The look on the face of the security officer as she surveyed my boarding pass was priceless. “Luang Prabang?” she look at me quizzically before turning to her hapless and equally clueless colleague for help. “Where is this?”

This being Scoot’s inaugural flight, it was perhaps understandable that she was not familiar with its newest destination, especially given that it’s not (yet) the most frequented destination by Singaporeans. It didn’t help that we were flying on April Fool’s Day.

“Lao,” I piped up, trying to be helpful.

“Oh… LAOS!” a look of recognition flashed across the security officer’s face with the relief that this was not some made up boarding pass. “Yes, Lao,” I repeated with a wry smile, navigating the thin line of being insistent with the correct pronunciation for the country’s name, while gingerly avoiding being body slammed to the floor and handcuffed for my insolence.

You can blame the French for conjuring up one of the most hotly debated topics in Googlesphere – the correct pronunciation of the country’s name. They copped out by simply looking at the most populous people group in the land – the Lao people – and smugly added a silent ‘s’ to the end and voila! That’s the name of the country! Thank God they didn’t discover Singapore before the British did – we could have been named Chineses or Malays! Shudder…

Yellow Tail lands at Luang Prabang airport. Photo Credit: Scoot

Scoot’s maiden flight to Laos

The launch of Scoot’s inaugural thrice-weekly round-trip shuttle flight to Luang Prabang, Vientiane and back to Singapore will hopefully make the blur look on people’s faces, when names such as Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Vang Vieng are mentioned, a thing of the past.

Scoot crew conducting quizzes onboard the inaugural flight TR350 to Laos
One of the winners of the Scoot quiz on the flight to Laos

To celebrate the flight, quizzes were conducted on board with winners walking away with prizes such as travel vouchers. The A320 aircraft, named Yellow Tail, was fittingly welcomed upon landing at Luang Prabang Airport with the traditional water cannon salute.

Scoot’s maiden flight to Laos being greeted by the traditional water cannon salute. Photo credit: Scoot

Pullman Luang Prabang

Our adventure in Laos begins! First stop was the Pullman Luang Prabang to refresh ourselves before our next exciting activity.

The tranquil setting at Pullman Luang Prabang

Newly opened in July last year, it is the biggest hotel in Luang Prabang and boasts three swimming pools.

One of the three swimming pools at Pullman Luang Prabang

The well-appointed rooms are huge and feel very luxurious.

The rooms here are gorgeous…
… and very spacious.

The gorgeous estate is built atop and around working rice paddy fields. There is just something deeply calming and relaxing about staying around paddy fields, as though time comes to a standstill.

Infinity pool set against padi fields and hills… it doesn’t get much better than this

As you walk in the cool of the morning, and spy some beautiful ducks coursing lazily through the streams on the hotel grounds, you can’t help but wonder why it took you so long to discover this little slice of paradise.

Resident ducks at the Pullman Luang Prabang

www.pullman-luangprabang.com

Elephants

Historically referred to as the Land of a Million Elephants, it is disheartening to know that there are less than a thousand elephants left in Laos today, much of it due to destruction of natural habitats through illegal logging as well as poaching. Elephants are highly intelligent creatures, and like humans, form strong family bonds and display great empathy for one another, as seen in the photo of mother-daughter pair, Man and Mon.

Mother and Daughter pair Man and Mon sharing an intimate moment

The work of MandaLao Elephant Conservation in Luang Prabang is therefore extremely important as they rescue elephants from logging camps and rehabilitate and reintroduce them to the wild, helping them lead dignified lives.

The majestic elephants at MandaLao

One of the most thrilling activities one can ever participate in is interacting and walking with elephants as you get to observe them in their most natural element, doing what they love doing. Elephants need to walk a lot everyday as it helps them digest their food. Unlike other elephant camps, non-riding is emphasised at MandaLao Elephant Conservation since riding is not a natural activity for the elephants.

Walking with elephants is a fascinating experience

An interesting fact we learnt was that it is difficult to give medicine to elephants. That’s why it is done by including it in their food. We played our part by making banana sandwiches for the elephants, inserting sticky rice, turmeric and sea salt into bananas to make for a delicious and nutritious snack.

Making medicine for the elephants

And like us humans, feeding the elephants is the best way to bond with them.

Bonding time!

www.mandalaotours.com

Laos Buffalo Dairy Farm

When the founders of Laos Buffalo Dairy Farm first visited Laos six to seven years ago, there were no buffalo or any other dairies in Laos. Nobody in Laos was milking buffaloes, cows or goats then as none of the locals had seen a dairy before; they actually believed that milk came from coconuts.

Hey, you handsome fella!

Buffaloes were used mainly for farming or for their meat. As a full-grown buffalo is worth about the average annual salary of a Laotian, it is often used as insurance by the locals, for them to sell for emergency funds such as when they are hospitalised.

Buffalo calves hungry for milk

As male buffaloes were often quickly slaughtered for their meat, this led to a lot of in-breeding from the remaining males and thus poorer quality and smaller buffaloes. As a social enterprise, Laos Buffalo Dairy Farm has helped improve the quality of buffaloes by renting the under-utilised female buffaloes from farmers for milking, and helped increase the income of the farmers at the same time. The farm also houses other animals such as pigs and rabbits, thus serving as a mini-zoo for school kids as well.

Milking a buffalo was quite an experience for the boys.

Although buffaloes produce less milk than cows, their milk is more nutritious and has higher fat content than cow milk, making it creamier and thicker, from which the dairy makes excellent cheeses. The mozzarella in particular was excellent.

