Hoi An Vietnam ~ If you’ve been travelling through Vietnam for a while, arriving in Hoi An is like a breath of fresh air – this little city located smack dab in the middle of the country is the kind of place that feels like a town frozen in time.
Much of Hoi An’s charm lies in its colorful colonial streets and historic buildings that date hundreds of years back to a time when the port city was still known as Faifo.
History oozes from the city’s walls and it’s easy to spend hours wandering around as you soak it all in.
Here are a few reasons to love Hoi An:
Hoi An Vietnam Ancient temples and historic buildings
One of the more unique buildings found in Hoi An is the Japanese Covered Bridge located in the historic town center.
The Japanese bridge was built by the Japanese community in the early 1600’s and it still stands today.
When you cross this bridge you’ll notice that one side of the entrance is guarded by two monkey statues while the other is guarded by two dogs.
It is believed that this is because construction began in the year of the monkey and finished in the year of the dog, but the truth is that it happened so long ago that no one can say for sure.
If you are interested in doing a lot of sightseeing in Hoi An, a good option might be to purchase special tourist ticket from the local information office in the center of town.
For $6 you’ll have access to any 5 museums, temples, assembly halls, traditional performances and workshops.
Biking around Hoi An Vietnam
The best way to explore the city center is to rent a bicycle for the length of your stay – get lost in the back alleys, cycle the length of the riverfront, and then cross over to An Hoi Island which hosts a fun night market in the evenings.
Another nice aspect about renting a bicycle is that you can take a few side trips to places like Tra Que (an organic herb village about 2 kilometers north of the city), or if you are craving some time at the beach, you can take your pick from An Bang beach or Cua Dai beach which are also a short bike ride away.
Vietnam Silk Lanterns
The first thing you’ll notice when you arrive in Hoi An are the beautiful silk lanterns adorning the buildings across town.
Their bright colors and patterns brighten up the streets while helping preserve some of the old world charm.
For those interested in taking some silk lanterns back home as souvenirs, there is the option of attending a lantern-making workshop in town, or if you’re not too crafty, you can purchase them from any of the gift shops.
Hoi An Vietnam Market life
Hoi An’s markets get going early in the day.
If you arrive at the Central Market shortly after sunrise, you’ll find vendors setting up along the waterfront by the Thu Bon River.
The market is a blur of fresh fruits and vegetables, live chickens and ducks, nuts and spices, and so much more.
The Central Market can get really busy by mid-morning, so expect to compete for walking space with motorbikes, bicycles, shoppers, and vendors swinging yokes full of produce.
Hoi An is a city for shopping.
If you want to have clothes custom made for a fraction of the price you would pay back at home, then this is the place for you.
There are hundreds of tailor shops in Hoi An, so don’t be too quick to settle on one.
Browse the mannequins around town, flip through the catalogs in each shop, and if you still can’t find what you want, bring in a magazine or a sketch, and tailors will work with you.
Whether you’re looking for summer dresses, leather sandals, or a three-piece suit, you can have it made in Hoi An.
That’s Hoi An in a nutshell.
If you’re considering travelling through Vietnam, this little city should be one of the top spots on your itinerary!
Best cultural things to do in Central Vietnam
Vietnam is a country with a long history and a fascinating culture.
Just the fact that there are as many as 1000 historical, cultural, and architectural sites which have been officially classified as “Heritage Sites” is reason alone to consider traveling to Vietnam.
To list all 1000 sites would make this post way too long, but …
In Hue, you can pass through the Thahn Tan Hot Springs on the way to the picturesque Thuan An Beach.
They are around 13 kilometers from Hue itself and surrounded by woodland.
The idea is that you start off in the coolest waters and work your way up to the hottest.
You could also explore the Dai Noi (Imperial Citadel) which is almost like a historical monument in its own right.
In fact, the peaceful surrounds of this unique walled complex is absolutely unmissable and well worth a day of your time to explore.
Take a boat cruise down the Perfume River to see the seven Tombs of the Emperors – the lavish tombs of Vietnam’s last imperial family.
These elaborate resting places date from the late 19th or early 20th centuries and one of the most ornate both inside and out is the 1925 tomb of Khai Dinh.
