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Travel to Laos: Here you will find Asia's most beautiful city

Laos Temple Nature Travel
Laos Temple Nature Travel
In the overlooked travel country of Laos you will find Asia's most beautiful city.
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Travel to Laos: Here you will find Asia's most beautiful city is written by Camilla Kornerup

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Its very own pace

Laos is all its own. This makes a trip to Laos completely unique. The country differs in several ways from the other countries in Southeast Asia. It was the pace that initially made me think that something was decidedly different compared to the neighboring countries.

In Laos, they live more in slow motion. Nobody is in a hurry. Things are as they should be, and the word stress is hardly part of the Lao language.

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The slow lifestyle is making an impact in many areas. For example, when you sit and wait, and wait a little longer at a restaurant to be allowed to order and then pay. If you do not make yourself aware of your existence, it can take a very long time without anything happening.

I just had to get used to that after leaving Thailand og Cambodia. Countries where service is paramount. Another good example is the work culture. The Thais and especially the Vietnamese are known for their highly efficient agriculture. Their tireless toil in the rice fields all year round allows them to harvest up to three times.

The Laotians, on the other hand, harvest rice once a year. It is said out here that the Vietnamese plant, harvest and plant immediately again. Whereas while the Laotians plant, and then sit down and listen to the rice grow…

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Recycling is the way forward

The lifestyle is also characterized by a focus on the existing. That, together with the calm pace, creates a special people. A people who basically get up and do the same thing they did the day before. They seem to think that as long as the world lasts, all is well.

In its own way, there is something incredibly healthy about it. And it was quite thought-provoking to be a part of. Still, it was hard to understand why they don't fix anything that needs it.

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For example, a dilapidated bridge or some clothes hanging in a laser. It does not seem to make sense for the Laotians to improve or even develop on things as long as they can be used. The bridge is patched together with a couple of boards that do not fit in style and size with the others .. But it works, and you can get over it - albeit with difficulty.

And the clothes, well, they hang a little strangely on the body. This is due to a large hole in the side and a good amount of stitches that have run, but it is still usable, so why throw it away? I had many experiences like that with things that were dilapidated.

It triggered thoughts about our "use-and-throw-away culture" and demands for the material part of our existence.

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Slow boat on the Mekong River

A great way to fall into the relaxed way of life of the Laotians is by taking a slow boat down the Mekong River. It should definitely be experienced on a trip to Laos. Set aside a few days for it and let the green and mountainous landscape slide into the retina.

The Mekong is just one of many rivers in Laos. The country is very inviting to travel along them, as the roads are often bad. At the same time, you see a lot of the country's fantastic landscape, through which the rivers meander. Especially in the northern part of the country there is dense jungle and forested mountains.

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In several places the most beautiful limestone cliffs rise vertically from the rice fields as in Vietnam and the south China.

I traveled along the Mekong from Luang Prabang in the north up towards the border Thailand. The boats are passenger boats, so along the way they stop in many small remote villages. Here you also get an insight into life in "outlying Laos". There were probably 15-20 of us on board, and there was plenty of room to enjoy the view.

Along the way, you meet cargo boats and fishermen and see how the locals clear and cultivate the land. It is right down to the river bank with corn, sugar cane and vegetables. Many of the country's ethnic minorities live on these edges. They live a life partly isolated from the rest of the Laotian community in the cities.

Opinions are divided as to how many minorities there are, but the number is probably around 50. Some have always lived in Laos, while others have immigrated over the past hundreds of years due to war and political persecution in their original homelands in China and Tibet.

These people live in small villages, speak their own languages ​​and exchange with others through barter.

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Travel to Laos: A patchwork quilt of a population

                                                                 

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On a trip around the country, you get to know Laos' many different ethnic population groups. Some live in the lowlands and others in the highlands, depending on their culture. The largest group is the Lao Lum, the lowland people, who are the ones you meet the most.

They make up over half of the population and are typically the majority in the cities, where the more modern life is lived.

Some less populous groups, such as the Akha people, on the other hand, live very remote in the mountains. They grow rice on the slopes and keep buffalo, chickens and pigs.

Here the women still wear their traditional dark cotton suits. They consist of fine embroidery and they wear a nice headdress with a large number of silver coins attached to it.

The coins swing as they walk and must keep evil spirits away from their faces. At the entrance to their villages, you pass through a "breath gate", which you must not touch under any circumstances.

The gate symbolizes the transition between the spirit and human worlds and thus indicates that the Akha people, like the other ethnic minorities, are animists, practice ancestor worship and drive away evil spirits through the town's shaman.

In a village I visited, a shaman was sitting with a cloth over her head under a house on poles and rocking back and forth while she chanted some words to dispel illness occurring in the family in the house.

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A life closer to civilization

Within the last 20 years, the government has done a great deal to get the ethnic minorities to move down from the mountains and settle in the lowlands instead. The government wants them to live closer to educational opportunities for their children and the health system as well as take an active part in building a modern Laos.

Many peoples such as the Hmong, Khmu and Yao see the benefits of the new life closer to civilization. They have got much better houses, work in the cities and better finances.

When you cycle through their villages, you see that they wear western clothes and have TVs, clean water and motorbikes, and more and more are moving to building houses in stone and concrete.

The government provides free drinking water to their villages when they move down to the lowlands, as well as electricity at a tenth of the price Laos pay in the cities.

These people preserve parts of their original culture when they hold parties and practice rituals around birth, weddings and funerals and at the same time adopt a more modern life in line with the rest of the world and globalization, and in most cases it works positively.

Many of them are incredibly skilled craftsmen and sit in the markets in the larger cities and sell their wares. They have learned what tourists from the West fall for.

