There are no words to describe the beauty that is Laos. This small country nestled in the heart of indochina is without a doubt the least developed country that I have been to in my life - but the lack of economic development also means that it's breathtaking scenery and mountainous landscapes remain largely untouched. Entering Laos was like stepping back in time (80% of the Laotian population still practices subsistence agriculture). Recently, however, tourism has begun to grow in the region, making it a new "hot spot" for backpackers, largely for its relaxed lifestyle and for retaining a sense of "original" Asia, a sense which has been lost in other areas infiltrated by mass tourism.
The past week in this country has been incredible; from riding an elephant to tubing down a party river, Laos has enveloped me in its warm embrace, and it is heartbreaking to have to say goodbye. After disembarking from the slow boat in Pak Beng, we spent one night in this small village perched high on the banks of the Mekong river. Although it consists of only one main road, we managed (as always) to make our own fun by partying all night at the only bar in the entire rural village, Hive Bar.
The next day was probably one of the most memorable days of my life. First, we woke up at 4:00 am to witness - and take part in! - the daily tradition of giving alms to the monks. Since monks do not make any money to buy food, they rely solely on the generous donations of the villagers. This white rice consists of their only meal throughout the day. After, we went to the Kuang Si waterfalls, where we spent a couple of hours jumping from the top of the falls, swinging from trees, and enjoying the crystal clear waters of the natural pools. As if the day couldn't get any better, in the afternoon, we went to ride elephants!! This has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember. Seeing these majestic animals was one of the highlights of my trip so far - and getting to ride on it's bare back through the jungle was unreal! At night, we were all exhausted and completely in awe of the amazing day we just had (is this real life???) Of course, we had to finish off the perfect day with some beers at Utopia - literally, a backpacker heaven.
Getting off the slow boat in Pak Beng, Laos
Pak Ou cave temple
Pak Ou cave temple in Laos
Thousands of Buddhas at the Pak Ou cave temple
For the next couple of days, we made our way through the picturesque village of Luang Prabang. As an introduction to this UNESCO listed heritage site, we biked around the town, stopping a couple of times along the way to visit temples and to sample some of the local delicacies. Along the river, we stopped at a little makeshift stand selling SNAKE whisky. Yes, you read that right. The whisky is made by fermenting snakes in a bottle. Apparently, the Laotians believe it gives them strength and virility. I, on the other hand, think that all I got from it was a horrible after taste and a crazy headache for the ride back. After the effects of the snake whiskey had worn off, me Kristian, Dave and Aidan went to hike up Mount Phou Si, a 100m-high hill in the centre of Luang Prabang. Bordered on one side by the Mekong river and on the other side by the Nam Khan River, it is a local religious site housing several Buddhist shrines. The hike is by no means hard - but factor in a steep hill, 100 degree heat and 100% humidity, and it becomes one of the most arduous tasks in the world. Finally at the top though, you will be rewarded with one of the most breathtaking views - the sight of the orange-topped buildings, of the lush green forests and of the life-sourcing rivers makes the hike worth all the while.
Snake whiskey - as gross as it sounds
Our happy faces quickly turned sour after that shot
A man grilling dog by the river in Luang Prabang
Biking through Luang Prabang
A buddhist shrine on the way to the top of Mount Phou Si
The Breathtaking view of Luang Prabang
Drenched in sweat from the hike
Dave, me, Aidan and Kristian at the top of Mount Phou Si, Luang Prabang
A rainbow over Luang Prabang!
Waking up at dusk
Giving alms to the young monks in Luang Prabang
Franciska feeding the elephant bananas
Kuang Si Falls