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Guide to Laos?
The lesser-known, land-locked neighbour of Thailand,
Burma and Cambodia, Laos is establishing itself as an essential
stop on the Southeast Asian trek. While there are strong signs of
its French colonial past and more shadowy recent history in the
quiet and sleepy capital Vientiane (Viangchan), much of the country
remains fundamentally unchanged by the passing of time, and that's
Luang Prabang with its spectacular skyline of Buddhist temples,
tiers and peaked roofs was the royal capital of the first Lao kingdom
(Lan Xang, or One Million Elephants), founded in the 14th century,
and is now the capital of the country's tourism business. It's a
spectacular and atmospheric place, which you can view from above
by climbing the 100 metre rocky outcrop, Phu Si. Trails, boat trips,
forests, cave temples, waterfalls and river pools ideal for swimming
can all be accessed easily from a base at Luang Prabang.
The country around Vientiane and up and down the Mekong river is
also worth exploring. Laos has been overlooked by the western world
for so long that everything from the cultural diversity and spirituality
of the Lao people, the traditional stilt bamboo houses, the rice
fields, the bicycle traffic and food from street vendors holds new
fascination. The nearby fields soon give way to jungle around Tad
Leuk, as well as the great Nam Ngum lake - the ideal place for rest
and relaxation after cultural immersion.