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Tourism Review Online Magazine - Destination Laos


Laos – a country of stunning nature and resilient people. More and more tourists discover this landlocked Asian nation and its UNESCO sites, urban landmarks and unique shrines.

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 InspIratIon: the Colorful laos

                      Laos – a country of stunning
                      nature and resilient people.
                      More and more tourists dis-
                      cover this landlocked asian
                      nation and its unESCO sites,
                      urban landmarks and unique
                                                                                               DESTINATION       in s p i r a t i o n : t h e c o l o r f u l l a o s

            laOs – tHe jeWel Of tHe mekOng
A landlocked country nestled between Thai-
land, Vietnam, Cambodia, China and Myanmar;
Laos is often overlooked on the generic tour-
ist trip to South East asia. This said, in the last
few years more and more people are choosing
Laos as their magical new destination, one of
the few countries in the region that remains
unspoilt by modern development, political
tensions and pollution. a country where bud-
dhist beliefs and traditions are still genuinely
practiced where more than 48 ethnic minori-
ties with diverse dress and traditions can be
seen authentically going about their daily rou-
tines and the last place that still truly feels like
the romantic former Indochina.
  Luang Prabang is by far the most popular
and fastest growing destination in Laos usu-
ally stealing the travelers’ heart upon arrival.
Encircled by mountains and located between
the Mekong and nam Kham rivers the former
royal capital and unESCO world Heritage site
features a majestic blend of gilded temples,
decadent French colonial architecture and
breathtaking natural scenery. It is resplendent
of early 20th century Indochina and attracts a
number of high end tourists due to its natu-
ral beauty, the many fine French restaurants,
wine bars and deluxe boutique hotels. Luang            stunning temples and peaceful scenery is by        for tubing, bars and caves and set amongst a
Prabang is also a popular destination for those        environmentally friendly Electrical bicycle.       striking mountainous panorama. Phonsavan is
seeking nature and soft adventure with many              Tourists choosing to travel by land from Luang   home to the mysterious Plain of jars, a huge
activities such as kayaking, elephant riding,          Prabang to the Laos capital of Vientiane usually   archaeological complex covered by plenty
trekking and biking located nearby the town,           opt to do so stopping overnight at either Vang     2000 year old stone jars sized from 70 cm up
not to forget the beautiful waterfalls and his-        Vieng or Phonsavan. Vang Vieng is a laid back      to 3 or 4 meters. Their origin is unknown, it
toric Pak Ou Caves. a great way to visit the           town popular with backpackers and famous           seems that they were carved into boulders,

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                                                                                           DESTINATION   in s p i r a t i o n : t h e c o l o r f u l l a o s

several researches lead by the French archae-      try as ‘Heaven on Earth’ and regret not hav-
ologist Madeleine Colani in the 1930’s suggest     ing included more time in Laos when planning
that they could be old graves, but presently it    their trip they did not know just how beauti-
stays an enigma. The Laos Capital itself is not    ful it is before they arrived as there is limited
hugely popular tourist destination but does        information provided online or in travel bro-
offer some interesting activities for niche mar-   chures and magazines promoting Laos.
kets including an exploration into buddhism          another challenge Laos tourism faces is that
and orchid trekking.                               it is a land locked country with no major air-
  another choice destination is Pakse in the       port and therefore dependent on its neighbors
south, an interesting small town with some         and transit cities such as bangkok and Hanoi
colonial and Chinese buildings and a huge          for people to access the country.
local market selling fresh food. Pakse is close      as the country continues to grow and more
to most of the main attractions in Southern        people are exposed via different media to its
Laos including; the prestigious pre-angkorian      charm and beauty Laos is sure to attract more
temples of wat Phou, the bolaven Plateau and       travelers and tourists looking for a unique
its coffee plantations and waterfalls as well as   experience or just to relax and enjoy the archi-
the quiet and relaxing 4000 islands.               tecture and nature of this timeless country.
  The biggest challenge for tourism growth in
Laos is that it does not have any land marks       by Georgie Walsh (Exotissimo Travel Laos, Product
to make it a ‘must visit’ destination. whilst      Manager)
most people who do visit describe the coun-

