There have been two major travel loves of my life: New Zealand and Laos. One gets plenty of attention as the adrenaline capital of the world with a reputation for beautiful mountain landscapes and surfy beaches. The other, Laos, seems to fly almost completely under the radar.
For me, however, it was love as soon as my plane glided onto the landing strip sandwiched between lush, jungle mountains. I was hooked on Laos right away. The sticky rice and jeow made up for the insufferable heat. The way the locals safeguarded their customs and cultural heritage gave me goosebumps. I’d never been someplace where the magic of its traditions was still kept so largely intact. Maybe it was the era of my life that I visited; as if I came to Laos at the right time. Maybe it was being based in a town like Luang Prabang where orange-robed novices and monks collect their morning alms in a ceremonial way that feels absolutely reverent.
Whatever the case may be, no traveler should visit Southeast Asia without experiencing the stunning scenery and unmatchable hospitality of Laos.
Every October, the Candlelight Festival takes place and the entire town of Luang Prabang is lit. Orange wax drips down the brick walkway along the banks of the Mekong and Nam Khan as candles sit one after the other lighting the way around the peninsula. The many tiny temples are decorated with handcrafted lanterns hanging from the trees on the sacred grounds while the novices and monks who made them stand watching visitors admire their design.
There isn’t a bad looking temple in Laos. While some of the larger, more touristic ones charge a small entrance fee to maintain temple grounds, it’s the smaller, off-the-beaten-track temples that leave you in awe. Wandering up and down alleys, there are tiny, ornate temples around every corner, hidden away under the shade of frangipani trees.
Away from the golden temples of Luang Prabang sits Nong Khiaw, a hiking hotspot. The town is separated by a massive bridge that offers gorgeous views at any time of the day, but something about the look of the sun setting between mountains, lowering itself behind the wide river is extra special.
As time passes, my love of Laos and its culture remains. Every sunrise and sunset, every meal shared on the floor of a bamboo hut, every afternoon spent swimming in the teal pools of a waterfall—it all continues to feel like a fairytale to me.