Image 01 Image 01 Image 01 Image 01 Image 01 Image 01

Laos… what images are conjured when you hear the name of this sparsely populated, largely forgotten nation in Southeast Asia?

Despite the fact that only 2.5 million tourists crossed Laotian borders in 2010, Laos now sits in a comfortable position in the traveler’s conscience, thanks to endless streams of press that decorates it with titles like hidden gem, final frontier and untouched paradise. Having spent a decent amount of time on the backpackers’ circuit, I had heard tales of a beautiful city, a raging river party town, and remote rural areas beyond. Yet without internationally recognized world wonders (such as Angkor Wat in Cambodia), a familiar foreign-adapted cuisine (à la Thai food), or a well-known history (the Vietnam War comes to mind), this landlocked nation remains somewhat of a mystery. It was a mystery that I had long been waiting to unlock.

As long-time readers may remember, I was hoping to visit Laos back in November, though my audience spoke and sent me to Vietnam instead. So when I found myself alone again in Chiang Mai as my friends headed off to Cambodia, I knew the time had come for Laos and I to be friends.

The check in for my flight was a perfect introduction for what was to come. When I walked into the airport and handed over my passport, a polite woman checked my name off on a clipboard and tied a brightly colored luggage tag onto my bag before handing me a boarding pass that could have been from a different century.

Landing in Luang Prabang just over an hour later, I found an entire city that cold have been from a different century.

I found cafes and restaurants jutting out on the river or with views to the mountains. I could imagine sitting down in one of these beautifully designed little gems and spending a whole day watching the world pass by. Soon I would find this is a place where people come to do just that.

I discovered monks everywhere. Disappearing down alleyways, relaxing by the river, even pitching in on the construction of a temple.

I found streets untouched by time, and people who moved about them without the slightest hint of urgency.

But above all, I found a city unlike any I had ever seen before. All the Southeast Asian metropolises I have visited in the past, from Bangkok to Phnom Penh, from Saigon to Kuala Lumpur, have certain similarities about them. But those familiar elements — the thick, angry knots of electricity lines, the grimy street gutters, the ubiquitous 7-11’s — they were noticeably absent in lovely Luang Prabang.

There’s good reason for these factors, which have led Laos’ most famous city to be known as the jewel of Indochina. The entire old center of Luang Prabang is actually classed as a Unesco World Heritage Site, which among other things, has prevented contemporary architecture from seeping in and kept buses and trucks off the bicycle-filled roads.

This has led to criticism from a vocal minority who disparage Luang Prabang as an artificial “museum city,” though anecdotal evidence suggests that the vast majority of visitors are thoroughly charmed by this oasis in a sometimes overwhelming region of the world.

In this case I was thrilled to follow the pack and find myself seduced by Luang Prabang’s intimate cafes and guesthouses, its serene both mountains and river views, its glittering temples and saffron monks, its languid and peaceful residents, and its overall intangible appeal.

Less than one day in and I was already ready to make a bold declaration — I love Laos.

Stay tuned for day two, when I explore Luang Prabang’s top sites.

3-devide-lines
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY
40 Comments...
  • Dad
    July 12 2012

    Wow, I want to go now. Can I tag along on your next visit?

    • Meihoukai
      July 12 2012

      When I was there I couldn’t stop thinking how much you and Mom would love it. Definitely the perfect Southeast Asian destination to bring parents to — other than, you know, the Ice Bar in Koh Samui. Ha.

  • Mike
    July 12 2012

    I love SE Asia and like you have/had not been to Laos. After seeing your pics its on my bucket list!

    • Meihoukai
      July 12 2012

      So glad to hear it! Laos definitely deserves a spot on everyone’s list!

    • ANGLO/Dale
      July 12 2012

      Agreed! Laos has been mentioned so many times but these pics really take me there – make me wanna go.
      ANGLO/Dale recently posted..

      • Meihoukai
        July 12 2012

        Thanks Dale! I’m glad to have inspired so much wanderlust with this post!

  • Jonathan Look, Jr.
    July 12 2012

    I am going to Thailand in a few months (for a year) but I keep hearing so many good things about Lao! I AM GOING!
    Jonathan Look, Jr. recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 12 2012

      You are going to love it. Thailand is an excellent place to live but Laos has a charm that unfortunately much of Southeast Asia lost long ago.

  • Oh my! It looks absolutely gorgeous!!! And sooo peaceful! GREAT pics!
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 12 2012

      Thanks Andi! This is just the tip of the iceberg… can’t wait to share more!

  • Dayla
    July 12 2012

    This. Is. Absolutely. Dreamy. Laos is now on my list. The photos you took are spectacular.

    • Meihoukai
      July 12 2012

      Thanks so much Dayla! So glad Laos has made it to your bucket list — it is much deserving.

