Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Some essential tips in motorbike tour

1. Reasons for choosing motorbike
Motorbike is considered the best means of transportation for traveling mountainous areas due to its convenience and initiative. With a motorbike, one is free to go wherever he loves, despite all kinds of road’s condition. He can stop whenever he feels like to take photographs or relaxing, instead of depending on the driver or tour guide. Motorbike helps integrating people with nature and fresh air, and one will never be afraid of motion sickness. If choosing a car, people are likely to waste hours sleeping in passenger’s seat with air condition, not to mention the car sick caused by consecutive slopes and mountain passes. Riding on the motorbike means living on every single kilometer of your itinerary! Moreover, one can ride a motorbike in any kind of terrains, and it is much easier to repair in case of breaking down.

2. Which kind of motorbike and when?
100 cc-or-more semi-automatic motorbikes are all suitable for roads in Northern Vietnam’s mountainous area. The main criteria for choosing motorbike are strong engine, gasoline-saving and flexible packing space.

Weather is one of the most essential issues regarding planning for motorbike trip. The best time for exploring those mighty areas is from late September to the beginning of December or after Tet Nguyen Dan, when there is almost no rain and the temperature is cool. The spring’s rain and summer’s heat in high region somehow are hazardous for health as well as damaging to the road’s quality.

3. Be well-prepared!
There are indispensable things that one has to bring whenever traveling to remote areas such as specialized clothes and shoes, personal stuff, map, contact information and medical bags. However, a motorbike trip requires more than that. One will have to be well-prepared with a protective helmet and a motorcycle repair tool kit, and of course, certain skills of mending engine. An extra spark-plug and motorbike’s key are always in need. Remember to maintain the whole motorbike before setting off, change the oil and check its tyres, brakes, mirrors, horn and light. Fill up your motorbike with gasoline and know the location of gasoline station!

4. On the way
If possible, traveling in groups of two or three motorbikes with one experienced leader is advisable. All members of the group are required to have detailed itinerary to get rid the risk of getting lost. People should not ride parallel to each other and talk while controlling the motorbike, thus, stop the bike if feeling a need for a conversation.

Pay attention to the bend and ones driving contrariwise and do not drive into other lane. Sometimes, there may be animals like buffaloes, cows, dogs or even pigs crossing the road, so one should decrease the speed and avoid making them panic. At night or in rain weather, when the vision is limited, travelers had better pause the journey for resting and safety reasons.

5. Other things to remember
• Do not ride when you feel tired or sleepy.
• Do not ride after drinking alcohol.
• Avoid riding too fast or stop without noticing.
• Observe carefully and pay attention to road signs.
• Bring your identity paper and driving license because there will be police checking along the road (however they will not be very strict to foreigners)
• Be extremely careful when crossing the stream; be sure about the depth of the water to have the best arrangement.
• Respect the ethnic minority people and their distinctive culture.
• Protect the environment and always remember: Safe is of primary important.

View ActiveTravel Asia's motorcycling at:

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What is adventure travel?

Adventure travel often conjures up images of mountain climbing, whitewater rafting, scuba diving and four wheel driving. While these are certainly activities associated with adventure travel, adventure travel may involve something as sedate as a wine tasting Motorcycling tour in Ho Chi Minh trail, Viet nam. Adventure Travel is simply to go above and beyond one’s normal known area, seeking out experiences which are unfamiliar. The travel destination may be as close as a few kilometers from your home, or it can be thousands of kilometers away in an exotic location in Africa or Asia.

Maybe it has to do with the stressful and fast-paced lives we are leading, that adventure travel has become one of the fasting growing segments of the travel industry. More and more travelers are abandoning the usual beach resorts, and are actively seeking new experiences in their travels. These trips often bring significant personal discovery, development of new skills and knowledge and cross-cultural experiences.

Adventure travel is not for everyone. It is for an individual with the thirst for new experience, one who dares to forsake the well-trodden path. Health and age may restrict the traveler to less-strenuous activities, but that does not stop the traveler from other forms of adventure travel.

It is undeniable that some adventure travel activities carry additional risk. Trekking across the desert is definitely more dangerous than planting your self under an umbrella at the beach. As in most travel situations, having adequate planning and practicing common sense will go a long way in minimizing risk.

An adventure travel need not be expensive. In most cases, you would not be staying in five star hotels, eating in fancy restaurants and taking limousine rides. Instead, you would probably be staying in guesthouses, eating at local food stalls and taking public transport. These usually more than help to hold the line on the total cost.

