Monday, January 5, 2015

Immersing in Lao Culture and Beliefs in Luang Prabang

Not crowded like Vientiane or effervescent like Vang Vieng - the backpacking heaven, Luang Prabang is the land of traditional culture and beliefs, and also an attraction for Laos trekking tours

Luang Prabang travel 1
Luang Prabang night market is sparklingly beautiful with stalls covered red roofs that display all kinds of goods for sale like clothes, jewelry, souvenirs and lanterns.

Luang Prabang travel 2
Locals sell crafts along Sisavangvong, the main walking street of this city.

Luang Prabang travel 3
Travelers come to Luang Prabang usually really like cozy dinners in restaurants which is strongly Lao cultural in style.

Luang Prabang travel 4
When morning is dawned, monks walk in long queues and gather alms on streets. That is the daily common image in Luang Prabang. 

Luang Prabang travel 5
Wat Xieng Thong is the most important temple in Luang Prabang, built in 1560s. On holidays, dignitaries often hold a procession and bath for Buddha statues in order to show their devotion to Buddhism.

Luang Prabang travel 6
Luang Prabang is the convergence of many wonderful products made by sculptors, turners, silversmiths and weavers.

Luang Prabang travel 7
Silk products are made by women of Lao ethnic minorities.

Luang Prabang travel 8
Mount Phousi is the easiest landmark for this small city of 30,000 people. Passing over a winding road and 328 steps, travelers will set foot on the summit.

Luang Prabang travel 9
Flowing through Luang Prabang, the raging river Mekong suddenly becomes peaceful. Long tail boats gently glide through limestone cliffs and terrace fields. They seem to be witnessing fishermen casting net.

Luang Prabang travel 10
Along Mekong river, travelers can explore Pak Ou caves, where store countless Buddha statues extremely impressive. These statues have accumulated over many centuries by locals and pilgrims. Hundreds of Buddha statues, which mostly made of wood, were laid on the floor and shelves on the wall of these caves.

Luang Prabang trek
Trekking in Luang Prabang is the best way to discover the life of locals and enjoy stunning scenery. Pha Don Golden mountain, Pha Thueang area, Pak Ou caves and other villages along with jungles are great destinations for trekking. 

Luang Prabang travel 11
Ban Xang Khong - a weaving village is located on the side of Mekong river, is well-known for the mulberry paper making.

Luang Prabang travel 12
Ban Chan is a pottery village having about 65 households. Here, the residents often organize a traditional festival to welcome every child born.

Luang Prabang travel 13
About 35km from central Luang Prabang, there is Kuang Si waterfall. This is not only an attraction, but also the place where indigenous people catch fish in the flood season. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

8 reasons why Laos is a lovely country!

For the past 5 days or so I have been exploring Laos, first visiting Luang Prabang followed by a trip up north to visit remote villages and see some spectacular scenery. It is been an utter joy to be back in Laos, and I have re-fallen totally head over heels in love with this amazing place. Below you will see my top 8 reasons why I love Laos! 

1: The colourful & varied markets:

2: The delicious food:

3: The lovely people:

4: The simple lifestyles & rural villages:


5: The Amazing scenery:

6: You can choose to relax or be adventurous:

7: The staggeringly beautiful ‘Wats’ and temples:

8. The beautiful plants!

There are fewer than 7 million people in Laos, and the landscape is mostly jungle covered mountains and rivers with  small villages and a few towns sprinkled across the land. Some places are difficult to get to and if you visit you will undoubtedly experience a bumpy road or two, but the country is amazing and well worth the extra bit of effort to get off the main tourist trail to explore!
Source: InsideVietnam

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like to recommend Luang Prabang Trek tour.This tour takes you into forest and several villages of the most prominent ethnic groups in Northern Laos: the Khmu and Hmong. The Khmu are also called "Laos Theung" and settle at a medium altitude, the latter, sometimes called "Laos Soung", live in high regions along the mountain ridges.


