Lao Women’s Tales: between tradition and emancipation

9 Days Lao Women’s Tales: between tradition and emancipation

A feminine touch to Laos’ culturally vastness, enveloped in a responsible multi-day way.

WHY THIS TOUR?

Asian Trails Laos is shining the spotlight on Lao women with a 9-day tour with an intimate feminine touch. This unique programme, led exclusively by a female guide, explores the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang and Laos capital Vientiane.

The tour highlights the sensitive subject of gender equality in Laotian society in 1991, and shows examples of how women are empowered and make a difference for the betterment of the country. Guests on this themed tour stay in female-led hotels, see projects where women take the lead and eat at restaurants with a more feminine touch. This intimate journey includes inspiring encounters with women who work to empower women (Ock Pop Tok weaving project, Lao Disabled women centre) as well as a selection of hotels and restaurants run/managed by women.

TRAIL ITINERARY

Day 1 | 9 Days Lao Women’s Tales: between tradition and emancipation

Day 1

Arrival Luang Prabang – Luang Prabang                                                                 [-]

Guests will be warmly welcomed upon their arrival at Luang Prabang’s International Airport our own Asian Trails’ representative before guided to their air-conditioned vehicle. The approximately 20-minute ride in style and comfort brings customers to the heart of Luang Prabang and your start for a more feminine-focussed experience. Luang Prabang is an ancient kingdom of former Laotian kings, a stately royal palace and abundant glittering temples – reasons it was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status in 1995. Situated in a deep valley alongside the meandering Mekong and with a dramatic mountain backdrop, this is the country’s leading tourism draw.

No lunch included.

Depending on your arrival in Luang Prabang, for guests who are eager to dive deep into the plethora of human encounters and experiences will certainly appreciate a bit of a blessing for their onward journey (not included). This optional evening experience includes a local dinner

The Baci ceremony has an important cultural and ceremonial significance in Laotian society. This calling of the spirits ceremony is unique to Laos and has been practised for hundreds of years. It is a ritual believed to bring good fortune, peace to the soul and honesty. During this ceremony, the shaman chants a prayer to call the spirits and the 32 good spirits are symbolically tied around the wrist of the attendants using a white cotton thread. The knots symbolise prosperity, health and good luck. This spiritual immersion makes for a memorable experience in a country that is steeped in superstition and belief.

Dinner is on own arrangement.

Accommodation is offered in the very heart of Luang Prabang

Day 2 | 9 Days Lao Women’s Tales: between tradition and emancipation

Day 2

Luang Prabang                                                                                                         [B, L, D]

Breakfast at the resort

As the sun slowly rises over the UNESCO-protected rooftops of Luang Prabang, going deeper into the spiritual centre of Laos’ most in-demand destination, touring the town in a laid-back way is of the greatest essence. We start with one of the leading temples – Wat Xieng Thong.

Sitting on Luang Prabang’s peninsula is one of the city’s most palatial decorated temples, which survived Chinese invasion in 1887. It has two entrances with the King using the Mekong entrance as he travelled by boat from the Royal Palace to the bottom of the staircase that leads to Wat Xieng Thong. Decoration is spread across its buildings: the sim has impressive gold stencilling on black lacquer, its Chapel of the Standing Buddha is adorned in colourful glass mosaics of mythical creatures, and the Chapelle Rouge’s exterior has a distinctly pink colour decorated with scenes of heaven and earth.

Next, learn more about Laos’s history and royalty at the former Royal Palace which is now a museum. Facing sacred Mount Phousi and on the banks of the Mekong River, the National Museum houses the most important treasures of Laos’ recent past. Known locally as Haw Kham or Ho Kham, meaning ‘Golden Palace’, this building has been designed with Lao and French-influences. It is home to Laos’ most sacred Buddha image, the Phra Bang, which is fittingly kept in an ornamented shrine.

We complete the morning with a visit to one of the most respected foundations for a better Laos.
Ock Pop Tock is a non-profit organisation seeking to preserve traditional weaving techniques, which are an important source of income for many Lao families but are slowly fading out due to modern-day technology. Founded in 2000 by an Englishwoman and Laotian, Ock Pop Tock quickly grew from its small shop selling just a few designs moving premises to its Mekong riverside location. Visitors can tour the weaving workshop, participate in a hands-on class, refresh with drinks at the cafe which has spectacular views across the river or shop for beautifully crafted items from its expansive shop.

