ad info




TIME Asia
TIME Asia Home
Current Issue
Magazine Archive
Asia Buzz
Travel Watch
Web Features
  Entertainment
  Photo Essays

Subscribe to TIME
Customer Services
About Us
Write to TIME Asia

TIME.com
TIME Canada
TIME Europe
TIME Pacific
TIME Digital
Asiaweek
Latest CNN News

Young China
Olympics 2000
On The Road

 ASIAWEEK.COM
 CNN.COM
  east asia
  southeast asia
  south asia
  central asia
  australasia
 BUSINESS
 SPORTS
 SHOWBIZ
 ASIA WEATHER
 ASIA TRAVEL


Other News
From TIME Asia

Culture on Demand: Black is Beautiful
The American Express black card is the ultimate status symbol

Asia Buzz: Should the Net Be Free?
Web heads want it all -- for nothing

JAPAN: Failed Revolution
Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori clings to power as dissidents in his party finally decide not to back a no-confidence motion

Cover: Endgame?
After Florida's controversial ballot recount, Bush holds a 537-vote lead in the state, which could give him the election

TIME Digest
FORTUNE.com
FORTUNE China
MONEY.com

TIME Asia Services
Subscribe
Subscribe to TIME! Get up to 3 MONTHS FREE!

Bookmark TIME
TIME Media Kit
Recent awards

TIME Asia Asiaweek Asia Now TIME Asia story
MAY 22, 2000 VOL. 155 NO. 20

Laos Unplugged: Living Life in the Slow Lane

By DAVID ATKINSON


Illustration for TIME by Annie Lee.

Laos seems like a long shot to become Southeast Asia's next big thing. The food doesn't win any prizes, the roads are severely potholed by frequent flooding and locals regard the prospect of increased tourism with a sunny indifference that exceeds even Mediterranean proportions. The countryside remains ravaged by the hundreds of millions of bombs dropped during what its Vietnamese neighbors call "the American war." But while the big time is a long way off, the little things make Laos a great place to visit. It has a freshness--the first tourists didn't visit until 1989--and a devoutly Buddhist population that give the country a quiet feel unlike anywhere else in the region. There is no hard sell and few streetside entrepreneurs hustling handicrafts or guided tours. The sparse population also helps keep the noise down: only 5 million people fill a country the size of Britain--roughly 20 citizens per square kilometer.

Last year's "Visit Laos" promotion was the socialist government's first attempt to attract foreign tourists and investors. With a per-capita income of only $300--making it the poorest Asian nation--the country desperately needs money. Now tourists can receive visas on arrival for $30 at Vientiane's Wattay International airport and at the Mittaphab Friendship Bridge, which crosses the Mekong in northeastern Thailand. Infrastructure has improved dramatically. The bus from the capital of Vientiane to the temple-strewn town of Luang Prabang used to be a two-day, butt-busting ordeal on bandit-infested roads. Today the journey can be made in eight hours of air-conditioned splendor.

  TRAVEL WATCH
Laos Unplugged
While the big time is a long way off, the little things make Laos a great place to visit

Detour
Green Island is a sparkling paradise, a volcanic island where the sea is always blue and the weather sunny and warm

Web Crawling
A website of visitors' tales that offer a varied perspective on the local travel experience

Vientiane combines the faded colonial charm of cities like Hanoi and Havana with a dusty, frontier feel (leavened by the French patisseries). A peaceful riverside city with a few shops, banks and restaurants cut into the Mekong delta, it lacks the monuments and museums of most capitals. A solitary, though charming, illuminated fountain is its only focal point. Of the numerous lavishly decorated temples around the city, Pha That Luang (open Tuesday to Sunday, 8-11:30 a.m., 2-4:30 p.m.; admission 10) is the most elaborate. More than 500 kg of gold coat its four-sided tower. Known as the Great Sacred Stupa, this fine example of Khmer design was built in 1566 and plays host every November to the That Luang full-moon festival, when hundreds of orange-robed monks form a procession at dawn around the temple. Pha That Luang is located at the far end of Thanon That Luang, five minutes by tuk-tuk from the colorful Talaat Sao morning market, which remains open all day.

In the southern Sisattanak district is Wat Sok Pa Luang, a woodland temple famous less for its spiritual significance than for its superbly rustic herbal sauna. A small donation gains access to the sweaty inferno, usually followed by tea and a vigorous Thai-style massage. The monks advise you not to shower for 12 hours afterward in order to let the herbs do their work. The herbal treatment is said to purify body and soul.

A few days of temple-hopping and evening strolls along the banks of the Mekong usually exhausts Vientiane's humble offerings, so many visitors move on to explore the capital's environs. For a more rural experience, head to Lao Pako, an eco-resort on the banks of the Nam Ngum river that has been run since 1995 by an Austrian owner. The lodge was constructed completely from local materials and uses solar power to provide electricity to the bamboo huts. A variety of nature trails and river-rafting trips provide an outlet for those who feel the need to do something. But most visitors fall into step with Laos' rhythm and are satisfied to sit on the large veranda watching the sunset. Lao Pako is located 50 km from Vientiane. You can take one of three daily buses for 20, but your best bet is to catch a taxi ($4) to Som Sa Mai village, then hop on a motor launch ($4) for the languid 25-minute trip upriver to the resort. Visit the country now. Laos may not be Indochina's reclusive cousin for much longer.

Travel Watch Archive | TIME Asia Home
ASIANOW Travel Home

AsiaNow


Quick Scroll: More stories from TIME Travel Watch

   LATEST HEADLINES:

WASHINGTON
U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

MANILA
Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

ALLAHABAD
Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

COLOMBO
Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

TOKYO
Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

BANGKOK
Thai party announces first coalition partner



TIME:

COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state



ASIAWEEK:

COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness


Launch CNN's Desktop Ticker and get the latest news, delivered right on your desktop!

Today on CNN
 Search

Back to the top   © 2000 Time Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.