By Aparupa Ray Ganguly
Until you’re in Laos, the East really is just East. There, it becomes a sensory feast.
Shrouded in mystery, Laos has intrigued me from the very first time I heard about it. The Buddhist philosophy of life gives it a spiritual appeal, and the exotic cuisine tantalizes the taste buds. I chose to give the capital city of Vientiane a miss, heading, instead, to Luang Prabang. Over time, I have learnt that capitals are rarely a true mirror to a nation’s society and heritage, choosing to quietly succumb to modern times. While booking the flight online, it seemed easy enough: A four-hour flight to Bangkok, and a further two hours to Lung Prabang. But after landing at Thailand’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, we had to wait a painful eight hours, which was very trying. That dampener gave way to explosive excitement when the plane began its descent. We hovered closer to the island, skimming over rolling mountain ranges, thick tropical jungles and the meandering Mekong river.
With a warm and humid tropical climate,
Laos is most pleasant between November
and February. In fact, the famous Wat
Phou Fest takes place in February, where
you can witness the epic elephant races
and traditional Lao music and dance
performances. The famous boat racing
festival is definitely worth an experience.
Candlelit processions and baskets of
flowers, incense and candles dot the
Mekong river, marking this sacred ritual.
Although April is hot, it is the time when
Pi Mai Lao or the Laos New Year is
Luang Prabang: The Buddha came here
Luang Prabang is a rare place, cradled by lush mountains, calm and somnolent. It’s a picturesque town with narrow bylanes, old timber houses and saffron robed monks in those innumerable wats. The city is named after a famous Buddhist statue that was brought here from Cambodia. According to legend, the Buddha once stayed here, and predicted a prosperous future for it. Though that prediction is still some time from coming true, the city’s lingering colonial atmosphere and traditional architecture have earned it the status of a World Heritage Site. Someday, I intend to return to Laos and explore its wondrous cities in all their sensory glory. For now, my goal was clear—I wanted a quiet two days in the lap of nature, the Lao way. And so, we headed straight from the airport to the Zen Namkhan Boutique Resort. It’s a 45-minute off-road drive, and the resort had organized a car for us at the nominal price of USD 20. Although the local currency is Lao Kip, all transactions are usually in US Dollars. Thankfully, the exchange rate works out wonderfully, since INR 1 is almost 146 Lao Kip. The resort offers a stay at any of its bungalows for INR 8,000, including breakfast. Cozy and dimly lit, the Reception area blew me away with its beauty. It overlooked the stunning infinity pool, flanked by wild reeds and ferns. As I looked out from the dining area, it almost seemed as if the pool hung over a ledge, looking out at the robust green mountains. A cup of strong black coffee and a platter of sinful French fries later, I felt wonderfully energized, and blissfully serene. The clutter and cacophony of my Big-City life melted quietly away. No shops, no malls, no noise and no people, just the quietness and depth of a forest and the sounds of cicadas and frogs, occasionally interrupted by the boom of loud thunder. A place to reconnect with your inner self, to meditate, read and catch up with your thoughts and your dreams.
Luc and Moon:
Luc Delorme, the owner of the resort, is a French-Canadian from Montreal. He has an interesting story on what prompted him to settle down in the jungles of Laos. One afternoon, as he sat alone in a McDonald’s, an old gentleman caught his attention. The man sat in a corner with his coffee and looked really sad and lonely. Lucsaw his old age in that man; he did not want to be old and lonely in a cold and impersonal city like Montreal. That is when he decided to change the direction of his life. He had always loved Laos for its beauty and its warm and simple people. “Money was never an issue,” he says, with his signature hearty laugh. “I was a successful real-estate assessor. All I did want was happiness.” So, he made several visits to Luang Prabang, met his wife and companion, Moon, who inspired him to chase his dreams and voila! Zen Namkhan was born!
A cottage called ‘Courage’
Twilight fell. After roaming around the pathways to explore a bit of the surrounding area, I retired to my beautiful cottage, charmingly named Courage. Courage had a sprawling bedroom with teak floors and a massive balcony that overlooked red Namkhan River. As wonderful as the room was, by far the most amazing part was taking a bath in the outdoor shower room. Under the umbrella of a willow tree, I bathed in the presence of a bright orange frog, who seemed rather disturbed with my presence! After a comforting meal of traditional Thai Green Curry, sticky rice and deep-fried spring rolls, I headed back to Courage in a delicious daze and slept like a dozen logs. I woke up at the crack of dawn, to probably the single most gorgeous morning I have ever witnessed. It had rained all night and the earth looked clean and crisp, and wore that intriguing after shower scent. The freshly-washed foliage shone in the gentle sunlight. Breakfast was simple- a freshly-baked baguette with butter and apple preserves, followed by a cup of organic green tea. Having been a French protectorate for almost 50 years, the French influence on Laos’ food is quite evident. In fact, a traditional Lao breakfast is sliced baguette topped with condensed milk, with a hot cup of Laos special coffee. Another typical Lao breakfast features Chew Makork, or hard-boiled eggs, served with sautéed veggies, steamed sticky rice and chilli herb paste.
Keeping me company all through breakfast was Luc’s amazing Labrador, Copain, who seemed to have taken an instant liking to me, not leaving my side even for a second. I spent the better part of the morning playing with her before heading to the resort’s beautiful Japanese Spa. Surrounded by a traditional koi pond, the spa deepend the serenity of the place. The experience was utter bliss. That’s how I spent much of my time in Laos, not really doing anything, not really achieving anything, but just living, just being. Yet, the happiness I felt rejuvenated me, and I think that’s an experience very specific to Laos.
Two days passed by in a flash, and it was time for me to check out. My bags packed and loaded, I thanked Luc and Moon for their wonderful hospitality, and congratulated them on having the courage to follow their dreams. I learnt a lot from Laos. I learnt that its beauty isn’t intended to dazzle, but to remind us of our own evanescence, of our own mortality. It isn’t meant to overwhelm us, but to teach us to stay in the moment, mindful of the fact that everything around us is ephemeral. And that’s a sensation so deep, it will, perhaps, stay engrained in my heart forever.
“You can fly Thai Airways, Air India , IndiGo or Cathay Pacific to Bangkok and then take a short two-hour Bangkok Airways flight to Luang Prabang. I decided to go with IndiGo and managed to wrap up a to and fro ticket at about Rs 65,000.”
Zen Namkhan Boutique Resort
Xieng Lom Village
Luang Prabang province- Lao PDR
Handphone- (856-020)5557 1120
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