  • Awesome scenery
  • Combination of jungle trails and village roads
  • Home-stay in tribal villages
  • Cruise on the mighty Mekong River

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Walking through northern Laos

Written by Stephanie Choate
The town of Luang Nam Tha in northern Laos is perched along the fringes of Nam Ha National Protected Area—2,224 square kilometers of rolling jungle-clad mountains. Many companies offer guided treks through the jungle, and though we had avoided the more popular trekking scene in Thailand, we wanted to get further into this amazingly beautiful countryside.

Mist fills the valleys of Nam Ha National Protected Area.
The three-day more challenging trek took us across about 25 kilometers of jungle. Four guides came with us and three other trekkers—two guys from England and another from Sweden.

Banmi, our exuberant 24-year-old lead guide, kept us thoroughly entertained with hilarious exclamations and questions about whether we had certain plants and animals in our countries. This was his last trek before getting married next week, and he often referred to “my darling.” Gang, one of the founders of the company, has been leading treks for 10 years, and was quick to find edible plants, hack down low-hanging branches and give beaming smiles. Kahm, one of the local villagers, was extremely curious in what we were doing and his wife, Pung, probably carried more weight slung across her forehead than anyone else. (Sidenote: I have no idea how they would spell their names, this is my best guess!)

Banmi (red jacket) and Gang (orange jacket) purchase our food at the morning market.
The trail started at Kahm’s and Pung’s Khmu village, passing shy children, countless chickens, and vibrant green rice fields before entering the forest.

Rice field
We hiked for about six hours each day, up and down hills, across fallen logs, through dense patches of vines. Throughout the three days, we caught glimpses of Nam Ha’s rolling blue-green hills through the dense jungle branches. Ignoring the foreground, the layers of faraway mountains looked remarkably like Vermont, or perhaps somewhere in the southern Appalachians. It was a bit surreal to see a small slice of home on the other side of the world.

Far from the basic hiking fare we had expected, every meal brought an elaborate spread of tasty Lao dishes, arranged across a banana leaf table. We dipped small balls of sticky rice into fried young morning glory, garlicky tomatoes, mixed vegetables infused with ginger, eggplant and chilies, and buffalo meat bought from the morning market. In particular, dinner on the second night consisted mostly of food our guides had collected as we hiked through the jungle—banana flower, young ferns, bitter eggplant, greens. Everything was delicious, and not just because we had been hiking for hours!

A stop for lunch.
After a full day’s walk on the second day, we reached camp in a small valley next to a river, and everyone enjoyed a much-needed swim. At night, we all sat by the campfire after the guides, who rose and slept with the sun, had gone to bed. The full moon crept above the forest and illuminated the camp, almost eliminating the need for a flashlight.

Early the next morning, mist filled the valley and shrouded the mountains, until the sun cleared the tallest peaks and melted it all away. Soon, the sun blazed down on us as we made our way through a more open section near the end of the trail. We followed the river, crossing it in our flip-flops again and again.

Looking back towards camp on the last day.
The trek finished at a village on banks of the wide and deep Nam Tha (meaning Green River). Our bags were ferried across while we swam— very welcome after the long, hot third day. Nearly a dozen village kids swam too, barreling down the hill and leaping into the river as recklessly as they could, with plenty of yelling.

Everyone enjoying a swim in the Nam Tha.
Aside from three leeches (me, gross), two ticks (me as well), an incident with a bare foot and a huge, fresh buffalo patty (Banmi), and some very sore legs, the trek was a definite success.

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like to recommend Trek Nam Ha Forest Camps, Luang Namtha tour.This trek is entirely within the Nam Ha National Protected Area, an ASEAN Heritage Site. The 3 days trek is entirely in the forest. This is a trip for those who want a true forest experience. The villagers of a Khmu village will host us at our first forest camp deep in the forest. At the second camp Akha villagers will be your hosts. The camps, built out of bamboo and wood by the villagers themselves, are places to immerse oneself in the beauty of the jungle. Along the way, local Khmu and Akha guides will explain the forest products used by villagers for food, medicine, materials and religious ceremonies. Rise early on the third day for the sunrise and go with an Akha bird caller to learn how the Akha can call wild birds in.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Laos motorcycle diaries

Writen by Richard Waters

Reclining Buddha at monastery in Vientiane

Landlocked Laos, fortressed by mountains and dissected by the mighty Mekong River, is best travelled by road; its dramatic routes twisting sinuously through jungle, paddy fields, mountains and karst country.
Normally seen from one of the country’s wheezing buses, there is an exciting alternative for those eager to drive through Laos’ stunning panoramas. Over the last 10 years – in a voracious desire to create speedy supply routes to trade neighbours Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand – China has invested heavily in widening and sealing the Laos’ roads. This, combined with affordable satellite navigation technology, has made the country a new favourite for amateur motorcyclists. After all, wouldn’t you rather be the architect of your journey with the wind on your face, than stuck in the back of a decrepit bus beside a cage of bats?

