staple foods of the Laotian people is sticky rice, which is eaten by hand. The most famous dish in Laotian cuisine is Larb, which is a spicy mix of marinated meat or fish that is sometimes prepared raw like ceviche with an assortment of herbs, greens and spices. Another Laos favorite is Tam Mak Hoong, which is a spicy green papaya salad dish.
The food that you will discover in Laos will vary according to the fresh foods that are local to each region. Also, there is somewhat of a French influence as well, with baguettes being sold on the street in the capital city of Vientiane.