Well, the simple answer is why not. But for those looking for reasons, I can list a few. The list is endless but I am sharing a few from my travelogue. I happened to be in Laos during summer, may be not the best time, but I had my own reasons. So let’s start this discussion with the question whn should one travel to Laos.
When is it a good time to travel to Laos?
There would be varied responses to this question, starting from the weather, crowded season, not so crowded season, the festive season, adventure season and more. However, few things should be kept in mind while planning a trip to Laos. It is a large country and has lots to offer in terms of unique experiences from culture, adventure, history, and heritage. Hence, it is important that one plans the travel days accordingly. Secondly, while there are airports in all key cities , the direct connection is available from the larger cities only. Road travel is not very smooth and one must budget for longer travel times. Having said that one could plan the travel basis interest and preferences. Scenic beauty and pleasant weather awaits the nature lovers during November to March and amazing festivals during the summer season for culture vultures.
Laos is a tropical country, the weather, in general, is warm and humid and during monsoon, it rains heavily in Laos. Days are usually warm and sunny. During summer the temperature soars to 40°C, winters are pleasant though with temperature ranging from 15-20°C at night. In the hilly region, winter is a little harsh. May to October beginning is a rainy season and is best avoided. November to March and early April is a good time to visit Laos, weather is great , rivers are full and it is breezy. However, it is also the peak season and hence more expensive and the key towns are very crowded.
While April tends to get warmer in Laos, it is a good time to experience Lao culture because of the number of festivals.
Lao New Year, is around mid-April every year. This is a three-day holiday, which is celebrated across. Towns and villages are lively with streets full of people splashing water on each other and there are big parades in the town of Luang Prabang.
Rocket Festival: The other fun festival is the rocket festival ( Boun Bang Fai) that takes place around early May and is a truly local event. The festival is a call for rain and a celebration of fertility. In the afternoon, people gather in the fields on the outskirts of villages and towns to launch self-made firework rockets. Different communities compete for the best decorated and the highest traveling rocket. Men disguised as women perform vaudeville acts using wooden phalli in order to anger the gods. As revenge, the gods are expected to send thunderstorms.
Some of the other festivals which are not as big as the Lao New year or Rocket Festival but are pretty interesting are mentioned below
Elephant Festival (Sayabouli)
Fifty elephants are walking around for 3 days in the streets of the small provincial town of Sayaboury. A large market takes place for the occasion with all kind of local (or Thai) products.
The Elephant Festival is organised to raise awareness to protect the Asian elephant as part of the cultural and natural heritage of Laos and the neighbouring countries of the region. In Sayaboury, elephants are sacred.
Wat Phou Festival
Wat Phou, Champassak is the most famous Hindu temple complex built in Laos under the Khmer Empire. It is a UNESCO heritage site. Ancient stone inscriptions found at the complex, describe that it was first built in the 5th century. The complex is enormous and includes several large reflection pools and statues of various ruling kings. All these figures are designed to reflect the ethos of goodness and strength behind the Khmer Empire.
Wat Phou festival or Boun Wat Phou is celebrated on the 15th day of the 3rd month of Lao lunar calendar to commemorate all those who have contributed to this wonder of ancient architecture. Based on traditional Buddhist practices, the festival is held for either three days and three nights or seven days and seven night. It hosts displays of traditional music, dance, sports and a variety of local produce. On the final day, senior dignitaries and religious figures from around the country, come to take part in a traditional Tak Bat (alms giving ceremony). The festival also includes a parade of elephant or horses, a crafts fair and demonstrations of ancient traditions passed down by generations of people living off the surrounding land.
What are few things not to be missed in Laos other than Festivals and natural beauty?
The tradition of silk weaving in Laos, is over 1000 years old and has been handed over from mother to daughter for generations. The royal courts influenced the styles of silk weaving in distant villages and the designs have made their way into local weaving. Silk textiles of specific design are still worn today during ceremonies marking birth, puberty, marriage, death, or the elevation of a person’s social status. In Laos, textiles play an important role in healing rituals and Buddhist ceremonies. Most of the Laotian weavers use natural colours on the fabric like dye extracted from the indigo plant (producing blue, black and green), mahogany tree (dry earth and brick red), ebony fruit (grey), annatto seeds (orange), jackfruit (yellow) etc. There is a thought even in the designs. Traditional designs and patterns, called motifs include ancient symbols such as diamonds, temples, birds, mythical serpents (Naga), elephants, and other animals as well as flowers. These are not merely ornamental. They have significance offering both status and protection to the owner. The starflower and other geometric designs bring good luck and prosperity. Animal characters are believed to bring fertility and protection, while patterns such as the firestone and spinning tools represent wisdom and creativity.