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                           DESTINATION   in s p i r a t i o n : t h e c o l o r f u l l a o s

     tOurism industry:           The Lao government has put forward a num-
                                 ber of incentive policies for the tourist indus-
                                 try in 2010 and increased its investment in the

   develOPment and fees
                                 sector in an effort to raise the number of visi-
                                 tors to the country.
                                   In 2009, the Lao government approved 16
                                 projects for restaurants and hotels with a total
                                 investment of 44 million uSD.
                                   The number of businesses investing in restau-
                                 rants and hotels has substantially increased,
                                 placing the tourism sector in the top five sec-
                                 tors to receive the largest amount of invest-
                                 ment in Laos, totaling 235 million uSD during
                                 the 2001-2009 period. at present, Laos has 357
                                 hotels and over 1,120 resorts and restaurants.
                                   In addition to investing in upgrading its
                                 infrastructure and making it easier for tour-
                                 ists to visit the country, the Lao government
                                 has also recently exempted visas for citizens
                                 from japan, the Republic of Korea, Russia and
                                 almost all aSEan countries. The country is also
                                 considering visa exemptions for tourists from
                                 European countries.
                                   However according to a business plan of the
                                 recently established Lao Tourism Marketing
                                 board the authorities intend to charge tour-
                                 ists up to uS$2 a visit to finance its overseas
                                 promotions. a provisional non-elected board
                                 has been appointed which will introduce to
                                 the Lao travel industry a business model and a
                                 proposed strategy to charge tourists to finance
                                 its promotions.
                                   The decision to charge tourists as much as
                                 uS$2 to underwrite overseas marketing pro-
                                 grammes still requires government legislation
                                 to approve a collection process and ensure

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                                                          DESTINATION   in s p i r a t i o n : t h e c o l o r f u l l a o s

                  the funds can be legally passed on to the
                    based on 2009 tourism data, Laos attracted
                  2,008,363 million tourists, which would give
                  the board an annual promotion budget of
                  uS$4,016,760 million, less collection costs.
                  Fees would be collected at all international air
                  and land immigration checkpoints.
                    Travel associations such as the Pacific asia
                  Travel association and IaTa, which represents
                  airlines, worldwide, both criticize governments
                  for adding taxes and fees to travel costs claim-
                  ing the practice discourages travel.


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       vientiane city:                                                                               livestock in some of the best alluvial lowlands
                                                                                                     of Laos. before 1975 the city was the principal
                                                                                                     stock shipping and slaughtering centre of the

    temPles and museums
                                                                                                        Since the shift in the country's import trade
                                                                                                     from Vietnam to Thailand, Vientiane has
                                                                                                     replaced Pakse to the southeast as Laos's prin-
                                                                                                     cipal port of entry. nowadays, Vientiane with
                                                                                                     a population of 464,000 and an area of 180
                                                                                                     square kilometers, is the center of culture,
                                                                                                     commerce and administration in Laos. Street
                                                                                                     signs are mostly written in Lao script only.
                                                                                                     The main streets in the central district are: Th
                                                                                                     Samsenthai, which is the main shopping area,
                                                                                                     Th Setthathirat , where several of the most
                                                                                                     famous temples are located and Th Fa ngunn,
                                                                                                     which runs along the river . To the southeast
                                                                                                     is the mostly local residential district of Sisat-
                                                                                                     tanak and to the west is the similarly residen-
                                                                                                     tial Sikhottabong. among the landmarks are:

                                                                                                      tHat luang stuPa (great sacred
                                                                                                       Originally built in 1566 by King Saysethathi-
                                                                                                     rath, That Luang Stupa was rebuilt in 1953.
                                                                                                     The golden stupa stands 45 meters tall and
Vientiane City was founded during the late 13th   in succession the seat of the French governor
century, and in the mid-16th century the capi-    and the French administrative capital.
tal of the Lao kingdom (a state known as Lane       Vientiane still has some of its older wooden
xang) was moved to Vientiane from its previous    structures, despite its government offices, for-
traditional location at Luang Prabang. In 1778    eign embassies, and schools. Its modern indus-
Vientiane came under Siamese control; in 1828     tries include brewing, lumber processing, and
it was sacked and destroyed when the subject      the manufacture of brick, tile, textiles, ciga-
Laotian king revolted against Siamese hege-       rettes, matches, detergents, plastic bags, rub-
mony. From 1899 to 1953, with the exception of    ber sandals, and iron and steel. The Lao farm-
the japanese occupation in 1945, Vientiane was    ers of the surrounding area tend rice, corn, and