It’s no surprise that pretty Hoi An is one of Vietnam’s most popular destinations.
It’s got a little bit of everything – fascinating history, great food, unparalleled shopping, top notch hotels and a beautiful beach to boot.
Make it here for the Full Moon and you’ll see the locals celebrate by switching off all its electrical lighting and making the town look beautiful by the light of thousands of lanterns.
If it’s relaxation you’re seeking, then check out the Zen Spa where you will receive traditional Vietnamese therapies.
Many of the hotels and resorts in Hoi An town, by the beach have some fantastic facilities.
The five star Fusion Maia, located between Hoi An and Da Nang is Asia’s first all-inclusive spa hotel, with the biggest spa complex in the region – definitely the best place to indulge yourself.
To get out and about, a lot of visitors hire bicycles or motorbikes in town and then cycle around the center and the surrounding area to really get down with the locals.
Exploring Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
From the beach, take a boat out to Cham Island for amazing snorkeling and diving opportunities, wandering through traditional rice paddies and explore archaeological sites.
Halfway between Hoi An and Da Nang are the romantically-named Marble Mountains.
A day trip into this area will reveal hidden cave entrances, numerous tunnels, and several Buddhist sanctuaries.
Those with energy to burn can climb up one of the peaks for a stunning panorama.
Da Nang and the coastline of the South China Sea have some of Vietnam’s most idyllic beaches.
In the town itself, visitors can discover the world’s finest collection of Cham sculpture at the Cham Museum and families can keep the kids happy the wet and wild Da Nang Water Park.
Bewitchingly beautiful and exotic, Vietnam’s Halong Bay lying in the Gulf of Tonkin offers a breathtaking variety of natural attractions, historical sites, scenic beaches and nearly 2000 islets and limestone karsts (landscapes recognizable by caves, sinkholes and drainage systems existing under the ground).
Caves and Grottoes
One of the more popular UNESCO World Heritage sites, Halong Bay is visited by travelers from all over the world each year who come to view enchanting grottoes sculpted by waves and winds, explore illuminated caves and hike in Cat Ba National Park.
From Europe you can easily fly to Vietnam from Heathrow Airport or Gatwick Airport; both of UK’s largest airports.
If you’re driving to Gatwick Airport make sure you explore official Gatwick Parking options for a great deal.
Bay of the Descending Dragon
ha long bay of the Descending Dragon
The name “Halong” literally means “Bay of the Descending Dragon” and originates from a legend that attributes the creation of Halong Bay to a great dragon that inhabited the mountains and dug out the crevasses, caves and valleys forming the bay with its enormous tail.
When the dragon finally died and fell into the sea, his body was so heavy that water rapidly immersed the area and left only island pinnacles visible.
Archaeological evidence indicates that prehistoric humans lived in Halong Bay approximately 20,000 years ago.
Currently, 1600 people reside in several separate fishing villages spread over this luscious northern Vietnam area.
Inhabiting unique floating houses, the people of Ha Long Bay sustain themselves by fishing and harvesting various marine animals (primarily molluscs) that live in the waters surrounding their villages.
When to Visit
The UNESCO World Heritage site’s climate is the most appealing in March, April, May and June, with warm, tropical winds, dazzling sunsets and calm weather conditions dominating the bay during these months.
Winter brings cooler temperatures, drizzle and heavy fog to Ha Long Bay while June, July and August is filled with stormy, rainy days and occasionally severe weather events.
Cat Ba and Bo Hon Islands
The most visited Ha Long Bay island is called Cat Ba, famous for its pristine national parks, impressive cave systems and for being home to the Golden-headed langur, an endangered primate that can be found sleeping in caves and foraging during the day.
In addition, Cat Ba Island offers swimming, colorful coral reef diving and grottoes.
Bo Hon Island attracts travelers who want to see the Virgin Cave, or “Hang Trinh Nu”, where a fascinating shrine has existed inside the cave for hundreds of years.
According to legend, this shrine is actually the body of a young woman who committed suicide when she was forced into an arranged marriage with a Chinese man.
After taking her own life, her body turned into the stone shrine that is still seen today.
Halong Bay is referred to as one of the seven wonders of the world and for good reason.
Visitors have access to one of the most resplendent systems of caves that were established during the Pleistocene era between three and 11 thousand years ago.
