VIEWS: 28 PAGES: 10 CATEGORY: Asia POSTED ON: 4/2/2011
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.
Destination 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 shrines. 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, februar y, 2011 — 50 — 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- http://www.exotissimo.com februar y, 2011 — 51 — 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 februar y, 2011 — 52 — 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 LTMb. 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. http://en.vietnamplus.vn http://www.ttrweekly.com februar y, 2011 — 53 — 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 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 country. 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 stuPa) 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 februar y, 2011 — 54 — 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 http://www.tourismindochina.com of little niches and shelves containing a total of on Lanexang avenue in 1958. while the archi- http://www.laotourism.org februar y, 2011 — 55 — 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 februar y, 2011 — 56 — 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. februar y, 2011 — 57 — 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 http://www.tourismlaos.org februar y, 2011 — 58 —
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