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Laos - Meet the Locals

By Wilkin Kroon

Laos is the sort of destination that offers people the chance to get off the beaten track and experience a different style of travel. If your reason for travelling is to meet the locals and learn about their culture, then Laos is the place for you. Rather than flopping back on a lounge chair on the beach, Laos offers experiences like home stays with mountain tribe people, or helping the elephant keepers take care of the elephants.

The best place to start a holiday in Laos would be to arrive in the capital city Vientiane. There is a huge French influence in Laos due to French occupation until the mid 1950's. Cities like Vientiane and Luang Prabang to the north have long wide boulevards and French baguettes are sold from corner cafes. From Vientiane, head north to Luang Prabang and us this town as your base for getting to the lesser known areas of the north. Luang Prabang is home to many temples with resident Buddhists, who make up a large percentage of the town's population. One of the highlights of staying in Luang Prabang is to witness the daily Tak Bat, or Alms Offering. The monks walk down the main street at sunrise to collect alms from the townsfolk. You can take a tour which takes you to a nearby temple where you can learn how to make a religious floral alm which you can then give to the monks. This kind of tour offers travellers the change to experience a traditional religious ritual.

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That Luang Festival in Vientiane by Jialiang Gao

From Luang Prabang you can venture to the Nam Khan River to help take care of the elephants. The accommodation out here is pretty basic, but it's all about getting amongst nature and getting the chance to help take care of these beautiful gentle giants. These elephants are living out their golden years in the forests in Northern Laos and you can get up close and personal helping the Mahouts (elephant keepers) wash and feed them. With a bucket and a large stiff scrubbing brush you'll get in the water and clean the thick skin of the elephant. This experience is so much fun, the elephants love it and afterwards the memory will stay with you forever.

Walking distance from where the elephants are is the Khmu village, and while walking here you may come across the local village people carrying rice or fresh produce to the market. Remember to bring small items like pens, coloured pencils and notebooks for the local kids - they love it and are often excited to see guests at their village. It's definitely an advantage to go with a guide as English is not spoken and a guide would be able to translate for you.

Village school kids by Masae

Another experience to get to know the locals of Laos is to go to the mountains and stay a night of two in a village. Luang Namtha is a village located about eight hours drive north of Luang Prabang and offers the best experience of rural life. A trip here allows you to really get off the beaten track and discover this relatively untouched part of Laos. The best idea is to use Luang Namtha as your base and trek through the Nam Ha Pa, which is a protected nature reserve area. Here you can meet the people of the Akha village, known for their colourful traditional dress, or the people of the Black Tai village who are known for their hand woven silks. You can also taste their home-made Lao whiskey if you dare - not for the faint hearted though!

These types of holiday experiences give you the opportunity to learn about the real culture of Laos and will create lasting memories of the hospitality and friendliness of the locals.

If you like Laos a lot better now, you might consider visiting for a nice independent Laos holiday.

Author: Wilkin Kroon

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