Welcome to Lane Xang – the Land of a Million Elephants – as the Lao empire was known from 1354-1707. Unfortunately, only about 1,600 elephants remain in Laos, 560 of which are working in the logging industry.
Elephants aside, here are the 7 insider tips about Laos!
MEET (Cool Meet Ups) – Happy Hour Haven. Dyen Sabai a pretty chill restaurant / lounge located in the central Lao city of Luang Prabang. The restaurant overlooks the Nam Khan River and as you sit on the floor cushions you can spy the sunset peeking through the bamboo trees.
In the dry season you get to Dyen Sabai, which is on an island, via a bamboo bridge (25 cents one way toll). In the wet season, you get to take a free raft. Jack Johnson and Norah Jones play on the laid-back soundtrack and you’re given a cool, scented towel to refresh yourself as soon as you’re seated.
I went only once, but could’ve gone each and every night!
EAT (Tasty Eats) – Lao Tasting Platter. The tasting platter consists of:
- green bean salad
- tomato puree with garlic (called mak len and tastes a bit like salsa)
- dried sea weed (called khai pene, and is actually river weed) strips
- roasted eggplant paste (called mak keua)
- fried onions and peanuts as toppings
- jeow bong – a chili paste on the side
The platter is served with sticky rice, which arrives in a traditional bamboo cylinder. You eat the platter goodies with your fingers, taking a bit of rice and dipping it in the surrounding sauces. No soupy or oil-based accompaniments (like coconut / curry) are served, this keep your fingers clean and from contaminating communal food from droppings.
Fun to eat and healthy! Also fun: Lao Lao, liquor made from sticky rice that is 50% alcohol.
SEE (Must-see Sights) – Alms-Giving Ceremony. I so love the Buddhist alms-giving tradition and nightly chanting. I went to the sit outside the temple and listen to the chanting several times = magical as the sun set over the curved temple roofs. To learn more about the alms-giving tradition, read my Travelated.com article alled: “How to Respect the Alms-Giving Tradition.”
SHOP (Gotta Have) – Scrap-metal Bracelets. When I was in Vientiane, I bought a bracelet for 10,000 kip (US$1.20). I have mixed feelings about buying this bracelet.
When I bought it, I was given a card that read: “Our bracelets are made from aluminum that was part of a plane or bomb dropped on our province during the Secret War. After the war someone taught us what to do with the bombs that destroyed our lives. From bombs we made spoons, and now bracelets. We make new meaning from the bombs, which help us escape poverty.”
So, on one hand the villagers are doing something productive –creating new industries and sources of income – from the UXOs (unexploded bombs).
On the other hand, these new industries are creating a market for UXOs that is encouraging the poor (and many children) to search for the bomb to then sell as scrap metal. This is so incredibly dangerous! At least 1 person every day dies in Laos from an UXO.
What do you think? p.s. Bracelets can be ordered at firstname.lastname@example.org – What are your thoughts?
ACTIVITY (Gotta Do) – Visit an Elephant Sanctuary. My time at the elephant camp was a totally memorable experience – both good and bad! I have to say though, it is one of the top three adventures I had during my 3-month tour of Indochina. Read all about it in “How to Ride an Elephant.”
GIVE (Greatest Need) – UXOs. Laos’s greatest need is without a doubt the terrible legacy of the UXO bombs (unexploded ordinances leftover from the U.S. bombing campaign during 1965-1974. Here’re just a few of the frightening facts:
- Laos is the world’s most heavily bombed area in the world.
- The U.S. flew 580,000 bombing missions over Laos.
- 2 million tons of ordinances were dropped during a 10-year period.
- More bombs were dropped in Laos, then during the entire WWII.
- Of all the bombs that were dropped, 30% — or 80 million bomb clusters — remain unexploded.
- Only 0.56% of all UXOs have been removed in Laos.
I’m a fiercely patriotic American, but during my visit to the UXO Museum in Luang Prabang, Laos, I was ashamed of my country for the first time. Not because only because we dropped the bombs in the first place, but also because we have failed to sign the international Convention on Cluster Munitions (neither has Russia or China).
The International Convention on Cluster Munitions bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions and places obligations on countries to clear affected areas, assist victims and destroy stockpiles. To read who has signed: www.stopclustermunitions.org/treatystatus
For more info on the UXO crisis, visit: www.uxolao.gov.la
ENJOY (Extra Fun) – Lao Massage. I had 2 in one week because why should you limit your own decadence? Especially when they were only about $6 each. Heaven!
Have you ever been to Laos? What did you like best?