Lunch will be served at a local restaurant

The afternoon is completely at leisure or let your guide book, optionally, an unmissable experience of local allure.

With ample to explore or further one’s knowledge of Ock Pop Tock’s aim to protect the arts and craft, the remainder of the day can be filled in with a “Get your hands dirty at Ock Pop Tock,” afternoon in stepping in the footsteps of a primarily female part of local handicraft in seeking to preserve traditional weaving techniques. This hands-on experience gives an introduction to silkworms and silk types with natural dye preparation to create three natural dyes using plants from the home grown garden. Participants can choose what product to make and take home, using bespoke colours and patterns. This 2.5-hour long optional activity perfectly flows in after enjoying lunch.

Return back to your booked Luang Prabang hotel.

A set dinner is included at Manda de Laos, one of the finer dining establishments in town, which is enjoyed in a tropical setting overlooking pretty lotus ponds that envelope the restaurant. Manda de Laos has been in the family for three generations and its three ponds declared a UNESCO World Heritage status since 1995. Its restaurant focuses on Laotian family cuisine with specialities from all regions across the country. Drinks are not included.

Accommodation is offered in the very heart of Luang Prabang

Day 3 | 9 Days Lao Women’s Tales: between tradition and emancipation

Day 3

Luang Prabang                                                                                                                [B, L]

Breakfast at the resort

After a good night’s rest, the exploration of Luang Prabang’s surroundings continues. We start the morning by heading towards one of the country’s most recognisable natural landmarks. The Kuang Si falls are considered as Laos’ most beautiful waterfall and a must-see visit for those staying in Luang Prabang. This picture-perfect setting has turquoise waters cascading over three tiers of pools making this a popular spot for swimming and a place for picnics. It is situated in the lush jungle adding to its scenic backdrop, and it is possible to swim in most of its pools. Head to the top pool to get a pretty view over the cascading water as it falls below is something that is almost an obligatory undertaking.

A set lunch is included at Carpe Diem Restaurant, which has an unbeatable location is in the middle of the magnificent Kuang Si Waterfall. It was designed to seamlessly fit with its surroundings using natural materials to respect the beauty of the area. Its green setting makes an unrivalled place to enjoy lunch at this magical place knowing that every mouth eaten directly supports the local community as this restaurant works with small local producers to promote local trade and quality. Drinks are not included.

In the afternoon, we leave the natural splendour of the Kuang Si behind us and travel further into the rural country side of Luang Prabang for some cuddle up time with the beautiful buffalos at Laos Buffalo Dairy. This socially responsible enterprise is a commercial dairy and production facility producing yoghurt, cheese and ice-cream that works with local villagers in and around Luang Prabang by renting their buffalo. Join a guided tour of the farm, help feed and bathe the buffalo, and even learn how to milk them. The farm is also home to playful pigs, cheeky chickens and rollicking rabbits!

Return back to your booked resort in Luang Prabang

Optionally, an evening watching another day in Luang Prabang come to an end with a hospitable female touch is best observed at Jumbo Guesthouse under the caring wings of Monica and her team. Enjoy stunningly beautiful sunsets, mouth-watering East-meets-West tapas and heartfelt company. To watch how life unfolds from the panoramic terrace of Jumbo Guesthouse is one of the added values of this charming place in greater Luang Prabang. It is here where one can experience the ever-changing views of the mighty Mekong. Feel its energy; enjoy a sun-downer or a glass of wine while experiencing the best sunset views of Luang Prabang, and where you will meet Monica.

A passionate foodie and host that loves to share her place and stories that lead to an adventurous life from Brazil to Austria. Now, with many years in Laos under her belt, her positive and open-minded woman is a living example of being a good host, while sharing her interests in other cultures, art, theatre and classical music. She will prepare for you her renowned East-meets-West Tapas.

Accommodation is offered in the very heart of Luang Prabang

Day 4 | 9 Days Lao Women’s Tales: between tradition and emancipation

Day 4

Luang Prabang                                                                                                                [B, L]

Breakfast at the resort

Why Luang Prabang is so diverse is again shows during this day. An early morning pick-up by your guide for the day moves away from the mainland and towards the Mighty Mekong.

