LPDR stands for Laos People’s Democratic Republic. But to me, I learned during the duration of my stay, it meant: (you’re in) Lao, please don’t rush.
There’s really no need to - there are no traffic jams to avoid, people are always so calm and steady you’d feel the urge, the need even, to blend in. Most importantly, so much beauty abounds and the est way to take it all in is making tiny strides and taking your own sweet time.
And sometimes, there’s no way to. ;) It would be next to impossible to spot a race car and express trains have yet to be introduced to their public transportation system. The most common means of backpacking transport is by spending hours on a bus slowly, but carefully, making its way through the mountainous terrain of the region. The long and winding trip however can be blissfully rewarding. (as in the way to Luang Prabang)
Lao women wearing shirts over the traditional ‘phaasi’ in the simplest and sometimes sweetest way to travel - walking
Majestic stopovers such as this make prolonged periods of travel more bearable
The Lao are so laid-back and personally, so lovable.
For 600 years, the Laos/ Laoitians have looked up to a king. It dates back to when the country was a vassal state to the Khmers of Cambodia, to when it was subject to French colonialism and to when it became the most bombed country in World War II. Finally, in the 1970s, the King decided to hand his power to Communist leaders if only to save the country.
It’s almost inconceivable how a people who have been been through much drastic change and seemingly neverending transition can still remain and exude a calm and steady disposition. But that’s exactly what they endured and how they do it. Maybe because Buddhism is the predominant religion and they have all mastered the art of zen. Maybe because living in high altitudes and misty mountains have given them an almost permanent natural high. Or maybe that’s just how they’re built, who they are. :)
For certain though, it’s highly contagious. And only the stiffest, most callous person, would not be able to live and love the laid-back Lao way of life.
Young monks atop a tree, the perfect blend of a spiritual and cool personality
Luang Prabang: So lovely you have to see it with your own eyes, so serene you have to experience it first-hand.
Having my gluteal muscles glued to a seat for over 20 hours, skipping out (not by choice) on a proper bath for almost 2 days, popping a Phenergan and waking up to the end of its course, asking myself and sometimes the driver “Are we there yet?” over 3 times to be met with a No – Luang Prabang was all worth it. As an intrepid traveler, I understand the truth “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey that matters.” Fortunately for June and I, our in-transits and our stops, were equally memorable.
There was something mysterious, somewhat inexplicable, about Luang Prabang’s beauty. Perhaps it was the mist and that gush of cool air that greeted the town in the morning. Part of it was the undeniable charm of a town that made you think you were in France at one turn, then in the next, you’re right back in Asia. In almost every major street, there were wats with roofs of gold rather than red. A fusion of native wooden houses and buildings with trademark French/ European architecture filled the town. The smaller alleyways were lined with inns, homestays, and homes. Meanwhile, more prominent landmarks like the former royal palace turned national museum, the oldest monastery and the entrance to the temple on a hill.
The majestic temple atop Phou Si also offers a panoramic view of Luang Prabang
A mist shrouds the magnificent Mekong, provider of water and power to 6 different countries including Laos.
A tranquil kind of wonder continued to the afternoon while biking along the waterfront and waiting for the sun to set over the wide and mighty Mekong river. Numerous cafes and restaurants dot the long stretch of the avenue so I simply just had to pick a spot, order a beer Lao and hold audience to one of nature’s most beautiful shows.
Yonder town, adventure and wonder await.
Trekking along the rice fields, past the local Hmong villages, then through the muddy jungle and finally to the waterfall was an incredible experience. Kayaking adventures to the Pak Ou caves and natural habitats of elephants and or biking expeditions to the hilltribes in the highlands are also offered through tour groups. I highly recommend the trails and tours company called Fair trek, promoting responsible tourism while giving back to the local communities.
A little Hmong boy breaking language and cultural barriers with the most powerful gesture - a smile
The falls of Kwang Si are a must see!
Fast forward to nighttime, while Luang Prabang is more for the types who prefer to relax rather than to rave out and party, or at least in my opinion, there are still a few establishments that offer that kind of kick.A highly possibly correct hypothesis to why this is – no all-nighter kind of party places – is the fact that every day, before the sun even starts rising, young monks in bright orange sarongs walk along the main avenue as part of one the most traditional and sacred ceremonies in Lao culture. As part of their vow to live ascetically, they beg for alms, usually in the form of rice, which serve as their food for the remainder of the day.
The Lao value two things the most – religion and family. Their devotion and the happiness they derive from emphasis on these two tenets are so transparent and consistent, I couldn’t help but admiring them even more.
During my stay, I encountered expressions written on menus, on signboards and even on a doormat. I noticed that several of these shared a common word – chai. Through one of the locals, I learned that a lot of their expressions are intertwined with a sense of heart or chai. Some of my favorites include:
Khao chai – to understand is to enter the heart
Hen chai – to have empathy is to see the heart
Lai jai – to hesitate is to have too many hearts
Chai khart – to die is to have your heart torn apart
One of the expressions seemed cut short or missing the predicate part that I initially thought there was a printing error: souk chai – to be happy…
It was then that I understood one of the most beautiful realizations. It too provided an explanation as to why the Lao people are the way they are. Having a heart is enough reason for happiness; A heart is essentially happy.
For further details and helpful links on this trip:
( I will post a separate entry for this matter. Still working on it! ;p )