In 1975, after the Vietnam War and parallel Laotian Civil War, the communist country slammed its doors to the outside world until 1991, meaning that Laos has had far less exposure to the West than some of its neighbours. Beyond its main cities – Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Savannakhet – four-fifths of the population live off the land, including its more than 100 ethnic tribes; and the country is still thickly carpeted in forest that harbours tigers and leopards. To best explore this mysterious world, hire a speedy motorbike to tackle the rough trails and mountain roads. You can arrange to have your bags forwarded to your destination and even drop the bike off at the end to avoid doubling back on yourself.

Start your journey in the languid capital of Vientiane, where The Midnight Mapper (ask for Don Duvall) hires handheld Garmin GPS devices to help you safely find your route in the most remote of Laos’ backwaters. If you already have a device, an excellent digital GPS map is also available via sim card. Thanks to Duvall’s slavish obsession to detail – taking 10 years to map every corner of the country – the possibility of getting lost in the jungle is now nearly impossible.
Laos is a new favourite for amateur motorcyclists
Before you leave Vientiane, spend a few days soaking up its French restaurants, bakeries and spas, before heading to Jules Classic Rental, a Western-run outfit in the centre of the old town. They have well-maintained heavy-duty dirt bikes for hire and a solid reputation to match.

From Vientiane it is an easy 340km ride south on Highway 13 to the pretty colonial town of Tha Khaek. The road is generally flat, with Thailand on your right across the Mekong River and dramatic jungle rearing up like a dragon-green tsunami to the east. Given that dusk comes around 6 pm, try to travel early, before the vampish dangers of night increase your chances of colliding with an errant water buffalo. Also many Lao lack bike lights, and dogs have a suicidal leaning to sleep in the centre of the road. An hour of this nocturnal Russian roulette will fray your nerves.

In Tha Khaek, stay at the delightful Inthira Hotel, the town’s only boutique accommodation. While this former colonial outpost is pretty enough with old French houses, Chinese merchants shops and locals playing pétanque under the tropical sun, its main purpose is as a base for travellers who come to tackle the jungle-rich, three-day, 500km odyssey known as the Loop; the highlight of which is the country’s most spectacular cave, Kong Lor.

Up until now, travellers attempting the Loop had to rely on unreliable narrow-wheeled scooters to take them over demanding terrain, from passing trucks throwing up thick dust to sheer mountain roads with gravel surfaces. Not surprisingly, fatalities occurred and casualties were myriad. 

Day one of the Loop heads 140km northeast from Th Khaek toward Vietnam, surging through lush jungle and along unsealed roads past lunar landscapes of flooded valleys. From there it rears west from the logging town of Lak Sao back into Khammouane Province. Lak Sao might not be much to look at, but you will be glad of its acceptable hotels, street food and ATMs to accommodate your first night.

Motorbike crossing in Vang Vieng
The second day sees better conditioned roads as you motor 100km west to Kong Lor Village through extraordinary karst country, the triple canopy rent  by forbidding charcoal-black cliffs, visible for miles around. Amid this surreal topography are lethally tight switchbacks that snake through clouds of fluorescent butterflies and past roadside tribal folk with antique guns slung over their shoulders. It is best to overnight in Kong Lor village and see the cave early the next morning, giving yourself plenty of time to ride back to Tha Khaek before it gets dark.