Fresh vegetables and herbs appear in every Lao meals. Meat and fish are usually grilled or steamed and hence the dishes low in fat. Lao cuisine has many regional variations, partly because of fresh foods local to each region. Sticky rice is a staple food there and is traditionally eaten using fingers. In the countryside, people eat, sitting on the floor. Lao traditional food is dry, spicy and very delicious based on fish, buffalo meat, pork, poultry and especially herbs. It is always freshly prepared and not preserved. Other than sticky rice, which can be eaten either sweet or sour, or fermented, Laotian food is very rich in vegetables. Some of the popular food items is Laos are:
1. Kaipen (fried sea weed) with Jaew Bong, which is made of freshwater green algae, peppered with sesame seeds and sundried into paper-thin sheets. These raw Kaipen are stored away in rolls. For consumption, the Kaipen sheets are flash-fried in a pan and usually served with jaew bong (chilli paste).
2. Khao Poon Nam Jeow: This soup uses all the pork innards. Along with the variety of pork parts, it’s also accompanied by a garden variety of vegetables such as thinly sliced bamboo shoots, banana flower, cabbage, and green papaya.
3. Lao Sausage (sai oua): Chopped pork meat, seasoned with herbs such as lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and flavoured with fish sauce is served with sticky rice and fresh vegetables.
4. Sin Savanh (Lao Beef Jerky): Sundried beef strips, consumed with Beer Lao or as a snack.
5. Khao Jee Sandwich (Baguette Sandwich): filled with lettuce, sliced tomatoes, carrot, onion and optional cheese, pork lmeat, chopped ham and topped with pâté or chili sauce.
6. Khao Piak Sen: Almost the official breakfast of Vientiane, It is served in two main styles of broth. A pork or chicken broth. It’s served with a sticky white noodle that comes in regular or thick size.
7. Tam Mak Houng or papaya salad: Papaya salad is a type of salad made from sliced raw papaya, garlic, chilli, peanuts, sugar, fermented fish sauce and lime juice.
8. Khao Poon (Rice Vermicelli Soup): Lao noodle soup, made with long-simmered chili-and-meat-based soup (e.g. fish, pork, chicken). This soup is ladled on the cooked rice vermicelli and a bed of chopped up vegetables such as shallots, spring onion, coriander, etc
9. Khao Poon Nam Sin: This is a dark hearty soup with chunks of beef and tendon boiled until tender. Bamboo shoots adds a slightly sour flavor to balance the dark meaty soup. It’s accompanied by thin rice noodles
10. Pho: Originally from Vietnam can be found everywhere in Laos, featuring thin slices of beef, pork, or chicken, with choice of noodle (e.g. flat or thin rice noodle) and a handful of greens
Whatever be your reason to travel, Laos continues to surprise travellers with its host of experiences. Now on to a few tips on What to pack while travelling to Laos?
First point is that packing would depend on the time of travel and also as important would be what is your interest area , whether it is nature, adventure, culture etc. During summers light cotton clothes are the best, and remember to include some shirts with sleeves and trousers or sarongs if you plan to visit temples. If you are travelling during the Lao new year, the water splashing activity would be across and you might need to change more often. During winters thicker clothes, jackets are recommended. A raincoat or an umbrella will be needed in the rainy season and many people use an umbrella as a sunshade in the hot season. Laundry wash is very reasonable in Laos so one can travel light. While any comfortable walking shoes are OK for the Laos climate, sandals are great, during hot season and/or on a cultural visit. You will need to take your shoes off when entering temples and often in people’s houses. For the adventure seekers, the right kind of all weather hiking shoe is a must
Hope I have been able to create some intrigue about this amazing country and its people.