At first glance, Laos may appear to be nothing more than a
mountainous, slow-moving and lightly populated country isolated from
many of the changes taking place elsewhere in Southeast Asia. With a
strong traditional Buddhist culture, and a noticeable French influence,
Laos is one of the most intriguing countries in the region, one that
actually limits tourism as a matter of policy, to ensure that places
such as Luang Prabang remain unspoiled. With small, charming,
comfortable hotels with teakwood floors, locally woven fabrics and the
ambience of another century, Laos is one of the best places to visit
for travelers searching for somewhere off the beaten path. For an
unforgettable Laos vacation, Let Tourism Indochina assist you in
organizing all your Laos travel packages, holidays and tours.
Situated at the confluence of the Khan and the Mekong Rivers in the middle of the northern Laos is Luang Prabang, ancient capital city of the Lane Xang Kingdom during 13 to 15th centuries. Lane Xang - the kingdom that, over six hundred years ago, spread throughout present day Laos, southern China and northeastern Thailand. The name of Luang Prabang is derived from the kingdom's palladium - the gold Phra Bang Buddha.
The Phra Bang, an 83cm, gold image of Buddha dispelling fear, was cast in Sri Lanka between the 1st and 9th centuries. It arrived in Lane Xang from Angkor in 1353 after its king, Fa Ngum, asked his father-in-law, Jayavarman Paramesvara, the Khmer king, to help him spread Theravada Buddhism throughout his new kingdom. It became the kingdom's palladium, and remains a revered devotional object of the Lao people. While housed in Vientiane, Siamese invaders twice looted the Phra Bang, in 1778 and 1827, and it was twice returned, as the Siamese king believed it would bring bad luck to his country.
Returned to Luang Bang in 1867, the palladium managed to survive the collapse of that kingdom and the city's subsequent sacking by Chinese Haw raiders in the 1890s. However, despite its tenacious relationship with Laos, the Phra Bang's whereabouts today are somewhat vague. It is reportedly locked in a deep vault and is brought out only during religious festivals. However, rumour has it that this Phra Bang is a fake and that the Pathet Lao traded the country's palladium for Soviet assistance during the seventies revolution.
Nowadays, Luang Prabang is a small, peaceful town with a remarkably well-preserved combination of Lao and colonial French architecture, which led to UNESCO World Heritage designation in 1995.
The town was founded during the late 13th century, and in the mid-16th century the capital of the Lao kingdom (a state known as Lane Xang) was moved to Vientiane from its previous traditional location at Luang Prabang . In 1778 Vientiane came under Siamese control; in 1828 it was sacked and destroyed when the subject Laotian king revolted against Siamese hegemony. From 1899 to 1953, with the exception of the Japanese occupation in 1945, Vientiane was in succession the seat of the French governor and the French administrative capital.
Vientiane still has some of its older wooden structures, despite its government offices, foreign embassies, and schools. Its modern industries include brewing, lumber processing, and the manufacture of brick, tile, textiles, cigarettes, matches, detergents, plastic bags, rubber sandals, and iron and steel. The Lao farmers of the surrounding area tend rice, corn , and livestock in some of the best alluvial lowlands of Laos. Before 1975 the city was the principal stock shipping and slaughtering centre of the country.
Since the shift in the country's import trade from Vietnam to Thailand, Vientiane has replaced Pakse to the southeast as Laos's principal port of entry. Nowadays, Vientiane with a population of 464000 and an area of 180 square kilometers, is the center of culture, commerce and administration in Laos. Street signs are mostly written in Lao script only. The main streets in the central district are : Th Samsenthai, which is the main shopping area, Th Setthathirat , where several of the most famous temples are located and Th Fa Ngunn, which runs along the river . To the southeast is the mostly local residential district of Sisattanak and to the west is the similarly residential Sikhottabong.
Located in far northern Laos, Luang Namtha borders China and Myanmar, therefore it has been a crossroads of commerce and also a meeting point for different cultures in Southeast Asia. This mountainous region is populated by over twenty ethnic groups, making it the most ethnically diverse province in Laos. In the remote forested area and mountain sides are living many hill tribe groups such as Khmu, Akha, Hmong, and Yao. In contradiction, the lowland Lao, Tai Lue, Thai Neua and Thai Dam ethnic minority groups prefer to have settled in village outside Nam Ha biodiversity protected area, and in Muang Sing.
Recently opened for tourism, Luang Namtha is one of country 's most attractive destinations. The remoteness, the primeval forest, the wildlife, and the simple life style of hill tribe are a highlight of Luang Namtha although conditions are very basic.
Close to the China border is Muang Sing. This border town is surrounded by undulating mountains, rice fields and rustic hill villages, and one of the most relaxing places in this mountain region. In the early morning, many villagers walk hours to get to the centralto sell their products and buy provisions. Recently, due to the large volume of travelers discovering the charm of the region, the town of Muang Sing became very animated by souvenir vendors, but it is still a good base to see some of the country's most colorful hill tribe groups and do mountain trek. The road conditions in region are very poor , that is why the drive from Luang Namtha town to Muang Sinh may take around 2 hours to complete just 65 km.