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                                                                                             DESTINATION       in s p i r a t i o n : t h e c o l o r f u l l a o s

is believed to contain a relic of Lord buddha.
Today it is the nation’s most important cultural
monument. Symbolizing the coming together
of all Lao people it holds a special place in
the national psyche. The gold colored cen-
terpiece of this stupa echoes the curve of an
elongated Lotus bud. The shrine is the focus
for the annual That Luang Festival. The festival
is celebrated for 7 days and nights during the
twelfth full moon of the buddhist lunar calen-
dar where monks are presented with flower
offerings and residents enjoy traditional cul-
tural performances

          HO Pra keO museum
  Previously the ancient temple, it was built
in 1565 by King Saysethathirath to house the
Emerald buddha (lost to the Siamese in 1828)
as his personal place of worship. For this rea-
son and unlike other temples in Laos, monks
have not taken up residence here. During the
1970’s the temple was converted from a place
of worship into a museum and it now houses
nation’s finest collection of buddhist sculpture
and artifacts

          Wat sisaket temPle
                                                      6,840 buddha images. Ho Trai is a hall contain-   tecture was inspired by the arc de Triomphe
  This temple is located in the center of the old     ing many buddhist manuscripts, which were         in Paris the design incorporates typical Lao
city and was built in 1818 by King anouvong           published in the 18th century.                    motifs including “Kinnari”, a mythical bird-
and is Vientiane’s oldest remaining temple hav-                                                         woman. Energetic visitors can climb to the top
ing survived the destruction of the city by the                 Patuxay mOnument                        of the monument, which reveals an excellent
Siamese in 1828. The oldest monastery stands                                                            panoramic view of the city.
intact in its original form and certainly is one of     The memorial monument of Patuxay is per-
the most interesting in the country. Inside the       haps the most prominent landmark in the city.
main hall, the courtyard walls house hundreds         It was constructed in its prominent position
of little niches and shelves containing a total of    on Lanexang avenue in 1958. while the archi-

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                                                                                          DESTINATION        in s p i r a t i o n : t h e c o l o r f u l l a o s

                          luang Prabang:
                    tHe sPiritual Heart Of laOs

Luang Prabang is rich in cultural heritage, and   and international authorities, a real motivation     Luang Prabang is situated in the centre of
is known as the seat of Lao culture, with mon-    to preserve this wonderfully serene city. The      northern Laos. The province has a total popu-
asteries, monuments traditional costumes and      title is justified not only by the many beauti-    lation of just over 400,000 that includes 12 dis-
surrounded by many types of nature's beauty.      ful temples, but also by its traditional wooden    tinct ethnic groups. The Khmu are the largest
  In 1995 unESCO declared Luang Prabang a         dwellings, the old colonial style houses and the   ethnic group in the province and make up the
world Heritage Site. This distinction confirms,   natural environment that encases it in a per-      majority (about 44%) of the provincial popula-
through the concerted action of local, national   fect harmony of plant and stone.                   tion. They are a Mon-Khmer speaking people

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                                                                                            DESTINATION        in s p i r a t i o n : t h e c o l o r f u l l a o s