Most of these caves are beautifully illuminated by iridescent lights which intensifies the grandness of ancient stalactites descending from cave ceilings.
In addition to the natural beauty of Halong Bay, you can also enjoy the cuisine and culture coloring this lush area of north Vietnam.
Gat Gu (steamed rice pancake), sweet-tasting Tien yen chicken and chopped squid grilled to perfection!
Laos As We Travel Video Adventure
Laos was a crazy few weeks – we explored some amazing ethnic villages up in Luang Nam Tha.
Held on for dear life during over 30 hours of crazy bus trips up and down the steep mountains in northern Laos.
BUT worst of all was the fact that we lost over 400 gig and 2 months worth of film.
This was really hard to deal with, so we didn’t film for about a week while in Laos.
Once we arrived down south in Pakse we started filming again, and this episode is about our adventures down in Southern Laos.
Hope you enjoy! 🙂
Laos Explained Amazing Place to Visit
Many of the children in Laos were shy but very curious about tourists.
And we couldn’t get our eyes off them either, they are just so cute!
We spent about a month in Laos, traveling from the northern most part of the country in Luang Nam Tha all the way down to the 4000 islands in the south.
Just like the roads in Laos, our trip was an emotional roller coaster of ups and downs, but even though we have had a lot of unfortunate situations, Laos as a country was an amazing place to visit.
Here is what we think sums up Laos and what we will remember the most:
The Laos People…Laos people are genuine.
The kids are the cutest we have ever seen and the adults are very friendly.
The small conversations or smiles exchanged are the most precious things we will take away with us from this place.
The children were so curious, you couldn’t walk ten meters without someone saying hello, child or adult, especially in the smaller more remote villages.
Even though we stayed in shabby guesthouses we left loving the place because of its owners.
It’s not the land of smiles, but the people are SO real, they don’t put up an act for tourists at all but were genuine.
… are not meant to fit tall people.
After every bus ride it felt like we had shrunken a foot by just trying to squeeze our legs into the tiny gaps between the seats, and the beds in the night buses were half our length!
Of course we can understand this as there are no Lao people our height, but it was always a mission trying to survive those bumpy crazy bus rides.
The view from the bus window is strikingly beautiful and you’ll pass tribe villages along the way, but remember to drop your jaw behind a closed window!
For some reason the bus drivers seemed to prefer having all the windows open (even in air con vans), so bring a scarf to cover your mouth with because the roads are very dusty and you can get really sick from getting too much dust in your lungs (Sofia did…).
… is something that we have mixed experiences about, but mainly it was all very good.
We had the best Indian curries ever in this country, and unlike Thailand – the Indian food here is really cheap, but the Lao food didn’t impress us too much, perhaps because we are vegetarian.
However, the French-inspired cuisine was really good.
It was a nice combination between French and Lao style food;
the baguettes and burgers were filled with typical Lao vegetables and Lao style omelette’s (you have to try the pumpkin burgers!).
In Vientiane, the capital city, there are a lot of western bakeries selling some of the best pastries and cakes we tried while in South East Asia, for a great price as well.
… Lao coffee was the best coffee We have ever had, anywhere.
Even without the condensed milk (how will we be able to live without it?) it was still sweet enough for a non-coffee drinker like us to finish in minutes.
The best coffee was found in the southern Laos, close to the coffee plantations.
Oh, and if you’re looking for the best banana fruit shake in SEA you will find it in the restaurant next to the Reggae bar on Don Det, it’s simply the best!
…is a struggle to find.
To be brief and blunt, we’d go as far as saying that there is no such thing as comfort here.
This is something you have to expect and accept when in Laos.
Laos is not Malaysia or Thailand, Laos is Laos and the roads are full of crater like holes, the Wi-Fi is still non existent and the tourism is still pretty new.
This is part of the charm of Laos …
Laos Nature is spectacular
Never ending steep hills, winding dark red dirt roads, flowing rivers and rice fields.
The absolute best scenery we found was in the northern regions around Luang Namtha.
Vang Vieng had some incredible nature, with the steep limestone cliffs dipping its feet in the flowing river.
The 4000 islands was also a lushious place, one of those where you just lie in a hammock taking the views in for hours on end, watching the Mekond water change color throughout the day.
