Business Cum Pleasure Trip To Laos
I was with my fashion model girlfriend when I took a business with pleasure trip to Laos. Our fashion magazine sent us on assignment to do a photo shoot at the Wat temples and at the same time tour this country that lies at the heart of Southeast Asia. Laid-back, interesting architecture and friendly people is how I define Laos. It’s an enchanting place that captured my curiosity and amusement from beginning to end.
After a thirty five hour flight via China Eastern Airlines, we arrived from JFK International Airport to Wattay International Airport in Vientiane, the capital city of Laos. Our seven day adventure begins with a tour of the largest capital city, Vientiane. We learned a lot about Laos’ war history during the 1960’s to 1970’s at the COPE Visitor Centre. The entrance is free and donations go to the COPE project for disabled Laotians victimized by the mines and bombs used during the military war. It was heartwarming to know that all the proceeds go to a worthy cause and benefits the disabled people of Laos. We were guided to exhibits depicting the images of war lead by the Pathet Lao Communist rebels. There was also a film showing near the end of the tour, a very informative museum. I bought war books at the small gift shop found in the center, while my girlfriend bought shirts and postcards.
We settled for some homemade ice cream at its famous Karma Café, before leaving I dropped an envelope with my humble donation to their designated donation box at the cashier to support their cause. We had a thrill when we rode a tuk tuk, a motorcycled wagon that can seat four to six people used to easily go around Vientiane. Our tuk tuk driver brought us to the Lao Experiences, where we joined four other tourists to prepare a hearty dinner at this cooking school located along the Mekong River. I mastered making sticky rice and 5 Laotian dishes with the help of my new foreign friends and we enjoyed our sumptuous meal in the garden facing the river. For our nightcap we enjoyed the famous Laos Coffee and fruit pies at the Full Moon Café. What a great way to end our first day in Laos!
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The next day we head off for a photo shoot at the Wat Si Saket Temple, a temple with Buddha’s covered in gems and gold. Wonderful background and composition, I truly admire the upturned nose Buddha’s found inside the complex. Considered as one of the oldest temples in Laos, it is both a national museum and historical landmark. We also checked out the Monks’ Monastery inside the compound, as we wandered and enjoyed its tranquility. Afterwards we visited the nearby Buddha Park (Xiang Khouan), which lies about 12 miles or 20 kilometers from the center of Vientiane. The grounds contain many Hindu, as well as Buddhist sculptures. The park was built during the 1950’s to honor both of these religions and their philosophies.
From here we took a bus that passed along the Friendship Bridge to get to the next attraction The Great Sacred Stupa (Pha Tat Luang), I was wowed by this magnificent structure which has a gilded gold stupa. We had more amazing photographs at the Sleeping Buddha. I took marvelous shots of the archway named the Arch de Triumph at the nearby gardens, the place looked enchanting! We saw old but enormous paintings inside the Language Building. We explored every building inside this photogenic temple complex. From behind this complex we went to shop for some souvenirs at the mini market.
Later in the afternoon, we learned how to weave and make tie-dyed shirts at the Houey Hong Vocational Training Center for Women. I learned how to build a loom and make patterned tie dyed scarves all in a day! My girlfriend enjoyed her lessons and she bought more handmade silk wraps from her tutor. Outside I saw women carrying baskets full of raw cotton. From them I learned that cotton grows well in Laos’ tropical climate and is one of the country’s most important crops. The hard working women farmers either sell or use it to make their own clothes. I admire the Laotian women who worked the whole day on the farm and in a loom just to make a living.
After here we head to the Mekong Riverside Park where we rented bikes to explore around this old park. I took photographs of the statue of Chou Anouvong and learn the significance of this national hero in Laos’ history. We biked up to the Mekong Riverside Walkway and saw Thailand from across the river. When we reach the nearby village we saw farmers panning for gold in the Mekong River. They said if they are lucky they can find small amounts of gold which they can sell for a little extra income. Most of the farmers cultivate corn, rice, coffee and tobacco. Others work in the forests, which yields valuable wood such as teak. They used trained elephants to move the big tree trunks to a waiting truck that will bring the wood to manufacturers of furniture. Another source of income for the country is the Mekong Hydroelectric Power Plant, which is generated by a dam in Mekong River and sold to Thailand.
We spent two days in the small town of Luang Prabang that lies in the valley of the Mekong River. This region has an extremely dry climate. However, the land in the river valley is very fertile and crops such as rice and corn are more grown here. In this region we visited the Buddhist temple called Phu Si; found on top of a steep hill, it is famous for being the temple that is built on the site of a footprint made by the Buddha. Then we checked out the Kuang Si Falls, it is a lovely series of pools under a cascading waterfall. There were so many tourists enjoying a swim and great picnic on its benches. We took a short hike to reach the Bear Rescue Center, and took photographs of about six black bears swimming at one of the enclosed pool. We did not dare miss the opportunity of riding the back of a huge elephant at the Elephant Village Sanctuary Day Trips; it was such a thrill riding on their warm backs for an hour. The tour starts from the forest where we feed the behaved elephants with bananas, and down to the river where we gave them a bath. Our guide took tons of photographs of us on top of the elephant, at the same time we enjoyed the view of the picturesque sights beside the river.
After this we rented a motorbike to visit the Tad Thong Waterfall, it is one of the highest falls in Luang Prabang. We enjoyed the Nature Jungle Walk and admire its rich biodiversity of flora and fauna. The trails were paved in stone paths and very clean. We had lunch at the small restaurant there and swam in the lake to beat the summer heat. From here we kayaked down the river to get to the Tad Sae Waterfalls, it is a shallow fall where we swam along with the elephants. Then we signed a waiver and got properly harnessed to enjoy the Zip Line with a great view of the whole river and the high treetops. It was fun!
Our last day was spent with a great photo shoot at the Golden City Temple (Wat Xieng Thong); the lovely architecture provides a good background for my model. It complements the classic design and mystical allure of the place. I was in awe of the intricate mosaic art and designs on its façade. The interior was equally stunning. It has a holy ambience once we settled inside to pause from our work and leisure in Laos.
It may be a country deprived of modern amenities but it is rich in spiritual attractions and natural resources. Everyone we met was kind and helpful. I am looking forward to visit Laos again.