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The temples, called wats or pagodas, are said to be the “most sophisticated in Southeast Asia,” lavishly decorated with sculptures, engravings, paintings and colored glass and gold. Most famous is the 16th century Wat Xieng Thong, an assemblage of complex structures remarkable as an archaeological, iconographic and aesthetic masterpiece with a unique mosaic on the rear wall depicting the tree of life. Then ascend the 355 steps to the peak of Mount Phousi at the heart of the historic town and visit Wat That Chom Sii, whose gold-spired stupa can be seen from most parts of the city. From the mountain top, magical views of the old Royal Palace, now the Palace Museum, rivers, mountains and surrounding villages are especially vibrant at sunrise or sunset. The palace overlooks the peninsula formed by the Mekong and Nam Khan. According to local lore, the Mekong and Nam Khan are the domain of the mythical Naga, Hindu and Buddhist serpent deities taking the form of great snakes believed to live in the Laotian stretch of the Mekong River as “persecutors of all creatures ever bent on biting other creatures.” They are now seen as protectors of the Lao state. The great nemesis of the Naga is the gigantic eagle-king Garuda. Carvings of both abound on temples throughout Southeast Asia. A moving sight takes place in early morning when saffronrobed monks emerge from temples forming a procession of hundreds with their begging bowls to receive alms affording the giver good karma and spiritual benefit. The more adventurous have the entire Lao North, said to be Asia’s best preserved natural environment, explored by river boat or by trekking the road, where unexpected adventures and laid-back experiences are everywhere.

LAOS Currencies: Three currencies are in circulation in Laos – the Lao Kip, with $1 worth 8,236 Lao Kip; the Thai Baht, with $1 worth 34 Thai Baht; and the U.S. dollar. Few businesses accept credit cards. There are some ATMs in Luang Prabang. Small bills are recommended. When to visit: High season for tourism is October to late April, during the dry season. Don’t go during April as there is seasonal slash and burn field preparation. The wet season, May to late September, is better for lower prices and fewer fellow tourists. Visas: Most nationalities receive a 30-day visa on arrival. Getting there: Most airlines offer flights with one or two layovers. Flights from Guam include 17 hours and 15 minutes via Korean Air or 17 hours and 40 minutes via Jeju Air.

(From top) Ou River in Nong Khiaw; boats along the Ou River; Kuang Si Falls.

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R&R Pacific - August/September 2017  

Lessons in Cool: Teachers with personality | Espresso Yourself: Cups of joe gone 2.0 | Betwixt Two Rivers: Northern Laos | Artist: Alexa Lim...

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