Less than 1km from Kong Lor Village, your first view of Kong Lor cave is that of a dark mouth leering at you from the base of a towering limestone mountain. From its ragged teeth flows the Kong River, which you have to board a stuttering longtail boat to navigate. With its stalactites and stalagmites twisting in the church-high darkness, Kong Lor cave looks like a backdrop from a Star Trek movie. As the river flows quick and dark through the heart of the mountain, it is just you, your feeble torch and the boatman, puttering into the Stygian gloom.

The trip through the cave takes about 40 minutes, the boat emerging mole-like into the sunshine where you stop by a small ban (village) for a cold drink. The relief is short-lived, however, as you have no choice but to return back the way you came. At 7.5km long, this eerie cave is surely one of Laos’ most unforgettable experiences.

After the cave, grab some lunch before travelling the last 180km of the Loop, back to your pressed linen sheets and rain shower at the Inthira Hotel.

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like to recommend Vietnam-Laos Adventures tour.Laos is the least populated of the Indochinese countries. The landscape is dominated by mountains, jungles and of course the Mekong River, which runs for 1800km along the western border of the country. A devoutly Buddhist nation, Laos has opened up to provide travellers with an opportunity to experience the diversity, tradition and natural beauty of the country. This trip offers adventurous travellers a great opportunity to discover the combined beauty of northern Vietnam and northern Laos.

Highlights :

  • Sea kayaking in Halong Bay
  • Trekking and home stay in Mai Chau and Pu Luong
  • Plain of Jars in Xieng Khoang
  • Ancient city of Luang Prabang
  • River kayaking in Luang Prabang Area 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Trekking Luang Prabang

Written by Julian and Sarah

After catching a flight to Luang Prabang we spent the first day finding an agent to trek with the following day and in the evening we headed out to the night market to scoff our faces before our trek.

Trek Luang Prabang
We set off on a bumpy and dusty road in the back of a van with two other men (Tony from Switzerland and Migon from Argintina). We also had two local guides, Nick and Tim. Two hours later we arrived at the start of our adventure! We were told to carry as much water as we could as it had to last us two days as the village we were staying in didn't have any drinking water. We squeezed as much as we could (10 litres between us) into our small rucksacks and headed off across a bridge and up a steep hill. The trek was up hill for the first two and half hours with no shade in the mid day sun!

Trek Luang Prabang
We had drank quite a lot of our water at this point and decided that we had best start rationing if it was going to last the two days. 
The start...The start...
Trekking Luang Prabang
The start...made our first stop at a Hmong village   consiting of 100 or so people. We visited the school within the village which had lots of children and only one teacher. We bought writing books and pencils at the market the previous day to give to any children we saw whilst trekking, so we donated the majority to the school. We stayed for a while helping the children and listening to them sing songs. Although our time their was short, It was one of the things we enjoyed the most. After that it was back to the trekking and 6 and half hours in total in the blazing sun we arrived at our Kamoot village,, hurray, very thirsty and absolutley knackered!

The village was very poor but the people were really friendly. We were staying with the chief of the village and his family and they made us feel very welcome in their home. We were told each family in the village had roughly eight children, babies everywhere :0). We were then shown to our room (4 of us in a bed) very cosy! We were told that we could rest untill dinner so in desperate need of a clean Local women putting us to shame.Local women putting us to shame.

Local women putting us to shame.we headed to the shower/ pots and pans washing/ animal watering and bathing area. There was a bit of a que for the hose pipe in the middle of the village. But everyone quite happily sat watching the other get naked and have a scrub down. It was eventualy our turn although Julian opted to keep his pants on I decided I didnt smell that bad after all :-) 

Trekking Luang Prabang
We played with the children in the village and then were invite in for dinner, sticky rice and soup. Lots of the kids had gathered around at this point waiting till we finished eating so we could play games and sing songs together. Julian broke into song and statrted with "Old Macdonald" whilst I followed with ''Head shoulders knees and toes'', Julian then went on to show them how to play thumb wars and a hand slapping game, we had a great night. 

The following morning we were up at 5am to the sounds of the animals and the men of the village getting ready to hunt or farm in the fields. After an early breakfast we had started the trek by 8am. We walked mainly through jungle.

We'd pretty much ran out of water after another 2 hours of walking but luckily enough we had reached the end of our trek. We had stopped for lunch at the river, where we had a cool off and caught a boat to our pick up point. An hour or so waiting for the bus we were back on the dusty road to our hostel.