Delicious cheese made from Buffalo milk

They also make several flavours of ice cream and I highly recommend the coffee-flavoured one.

Buffalo milk ice-cream

www.laosbuffalodairy.com

Kuang Si Waterfalls

The famous Kuang Si Waterfalls

Probably the most picturesque site in Luang Prabang, the beauty of the Kuang Si Waterfalls, with its electric turquoise waters, speaks for itself.

A dip in the mineral-infused waters, or a jump from one of the tree branches hanging over the pools if you prefer, is a must.

It’s cold and the fish nibble at your feet but it’s totally worth it! Photo credit: @MsHannahChia

As an added bonus, you get to see sun bears and moon bears at the Bear Rescue Centre, which rescues these bears from illegal poaching.

Siesta

Lunch at Carpe Diem, a restaurant set in the middle of the magnificent falls, with its own waterfall swimming pool, completes the pretty picture.

Natural swimming pool at Carpe Diem

http://www.visit-laos.com/luang-prabang/kuang-si-waterfall.htm

https://freethebears.org/pages/laos-sanctuaries

Traditional Baci Ceremony

The traditional Baci ceremony on the beautiful grounds of the Sofitel Luang Prabang

Here we are at the beautifully landscaped grounds of Sofitel Luang Prabang participating in the traditional Baci ceremony in Laos, a practice dating back hundreds of years.

Reaching forward to touch the Pah Kwan

The Lao people believe that humans are made up of 32 organs, each with its own spirit which sometimes wanders outside the body resulting in imbalance of the soul and hence sickness. Tying the white string represents tying the 32 spirits back to the body to restore harmony and balance.

Tying the spirits back together

https://www.sofitel-luangprabang.com/

Alms Giving Ceremony and Morning Market

Monks arriving for alms collection

Participating in the Alms Giving Ceremony is one of the most meaningful things you can do in Laos, notwithstanding the 4.30am start to the day. Lao people generally wake up at 4.30am to cook sticky rice for the monks. The monks only eat twice a day in the morning – once at 7.30am and again at 11am. It’s therefore important that they get enough food for these 2 meals.

Monks saying a prayer after alms giving

Ever wondered why different monks have different dressing? In Laos, full monks have both shoulders covered whereas novice monks have one shoulder exposed.

Prying out the sticky rice for the monks takes practice.
Waiting patiently for us novices to get our act together

Pro tip: Make sure you are dressed in clothes that cover your knees and shoulders, and that your hands are clean before distributing the sticky rice. It’s quite a challenge prying apart a consistent amount of sticky rice for each monk though and I ran out of rice by the time the last few monks came to me! Thankfully, we’re told they all share whatever they collect. Phew!

Bamboo bridge on the Nam Khan River

Right after alms giving, you can cross this beautiful bamboo bridge on the Nam Khan River, which looks especially gorgeous set against the rising sun. After each rainy season, this bridge has to be rebuilt as it gets washed away.

Morning market in Luang Prabang in full swing
Vibrant colours of the vegetable stall

From here, you can make your way to the morning market. Visiting the morning market in Luang Prabang is a fascinating experience, and certainly not for the faint-hearted.

Dried fish for sale
Live frogs tied together to prevent their escape – not the prettiest sight.

Here, you can see animals as diverse as bats, squirrels, and what looks like field rats being sold for food.

Don’t ask us what this is… we have no idea.

I’m not a fan of paying the vendors to release caged birds like the cute little owl you see here though. I feel this will only encourage the vendors to keep catching them and locking them up in such a small cage feels pretty cruel to me.

Poor little guy…

Buddha Park – Vientiane

Buddha at rest

Buddha Park in Vientiane is known more as an Instagrammer’s haven than a place of worship.

Bird’s eye view of Buddha Park

Filled with sculptures of all shapes and sizes of Buddha and Hindu gods, there are nooks and crannies everywhere for you to vamp it up for the camera. Anything for the Gram right?

You’re not eating me today

Can you tell that we had lots of fun here?

Hamming it up for the Gram
Oops, did we have too much fun here?

http://www.visit-laos.com/vientiane/buddha-park.htm

Around Vientiane

Although Vientiane has more of a city vibe than laidback Luang Prabang, it still throws up many fascinating sights and sounds, as we discovered on a short morning walk around the city.

Wat Ho Phra Keo

First up, a visit to Wat Ho Phra Keo, one of Laos’ most highly venerated temples built to enshrine the Emerald Buddha, before it was taken away to Thailand. There are still many beautifully sculptured statues of Buddha though, and the design of the temple is just exquisite.

Admiring the intricate details of the temple

On our way to the Patuxai Victory Monument, we came across a street vendor selling woven bamboo baskets where we saw what must be the world’s smallest working mobile phone.

Street vendor in Vientiane

Here you can see it in comparison against a Samsung Galaxy S10. Don’t mock its size though – the vendor used it to communicate with us by punching the prices into the phone.

Check out the size of this mini phone.

Looking at the Patuxai Victory Monument, one is immediately struck by its similarity to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Ironically, it was built to commemorate those who fought in the struggle for independence from France. Today it is a popular recreational spot for the locals, especially for those taking their graduation photos.

Patuxai Victory Monument

Check out the intricate art work on the ceiling of the Monument!

Intricate artwork on the ceiling

And there you have it, lots of exciting and meaningful activities that you can pack into a quick 4D3N trip to Laos. Once you’ve discovered the beauty of this country, please help spread the word that it’s pronounced as “Lao”. The French will say merci beaucoup.

 

Scoot flies to Luang Prabang and Vientiane every Monday, Thursday and Saturday.