… is for us quite fascinating.
In Laos, the concept of “same same” is more obvious than anywhere else.
Reclined seat and air con, or plastic chair in the aisle and open windows?
Cold water hose 50 meters away from the room or hot shower in attached bathroom?
“Same same!”, they say.
We loved it in a way, it shows how things don’t have to be complicated.
A seat is a seat, the point is that you get there, right? 😉
This boy in a tribe village in Laos was collecting rocks in his t-shirt.
Photo was taken in a rural village in Laos where I was amazed to find five year old children smoking huge tobacco pipes, and half finished coffins under every house.
Apparently, when the people in the village turn 50, they all start carving their own coffins to prepare for when they die…
Things I’ve Learnt About Lao People While in Laos
This sweet girl was helping her mother selling snacks at the morning market.
I found the Lao people to be the most fascinating part of traveling through Laos.
I was happily surprised to see how rich their culture was and how so many people were still living according to their old traditions.
Laos is NOT known as the land of smiles, but the people here are still so special, and very genuine in their own way.
Below are 5 things that sum up my experience with the Lao people – and just to make sure, these are not facts but my own perception and experience from spending 3 weeks there.
Laos Men Are Very Homely
Something I found very refreshing was how much time the men spent at home and with their children.
It was a very common sight to see men of all ages carrying around babies on their backs and in their arms, feeding them, hushing them to sleep and just general baby sitting – without the mother in sight.
They really took time with their kids and gave them attention, playing with them.
They also seemed very interested in other people’s kids, always toddling with the babies when sharing a songtheaw (bus á la tuk tuk style) ride.
The Kids Are The Most Adorable I’ve Ever Met
These little people are just the sweetest!
Their doll faces and curious eyes are simply irresistible.
I’ve never met so many kids in a country who shyly whisper or loudly yell ‘hello’ to you from the street, river, moped or home.
They were so curious, and those who were brave enough – smiled, laughed and said hello to you over and over again until you were out of sight.
You cannot help but to smile and say hello back.
The Bus Drivers Have a Death Wish
When I mentioned the things I’ve learnt about Thai people someone asked why I didn’t mention the driving.
The Thai people are known for their careless driving, and the streets there were chaos, but at least the bus drivers had some common sense.
In Laos – they didn’t. 70 people in a 50 seat bus does not make sense, especially when you’re not using your breaks on the steep, windy mountain roads… Chickens and roosters on the road?
Who cares, they had it coming!
Feathers were constantly sweeping past our windows … travel around Laos really isn’t for the faint-hearted!
They Want To Avoid Any And All Confrontation
This lady sitting in her bamboo hut in Laos waved to us to come closer.
The way they wave in Laos is the complete opposite from in Europe, so at first we thought she was waving for us to go away, which was confusing because she had the biggest smile in her face.
It turned out that all she wanted was to give us one of her bananas.
The people are very gentle and kind in Laos, similar to the Thai people – but different.
It’s not the most obvious friendliness and they don’t take you in with open arms, they are more stand-offish.
However, if you gain a little bit of trust, you will see that they’re actually very friendly people.
They are also, like the Thai people, afraid of confrontations.
Sometimes it’s really refreshing, other times it’s really frustrating, especially when you just want to get a straight answer to a question.
Their way of dealing with it is usually to laugh it off as a joke – which makes for a pretty funny and confusing situation.
You might not get a straight answer, but you always leave with a confused smile on your face.
Women And Men Work Together
This is something that I find very rare around the world.
Usually women and men have their own places in which they work; but in Laos the roles are very mixed.
The men and women work together.
It’s not uncommon to see men standing in stalls cooking street food and banana pancakes, and women working the street as road workers.
Both women and men work on tea and coffee plantations, and they both take care of the family.
It seemed as though they did what they were best at, if the man cooked better food, he was the chef, and vice versa.
(photo credit: loic.schule – Stas Kulesh
The locals in Don Det were early birds, and already before sunrise the fires were burning by every household.
This kid was on his way to help mum with the fire. Gotta love the t-shirt 😉
Mini Guide To Laos Pakse and Bolaven Plateau
“I’d say from Vientiane and down to the 4000 islands – you can skip it all!”.