If you need more reasons to start your adventure travel, here are some motivating quotations I have collected.
“I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads. Not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travel it.” – Rosalia de Castro
“The traveler was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him.” – Daniel J. Boorstin
 “All adventures, especially into new territory, are scary” – Sally Ride
“It is in the compelling zest of high adventure and of victory, and in creative action, that man finds his supreme joys.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
Now, are you willing to join in adventure tour?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

10 things to do in Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang in Laos is one of the most visit places in Asia before it turns into another common tourist place. On my visit there, I had a chance to explore and experience the best of Luang Prabang which is also an UNESCO World Heritage Site, so here are 10 things you can do in Luang Prabang in no particular order.

1. Luang Prabang Town in General

Explore this beautiful and well maintained town by foot to see the amazing  heritage buildings in traditional Lao and Dutch designs which take you back in history. Hotels, restaurants, cafes and guesthouses utilize these buildings for their businesses around Luang Prabang Town and one can easily do all of this by foot. There are absolutely no modern buildings or anything above 2 floors in this unique town.
Wats in Laos
 2. Pak Ou Caves

Or simply known as the Buddha Caves, this is a must-visit for all travelers as the 25 kilometer scenic river journey will be one to remember. Seeing everyday life along the great Mekong River on route to the caves is something special here. At the Pak Ou Caves, thousands of Buddha statues are placed inside the caves which is an amazing sight. Entrance fees are separate here.

Pak Ou Caves
3. Luang Prabang Markets

There are 2-3 markets around Luang Prabang town but the most popular would be the daily night market which is another must-visit for everyone. Unlike the common markets we are used too, the Luang Prabang Night Market is filled with lots of craft and silverware. This is also your best place to get souvenirs. Alternatively, there is the Hmong Market in the day which is in town where you can also get some decent souvenirs too. For art lovers, do check out some of the local paintings sold around town.

4. Eat local Lao Food

Lao Food in Luang Prabang is relatively safe for everyone's consumption. Try the local baguettes that are sold around town. Tasty and filling for a very decent price. Make sure you get it with the local Lao Coffee which is reputed to be one of the best in the world. Try various local Lao restaurants along the Mekong River roadside. For some fusion of French and Lao, try the upmarket L'Elephant Restaurant in town.

5. Whisky Village

Known as Ban Xang Hai, this Lao village is on route to Pak Ou Caves where boats make a 30 minute stop here. You can also visit this interesting craft village via road from Luang Prabang town. Highlights here are the local whiskey or Lao Lao where all sorts of snakes, insects and bugs are fermented and mixed with the whiskey and sold in various shaped bottles. Lao Silk is also woven live in front of you by the locals. You can also buy fabrics and other crafts here.

6. Phu Si Hill

Also known as Chomsy Hill or Mount Phousi, this easy to climb hill serves as one of the best spots in Luang Prabang to catch the amazing sunsets or view the entire city. A temple is also located up top while there are two ways of getting up here. One from the main street in town while the other is a trail behind the Ethnic Museum in town. Best visited in the evenings just before sundown and there is a minimal entrance fee.

7. Temples and Wats

There are 30 or more Temples or Wats located around Luang Prabang Town so you can easily visit any of them by foot. The most popular of them would be Wat Mai which is on the main street of town where it was recently refurbished.A walk around town will also take you to various other temples and Wats there. Check out some of the temples with schools for the younger monks where they learn woodwork, painting and also English.

8. Tad Sae Waterfalls

For the nature explorers, various tours or trips are offered to this beautiful waterfall which is located in a park and about 13 kilometers from town. There is an entrance fee of KIP 8,000 into the park where restaurants and facilities are available. The best time to visit the waterfalls is after the rainy season. During the dry season, the waterfall often has not much water so you may be disappointed.

9.  Wat Xieng Thong

The Golden City Temple probably one of the oldest and most important temple in Luang Prabang which was built in 1560. Entry fee of KIP 5,000 (US$0.50) into the temple grounds where you see fascinating architecture here. Check out the detailed work on the main temple structure while various wall paintings have been restored to look amazingly beautiful. 

Wat Xieng Thong
10. Elephant Riding and Trekking or Elephant Village

The Elephant Park Project Area is located about 15 km out of town and in the middle of a wonderful mountainous surrounding. Easy half day trekking (about 3-4 hours) will lead you out into a local Khammu village where you get an insight in every day life and culture of this ethnic minority.

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA recommend travelers the tour Cycling, Kayaking & Elephant Riding in Luang Prabang, Laos

This is a multi-activity adventure to get real sound and senses of the ancient capital of Laos, Luang Prabang. You are going to bike, trek and kayak in each day of the tour. Every day we will get you involve in different types of activities at introductory to moderate grade. Some of the days tour may be quite intense if you are not active novices but with proper warming-ups, you can keep back the right track. This adventure will surely give an exotic picture of Luang Prabang that you have not known before. 