known for their knowledge of the forest, and       to Muang xieng Dong xieng Thong by local             xang broke up into three separate Kingdoms;
they are believed to be the original inhabitants   inhabitants. Shortly thereafter, King Fa ngum        Vientiane, Champasack and Luang Prabang.
of Laos. The Hmong are the second most popu-       accepted a golden buddha image called the              by the late 19th century Luang Prabang was
lous ethnic minority.                              Pha bang as a gift from the Khmer monarchy           under attack by marauding black Flag bandits
  archaeological evidence suggests that Luang      and the thriving city-state became known as          who destroyed many sacred buddha images,
Prabang has been inhabited since at least          Luang Prabang.                                       temples and historical documents. under
8,000 bC. The first Laos kingdom, Lane xang,         Luang Prabang was the capital of Lane xang         King Sisavang Vong (1904-1959) a number of
was founded here in the 14th century by King       until moved to Vientiane in 1545 by King Settha-     restoration and beautification projects were
Fa ngum after he conquered and unified the         thirath (although Luang Prabang remained the         launched, many of which are still evident
lands of modern-day xiengkhouang , the Kho-        country's main religious centre). The city's first   today. French-style buildings began to appear
rat Plateau and Luang Prabang.                     contact with western emissaries occurred in          in the later 1800's, adding to the mixture of
  The city was first reffered to as Muang Swa      the mid 17th century during the reign of King        Lao, Tai-Lue, burmese, Chinese and Tai archi-
and by 1357 the name was again changed             Surigna Vongsa. after his death in 1694, Lane        tecture.

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                                                                                          DESTINATION        in s p i r a t i o n : t h e c o l o r f u l l a o s

                                                                                                     the waterfall, but they can swim in the various
                                                                                                     pools at the bottom. On the road out to Kuang
                                                                                                     Si waterfall, there are a number of villages
                                                                                                     housing traditional hydro-rice mills.
                                                                                                      tad sae falls
                                                                                                       Located 15 kms southeast of Luang Prabang,
                                                                                                     the falls can easily be reached by taxi. The pic-
                                                                                                     turesque journey allows visitors to admire the
                                                                                                     countryside, while the falls themselves are
                                                                                                     small but impressive. It is not unusual for visi-
                                                                                                     tors to have the falls to themselves. Swimming
                                                                                                     is possible in some of the tiered pools and at
                                                                                                     the base of the falls.
                                                                                                      ban PHanOm
               landmarks                            This temple was used to organize the high-         This village, located 4 km to the north of
                                                  est Royal Ceremonies and houses the bones          Luang Prabang, was a former royal weaving vil-
 natiOnal museum
                                                  of King Sisavangvong. The intricate golden         lage, and is now an official tourism village. you
  The national Museum, constructed in 1904,                                                          can view women working on their looms, buy
                                                  facades, colorful murals, glass mosaics and
is laid out in a cruciform shape and accessed                                                        their products and stroll in the village; it can be
                                                  unique three-layered roof make this one of the
from a side entrance. Various royal religions                                                        reached by bicycle or Tuk-Tuk.
objects are displayed in the large entrance       most beautiful temples in asia. The temple is
hall. Many gifts from foreign envoys (includ-     not only the most beautiful in Luang Prabang,
                                                                                                      ban xieng mene
ing a rock from the moon !) and religious and     but arguably one of the most spectacular in
                                                  the entire country. It is a classic example of       Located across the Mekong from Luang Pra-
culture artifacts are on display including the                                                       bang Town in Chomphet District; ban xieng
Phabang (‘ buddha image’), the gold standing      Luang Prabang style during the golden year
                                                  of the Lane xang kingdom and is noted for its      Mene is part of the world Heritage Site and
14th century buddha image from which Luang                                                           offers a glimpse into Lao village life. There are
Prabang derives its name.                         gratefully sloping roof and glass murals.
                                                                                                     several temples worth visiting in the village,
 Wat xieng tHOng                                   kuang si Waterfall                                including Vat Chomphet (visible up on the hill)
                                                    Situated 25 km south of Luang Prabang,           which offers a spectacular view of Luang Pra-
  built during the 16th Century by King Say-                                                         bang Town and the Mekong. ban xieng Mene
setthathirath and completed in 1560. wat          Kuang Si waterfall makes for an excellent day-
                                                  trip. accessible by Tuk –Tuk, minivan, Motor-      is also the starting point for several short walks
xieng Thong temple is one of the most interest-                                                      and bike-rides in the district, as well as longer
ing examples of art and buddhist architecture.    cycle or bicycle. The 650 feet high waterfall is
                                                  at its most picturesque during the wet season      two and three day treks.
The ornate carved and gilded funeral vehicle of
the former king is kept in one of the buildings   however it can be visited year-round. Children
in the temple grounds.                            are not recommended to climb to the top of

februar y, 2011                                                     — 58 —

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