That was the opinion of a girl we met both in northern Laos and again down in the 4000 islands, and it’s the biggest joke I’ve ever heard.
If you don’t step off the highway 13 route, then yes she’s right, there isn’t much to see.
But if you just take a day to explore the Bolaven Plateau you’ll realize that there is so much of Laos that you would have missed if you wouldn’t have taken that step aside to check it out.
Laos is full of ethnic tribe villages and trekking, even down South.
I actually found the village people much more welcoming in the southern parts in ethnic and remote villages than in the north (but that is my own opinion).
This woman was doing great business at the morning market, selling the bright yellow flowers, Choy Sum, also known as Chinese Broccoli. They’re used in many meals in South East Asia, especially in Lao baguettes.
The Bolaven Plateau is really worth checking out, and now afterwards I wish I would have taken even more time to see it.
There are some great waterfall, and some really nice quiet villages along the Mekong river, as well as many fascinating minority villages where the people live a very different lifestyle and traditions which will blow your mind.
We visited a village known for smoking these gigantic bamboo water pipes (even the kids).
The men have up to 4 wives, and when you’re getting close to 50 years old you start carving your own coffin…
So before continuing down to 4000 islands, stop over in Pakse and do some day tours around the area.
It’s really worth it!
Another way to see the Bolaven Plateau is to hire a scooter for a day (or more, you might just want to stay the night in one of the villages – there are many guest houses around), so you can go at your own pace.
Pakse in Bloaven Plateau
If you’re keen to see Bolaven Plateau, a great way to do it is to simply base yourself in Pakse and make day trips around the Plateau.
If you decide to do it this way, here are some tips…
To me there was something sad about this picture and the man’s facial expression.
Perhaps he’s waiting for someone…
Where To Sleep in Pakse
Sabaidy 2 is the most popular place, so in high season don’t expect there to be any rooms available (it’s always worth a look though).
Rooms cost between 40 000 and 80 000 kip (5 and 10 dollars), and is one of the few guesthouses with WiFi.
Don’t panic if they are full, because there is a great guest house just around the corner from there called Phonesavanh Guesthouse (not the Hotel!), where the rooms and bathrooms are clean and nice.
Rooms cost between 40 000 and 55 000 kip.
Whenever we walked past our neighbors on Don Det, Laos – this pig of theirs was always – always, eating.
But you have to admit, it is kind of cute anyway, isn’t it… :p
Where To Find WiFi
At Phonesavanh Guesthouse there is no WiFi unfortunately (not many hotels and guesthouses seemed to have WiFi), but there is a cafe only 3 minutes away that has high speed Wifi and an internet cafe a minute away.
It’s called Katuad Cafe and is situated in the NE corner of Rt13 and 24th street.
The food isn’t very impressive, neither is the service (the girls were acting as though they were tipsy!), but they don’t complain if you just order a drink and sit there for the next 3-4 hours using the free wi-fi.
Where To Eat in Paske Laos
There is a great local eatery on the corner of Thanon 21 and 24, which is cheaper than the similar ones on the main road and serve better food.
For Indian/Malay food Nazim restaurant served amazing Indian food (cooked by an Indian chef).
Jasmine restaurant is on the first glance very similar, with same dishes at similar prices.
But they didn’t taste no way near as good in my opinion, and don’t visit their toilet before eating or you risk losing your appetite.
For Lao food, visit the Lankham Noodle House below the Lankham Hotel, it’s cheap and they serve traditional Lao food – it’s very popular both with locals and backpackers.
The basic baguettes are sold down the main street, but personally I would buy a baguette at a restaurant and ask for a take away – they give you more topping choices 😉
Chewing on bits of cut sugar cane is like a healthy chewing gum – as long as you spit it out once the juice is gone!
Where To Book Laos Tours
You can book a tour privately with a mini van driver, but chances are it will turn out more expensive as you then need to pay for for the entrance fees, and won’t get a guide on the tour.
You can also book tours via your guesthouse, but there are also a few travel agencies around town.
One is Pakse Travel & Air Service Office, which are a reliable agency with good drivers and guides.
So take your time, experience the real Laos, before moving on either up north to the capital of Laos – Vientiane or down to the chill on Don Det in the 4000 islands.
