Tak bak, the daily alms-giving ritual of the monks, is one of the most sacred Buddhist traditions.

Golden Triangle.

Laos was a closed country for a long time. Today, it seems more pristine and silent than its neighboring nations. The only landlocked country in Southeast Asia is unparalleled in its unspoilt natural beauty and all-encompassing quiet. Laos – life between monks and the Mekong.

Laos, Mekong and Luang Prabang – names that evoke adventures among beautiful landscapes. They conjure visions of Buddhist life, cooking chambers and breathtaking vistas in Southeast Asia. Luang Prabang is the ancient royal city in the far north of Laos. Ever since it became a World Heritage Site, a lot of restoration work has been taking place and the city has nearly returned to its former splendor. Buddhism governs the pace of life in this part of the world. Here, right in the center of Laotian Buddhism, monks meet French café culture and tuktuks drive alongside shiny European vintage cars. Saffron-robed monks and novices walk the streets of this pagoda-lined city before the break of dawn to beg the faithful for their daily bread. The magic of countless Buddhist pagodas and temples makes Luang Prabang a highly spiritual place.

In addition to the typical tuk-tuks, the streets of Luang Prabang are home to well-kept vintage cars.

The geographical border triangle. View from Thailand over the Burmese headland and the Laotian town of Sibounheuang.

The symbol of the Golden Triangle. This term dates back to the 1970s, when the lucrative cultivation and trade of opium flourished in this almost inaccessible mountain region at the borders of Laos, Burma and Thailand.

Located right in the heart of the city, Mount Phou Si offers its visitors a strenuous ascent along more than 320 steps, but the exercise is duly rewarded with a truly astonishing panorama of Luang Prabang, the heavily forested mountains surrounding it, and the brown Mekong – one of the longest rivers in the world at much more than 4,000 kilometers. It gently snakes through the landscape, emphasizing the peace and quiet exuded by this old royal town. But once the sun is down, the quiet makes way for the exuberance of the lively night market: cooking, laughing, bargaining as far as the eye can see. Fruit, vegetables and textiles are for sale alongside delicious local dishes. In the typical Laotian way, fish is clamped between two bamboo sticks, grilled on an open flame and served on a banana leaf.

Evening atmosphere in Pakbeng. Market stalls and guest houses cater to tourists traveling to Laos on the Mekong.

The Mekong river is the lifeline of Laos and one of the most biodiverse rivers in the world with more
than 1,500 species of fish.

“The Mekong is the global center of freshwater fishing.”

The Mekong silently flows southwards through Luang Prabang. Early in the morning, many little longboats travel upriver to reach the Golden Triangle, where Laos, Burma and Thailand meet. Laos shows its true, unspoilt colors as water buffalo graze on the riverbank, women do the laundry and laughing, waving children swim in the waters of the Mekong. One of the most important pilgrimage sites is situated at its shore: the sacred limestone caves of Pak Ou can be reached by boat from Luang Prabang in just 90 minutes. The temple caves, located high atop the towering riverside cliffs, offer spectacular views. Hundreds of Buddha statues have been placed inside the caves by pilgrims as offerings, and they are worshiped to this day.

Boats traveling upriver have to navigate treacherous rapids, working their way up this wild, untamed river meter by meter. After a day’s journey, we reach the village of Pakbeng. Far from any urban infrastructure, Pakbeng offers adventurous travelers simple accommodation. Electricity comes from generators, and their uptime governs life in the village: at 10 pm, the power is switched off; at 6 am, the generators come back to life with loud roaring, conveniently fulfilling the function of an alarm clock for all of Pakbeng.

We continue our journey to the Golden Triangle. Hour after hour passes as we float along one of Asia’s longest rivers. The Mekong is in a good mood, and the nature surrounding us is truly breathtaking. In the afternoon, the banks of the river come to life as we approach the border town of Chiang Kong. The immigration office is located in a small, unseemly building in the middle of a narrow street by the river, surrounded by numerous restaurants. Friendly officials stamp passports and let the tourists pass; everyone continues their journey in a shared taxi. We reach Sop Ruak, the official center of the Golden Triangle and our own destination, via Chiang Saen. Sop Ruak used to be (in)famous as a flourishing gateway for the opium trade. Here, the Ruak river meets the Mekong. The confluence of the two constitutes the border triangle.

The caves of Pak Ou are among the most important Buddhist cultural sites in northern Laos.

Laos fascinates. Not only with its temple complexes, paradisaical nature and exotic lifestyle, but also with hospitable people who are happy to grant us insights into the Lao way of life and worship. Laos lives its life at the gentle pace of its religion: quiet and relaxed.

Mekong facts

The Mekong …

  • springs from a source in the Tibetan highlands at an altitude of 5,200 meters
  • is the tenth longest river in the world
  • is approximately 4,500 km long
  • crosses six countries: China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam
  • supplies the Mekong Delta, which spans an area of 70.000 km² south of Ho Chi Minh City
  • flows into the South China Sea

Wat Xieng Thong at the bank of the Mekong in Luang Prabang is one of the oldest temples designed in the typical architectural style of Laos.

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