  •     Awesome scenery while trekking through remote and beautiful bamboo forest
  •     Enjoy a relaxing lunch under a natural waterfall after hiking via dense forest
  •     Fantastic kayaking on the Nam Khan River at introductory, leisure grading
  •     Stop for visiting to stunning Pak Ou Cave whilst enjoying the ancient capital of Laos, Luang Prabang
  •     Authentic homestay at local villager's house
To know more adventures in Luang Prabang, Laos, view here.

Friday, September 7, 2012

A perfect day in Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang is a gorgeous town in northern Laos and often the first stop for many travellers coming from Thailand. It’s common for travellers to only spend a day or two here before moving on, so if you’re on a tight schedule here’s our suggestion for a great day in LuangPrabang.

Alms offering – Begin the day nice and early by getting up to see the monks pass through the streets and collect offerings from the locals and tourists. For a better description check out this post from our friends Got Passport.

Breakfast – Enjoy a large breakfast at Luang Prabang Bakery – one the nicest starts to the day we’ve had in a long time and served with a super strong Lao coffee.

Kouang Si Waterfall – Take a tuk tuk out (you’ll have plenty of offers) and enjoy a hike to the top to take in the amazing views. Cool off afterwards in the perfectly coloured pools below, there’s also a small waterfall you can jump from and a rope swing for the more adventurous type. More info from Mike who was with us that day.

Lunch – on return to town and hungry after the hike grab a baguette from one of the many street vendors around town – the chicken one is amazing.

Nam Khan River beach – Take a walk over the bamboo bridge and relax in the sunshine by the river side. Good for a paddle but there’s a strong current so be careful swimming.

Drink – Follow the path up from the river beach to Dyen Sabai bar & restaurant and enjoy a beer in this amazingly relaxing
setting looking over the town. Try not to fall asleep here, many do.

Sunset – Climb the many steps up Phu Si and enjoy a stunning view of the city, river and surrounding mountains as the sun sets across it all and becomes even more spectacular.

Market – Finish off the day strolling through the market and enjoy one of the many street buffets on offer, most offering freshly barbequed fish and chicken as well. Great food for next to nothing.

Best seat in the house - If somehow you have any energy left I suggest more tasty beer Laos while watching the world go buy in one of the chilled out bars on the markets edge.

Head off to Luang Prabang:

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Where and how to meet minorities in Southeast Asia

Minority cultures in Southeast Asia are often time capsules of earlier lifestyles that have escaped the full force of globalisation’s effects. Consequently, they are a highlight for travellers to the region who want to get a sense of a country’s past…as it collides with the present. 

But how do you ensure that while visiting, you don’t cause unintended damage or offence? You can show your respect for a culture by being educated about its ways, beliefs and taboos. Here are a few general guidelines:

1. Always ask permission before taking photos of tribespeople.
2. Don’t touch totems at village entrances or sacred items hanging from trees.
3. Avoid cultivating a tradition of begging, especially among children.
4. Avoid public nudity and don’t undress near an open window.
5. Don’t flirt with members of the opposite sex.
6. Don’t drink or do drugs with the villagers.
7. Smile at villagers even if they stare.
8. Ask your guide how to say ‘hello’.
9. Avoid public displays of affection, which might be viewed as offensive to the spirit world.
10. Don’t interact with the villagers’ livestock; avoid interacting with jungle animals, which might be viewed as visiting spirits.
11. Don’t step on the threshold of a house, prop your feet up against the fire or wear your shoes inside.

Where to meet Southeast Asia’s minority cultures

If you want to meet minority cultures, you’ll often have to get away from popular tourist centres; how far you’ll have to go depends very much on the country and how popular it is with visitors.

The trekking industry in Thailand is very developed and a minority visit can be a disappointment for some, but much depends on the operator organising the trip. Northern Vietnam and the Xīshuāngbǎnnà region of Yúnnán have emerged as popular places to experience minority cultures, but as in Thailand, visitors need to travel further from the trail to have a genuine experience. Laos is really taking off as a destination to meet minority groups, partly due to its ethnically diverse population and in part due to the relatively small numbers of visitors venturing off the beaten path.

Cambodia and the Central Highlands of Vietnam provide a home to some minority groups in the northeast, but as they dress like lowland Khmer or Vietnamese, they have been less exposed to mass tourism than elsewhere. As for the effects of trekking on the host tribes, many agree that individuals within the village might financially benefit when the trekking companies purchase supplies and lodging, but the overall pluses and minuses are considered to be minimal compared to other larger institutional forces.

Lonely Planet has a suggestion of the top 5 spots for a genuine interaction with a minority culture in Southeast Asia:
1. Cambodia: Ratanakiri
2. Laos: Muang Sing
3. Thailand: Chiang Rai
4. Vietnam: Sapa
5. Yúnnán: Xīshuāngbǎnnà

But there are many other important minority groups in the region, some rendered stateless by the conflicts of the past, others recent migrants to the region, including the many hill tribes.