Two girls in a small village in Laos. These tough girls in Laos were bored and cocky – and underneath it all, pretty charming.. 🙂
Things To Do In Vientiane Laos – A Mini Guide
Despite being the capital of Laos, Vientiane doesn’t have much to brag about
most people try not to get stuck here, but for different reasons, many people pass through and stay for a night or two.
Fortunately, it’s quite a nice place to find yourself in.
So whether you come by to wait for a visa to process, or just to rest your bum from bumpy bus rides before heading out on the road again, here is a short guide on how to spend that day and things to do in Vientiane.
Pha Tat Luang
The golden temple is Laos most important national symbol, both for Lao authority and Buddhism.
It’s a beautiful temple to visit, especially in the afternoon when the sun makes it even more golden.
It’s 4km out of the city (northeast), so you can either walk (!), bike or take a share tuk tuk to get there.
Once it has cooled down outside, head over to the new fancy park “Chao Anouvong Park” by the riverside and hang out under the shade reading a book or playing cards.
The park is brand new and really nice, they’re just finishing up the final touches.
It’s a very attractive place to chill for a bit, there are some street stalls along the path and ice cream shops on the other side of the street.
If you come in the morning or in the evening when the weather is a little cooler, you can have a try at the work out machines they provide in the park for free.
It’s pretty popular with the locals so on weekends you won’t have the place to yourself, but it’s a great place for people watching 😉
It was one of our favorite things to do in Vientiane when we traveled by.
This looked just like “Sweeny Todd’s” own Barber shop in Vang Vieng.
Maybe drunk young tourists are easier to fool…
Shopping in Laos
A way to escape the midday heat is to do some shopping in the Talat Sao shopping mall.
It’s not the biggest, or the cheapest, but good enough for a bit of shopping and a stroll around the place – besides, if you’ve been out all day it’s a good place to cool down.
Everything in South East Asia is similar to the west, just a little more…graphic.
I like it, it makes you see what you actually buy.
Places To Eat in Laos
Grab some dinner at Taj Mahal restaurant, they have the best Indian in town and at some really good prices. Definitely worth the walk.
You’ll find it at Namphu area, right behind the cultural hall.
Nazim is another Indian restaurant located by the river, they make nice meals, nothing like Taj Mahal but still a nice place if you want to sit close to the river.
Full Moon Cafe and The Shade are two other restaurants at Francois Nginn Rd for those who want something closer to the central areas.
Another place I just have to mention is the Scandinavian Bakery.
Scandinavian pastries and cookies are some of the tastiest things ever, and this place make as good ones as any place in Scandinavia.
In general there are a lot of bakeries around Vientiane, both Lao style and Western style.
Drinking & WiFi
In the evening, hang out at one of the few bars along the riverside, or have a fruit shake or ice coffee at the awesome Aroma Café.
It has some great coffee and shakes, and is one of the few places that offer free high speed WiFi, if you feel a need to get connected.
You’ll find it on Francois Nginn Rd, it’s the cafe of the hotel Lotus.
If you’re as crazy about fruit shakes as us, head over to rue Samsenthai and visit House of Fruit Shakes; the drinks are blended to perfection and only cost 6000 kip (0.7$)!
There aren’t a huge amount of choices if you want to stay close to the riverside, but there are definitely a few worth checking out.
Francois Nginn Rd has quite a few guest houses.
I can recommend Youth Inn 2 (further down the street from the original one), which has clean rooms, private bathroom for an ok price (60 000 kip/7$).
It’s one of the very few places that has free WiFi, although it’s a slow one.
Hopefully this will help you enjoy all the things to do in Vientiane.
If you plan to stay longer, I suggest you do a little cafe run and check out all of the amazing bakeries and coffee shops in the city!
(Photo credit: dalbera – Mat Honan)
Luang Prabang And The Monk Paparazzi
note: The photos and videos we took really showed the craziness of it all, but since we lost everything we can’t show you.
These photos are not our own, but still give you an idea of what it was like, although the crowds of tourists seem to have more than doubled since they were taken!
After the bumpiest 8 hour bus ride of my life from Luang Nam Tha – we finally arrived in Luang Prabang, Laos.