They have realized that if they want to sell, they have to produce beautiful scarves, fun shoes, printed t-shirts and loose cotton trousers as well as beautiful jewelery to our taste. In this way, they develop their range and continue life as craftsmen.

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Luang Prabang, Asia's most beautiful city

Luang Prabang is the most beautiful and cozy city I have yet visited in Asia. The old town in particular is incredibly inviting and fortunately preserved UNESCO due to a number of historic houses, temples and monasteries.

The town is well maintained and many of the buildings renovated, and then there are clean streets and alleys as the renovation seems impeccable. Much is built on two floors in a fusion of French colonial style and Laotian architecture with curved brick roofs.

Cloisters of teak wood painted in deep red shades and black decorated with a lot of fine patterns in gold and gilded pagodas characterize the center. The district is located as the outermost part of a peninsula, which is surrounded by two rivers that meet: the Mekong and the Nam Khan.

Several of the old houses are now tastefully furnished as hotels and restaurants kept in the old style. The king used to live here until the monarchy was deposed, and you can visit the royal family's residence, which is now an excellent museum.

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Traveling to Laos: A Simple Life

Many Laotian families send their boys to Buddhist monasteries for a period of time. Here they get an education and board and lodging. A large number choose to go to Luang Prabang because the city has a certain size and a large number of monasteries to choose from with rich traditions that run far back in history.

The monks live on alms like in the rest of Southeast Asia and are not allowed to own anything. Even before sunrise, the streets in the center are illuminated by the distinctive orange robes of the monks as they stroll through the city in long straight lines with their food bowls outstretched.

Locals kneel along the sidewalks and put rice and other food items in the food bowls, thus maintaining the close connection between lay people and representatives of Buddhism, which is so important in these countries.

Luang Prabang is a wonderful place just to be. I trudged around between the city's many cafes and eateries and enjoyed getting croissants and good coffee at the French cafes and eating great local food like buffalo, sticky rice and seaweed from the rivers.

One can spend hours by the rivers and just look out at the calm stream of the fishermen and the brown water or take a bike ride outside the town to villages. Here you can visit artisans who work with silk weaving and making lamps from the most beautiful paper they make from bamboo, mulberry leaves and various flowers, they dry and press into the structure of the paper.

The city's many markets draw people to day as well as evening. Here you meet the many craftsmen who sell their wares. At the same time, the streets are transformed into open kitchens, where you sit together on long benches and eat noodle soup, green papaya salad, fried duck or spicy pork sausages. One rinses after with the national pride, beer lao.

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Buddhism and communism under one roof

Before I crossed the border from Cambodia in the far south and began the trip up through the country, I had set out to find out how a nation can be both Buddhist and communist at the same time. At first glance, it seems a bit contradictory.

I put the question to Andrew. He is a Laotian married Australian, I met one of the first days and he has lived and worked 10 years in the country.

Andrew told that the Laotians are very little communist. In addition, they are far too happy for money. A conflict of interest arises between the government and the leading monks. The monks in most cases get the last word, and religion is thus elevated above politics.

According to Andrew, there are only 3 rules of living to abide by, so you live without problems in Laos. First, one must never criticize the government or do damage to government property. That is, something in the public space, or otherwise show dissatisfaction with the regime. If you do, on the other hand, you will get into big trouble.

He said that a man he had known had angered the police and was shot down on the spot in the open street.

Secondly, one must also not show anger. You have to make sure to smile and bribe the police if they stop you. Corruption is thus alive and well.

                                                                 

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The last rule is that you must not kiss and hug in public. However, that rule belongs more in Buddhism, which considers it objectionable.

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Travel to Laos: The Changing Country

When you go on a trip to Laos, you often forget that you are in a communist country. Just 10 years ago, there was a lot of military walking around the streets. The government, which wants to attract tourists, has realized that it does not seem conducive. That is why weapons and the military are hidden away today.

Laos is part of ASEAN, Southeast Asia's answer to the EU, and takes an active part in the development of cooperation in this region. Just as I was traveling around, Laos was hosting a major ASEAN conference. It took place in the small capital Vientiane with just 300.000 inhabitants.

The countries discussed the guidelines for a new trade agreement a la the economic union in the EU. From 2015, it must make it easier to trade across borders. And open up more foreign investment between the countries. 

At present, China is the country's absolute largest trading partner. With the new agreement, the influence of the Chinese will not diminish. The Chinese have already invested a lot in the northern part of the country. They have been allowed to rent large areas of land for 25 years.

Currently, they are clearing huge areas of forest and planting huge rubber and banana plantations. They employ the Lao in the plantations at a low wage and at the same time set the price of the raw materials.

I visited some of these areas. Local rubber plantation workers said the kilo price of rubber had dropped to a quarter this year. This is due to the fact that production is now so large, after the many new plantations have been laid out. It will be exciting to follow the country in the new phase they are entering into with all the other ASEAN countries in the near future.

Either way, Laos is a wonderful and overlooked travel destination in Southeast Asia.

Have a good trip to Laos!

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You must see this on your trip to Laos

  • Take a slow boat down the Mekong River
  • Visit Luang Prabang, Asia's most beautiful city
  • Experience the Kuang Si waterfall and bathe in the natural pools
  • Visit one of the many markets
  • Explore the beautiful rice fields and the lush nature of Laos


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About the author

Camilla Kornerup

Camilla Kornerup is a member of De Berejstes Klub and has traveled, lived and worked in 50 countries around the world with longer stays in Asia and South America. On a daily basis, Camilla runs the lecture company Cosmopolit.dk, where she gives lectures on culture, people and social conditions in some of the world's exciting countries. You can read more about Camilla here .

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