The Cham people originally occupied the kingdom of Champa in southcentral Vietnam and their beautiful brick towers dot the landscape from Da Nang to Phan Rang. Victims of a historical squeeze between Cambodia and Vietnam, their territory was eventually annexed by the expansionist Vietnamese. Originally Hindu, they converted to Islam in the 16th and 17th centuries and many migrated south to Cambodia. Today there are small numbers of Cham in Vietnam and as many as half a million in Cambodia, all of whom continue to practise a flexible form of Islam. Over the centuries, there has been considerable intermarriage between Cham and Malay traders.


The Hmong are one of the largest hill tribes in the Mekong region, spread through much of northern Laos, northern VietnamThailand and Yúnnán. As some of the last to arrive in the region in the 19th century, Darwinian selection ensured that they were left with the highest and harshest lands from which to eke out their existence. They soon made the best of a bad deal and opted for opium cultivation, which brought them into conflict with mainstream governments during the 20th century. The CIA worked closely with the Hmong of Laos during the secret war in the 1960s and 1970s. The US-backed operation was kept secret from the American public until 1970. The Hmong were vehemently anticommunist and pockets of resistance continue today. The Hmong remain marginalised, distrusted by central government and mired in poverty. Hmong groups are usually classified by their colourful clothing, including Black Hmong, White Hmong, Red Hmong and so on. The brightest group is the Flower Hmong of northwest Vietnam, living in villages around Bac Ha. The Hmong are known for their embroidered indigo-dyed clothing and their ornate silver jewellery. There may be as many as one million Hmong in the Mekong region, half of them living in the mountains of Vietnam.


The Jarai are the most populous minority in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, northeast Cambodia and southern Laos. Villages are often named for a nearby river, stream or tribal chief, and a nha-rong (communal house) is usually found in the centre. Jarai women typically propose marriage to the men through a matchmaker, who delivers the prospective groom a copper bracelet. Animistic beliefs and rituals still abound, and the Jarai pay respect to their ancestors and nature through a host or yang (genie). The Jarai construct elaborate cemeteries for their dead, which include carved effigies of the deceased. These totems can be found in the forests around villages, but sadly many are being snapped up by culturally insensitive collectors.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Do you know how to prepare a meal for the next trip?

Traveling in an adventure style will let you have an experience to eat outside such as campaign in a forest or a mountain . So, learning how to make easy camping meals can save you a ton of time on your next camping trip. Though outdoor cooking can be fun, it’s never good to miss out on other outdoor activities because you’re stuck making food for everyone. Use the following guidelines to minimize the work and time it takes to make great meals on your next camping trip.

Foil is Your Friend
If there’s one essential item you need to make camp cooking easier, it’s aluminum foil. Almost any food item can be cooked quickly and effectively using it. Simply wrap the food item in the foil, and place it on a grate over the campfire. Some of the most popular foods to cook with aluminum foil include hamburger meant for burgers and pasta dishes, whole potatoes, almost any type of vegetable, and chicken parts. Obviously, cooking times will vary depending on what you’re making. A good rule of thumb for this easy, all purpose campfire cooking method is to assume cooking times to be similar to that of using a grill. Read another post on uses for aluminum foil while camping to learn more.


Preparation Before the Trip
Before the invention of the microwave, people used more primitive heating methods to cook leftovers. Following this logic, preparing certain foods in advance can seriously cut down on time and effort spent cooking during your next camping trip. Before you leave, make some simple, hearty foods that fit nicely in the cooler and can be reheated easily over a campfire. Scrambled eggs, spaghetti, Hamburger Helper, and biscuits can all be cooked at home and stashed safely in Tupperware containers for later use. Best of all, their reheating time at the campsite is minimal, giving you plenty of extra time to enjoy the beautiful spot you’re camping at – wherever it may be.

Use a Time Tested Cooking Tool
Let’s face it; non-campers are a little spoiled when it comes to cooking. With microwaves, stoves, and electric ovens at their disposal, they can prepare food a lot more quickly and easily. But you do have an advantage when it comes to campsite cooking; easy camping meals can be made even easier with the use of a Dutch Oven. An all purpose cooking vessel, the Dutch Oven has a tight fitting lid to seal in heat and a very sturdy construction. Almost anything that fits in one will cook nicely. Some popular easy camping meals to make in it include chili, beef stew, and just about any soup you can come up with.
With a little preparation, making easy meals while camping really isn’t all that tough. So, instead of slaving over a hot fire for lengthy amounts of time on your next camping trip, employ the tricks above to allow more time for fun.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What do you know about traditional food in Laos?