The dusty ride had been awful, yet one of the most amazing ones I’ve experienced.
We drove through the most scenic nature of Laos, passing countless of ethnic villages and tribes along the way, stopping on and off in a few.
High up in the mountain range in the middle of nowhere – girls dressed in traditional clothing and hats with bells and jewelry hanging like a shade over their faces were playing ball in the road;
Women were showering from a bamboo pipe collecting water from the forest, and 5 year old kids were taught how to chop the grass for their roofs with machete knives – it was a pretty crazy sight.
We had spent a few days in northern Laos – Luang Nam Tha to be exact – biking through these ethnic villages and had gotten a good glimpse of what Laos was about.
We were, however, looking forward to visit the tourist hub of Luang Prabang.
We had heard of the ‘incredible’ morning alms, and were keen to see what all the fuss was about.
We had decided not to take part in the ceremony but to see it from a distance.
The morning alms is not meant to be a tourist attraction, and since we’re not Buddhists we felt it was strange to take part.
It turns out, nobody else felt that way.
From where we stood there was a 50 meter long carpet laid out for people from where they would hand over some sticky rice to the passing monks.
The whole 50 meters was packed with one big tourist group, all provided with a basket of rice by their guide, taking photos of each other half an hour before the monks even arrived.
This was just the beginning. If this is where things ended, fine. But once it got light, and the 200 monks appeared, people went crazy.
The many precautions one had been told about the morning alms such as no camera flashes, no walking in front of the monks, women sit down etc – was all forgotten.
The monks were not treated like rock stars, but more like a passing tourist attraction, something very inhuman.
There was a huge crowd surrounding the monks, running after them, trying to get that close up of their faces.
Next to the monks were kids running along carrying big cardboard boxes, picking up the leftovers that the monks didn’t want, begging for some rice..
I must say, the monks didn’t look like they were enjoying their ceremony – at all!
They were all very young, and it was almost as though they were running to get away.
What surprised me was that there really wasn’t anything special about these alms; they do the same thing all across Laos, but in smaller groups.
It was worth a look just to see how bananas the tourists got, but I must admit, it’s easy to get sucked in.
I’m not completely innocent, I was there and therefore part of the problem.
There is I guess, one good thing coming out of this; a very good mental practice for the monks.. 😉
The next morning we were up at 5 o clock again to catch a bus down to Vang Vieng.
Walking down a small side street in the pitch dark, we suddenly saw a long line of bright orange robes coming towards us.
Along the street were quite a few locals waiting for them with their baskets of rice.
These monks were much older than the ones from the previous day and walked in a nice slow pace, taking time for each local to give them their alms.
This was a whole different group, up earlier before the tourist, taking complete different route… not a single flash camera around, we stood enjoying the tradition before moving on.
Want To See The Morning Alms In Peace?
The morning alms is something special to witness, and I would definitely recommend seeing one, but not taking part in it, and perhaps not the one in Luang Prabang.
Luang Prabang is not the only place, they do the morning alms every day all over Laos.
Just get up nice and early, walk the streets and you’re likely to find them walking there as well…
Tuol Sleng Phnom Penh, Cambodia
After our up and down trip through Laos – we headed down to Cambodia and to the capital of Phnom Penh.
Cambodia has had a really dark and painful recent history, so while in Phnom Penh we decided to visit Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.
Tuol Sleng was a former high school which was used as the notorious Security Prison 21 (S-21) by the Khmer Rouge communist regime from its rise to power in 1975 to its fall in 1979.
Angkor Wat – Siem Reap, Cambodia
After the sadness and pain of what we witnessed at Toul Sleng in Phnom Penh, we were excited to head up to Siem Reap and explore one of the biggest and amazing temple areas in the world – the famous Angkor Wat.
Nothing apart from visiting Angkor Wat can really give it justice – the crowds, all the temples, the amazing sunset which we experienced alone … it was a really amazing, and tiring day.
famous Angkor Wat sunrise
I “Heart” Siem Reap, Graffiti Art In Cambodia
5 Things I’ve Learnt About Cambodian People While In Cambodia
Our visit to Cambodia was an interesting experience.
I never really managed to get a grip of the country, I was confused, to say the least.
