One of the allures of Laos is its deeply rooted Buddhist heritage. Buddhism is the fourth largest religion in the world with over 520 million followers predominately in Asia. However there is no where in the world where the Buddhist monks are as revered and the temples as carefully tended as in Laos. Buddhism is not just a belief system, but it is a way of life and an important part of the Lao people’s daily ritual.
Muang Ngoy is a remote village in Northern Laos without any modern conveniences to detract from the natural beauty of the Nam Ou river and mountainous landscape. Muang Ngoy is overrated, if you are into Lonely Planet guides. It is a unique combination of a very poor and rural village that is overcome by tourists. The main tourists that flock here are commonly known as the Water Bottle People, which are alternative-type youths in their 20s and 30s who like to carry water bottles around with them and may not shave their armpits. Many of them are also French. For these people, Muang Ngoy is a popular stop on the Banana Pancake Trail.
Today it seems the ever popular mantra is foreigners are taking our jobs. It is heard in every first world city and news headline and this fear has helped bring about historical events such as Brexit in the UK and the election of Trump in the US. However since I have moved to Singapore and started travelling the region, I have been surprised by the number of white people working in low end jobs in southeast Asia. Whilst we let the first world governments stir up emotions and convince us that foreigners are bad, it seems we also feel entitled to exploit the cheap prices and available opportunities of the very countries whose nationals we want to kick out. But is it really bad to steal jobs, or is the movement of people better for everyone?
Luang Prabang is the old capital of Laos and one of the most beloved cities of southeast Asia to spend a long weekend, thanks to its humble charm and well preserved cultural heritage. The city is located at the conflux of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers, which gives it a natural beauty that is enhanced by the iconic riverboats always drifting past the peninsula. There are over 34 protected temples that are exquisitely decorated and carefully tended to by monks, which sit alongside French colonial architecture and more rural buildings. This interesting blend of nature and edifice and old versus new is why Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Phosi market is the biggest market in Luang Prabang, where hundreds of merchants setup their stalls daily from 7am until 5pm. I love Asian markets because they are vibrant and colourful places of business, where you can get a glimpse of the way of local life. The Phosi market is no different. Whilst it might be a little poorer compared to its Vietnamese and Thai neighbours, you will not see any white faces here. Instead, you will witness the laughing and happy faces of the Laotian people negotiating and trading produce, meat, fish and other goods, which is a common ritual of daily life in Luang Prabang.