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Travel///Northern Laos

A Lush Landscape

Northern Laos BY DEAN HETHINGTON

The Lao are gracious and friendly people. The French had a saying about their colonial Indochina: “The Vietnamese plant the rice, the Cambodians watch the rice grow and the Lao listen to it grow.” The Lao are descendants of Tai ethnic groups who originally migrated from what is now Yunnan in Southern China beginning in the seventh century. At least twice in Lao history, the country was divided into three kingdoms along the mighty river Mekong: The North, centered around Luang Prabang; the central Vientiane region; and the South, containing the Champasak province and locale of the splendid 4,000 Islands of Mekong. The country’s present-day People’s Democratic Republic is a modern-day incarnation of the once-powerful Lan Xang, a 14th to 18th century kingdom known as the Land of One Million Elephants. Its capital was the city of Muang Xieng Thong — the City of Gold —now known as Luang Prabang, abode of the royal Buddha image presented by the king of Angkor in 1353. Luang Prabang, a small, still medieval and royal city, is nestled among the mountains and clouds at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan (Ou) rivers that time seems to have passed by. Originally preserved by its remoteness, it is now protected by

its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its built heritage is said to be “in perfect harmony with the natural environment.” Now accessible by air, decent roads and traditional boats and cruises along the Mekong, boutique hotels, great shopping for local handicrafts and international standard restaurants featuring food from around the world are appearing in many remodeled original structures. Most everything here can be reached and experienced on a few leisurely walks. Luang Prabang is a place to immerse in the exotic and relax with access to modern services, excellent restaurants and accommodations without the pressure of complicated undertakings to visit must-see, and often far-flung, tourist sites. They’re all right around you. Perhaps the only out-of-town must-see is nearby Kuang Siwaterfall, whose clear turquoise terraced pools are perfect for swimming. It’s easily accessible by boat or tuk-tuk. The forests and mists keep the area cool year-round. CONTINUED ON PAGE 6

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