For us, nothing sums up South East Asia better than Laos! Unfortunately it is often skipped on people's itineraries when visiting this part of the world, but we hope that we can convince you that this place is an absolute must-see!
It was our favourite country that we visited in 2017, and we would love to share with you the 5 reasons that made it so special:
1. Kuang Si waterfalls
Just look at this place! It's incredible!
Some of the most beautiful waterfalls you are ever likely to find! The cascading levels of falls, unreal turquoise water and lush surrounding forest all culminate together to create this magical place.
We visited Kuang Si to celebrate our 2nd wedding anniversary and we don't think we could've made a better decision. Obviously, the waterfalls are no secret - featured countless times on different travel blogs and pages, they get crowded and can lose a bit of it's magical-ness with all the people around. To avoid that we decided to hire a scooter the night before and make the 45 minutes drive from Luang Prabang early in the morning to get to the falls at about 8:30am. We were pretty much the first people there and had a good hour or two to ourselves. By the time we left (about 11am) there were people everywhere!
2. Really friendly locals
People make a country, right? Well, Laos has some of the friendliest people we have ever met. They are kind, peaceful and genuinely love that you have come to visit their country. One of our favourite experiences with the people of Laos was when we were walking home one late one night. We noticed a small party going on just off the side of the road and before we knew it we were dragged into the party and beers, one after another, were thrusted into our hands! They wanted us to join them and although the language barrier made communication a bit difficult, we managed to have a great time together and celebrate, what we found out later to be, a 2-year-old's birthday party.
3. Swimming in the Mekong
Starting in China and finishing in southern Vietnam, Mekong is an almighty and impressive river. The river runs the entire length of Laos and makes up the majority of the border with Thailand, and the entire border with Mynamar. It is the lifeline of Laos.
Our last few days in Laos were spent in the southern oasis - an island Don Det in 'the 4000 islands land'. The river's girth greatly increases and as a result 1000's of small and large(ish) islands are formed, hence the name. We spent our days lounging about on our private section of the Mekong river, just swimming to escape the relentless heat.
4. To see the impact of war
Probably everyone has heard of the Vietnam War, but not many people know about the impact it had on Laos (us included)! Laos will open your eyes to the devastating long-term impact war can have on a place. In particular, the town Phonsavan will make you realise how negligent the actions of people were during the war time.
We headed to Phonsavan to see the Plain of Jars, but quickly had our attention refocused to the impact of war. There are many Plain of Jars sites to see, however you have to take caution when making your way between them. If you were to leave the marked roads, you could be walking straight into an active landmine area! All around Phonsavan are no-go zones. There is active clearing of unexploded objects (UXO) going on right now (and it's been going and will go for decades!), and it is predicted that at the current rate of extraction it would take a further 1,000 YEARS to remove all the leftover UXO's. It is totally worth visiting the UXO Centre in the town to learn about everything that is currently being done to help that unnecessary plight.
5. mandalao elephant sanctuary
With the whole 'Elephant Tourism' being a big problem in the South East Asia, we had pretty much given up hope on seeing elephants in any sort of a sustainable way. Luckily, we were able to find the amazing company MandaLao Elephant Sanctuary in Luang Prabang. These guys are doing it right.
Their elephants are treated the way they should be. No riding, no chains, no hitting, no harm... just a pure intimate interaction with the animals. We spent two days with the majestic beasts and not for one second did we feel that these elephants were anything but happy.
Our experience with the elephants begun with a bath in the river, then a walk through the jungle alongside them and finally a stop where you can hand feed the animals. It is hard to describe the feeling of walking with these lovely creatures, but to then add the fact you know that the sanctuary is taking really good care of them and not exploiting them, just makes the whole event so much more special.
We loved Laos, and we want everybody who has any doubts about visiting this amazing country to put them aside! It is a beautiful country matched by it's beautiful people. We want to go back there in a few years to see how it has developed and experience it all over again.
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