Debbie Rains recently returned from a two week holiday exploring two beautiful cities brimming with culture in Laos. When she's not travelling, she manages our Escape Travel Townsville store, but it's on the road that she gets to bring her daily passions to life in the flesh and gain insight that proves invaluable when talking travel with our customers. Here, she tells her story.
My husband and I recently went to Laos to visit some family and explore. We flew with Thai Airways to Vientiane. It’s quite a laidback Asian capital – calm and friendly – and it’s right on the Mekong. There’s not a lot of evidence of French buildings still but the Grand Palace and the Patuxai was lovely – which is a bit like Laos’ version of the Champs-Elysees.
There are lots of really nice little restaurants here that have quite a strong French flavour and a lot of them are close to Mekong and on cute little side streets. Laos food is really, really tasty and it’s nearly all organic because there’s a lot of subsistence farming. We did a couple of little day tours. A really interesting one was the ‘The Hungry Tuk Tuk’ safari. We went to various little holes in the wall and traditional noodle houses to sample the local fare.
After Vientiane we went to Luang Prabang, which is about a 40 minute flight up into the hills. It is UNESCO World Heritage listed now. It’s beautiful. With a lot of the French influence buildings restored, it’s very much a walking city. They’ve got quite a lot of old temples, a national museum, and every night there is a street market – it’s probably one of the best I’ve ever seen. There are beautiful waterfalls nearby, a wildlife refuge where they’re saving big bears and you can try the local rice wine.
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One of the must-sees in Luang Prabang is to get up early – just before sunrise – and watch all the monks in the Alms Giving Ceremony. I was really impressed. The monks leave the main temple and give prayer, in a single line, collecting food offered to them by the public. There are street vendors selling you the sticky rice to be able to give to them so just lining up and being a part of it and seeing hundred of monks in their bright orange robes walking down the street was spectacular. I’ve never seen anything like that before.
I’d probably spend more time in Luang Prabang to explore a bit more of the authentic Laos and make more of an effort to go up into the hill tribes. Cruising the Mekong will be our next trip and I’d love to check out the Four Thousand Islands too. I am on the mission to understand the history a bit more.
Do yourself a favour and do a local cooking class. We went to the local market, got to try different foods and flavours, bought local produce and then went back to this lady’s home and cooked a meal and sat down and ate it. That was pretty special.
When eating, the local food is really fresh and really tasty. Don’t be swayed to go western – stick with the local eating spots. And make sure you order sticky rice!
Also, a couple of the temples actually encourage westerners to come in. A lot of them like to practice their English or you can help them with their schoolwork for that bit of integration.
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