Sometimes I didn’t like it at all, other times I felt like I could easily settle down there for a longer time.
Cambodia was to me a country full of contradictions, and although I was happy to leave I would like to return again some time to see more. In the end, these are the travel experiences that I treasure the most.
The country made me love it and hate it at the same time.
These feelings are hard to write down or to explain to others, and often I can’t quite point out exactly what made me feel so great or bad about a place.
But here are some impressions that for me sum up a bit about the Cambodian people:
Women Wear Pajamas All Day Long
Really, it’s not a pajama-looking outfit, they actually are real pajamas with teddy bears and everything.
They wear it as casual outfits, and not just at home but sometimes even at work on the street.
When they dress up, they wear the most amazing outfits.
There was a wedding in a village we stayed, and for some reason most of the men seemed to stay at home or at the shop while their wifes went to the wedding – they looked absolutely stunning.
They Eat Anything!
Thick, juicy fried spiders in broth?
How about some cockroaches?
This is no joke, no tourism stall for eager people to try disgusting things – this is real.
Deep fried tarantulas is a common snack all over Cambodia on the streets in small villages and markets in Phnom Pehn.
I’m not just talking about yucky things when I say they eat anything, it’s things like empty, plain baguettes:
I’ve never seen plain baguettes without any topping being so commonly consumed and enjoyed as much as here.
They Speak English Very Well
I was surprised to see how many people spoke English so well, some even spoke with an Australian or American accent!
Kids, tuk tuk drivers and random people, they all spoke English really well in the cities.
Their Humor Is So Innocent And Free
Nathan was wearing broken glasses (better than nothing when it’s that sunny) on a bus from Laos to Cambodia, and no-one noticed until we crossed over into Cambodia, then a few 20-something guys on the bus noticed and thought it was SO funny – they couldn’t stop looking, and laughed for like 15 mins!
This was one of many situations in which we found Cambodians laughing at things we in the West wouldn’t at all consider funny – it was as though they had the same humor as an 8 year old – which I think was so great to see.
That freedom to just let go, be curious and laugh at anything was one of the best things about the Cambodian people, and it’s something which I think is lacking in the West.
Cambodia Has Not Recovered But The People Move On
I didn’t realize how little I knew about Cambodia until I got here.
I thought I knew more than I did, and seeing how the country has far from recovered from the horrific recent history was difficult to deal with.
The people have been betrayed from so many different sides, both from their own people as well as others.
The impact from the land mines was sad to witness, and so was Tuol Sleng.
But despite the fact that the criminals behind the Khmer Rouge still haven’t faced any consequences for their actions, and despite the fact that 45 people died from old land mines in 2010 – the people seem to want to leave it all behind – and forget…
Despite all the terrible things done to these people, they still put up such a bright face.
They smile and laugh often, but the ways they dealt with confrontation made me wonder.
Are they suppressing it?
While we were there the Thailand/Cambodia border started shooting at each other and people were killed on both sides.
Our tuk tuk driver told us the same night, in a very strange way.
He laughed about it, nervously, so we had to ask him if he was telling us the truth – he was serious for a moment, but then he smiled and laughed again.
I wanted to ask more, but it was obvious that he didn’t want to talk about it.
Why wouldn’t you want to go help out in a country that will welcome you with a glass of ruou ran (rice wine with a pickled snake inside) and where potbelly pigs are considered pets?
There’s also a god dedicated to the kitchen and a lot of motorbikes to hop onto, if that first couple of facts didn’t grab your attention.
On top of the above (and a lot of cashews and coffee beans), there’s plenty of chances to experience this slice of Asian paradise as you make a positive difference.
From education to infrastructure, Vietnam is a prime candidate for hard work and easy relaxation.
We’re not sure if the “S” shape of Vietnam stands for Super, Spellbinding, or Sensational, but any pick is a good guess.
Social development is a particularly active field, with the disabled needing most of your attention.
The aftermath of Agent Orange’s mental and physical destruction are still seen daily, and there are plenty of options to get involved.
The country’s rapid social growth and increase of Street Kids also leads to a need of volunteers in orphanages and classrooms, where a friend is even better than a teacher.
With low wages and without a free education system, your participation in a community school project will offer a future to children that otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to leave the house with a backpack every morning.