Lao food is distinct from other Asia cuisines, although it is somewhat similar to the food found in the northeastern part of Thailand in the area known as Isan. Most Lao dishes contain vegetables and herbs, rice or noodles and fish, chicken, pork or beef. The freshness of the ingredients is very important to Lao people who like to prepare everything from scratch, rather than use pre-prepared ingredients, as they believe this makes their food more delicious. Herbs such as galangal and lemongrass are favourites and padaek (Lao fish sauce) is found on every table.

One of the staples of Laos food is sticky rice. As the name reveals this rice naturally sticks together so it is easy to roll into small balls, dip into food and eat with your fingers. A traditional everyday Lao meal is simple and normally consists of sticky rice, some natural vegetables and at least one kind of spicy sauce to dip the sticky rice into, plus perhaps some fish or meat.

Another daily favourite is noodle soup (called feu also spelt pho) which is a hearty soup incorporating meat, noodles and vegetables. Don’t be surprised if when ordering your noodle soup, a huge plate of local salad vegetables arrives at the same time, together with a range of sauces and condiments.

Although Lao cuisine has many influences, such as Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese and French, when talking about Laos food, most people who know Laos or have been to Laos would know laap (sometimes spelt laab or larp). Laap is a dish that is particular to Laos and is often served on special occasions such as weddings, Baci ceremonies or other celebrations as in Lao language laap means luck or good fortune. However you will find it served in every good Lao restaurant around the country.

Laap is made from chopped or thinly sliced meat or fish that is mixed with lime juice, fish sauce, mint, coriander, spring onion, chili and uncooked rice grains that have been dry fried and crushed. It is usually accompanied by vegetables including eggplant, fresh chilies, mustard leaves and lettuce. It can be eaten with ordinary rice or sticky rice and is usually eaten with fish/meat soup depending on the main ingredient being used.

If you are a visitor it is useful to ask that your laap is cooked, as in some parts of the country locals like to eat it raw, particularly fish laap. Other Lao favourites include papaya salad (a spicy mix of green papaya, lime juice, fish sauce, fresh chilies and peanuts), barbecued fresh fish and grilled meats (often served as small kebabs) and steamed fish or chicken in banana leaves.
Laos is blessed with a huge variety of fresh fruit and most meals will conclude with a plate of freshly cut fruits such as mango, pineapple, water melon and dragon fruit. You can wash down your Lao meal with the country’s award winning beer, Beer Lao, or fresh juices made from lime, sugar cane or coconut, as well as fruit shakes.
Every region of Laos has its own specialties, for example in Luang Prabang one treat is kaipen a fried snack made of fresh water weed eaten with jaew bong, a sweet and spicy Lao paste made with roasted chilies, pork skin, galangal and other ingredients. So make sure you ask what’s best to eat in each town.

In the past, a Lao family would eat home cooked meal together sitting on the floor around a Lao-style table called a pa kao or ka toke. Though this tradition is still common in the country side, it is not widely seen in urban areas nowadays.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Adventure Things To Do in Laos

Laos travel is not only beautiful, but also jam packed with adventure activities.  I’m a selective adrenaline junkie, and sports such as rock climbing and tubing in Laos get me going.  However, suggest jumping out of an plane, and expect me to run for the hills.  Southeast Asia travel continues to be incredibly rewarding and adventure things should try are listed below

Rock Climbing in Vang Vieng
Whether you are a novice or a pro, Vang Vieng has a rock for you to climb.  I had only tried this once before, tucked up safely in an indoor arena. This was completely different and infinitely better. Laos has some stunning landscapes and in Vang Vieng, limestone cliffs border the town and make for perfect climbs.
With a friendly guide who spoke just enough English for him to answer my burning questions: “Yes, the harness was safe” and “No, you will not fall”, I boldly had a go and heaved myself up the rockface.  There were no markers indicating where you go like an indoor arena, this was free for all, grab on and go.  I tried three climbs (5A-C) with the difficulty intensifying each time and though failing to make it to the very top, I loved every second.

Needless to say my sporty boyfriend whizzed up every wall and even surprised the instructor by trying one of the more advanced 6A ones.  What made this challenging day all the more special was the feeling of satisfaction at pushing my body to limits I didn’t know I had and doing it all with the phenomenal Laos landscape as a backdrop.

Rock climbing in Vang Vieng

Mountain Biking in Laos
Hiring a bike in Laos is so cheap it’s almost unreal. For around a dollar for a day you can venture around and explore on your own.  We chose a day where the weather didn’t look so promising and lo and behold about half an hour in the heavens opened.  Though completely off putting for me at first and one or two harsh words thrown at my man, I almost turned back. Thank goodness I didn’t as the weather cleared and I had a completely exhilarating day discovering caves and lagoons and breathing in the fragrant air from the Laotian rice fields.

