Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"To those who can dream, there's no such place as far away"

Laos was filled with incredible natural beauty.  The landscapes were gorgeous. Spending many hours on a mini-bus winding through the ridiculous roads with with crazy turns and endless bumps provided quite an experience, but more importantly a perfect view of the country on our rides! Starting in the capital, Vientiane, we spent a couple days there and saw some impressive markets, enjoyed some good non-Asian food, and saw a few temples.  Laos, formerly part of a French colony Indochine, definitely had that European feel which you could witness in some of the architecture as well as the restaurants.
Headed a bit north we went Vang Vieng, a little outdoorsy/backpacker town. The town itself wasn't very impressive but the surrounding scenery was; jagged cliff mountains, caves and lagoons, as well as the river that surrounded the town.  We rented some bikes which brought us closer to some epicness. We ventured into a spectacular cave with only our headlamps to guide us.  We wandered around climbing over rocks and crawling and squeezing through some tight spaces.  What was so wicked about this cave was that it was just a free for all that we were able to explore at our own risk. Every other cave I've ever been in had a specific trail to walk with lights usually. What a thrilling experience!  Following the bike ride and cave exploration I enjoyed the refreshing coolness of the blue lagoon.  With its swings and a rope to plunge into the water, it was so fun!  We had some amazing pancakes (peanut butter and chocolate), fresh fruit drinks, and traditional food as well.  After a couple of days we left and rode a few more hours north with more rough, uneven and twisting roads, we arrived at our final destination in Laos, Luang Prabang.

This was a smaller city that was a bit less touristy than the backpacker town and an UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It was cool to see the Buddhist monks walking around in their bright orange robes, and to take in a little bit more of their culture.  Another cultural aspect we noticed was the long sarong skirts the majority of women wore.  I learned later that Lao law dictates that women must wear this called a phaa sin.  It's not as strict anymore but it seems as if the majority of women were wearing it. Also, it's still required inside government buildings.  We had the chance to see some more temples up close.  Laos has been referred to as the most Buddhist of nations, so it's enjoyable to see that aspect of it in more detail. At night there was a massive market that we roamed through and I even made a few purchases!  Surrounded 2 rivers that granted beautiful views and an incredibly sketchy bamboo bridge leading to another village to discover.  During our time in town we went to this place where we learned about many different Lao textiles such as weaving and dyeing, how it's done, where the supplies come from, and about their philosophy of women empowerment and fair trade which was pretty interesting.  We climbed the main hill and religious site in the center of town called Phou Si.  At the top there is a view of the city and surrounding area, as well as Buddhist temples and shrines. The town itself was nice to stroll around, especially the neighborhoods filled with both traditional Lao houses as well as those with European flairs.  After a couple days there we were off to our next country, Vietnam! 

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