My first solo travel experience was a 40th birthday treat to myself. In 2009 I plucked up the courage to spend a month alone in South East Asia – Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The trip became a defining moment in my life. It rekindled my wanderlust and I spent a glorious month exploring this fascinating region.
My favourite of the three countries was Laos – a destination that is mostly overlooked by those who travel to the region. I arrived in Luang Prabang (a UNESCO World Heritage site) without an itinerary and loved it so much I stayed a full week. The French colonial architecture mixed with Buddhist elements is mesmerizingly beautiful. The people are so lovely and gentle. The food is fascinating, fiery-hot and delicious. I could easily have stayed another week and still not run out of things to do.
Here’s my suggested itinerary for a week in Luang Prabang.
Day 1: Get your bearings. Rise at the crack of dawn to watch the orange clad Buddhist monks collecting alms. Feel humbled by the reverence with which the locals treat the monks. Spend the day strolling around town. As you wander poke your nose into temples (wats), listen to the chanting monks and breath in the heady incense aromas.
Stop at a pavement café for a cappuccino or refreshing salad as you watch the world go by. Soothe your aching travel muscles with a $10 massage or treat yourself to a $5 manicure. Or throw caution to the wind and do both!
Visit the exquisite Palace Museum to see how the royal family once lived.
At dinner ease yourself gently into the Laos cuisine unless you are used to spice and heat!
Day 2: Take a full day tour of the Elephant Village (http://www.elephantvillage-laos.com/tours.html) where you’ll be handed a scrubbing brush at the end of the day so you can bath your elephant in the river! If yesterday’s massage wasn’t enough to put you into a semi-coma of relaxation, have another in your own private cabana perched on the banks of the mighty Mekong.
Days 3 & 4: Take a leisurely trip up the Mekong to Kamu Lodge (www.kamulodge.com) a sustainable resort that showcases traditional rural life. It is an eye opening experience. Stay overnight in a luxury tent with en suite bathroom.
By day, shoot a bamboo bow and arrow, learn to cast a fishing net and plough a rice paddy with a water buffalo. You’ll see why the rural life ‘aint easy and why the locals are so slim compared to the average North American. You really have to work for your food!
Day 5: Rent a moped and drive through charming villages and lonely stretches of forest to the Kuang Si waterfalls. Spare a moment to say hi to the bears that live near the falls. They were rescued from Chinese bile farms. Leave a donation if you can. If it is a hot day, spend a glorious afternoon soaking in the blue green crystal clear pools.
Day 6: Begin your day with an early morning trip to the photogenic food market. Then take a daylong cooking class.
Plan to impress your friends back home with a Laos feast of flavours they have likely never tasted. Some ingredients may be hard to get when you return home so either purchase them before you leave or ask the teachers to suggest substitutions. Spend the evening poking around the night market for souvenirs to take home to your envious friends.
Day 7: You’ll be sad to leave this beautiful town and will vow to return one day!
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