Vang Vieng Landscape

Caving in Laos
Laos has many caving opportunities. Some with a guide and others with as little as “here’s a head torch and off you go”. We chose the latter and got to witness the awesome Phu Kam Cave and the Golden Buddha in Vang Vieng.  Beyond the Buddha, the cave goes on for miles and I’ll be honest, it’s pretty terrifying. But those of you that aren’t terrified of the dark and death inducing sink holes will surely love it.

 Phu Kam Cave, Vang Vieng

Friday, June 22, 2012

Deeper into the Mekong River Delta

Is there anywhere on planet Earth that so teems with life and industry as the Mekong Delta? Anywhere where agriculture and fish farming are so intensively practiced? In thinking that one day I'll come back here and find multi-storey rice paddies stretching to the horizon, I suspect I'm only partially dreaming.

Not for nothing has the delta of the Mekong River been termed the "rice bowl of the Universe". Six countries and well over fifty million people depend upon the Mekong for their very livelihood. And in no country is this dependence so profound as in Vietnam.

Flying into Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) gives as good an introduction as any to the wonders of the Mekong. From the air the landscape resembles an intricate anatomical chart, only in shades of green and brown rather than white and red. Every tributary of the Mekong River bifurcates, then trifurcates and multifurcates into thousands of veins, arteries and capillaries. Then, linking this vast drainage network are hundreds of manmade canals, giving the countryside the appearance of an Eastern Venice.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

5 Things I’ve Learnt About Lao People While in Laos

I found the Lao people to be the most fascinating part of traveling through Laos. I was happily surprised to see how rich their culture was and how so many people were still living according to their old traditions.

Laos is NOT known as the land of smiles, but the people here are still so special, and very genuine in their own way. Below are 5 things that sum up my experience with the Lao people – and just to make sure, these are not facts but my own perception and experience from spending 3 weeks there.

1. Men Are Very Homely

Something I found very refreshing was how much time the men spent at home and with their children.

It was a very common sight to see men of all ages carrying around babies on their backs and in their arms, feeding them, hushing them to sleep and just general baby sitting – without the mother in sight.

They really took time with their kids and gave them attention, playing with them.
They also seemed very interested in other people’s kids, always toddling with the babies when sharing a songtheaw (bus á la tuk tuk style) ride.

2. The Kids Are The Most Adorable I’ve Ever Met

These little people are just the sweetest! Their doll faces and curious eyes are simply irresistible.
I’ve never met so many kids in a country who shyly whisper or loudly yell ‘hello’ to you from the street, river, moped or home.

They were so curious, and those who were brave enough – smiled, laughed and said hello to you over and over again until you were out of sight.
You cannot help but to smile and say hello back …

3. The Bus Drivers Have a Death Wish

When I mentioned the things I’ve learnt about Thai people someone asked why I didn’t mention the driving.

The Thai people are known for their careless driving, and the streets there were chaos, but at least the bus drivers had some common sense.
In Laos – they didn’t.

70 people in a 50 seat bus does not make sense, especially when you’re not using your breaks on the steep, windy mountain roads…
Chickens and roosters on the road? Who cares, they had it coming! Feathers were constantly sweeping past our windows … travel around Laos really isn’t for the faint-hearted!

4. They Want To Avoid Any And All Confrontation

The people are very gentle and kind in Laos, similar to the Thai people – but different.

It’s not the most obvious friendliness and they don’t take you in with open arms, they are more stand-offish. However, if you gain a little bit of trust, you will see that they’re actually very friendly people.

They are also, like the Thai people, afraid of confrontations. Sometimes it’s really refreshing, other times it’s really frustrating, especially when you just want to get a straight answer to a question.

Their way of dealing with it is usually to laugh it off as a joke – which makes for a pretty funny and confusing situation. You might not get a straight answer, but you always leave with a confused smile on your face.

5. Women And Men Work Together

This is something that I find very rare around the world. Usually women and men have their own places in which they work; but in Laos the roles are very mixed. The men and women work together.

It’s not uncommon to see men standing in stalls cooking street food and banana pancakes, and women working the street as road workers.
Both women and men work on tea and coffee plantations, and they both take care of the family.

It seemed as though they did what they were best at, if the man cooked better food, he was the chef, and vice versa.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Vacation In Laos- Bombed History, Blooming Future

The Southeast Asian country of Laos has seen an extended bad times during several war affected period. The consistent bombarding shattered the country in many different ways, But things are getting normal and Laos is evolving as a major tourist destination.

Like some tortured human souls, some countries of the world also has to under go the ruthless battering of time and history which leaves a scar on its image and psyche. Laos, a landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordered by Burma and China has a story to tell with lots of bomb attacks in different turns of history.

