So school is over and its time for you to conquer the world by backpacking. Or if the thought of Joe Paperclips and Mike Eraser starts to climb Mount Monitor in Republic of Cubicle starts appearing to you, then you also want to think about discovering diversities of the universe outside that box. What should you do before going backpacking for the first time?1. Start learning some basic languages of the country you’re going. It helps a lot by making it easier to purchase and bargain goods, order foods, and most of all, this knowledge saves you from being cheated. Your trip will go easily if you accept some of the notion of learning some of the language.2. Make a point of trying to embrace new things. Leave the usual western bars later, and go local. Make the point of going somewhere new a life changing experience. You traveled a long way, so you might as well adjust. Embrace the local taste.3. Bring a few keepsakes from home – your favorite music, family photos, souvenirs, and such. Not only that will help you to cope long – distance traveling, but the people you meet will be curious to learn more about you, and the connecting will be much easier. Pictures are one of the best swaps you can exchange for lifetime friendships with new people you encounter.4. If you like to keep a journal or diary, bring one along. If you can play an instrument reasonably good, and it’s not too heavy, you might wish bring that too. You could be the night’s performer at your hostel or campfire, and makes it easier to meet and connect new people.
LAOSPopulation: 5.9 million (UN, 2005)
Area: 236,800 sq km (91,400 sq miles)
Major languages: Lao, French (for diplomatic purposes)
Major religion: Buddhism
Life expectancy: 53 years (men), 56 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 new kip = 100 athThe Lao People’s Republic is one of the, if not the least modernized countries of the Southeast Asia region isolated by the communist government, so poor it makes Cambodia look industrialized. As such, the small country prides on rich culture and heritage as much as its pristine surroundings and solemn traditions. Why Laos? Why now? Why not? This is a place so mysterious, outsiders know next to nothing about it, and it is this potential that makes it so alluring. Travellers who have the privilege to explore this exotic and generally unexplored frontier enjoy this simplicity and solemnity while it lasts until the waves of industrialization taints the truth and ingenuity that is Lao, as it slowly becomes a sought-after tourist destination for the backpacker culture- the details will come soon.GEOGRAPHYLaos (18 00 N, 105 00 E) is a 236,800 km2 small landlocked nation sandwiched between Thailand and Vietnam. The country is the mountainous former Kingdom with thick, plush, and high forests and jungles that shroud the majority of the land. Laos is mostly rugged mountains with the Phou Bia standing atop Laos at an altitude of 2,817 metres above sea level, while the Mekong River, the artery, the lifeline of Laos and of the greater SEA region, sits as the lowest point of the Lao terrain at 70 metres above sea. Lao also comes with only a few plains and plateaus, hence the serpentine rice paddies all across the land hill side.CLIMATEThe climate here is generally tropical monsoon with three seasons: hot from March to May, rainy from June through October, and dry from December through February. The dry season is the high season for travel to Laos simply for the absence of extreme heat or precipitation that can obstruct whatever the traveller’s plans. The extreme heat on April spirals the beyond tolerable temperature to 104 °F, unless the traveler will head up to the mountains.PEOPLELaotian or Lao people are good-natured and generous people who are nice to foreigners for no apparent reason, it is an eye opener, even to, say Americans who are responsible for the 266 million bombs that have taken lives in this war-neutral country over the past 30 or so years. There are around 78 million bombs left unexploded that continue to threaten the lives of locals, where only 400,000 were found and detonated in the last 10 years. That is enough bombs to consistently explode every 9 minutes in 24 hours for 10 years. As an especially peaceful Buddhist nation, none can vex them. Kindness is a more familiar feeling than anger for these people, no BS. The kind of Buddhism in this country which accounts for the religion of 67% of the 6,834,345 population is Theravada, while Christianity is but an incomparable minority with less than 2% of the Laotians. In over 100 ethnic groups, the Lao have the most sizeable 55% or so demographic, then the Khmous and Hmongs, and de facto, LAO is the official language of the state. ENGLISH is growing more priority than the colonial language, FRENCH at the same, a few too many ethnic languages or dialects.CULTURESituated and locked in the middle of the Indochina peninsula, Laos has beheld “crossroads” status. Romantic and mysterious, nice and cool, pristine but very adaptable, terrible past but bright future, simply breathtaking and gets more beautiful by the second, add very low maintenance- could have just described the “ideal” girl, but this is Laos. So if you want to keep coming home to this kind of girl, then Laos is the place for you.The Lao culture is rooted on immense spirituality, particularly Theravada Buddhism with influences extending from architecture to daily living, as goes with the communal practice of alms giving every morning upon sunrise. But Laos, with its recently acquired accolade as the Ney York Time’s best tourist destination in the World, a slow modernization is taking place posing great danger to the solemnity of some rituals such as the aforementioned daily alms giving to monks. For now, the Laotians’ simple life is in control, in balance with the times in absolute no hurry to match the pace of its SEA neighbours.ATTRACTIONSComing to Laos, no travel experience is complete without spending ample to excessive times in historical and sacred edifices. Not to be redundant or cheesy, Laos prides on these imperial and colossal structures that tell the great Lao tale of how it has become. The Pha That Luang, the Great Stupa, the national monument of Laos covered in gold is unprecedented and truly royal. The Buddha Park is also breath-taking and magical with but one phrase to describe it, “out-of-this-world”. Hoi An is perhaps one of the places with the strongest resistance to change, thus its appeal to travellers with the taste for the old and authentic. Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage City, has more adventures in store with tremendous alternatives for fun and information for the independent traveller. The Plain of Jars are also a sought after place, esteemed to be as enigmatic as it is dangerous, for it is a site of undetonated bombs. River Mekong is a natural wonder beyond necessity and importance, it’s downright fun. Lastly, home and paradise to the backpacker culture, there is Vang Vieng, so phenomenal, this, for many, can be the place they see on earth, and to some it happens, for it is the land where the waters are high, and the alcohol flows free. Tubing is, to many travellers one of the ultimate adventures in Laos, and is ultimately dangerous as well with 2 deaths reported and several other casualties from a simple gash to broken skulls- doesn’t make the experience any less unless of course it happens to you.FOODFood, food, Lao food- this is cuisine for foodies in search of new flavours. To a lot of insiders looking in, Lao or Khmer food is much a mystery as this whole country has been. Although its relatives are Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese food, imagine these marrying together. Lao or Khmer cuisine is perhaps the best vehicle to establish Lao connection. Lucky enough, Lao cuisine has not been side-swept by the wave of Western food chains, but to be sure, the streets will offer that most authentic Khmer cuisine from the Kingdom. A bowl of Kao Piak off the Daily Market, which is a bowl of steaming noodle goodness complimented by chicken, duck, and pork and condiments…lots of it from ginger paste, chilli, fish sauce, lemon, pepper, sugar, etc, is reminiscent of Pho. Khao jii pat-te is Laos’ Bahn Mi, and tam maak hung is a doppelganger to Thailand’s som tam. The fundamental characteristics of the cuisine are meat and fish are used sparingly, at least in contrast to the liberal use of fruits and vegetables. The use of coconut milk in cooking is adopted from Thai and Cambodian influences. Desiring something authentic? You want some Lao lao, that traditional home brewed rice whiskey? How about a little exotica- some crispy ant egg omelettes perhaps?This place is a beautiful secret gem, which won’t stay that hidden too long. Laos amongst all is a country the traveller will love for the sights and more so the smell that says “home”.For more valuable travel information on backpacking and various destinations throughout the world please visit http://www.backpackingaddictz.comEmail: [email protected]
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