Traditional--yet battered from years of warfare-- the landlocked (former) Kingdom of Laos (now a People's Democratic Republic) is a beautiful land of stark contrasts, dancing uncontrollably between the calmness of a gentle culture and the violent memories of a turbulent history.
Laos was the highlight of my first trip to Southeast Asia.
It was like being in a country where the calendars were set a century back, and the people stood behind crackled and fading shop-house windows, gazing out at a monster world moving slowly but inevitably towards their dusty doorsteps.
To my young eyes, the Peoples Democratic Republic of Laos was a scarred beauty of old Southeast Asia.
Saffron Robes and Shaved Heads
When I returned home and shared the pictures of Laos with my friends, many of them believed that the local people in my photo's were dressed up for show.
They were surprised to hear of such a traditional lifestyle, so unlike our 't-shirt generation' style, that exists in this far flung corner of our world.
Theravada Buddhism is still strong, and it touches the minds and lives of the majority of Lao.
You can see it in the early morning rituals of the novice monks when they don their saffron robes and walk single file down quiet sidestreets, floating through the morning mists, heads lowered, baskets held out towards the willing laymen knelt before them, lined up along the sidewalk.
You can hear it in their three day long festivals where the local Wats will be crawling with clergy and commoners, banging the drums to a rhythmic beat, pounding nonstop for the entire weekend.
No matter where you are or what you are doing, the vibe of this country is deeply Buddhist.
You could come to Laos to taste the exotic food in Luang Phabang or to eat banana pancakes in Vang Vieng.
You could spend your time trekking into forgotten villages, learning of the unique cultures quietly tucked away along the borders of Yunnan, China or simply lie face up on a lazy riverboat meandering its way down the river Mekong, you can journey here to lose yourself or trek here to recapture your spirit or you could leave here and never return.
But just know that whatever you choose to do here is sure to stop your wristwatch and still your mind.
A Well Kept Secret
I feel almost guilty writing up this reticent nation. And yet, shy as it is, one cannot help but praise its attributes.
Sure, just as any other country in this world, Laos has its share of corruption and greed... but to sum up my impressions, it is a lovely country content with its anonymity yet eager to develop its future.
Keep in mind, however, that this is just one man's impression of a well-kept secret, you of course, will have a completely different experience here.
I'm JR. I come from a long line of adventurers, some were nomadic explorers of the sea and others wandering cultivators of the earth. Ultimately, this legacy of drifters has deeply affected my view of travel. Read more...