 Buddha statue at Vientiane
But, rising from the ashes, Laos has now made its way to become one of the most attractive countries from traveller point of view with lots to do and see. You can start out with a riverboat sail along the water channels of Laos meandering ways through the roadless hamlets, pristine environment and diverse cultures. Or you can head towards the cave series of Vieng Xai, that used to be the shelter fro the locals from aerial bombardment during the 20th-century Indochina wars. Not to be missed the "bomb-shelter caves" that are seated amid dramatic karst outcrops.

The karst cliffs and mountains of Khammuan in central Laos are something that makes vacation a worth in this part of the nation. Turquoise streams, monsoon forests and striking karst topography marks this region that deserves serious mention while talking about the natural resources of Laos. To give your vacation a novel and off the beat touch, you can go out on a bicycle excursion along the streets of the capital- Vientiane. Or if you are night creature, then no other place can better the experience of a night out in the town of Vang Vieng. It has a limestone cliff backdrop that mixes well with the parties in open-air raves-slash-amusement parks and in the clubs.

In addition to all these, former royal capital of Luang Prabang and Si Phan Don are the places that retains the laid back look with lots to offer for some backpacking. Today, Laos has come a long way from its dubious distinction as a tormented destination that it used to be till some time ago.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Destination: Vientiane, Laos

SITUATED on the banks of the mighty Mekong River, sleepy Vientiane is one of the world’s smallest capital cities. To say Vientiane is relaxed is something of an understatement. This is a city that rises late, sleeps early and is lethargic in between.

 Monks in Vientiane, Laos.

However, this is the charm of the Laos capital. Known for its shady streets and crumbling French architecture, people still cook with charcoal and you’ll rarely see a multi-storey building breaking the horizon.

Vientiane has long been a popular stop-off on the Southeast Asia backpacker trail. It also has its fair share of expats who have succumbed to its charms, as well as many expats from neighboring Thailand who travel there to renew their Thai visas. Another large contingent of westerners you’ll see in Vientiane will be NGO or embassy workers.

A Day in the Life
Morning –Early morning Vientiane is, on the face of it, just what you’d expect – sleepy. It’s a great time to wander the streets before the heat of the day sets in and sit back and enjoy a quiet, relaxing coffee. However, if you want to see the other side of Vientiane in the morning visit one of the large, open air, wet markets in town, which are a hive of activity.

Afternoon – Many of Vientiane’s best sights and attractions are all within walking distance of the tourist quarter. The area is dotted with beautiful temples, while the palace and the national museum are also worth a look.

Evening – Watch the sun go down while sitting on the banks of the Mekong with a bottle of the surprisingly good local brew – Beer Lao. Many lazy hours can be happily whiled away ‘Mekong watching’, but it’s worth making that extra effort to sample some of the many excellent eateries around town.

Best of the Rest
Patuxai, or ‘Victory Gate’, is Vientiane’s answer to the Arc de Triomphe, and the highest point in the city. The monument honors the people who died during the fight for independence from France. Patuxai was built in the ‘60s using funds donated by the US to build an airport. Laos used the cash to build the monument instead.
Arguably the pick of the temples in Vientiane is Tat Luang. This is regarded as the most important temple in the country and is the national symbol of Laos. It’s located about a mile north of the city centre.

Hidden Gem - Take in the beautiful countryside surrounding Vientiane with a trip to Buddha Park. This unique spectacle is full of stone statues and offers some great views across the river of neighboring Thailand.

Accommodation - Rooms for the night can be scarce by the early evening so it’s best to get there early or make a reservation. Prices for budget accommodation, like much of the region, are modest. Fifteen or 20 dollars will get you a passable mid-range room, for 40 can get you something a little more luxurious. Most hotels and guesthouses will accept US dollars and Thai baht, as well as the Laos kip.

Vientiane at Night
Dining - Lao food can be a goal well worth pursuing and not as easily obtained as one might think. The food sold in the English language restaurants is often an imitation, dumbed down for the western pallet even in those restaurants professing to specialize in Lao food. For the real thing, go to street vendors and sawdust-on-the-floor type establishments. It’s much cheaper too. If Western food is more your thing, Vientiane has become much more cosmopolitan in recent years and you will have plenty of international food options.

Nightlife – Vientiane is sleepy by day and sleepy by night. By law most bars shut down very early – 11.30pm. There are places to go out and have a drink, maybe even listen to music, but compared to the likes of Thailand, it’s fairly dead at night.

A young Lao girl takes a ride in a vegetable cart in one of Vientiane's many morning markets

Retail Therapy - The most famous market in Vientiane, Dalat Sao, or Morning Market in English, is slowly succumbing to the wrecking ball and the plate glass, air conditioned shopping mall, so it’s well worth a look before it’s gone. Downstairs are row after row of small shops selling traditional Lao silk weaving and some very good handicrafts. Upstairs are the gold stores and cheap clothing. Morning is a misnomer in this case as the market doesn’t even really open up until after 8am and shuts down at 4pm.

