Sunday, December 19, 2010

48 hours in Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang, the historic former royal capital of Laos, is an enchanting mix of tranquil Buddhist temples, French architecture left over from colonial days, lush foliage and sweeping river views.

Luang Prabang, LaosLuang Prabang, Laos

Named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995, the city is no longer the sleepy backwater it once was and boasts boutique hotels and chic restaurants. But there are still plenty of glimpses of the peaceful, other-worldly city of the past.

FRIDAY

6 p.m. The main historic area fills a peninsula formed by the meeting of the town's two rivers, the Nam Khan and the Mekong, and can easily be explored on foot. Walk around the peninsula, on streets lined with French houses and towering palms.

You may pass locals playing "petang," Laos's answer to the popular French game of petanque or boules, a remnant of the colonial past.

Stop for a Beer Lao, the country's ubiquitous and delicious national beer, at a riverside bar and watch the sun set.

Later, sample Lao barbecue at one of the riverside restaurants. You cook slivers of meat on a metal tray heated over a bucket of hot coals in the center of your table, while vegetables, herbs, egg and noodles bubble away below.

SATURDAY

6 a.m. Rise early and head toward Sisavangvong road to watch the silent, ancient ritual of the Buddhist monks processing through the streets in their orange robes, collecting alms of sticky rice and food.

7 a.m. Just across the main road from the former Royal Palace, you can climb Mount Phousi for a fantastic view of the town and the two rivers that embrace it. It's a steep climb up steps cut into the hillside, but well worth it.

8.30 a.m. Time for breakfast. Sisavangvong road is lined with cafes and restaurants. Make sure you try some traditional Lao coffee -- strong but smooth with a slightly chocolaty taste.

10 a.m. The National Museum, showing a selection of religious treasures and antiques, is housed in the former Royal Palace, built in 1904 for King Sisavang Vong and his family.

Don't miss the famous Phra Bang gold Buddha, which can be seen in a separate room to the right of the museum entrance. The Buddha gave Luang Prabang its name.

The royal family's cars are displayed in a separate building in the grounds.

Temple in Luang Prabang, LaosTemple in Luang Prabang, Laos

11.30 a.m. Head toward the far point of the peninsula to marvel at temple Wat Xieng Thong, which dates back to the 16th century. Have a look at the tiny, ornate red chapel in the courtyard, the intricate wall decorations encrusted with tiny glass mosaic tiles and the separate chapel housing King Sisavang Vong's funeral chariot.

1.30 p.m. For lunch, take your pick from the myriad cafes serving Lao, Thai and western food.

3 p.m. After temples, hill-climbs and a museum you've earned some relaxation. Head to Sisavangvong street and choose from the many places offering traditional Lao massages. You'll sweat away your aches and pains in a sweltering herbal sauna for as long as you can stand, before an invigorating massage.

8 p.m. Dinner. The sleek Les Trois Nagas restaurant serves Lao specialties in a stylish setting. Sample strips of dried buffalo and squares of Mekong river weed deep-fried and scattered with sesame seeds followed by laab, a spicy salad of fish, chicken or beef with chili, coriander and lime served with sticky rice. Luang Prabang sausages are another local specialty.

10 p.m. Luang Prabang's famous night market takes over the main road from Mount Phousi onwards in the evening. You can pick up brightly colored woven shawls, Lao coffee, carved wooden souvenirs and paper lanterns.

SUNDAY

9 a.m. Ask a tuk-tuk driver to take you to the Kuang Si waterfall. The trip takes about an hour, winding through the lush green countryside, with frequent stops to allow the buffalo ambling along the road time to get out of the way.

You can climb up the steep wooded path to the top of the cascade or simply admire the dramatic falls from the lower paths. Make sure you take your swimming costume -- you can take a refreshing dip in some of the natural pools.

If the waterfall doesn't grab you, you could also take a boat trip to the Pak Ou caves, an important shrine filled with thousands of Buddha statues. Negotiate a price with one of the boatmen on the Mekong riverbank in Luang Prabang and chug gently up the river as it carves through green hillsides.

3 p.m. Back in Luang Prabang, spend the afternoon just wandering. You'll stumble across stunning temples hidden down tiny alleyways.

6 p.m. The theater in the grounds of the National Museum stages performances of traditional Lao dancing on some evenings. Dancers in bright costumes act out Lao folk tales accompanied by musicians on traditional instruments.

8 p.m. Try the Coconut Garden restaurant for local specialities as well as plenty of Western dishes -- some, like grilled buffalo steak, with a local twist.

Source : torontosun

Recommendations for travelling in Laos:
Luang Prabang Trek
Laos Travel Tips

Why travel Laos and tips

Refer to Telegraph, in the recent time, the violence and killings on the streets of Bangkok - coupled with a hardening of Foreign Office advice not to travel there – will have horrified many holidaymakers considering a trip to Thailand, traditionally the most popular destination in South-East Asia and a country that sells itself as the “Land of Smiles”.

However, travellers wanting to head to this part of the world should not be deterred: the region’s newer, less well explored destinations – Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos – have an immense amount to offer – including breathtaking landscapes, timeless rivers (not least the Mekong), world-class ruins – and diverse minority tribes.