Hope your well, 

Recommend Luang Prabang Trek tour by ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA:

  • Awesome scenery
  • Combination of jungle trails and village roads
  • Home-stay in tribal villages
  • Cruise on the mighty Mekong River

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Homestays: Experiencing The Real Laos

The following is a guest post by Cindy Fan

Ban Dong Muong (Photo credit: Sheila Rivera)
Sharing photo with the children
The children huddle together in awe of the giant 6’3” figure looming over them. The giant spreads his arms, threatening to devour them in one swoop. The kids are giddy, their excitement palpable; they know what’s coming next.

“My…name…IS….BAZZA!” the giant roars. The kids squeal with glee and eagerly wait for the giant to do it all over again.

We’re in the small village of Khmu people in southern Laos, known for its sacred “Monkey Forest” and small temple monastery overrun by wily, thieving rhesus macaques.

We’ll be staying in someone’s home tonight—no hotels here. Our accommodations will be the floor of a simple home. Village life is an integral part of Lao culture and society, and this homestay will allow us to experience how the majority of people in this developing country live.

The home is a hive of activity. Old women—petite and wiry—are busy setting out mattresses and sheets for us. The men are outside chopping the vegetables for dinner while pounding back potent lao-laowhiskey infused with the earthy herbs that are said to increase longevity (wink wink, nudge nudge). They take turns pouring and drinking, pouring and drinking, the task of cooking becoming less and less important as the shot tally increases. I pray that the women will come rescue this cooking operation gone awry or else we’ll never have dinner.

Children from the entire village have come to observe the giant falang named Bazza. Bazza accidentally smacks his head on a low Lao-sized doorframe. We play games with the kids. Neighbours drop by to chat. Baby chicks—bright peeping puffballs—roam freely about the yard but scurry to the safety of their mother when the black puppy appears. The pup sniffs my dusty ankles with a wet, inquisitive nose. The sun sets behind the rooftops. Cows mosey on down the dirt road. . Ban sabai sabai, I think: peaceful, peaceful home.

For those who are new to the idea of homestays or have reservations about trying it, remember this: Homestays are not about you. Homestays are not about you “roughing it” or seeing how well you can cope without a hot shower or internet. It is not about seeing how The Other live as if you’re visiting a museum, and it is not an appeal to pathos; it is not an invocation for pity from you, the audience.

On the contrary, homestays are about your host’s experience; you are immersing yourself in their way of life. What you’ll gain is an appreciation for their challenges, the simplicity and hard work of rural living and the feeling of family and community in a village, the legs on which the country stands. This is Laos.

The Facts

A homestay is one of the highlights of Activetravel Asia’s 7-day “Luang Prabang trek” tour

Village stays are also an integral part of hill tribe treks in Luang Prabang. This tour takes you into forest and several villages of the most prominent ethnic groups in Northern Laos: the Khmu and Hmong. The Khmu are also called "Laos Theung" and settle at a medium altitude, the latter, sometimes called "Laos Soung", live in high regions along the mountain ridges.

Tips for your homestay in Laos

  • Have an open mind and relax. They’ve welcomed you into their home and are probably anxious to please you. They will be sensitive to your reactions. Try the food they’ve offered you. Compliment the chef.
  • Ask permission before taking a photo (note: you’ll get better responses if you smile when asking). Then share. Show the photos you’ve taken of them, of your trip, and even photos you’ve brought of your family and country.
  • Give a small gift to your host or the village chief (ask your guide what’s appropriate). Avoid giving gifts to children directly as it can encourage begging. Instead, interact with them: play games, sing a song, learn their names and show them a dance or magic trick.
  • Communicate! You may not know the language but gestures and facial expressions can go a long way. Engage and show you’re enthusiasm. You don’t need words to exchange names, ask their age, etc. The ensuing charades can be great fun.
  • Learn! This is a great opportunity to learn a few words. Point at objects and find out what things are called. A phrasebook can also be handy.

Both men and women should dress modestly.

You’ll almost certainly be offered a shot of lao-lao, homemade rice whiskey. While you can politely decline, if you can handle the firewater, have a few. You’ll be lauded and make instant friends.