  • NaEun
    July 12 2012

    I spent two weeks in Laos and absolutely loved it. I grew up in Cambodia but never got to go until last year – thought it would be the same as Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand but Laos was a whole different gem on its own. So quiet and serene – and the pace is beautifully slow. I love these pictures! Makes me want to go back!
    NaEun recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 12 2012

      I’m always shocked by how diverse the Southeast Asian region is — every country truly does have a charm all its own!

  • Annie
    July 12 2012

    seriously – gorgeous photography. your eye on this city is unique and beautiful. can’t wait to see more!
    Annie recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 12 2012

      Thanks Annie! I can’t wait to share — so much to tell and show!

  • Ashley Bruckbauer
    July 12 2012

    Gorgeous pictures, Meihoukai! This post really makes me what to choose Laos as our SE Asian destination for December, but we still haven’t been to Cambodia. I can’t wait to see day two!

    • Meihoukai
      July 12 2012

      Wow, that would be like deciding between my children — well, if I had kids! 🙂 Cambodia is probably my favorite country on Earth, though Laos really blew me away as well. How much time do you have?

      • Ashley Bruckbauer
        July 12 2012

        We’ll probably only have 7 or 8 days (all the boyfriend can get off work) departing from Beijing. Luckily, we are tied to Asia for the next couple of years, so we should have another chance to make it to both. I’ve already been reading your Cambodia posts in anticipation! Thanks for all of your great content!
        Ashley Bruckbauer recently posted..

        • Meihoukai
          July 12 2012

          Well if going to Cambodia with 8 days I would do four in Siem Reap, maybe one in Battambang and then three in Phnom Penh. But then you are missing out on the coast, so you’ll have to go back! 🙂

          • Ashley Bruckbauer
            July 12 2012

            That seems to be the pattern…always so much left to explore! 🙂
            Ashley Bruckbauer recently posted..

      • NaEun Park
        July 13 2012

        Makes me smile when people say Cambodia is their favorite country. yayy!
        NaEun Park recently posted..

  • Grandma Burr
    July 12 2012

    Meihoukai, I think I enjoyed these pictures more than any of your others. They are magnificent. Your Dad was here for one nite. I certainly enjoyed seeing him – although he spent most of his time looking at available living places for his move to Philly – he certainly gets his moneys-worth out of that laptop. Gram E

    • Meihoukai
      July 12 2012

      Thanks Grandma! I have a feeling then that you will enjoy my next Laos post as well. Luang Prabang is just so photogenic.

  • Edna
    July 12 2012

    Love the photos — that white house with the bright blue shutters is stunning. I didn’t get to Cambodia or Laos last year, but they’re at the top of my list for when I return to Southeast Asia!
    Edna recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 12 2012

      Both unbelievable countries. You are going to have an amazing trip!

  • EM | Cubicle Throwdown
    July 12 2012

    Beautiful!! I have been waiting and waiting for this post, I can’t wait to hear more about Laos! Seeing these photos and reading your descriptions have just bumped Laos up to the next country I’m going to visit… it looks SO amazing!
    EM | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 12 2012

      I love hearing that you’ve been anticipating my Laos posts, gives me extra motivation to get them up! Thanks for the push!

  • Kathryn
    July 12 2012

    OK,I’m sold on Laos! But before I go, please tell me how to pronounce the name of the city? And shed some light on the pronunciation of Laos? During the Viet Nam war era everyone pronounced the ‘S’. That seems to have been dropped….

    • Meihoukai
      July 12 2012

      I believe, and I could be wrong despite spending two weeks there, that Laos is pronounced with an “s” sound at the end. However when describing something as “Lao” (as in “Thai” or “Vietnamese”) than the “s” sound is dropped.

  • Betsy
    July 12 2012

    Meihoukai, I was absolutely charmed by these beautiful pictures that capture the beauty, charm, and serenity of Laos so well. I hope to get back to Cambodia in a few years, and, after seeing this post, will definitely want to add Laos to my itinerary.

    Betsy

    • Meihoukai
      July 12 2012

      Betsy, I’m sure that you would love it!

  • Dani
    July 12 2012

    So glad that you loved Laos as well! We had such a great time there – where else did you go besides Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng?
    Dani recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 12 2012

      Unfortunately I had less than two weeks before meeting a friend in Bangkok — so I only had time for the typical route of Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, then Vientiane. I saw it as a taster… I will definitely be back!

  • Dayla
    July 13 2012

    Perfect timing! I’m currently reading “Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marrige” by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) and am just entering a chapter where she and her beloved visit Luang Prabang! I adore having seen your photos so my vision of her trip is especially accurate!

    • Meihoukai
      July 15 2012

      Oh, I’ve been dying to read that book. I guess I should read Eat, Pray, Love first though!

      • Dayla
        July 16 2012

        YES! Absolutley read E,P,L! It’s worth it!!!

  • Chris
    April 9 2014

    Such beautiful photos of one of my favourite cities (Laos was only my 2nd foreign country).

    After the rest of South-East Asias hustle and bustle, this was so tranquil…
    Chris recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 9 2014

      Yup, Laos is an oasis! I can’t wait to return there someday.