Across the street to the south (next door to the central post office) is the Ethnic Handicrafts Cooperative. Mostly Hmong owned and orientated towards the visiting overseas Hmong, it has the largest selection of hill-tribe handicrafts of all ethnicities for sale in Laos. Don’t expect colorful displays or friendly English speaking sales people. It is not tourist-oriented, but that only adds to the fun.

Getting there & away – There are regular flights into Vientiane from many of the major cities in the region and the rise of the budget airline has made these a whole lot cheaper. If you are traveling by land, there are regular services to and from cities in China, Vietnam and northern Thailand.

Getting around - To get around most people use tuktuks. They tend to overcharge and bargaining isn’t as important as knowing the going rate in the first. Probably the best option is to rent a motorcycle ,though beware; the rules of the road are not enforced with any real gusto. In truth, the town is so small many people simply walk to wherever they are going.

Monday, May 7, 2012

10 of the most beautiful places to visit in Laos

One of the most rugged, unspoiled countries on earth, Laos is like a lost world that has breath-taking mountain vistas, colorful mountain tribes, and majestic Buddhist temples around every corner. And yet even with its isolation and challenging terrain, it has also inherited a rich, tragic history as the most bombed country in the world.

Whatever you’re looking for on your trip to Southeast Asia, you can find it in Laos – but where to start? Let’s take a stab at identifying the most beautiful places to visit in Laos:

1. Luang Prabang

A trip to Laos is simply not complete without a visit to one of the most well-preserved cities in all of Asia and a visit to the beautiful Luang Prabang is like stepping into another century. A treasure trove of old Buddhist temples and lush landscapes the city is elegantly nestled between the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers in the Northern Laos mountains.

The real draw – however – is the overall feel and the pace of life. Stroll through the town just soaking it in, as villagers transport goods on bicycles, or rise to the early morning bells and watch  processions of saffron-robed monks

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A guide to holidaying in Laos

For those who want to experience unspoilt Asia, Laos is about as close as you can get. Life here has continued in much the same way as it has for hundreds of years; the countryside is pristine, the culture is rich and the locals are among the friendliest in the world.

1. Culture
Although the country has only a small population, Lao culture is not only distinct but also extremely diverse, with at least 48 different ethnic groups There are a number of cultural idiosyncrasies that visitors to Laos should observe. This includes greeting others with your palms together and a slight bow of the head, and removing your shoes when entering a religious building or someone’s home. It is also good practice to dress discretely, especially when visiting religious monuments in Laos.

 2. Main attractions
Many people come to Laos to experience the laid-back lifestyle, but there are plenty of incredible and relatively unknown attractions that leave visitors in awe.
The ancient capital, Luang Prabang, is a World Heritage site famous for its historic temples and beautiful setting. Meanwhile the country’s modern day capital, Vientiane, is home to the national symbol, the gilded stupa of Pha That Luang. The mind-boggling Plain of Jars region near Phonsaven is also a must-see for tourists, with its mysterious jar-like relics scattered across the fields. There are also plenty of options for adventure travellers including Vang Vieng and Luang Namtha.

 Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang
3. Getting around
There are plenty of ways to get around Laos, whether it be for the pleasure of seeing the countryside, or about getting from A to B. More than 4600km of navigable rivers meander through Laos, with the longest and most important route being the Mekong river..

4. Cuisine 
Lao cuisine can best be described as fresh, spicy and often quite bitter. Rice is the staple, with raw vegetables and fresh herbs also frequently used. The national dish is laap, which is a kind of salad made with minced meat, mixed herbs, plenty of spice, lime juice and blistering amounts of chilli. Another favourite is tam maak hung, a spicy green papaya salad dressed with fermented crab and an intense fish sauce. There is also plenty of imported food, with French baguettes stuffed with pate, and foe noodles from China being popular snacks.
The national drink, Beerlao, distinguishable by its yellow logo and tiger-head silhouette, can be found everywhere and has reached an almost cult status among travellers. Another popular drink is Lao kaafeh (coffee), grown on the Bolaven Plateau in the country’s south. Travellers should steer clear of the tap water, though, and buy the bottled water instead.

5. When to visit
The best time to visit most of Laos is between November and February, when the rain eases and the climate is comfortable. This time also represents the peak tourist and festival season and it’s advisable to book ahead. November is the best time for those wanting to travel extensively by river, as the flooding has usually subsided but the river levels are still high.

 6. Safety 
Despite being one of the poorer nations of the world, Laos is a very safe place to travel around. Petty crime such as bag snatching is a bit of a problem in the capital Vientiane, but is not widespread. Also, clients should be made aware that it is a legal requirement to carry an identification document or passport at all times, and fines for not having one for presentation on demand can be high.