Don’t forget to thank your host and leave no trace. Take all your rubbish with you.


  • A sleeping mattress and blanket will most likely be provided, you may want to bring your own sleep sheet ư
  • sarong, for bathing at public taps or rivers
  • travel mosquito net; flashlight
  • arplugs, if you don’t want to wake with the roosters
  • pictures of your country and family
  • enthusiasm & smiles

Sharing photos with kids in Ban Dong Muong (Photo credit: Cindy Fan)
Have you done a homestay in Laos or elsewhere in Southeast Asia? Share your experience in the comments.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Trek Luang Namtha - An Authentic Village Experience Like No Other

Many people who come to South East Asia seek to find that unique cultural experience of an idyllic little village tucked away in the misty jungle clad mountains where people still live the way they have for thousands of years…living in bamboo and grass huts, hunting and gathering in the forest and growing seasonal crops…

A way of life that can no longer be found in the west
Many people go to northern Thailand or Vietnam or Malaysia to try to get this insight into a traditional way of living before Facebook, media saturation and Smartphones cluttered up our lives.  Disappointed travellers have told me that in these places the villagers hurriedly put down their ipads and turn off their plasma TV’s and don costumes to put on a “touristy” show about a life they have long left behind…not exactly an authentic hill tribe experience is it?

If you really want to experience people living in misty forested mountain villages exactly as they have done for thousands of years you should come to Luang Namtha in northern Laos!  Unlike Thailand who has had tourists for 100 years northern Laos has only had tourists (and electricity!) for 10 years, it is much less developed than its wealthier neighbours, more densely forested and is also the most ethnically diverse part of South East Asia, a real cultural melting pot with over 20 different minority tribes; which means you can go to numerous tribes’ villages in a single day and witness the striking differences in culture, tradition, belief system, architecture and agricultural practices.

 Why should you choose Luang Namtha for your hill tribe experience?

1.  Because these local people really do want to be  gain a sustainable income from arranged homestay visits and handicrafts such as silk weaving.  To even stay the night at a village the entire village agrees, via a village meeting, to apply to become part of the eco-tourism project.  If the government approves them, then they will be given some training and then you will be able to stay.  This eco-tourism empowers them to preserve their tribal culture and encourages them to protect and preserve their natural environment. The original model homestay is the Khmu village of Ban Nalan another amazing jungle village on the river is the Tai Lue tribe’s Ban Sin Oudom.

2. Many of these tribes live in the Nam Ha national protected area (NPA) for example Khmu, Ahka, Tai Lue and Lanten minorities and so have become the caretakers of the national park. This means you can tie in an amazing cultural immersion experience with a trekking/kayaking/rafting tour in the national park.

3. The UNESCO sponsored Nam Ha NPA eco-tourism initiative ensures that a hefty proportion of the tour costs go directly to the villagers themselves and to conserving and protecting the national park.

4. Because it really is untouched! The nature is stunning and the villages and their inhabitants really are authentic minority tribes living in a self-sufficient way that is relatively unchanged for thousands of years.

5. Luang Namtha province is ideally situated close to the overland border crossings of Vietnam (Muang Kwa), Thailand (Huay xai) and China (Boten). Making it very easy to get to, It also has the best roads in all of Laos!

 As one of the most Adventure and Responsible tours available in Indochina and Asia,  ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA's trips are designed for all levels of outdoor enthusiasts, real people seeking real fun and adventure. So  you find one that is the “real deal” and gives a good percentage of the money directly to the local community,  you can refer Trek Ban Nam Lai Village, Luang Namtha tour at:

Luang Namtha - Nam Lai Village - Luang Namtha
2-day trekking tour
Trekking grade: Moderate

This 2 days trek through the Nam Ha Protected Area takes you into a mountainous forest camp and the world of the Akha people where you will spend time learning about the lives and culture of these famous woodsmen. Learn about the rich fauna and flora of the protected forest. Walk along a stream to a refreshing little waterfall. Spend the night with your Akha hosts and taste their special forest spices.

Jungle trails
Akha forest camp
Guided by the Akha people