Travel Dates: March 3-7, 2017
Nestled in the center of Southeast Asia, landlocked, with the sleepy Mekong River snaking through sits the country of Laos. It is the most naturally and spiritually beautiful place we’ve visited on our trip. The people are extremely calm and kind. With a population of less than 7 million, the vast majority of which are Buddhist, it’s easy to understand why.
What was difficult to process, however, was learning that the US left around 80 million unexploded bombs scattered across the country in a secret war waged by the CIA. Between 1964 and 1973 the US carpet bombed Laos trying to stop a communist insurgency and smash North Vietnamese supply lines. While the Vietnam War ended over four decades ago, the secret war still claims victims today. You can learn more here.
Accommodations: Belmond La Residence
Our home base for Laos was Luang Prabong, an ancient capital city located on the bank of the Mekong River. Its a peaceful town filled with Buddhist monasteries. On our first day we rose before sunrise to participate in the daily alms-giving. Every morning, locals wake up early to prepare sticky rice for the monks and wait quietly by the roadside with their donations. As the sun rises, hundreds of monks walk the streets and accept these alms in silence. It’s a tradition that dates back to the 14th century and is still going strong today.
We spent the first couple days exploring the ancient city and learning about local culture and history. We were fascinated to learn that it’s tradition for all Laotian boys to enter the monastery sometime between the ages of 8-20. These “novices” commit anywhere from three months to their entire lives (should they continue on to become monks). It’s often a substitute for schooling, so it serves a valuable purpose of providing an education along with teaching Buddhist principles and providing food and housing for kids in need.
One of the natural wonders of Luang Prabong is the Kuang Si Waterfalls, an amazing cascade of turquoise waterfalls in the middle of the jungle. It’s a popular tourist attraction, but if you opt to hike to the top as we did, you can break free of the crowds.
The highlight of Laos for me was the Meditation on the Mekong cruise we did on our last day. The full day cruise took us on an adventure up the Mekong, stopping along the way to mediate in three incredible Buddhist temples. Our mediation guide, Michele, really pushed our meditation muscles, with some sessions lasting nearly an hour…leaving our legs asleep as we struggled to stand up! We also stopped for a picnic lunch on a beach at the base of an enormous limestone cliff. It’s hard to describe the experiences of the day: the calm of meditating in remote temples along the riverside, the warm breeze as we lounged on the boat, the cool water as I swam beneath the limestone cliffs. It was a perfect day…one I’ll always remember.
We ended our trip in Laos with a traditional Baci ceremony. This animist ceremony has been practiced for hundreds of years and involves tying white cotton strings around a person’s wrist and saying a prayer for them. The purpose of the Baci is to bind the 32 guardian spirits to the participant’s body before a long journey. I couldn’t imagine a better way to say goodbye to this extraordinary country and continue on with our honeymundo.