Why go Laos

Landlocked Laos has a relaxed pace of life and indifference to tourism that make it an idyllic escape. Luang Prabang is one of the most beguiling cities in Asia, with Unesco World Heritage status and faded French charm. Start the day watching alms-collecting monks file down the streets at dawn, and then visit a glittering Buddhist temple. At sunset, drink a Beer Lao on the banks of the Mekong before shopping for local crafts at the lantern-lit night market.

Travellers seeking the comforts of boutique hotels will find them here and in the country’s capital, Vientiane, alongside colonial villas, pleasant boulevards and Laos’s most important golden stupa, the 150ft-tall Pha That Luang.

Vientiane, LaosVientiane, Laos

To get off the beaten track, take a boat along the bucolic Nam Ou river from Luang Prabang, and drift past caves filled with images of the Buddha and dramatic karst scenery, ending up in sleepy village backwaters. Accommodation is rustic, but nothing beats swinging in a hammock and letting time pass Lao-style.

Ecotourism is blossoming at Luang Nam Tha in the north, where it is possible to walk to the villages of the animist Akha people. Alternatively, head south to the Mekong islands of Si Phan Don, home to fishing villages, waterfalls and rare Irrawaddy dolphins.

Tips: Lao food is relatively unknown, but there are some tasty dishes. Try some jaew, chilli dipping paste for balls of sticky rice, and laab, a fresh, spicy, minced-meat salad, tossed with mint and coriander.

ActiveTravelLaos (+84.979800588 or +844.3573.8569; www.activetravellaos.com) can arrange tailor-made trips to northern and southern Laos. The 12-day Undiscovered Laos and Cambodia includes two nights in Si Phan Don.

Contact Lao National Tourism Administration (www.ecotourismlaos.com) for further information

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Travel Asia – A Popular Choice for Travelers

The largest as well as the most populous continents in the world – Asia is a land of diversity with a multitude of geographies, cultures, and people. Occupying an area of about 9% of the total area of the earth’s surface, Asia is home to more than five billion people.


In other words, Asia consists of more than 60% of the world’s overall population. As a tourist destination, Asia boasts of a feast of attractions in the form of traditional cities, ancient monuments with superb architecture, museums and art galleries that throw light on the history of the place, incredible wild life, scenic mind blowing attractions, and attractions that are a blend of both east and west.


There are also a range of vibrant attractions, covering action packed beaches, bargain shopping areas, and exuberant nightclubs. Equally remarkable is the sumptuous cuisines available here, each of which is a representation of different cultures. In fact, the world’s majority of tourist attractions are found in Asia. Discussed further in this article are some of the most popular tourist attractions in Asia.


The continent of Asia is home to such incredible destinations as India, China, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Philippines. Asia has such a great number of attractions that even a year is not enough to explore them all. For those who want to explore a range of rich culture and topography and at the same time interested in recreational pursuits, then one of the most suitable options would be to take a tour to India. Stunning beaches, gorgeous monuments, ancient temples, and lively cities, all sum up the attractions of India. Attractions, among many others, in India are Red Fort and Qutab Minar in Delhi, Taj Mahal, one of the world’s seven wonders, Khajuraho Temples in Madhya Pradesh, Elephanta Caves in Mumbai, Ajanta and Ellora Caves in Aurangabad, and Kerala’s backwaters.


For those interested in exploring the pristine beauty as well as the ancient wonders, perhaps the greatest of all attractions in Asia would be China, which boasts of such lively destinations as Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing, all of with loads of mind blowing attractions. Most popular among the attractions in China are the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, Terracotta Warriors, Potala Palace, West Lake, and Mogao Grottos. Another much sought after tourist destination in Asia is Japan, which is acknowledged as the Land of the Rising Sun. It features attractions such as Nara Park, Kyoto’s Higashiyama area, Kin Osaki, Himeji Castle, and Takayama in Gifu. With attractions such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam is also an incredible spot in Asia.


Popular countries in Asia also include the Kingdom of Thailand, which is probably the number one tourist destination in South-East Asia. What that set apart Thailand from other spots in Asia is its breathtaking natural beauty, stunning temples, gorgeous island destinations, stupendous monuments, healthy cuisines, and above all presence of amicable Thai people.


Just few among many of the attractions in Thailand are Bangkok, the capital city; Ayutthaya, which is much famed for its Gothic ruins; Chiang-Mai, bestowed with the title ‘Rose of the North,’ Krabi, which is a paradise for enjoying a range of water sport activities; and Pattaya, one of the best resorts in Asia. Also, a tourist spot in South-East Asia is Singapore, which is an island destination situated at the Malay Peninsula’s southern tip. Singapore Botanic Gardens, Singapore Discovery Center, Little India, and China Town, are some of the Singapore’s landmarks.


Southeast Asia also contains incredible destinations such as Indonesia – the largest archipelagic nation in the world; Malaysia, with attractions like Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya; Philippines, with more than 7000 islands; and Burma, which is the largest country in Southeast Asia. Other top places of interest in Asia are Sri Lanka – an island destination located off the southern tip of India; Afghanistan, with a rich as well as complex history; Maldives, which consists of more than 1,000 coral islands in the Indian Ocean; Uzbekistan, one of the most popular destinations in Central Asia; Kyrgyzstan, which is probably the most popular tourist spot in Central Asia; and Bangladesh, which has to its credit a number of ancient palaces, magnificent Buddhist shrines, and beautiful monuments.


In short, Asia is truly a dream destination for every traveler.