Cruise to the enchanting Pak Ou Caves on a traditional long-tail boat along the Mekong River’s scenic landscape. These two limestone caves are filled with hundreds of Buddha statues, which have been deposited here by pilgrims over the centuries visiting the site to worship. The lower cave is the well-lit Tham Ting, which has some written explanations of the statues however, a short trek to Tham Phoum is well worth it. Less visited than its sister cave, Tham Phoum offers a more serene ambience and a torchlight reveals its fascinating Buddhas. Along the way, we stop at the village of Ban Xang Hai, where local families continue to make local rice wine the way it was handed down by generations.

Lunch will be served at a local restaurant

After exploring the inner sanctum of the Pak Ou Caves, we make our way back upstream to Luang Prabang while local river scenes pass by in a leisurely tempo. Upon disembarkation in Luang Prabang, the final visit of the days brings explorers to the top of Mount Phousi.

Phousi Hill proudly sits at the centre of Luang Prabang on the peninsula between Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers. A climb to the top of this sacred hill reveals sublime 360-degree panoramic views of the city, the Mekong River and surrounding lush jungle. A small Buddhist temple and a gold stupa are at the top, and its views naturally make this a popular sunset spot. There are two different stairways and travelling up one and down the other is recommended to pass all the attractions including various Buddha images and a small cave temple.

Return back to your booked resort in Luang Prabang

In the evening, the culinary creations of a female-led restaurant in Luang Prabang will tantalise your taste buds with local delectable. A set dinner is included at Bamboo Tree Lao Restaurant whose terrace offers a perfect place to enjoy the view of Wat Sene Temple and to observe monks going about their daily activities. Bamboo Tree Lao Restaurant welcomes diners with a smile and natural Lao warmness for a diversity of authentic recipes with many flavours and spices such as lemongrass, ginger, coriander and garlic. Only seasonal vegetables are used in its traditional Lao cuisine giving its guests a chance to learn more about local food which is not altered for foreigners except the spice levels! Drinks are not included.

Accommodation is offered in the very heart of Luang Prabang

Day 5 | 9 Days Lao Women’s Tales: between tradition and emancipation

Day 5

Luang Prabang                                                                                                                   [B]

Breakfast at the resort

The morning is at leisure, yet that does not give us the change to offer something truly spiritual on an optional basis. Do expert to rise and shine before the sun moves over the horizon.

Every morning, at dawn, hundreds of Buddhist monks form a procession around the streets of this charming town collecting alms of rice and vegetables from the local population. Almsgiving is an integral part of the Buddhist philosophy, earning the giver merit, or ‘bun’, towards their next life, enhancing their chances of improving their existence next time around. Taking part in this daily mystical ritual is one of the highlights of a stay in Luang Prabang. Before heading back to your resort for breakfast, a quick peek at the local wet market has to be included – the trading grounds for fresh ingredients and household goods are at its finest early in the morning.

Together with a female host, part of this unique experience will be partially done by boat.

The rest of the morning is at leisure.

Lunch is on own arrangement

In the afternoon, a spiritually tinted programme takes Laotian explorers along some of Luang Prabang’s venerable sites and landmarks. Your guide for this afternoon is a former novice from one of the many local temples.

We start with a walk towards the Wat Pa Phai, which means Monastery of the Bamboo Forest and is one of the oldest temples in Luang Prabang. Characterized by its gilded and carved wooden facade, Wat Pa Phai has a classic Tai–Lao fresco depicting everyday scenes of late 19th-century Lao life. Upon arrival at the temple, your guide will give an extensive explanation of Buddhist culture, architecture, temple etiquette, and the daily life of novices and monks. This is the opportunity to find out everything you would need to know about Buddhism in Laos and to have a deep understanding of Buddhism. You will continue to go inside the temple for meditation – an experience that allows you to learn and practice the same meditation techniques taught inside the temple and will give you a better understanding of the importance of Buddhist meditation techniques. After this short meditation session, the head monk will give you his blessings, both physically and spiritually.

Dinner is on own arrangement

Accommodation is offered in the very heart of Luang Prabang

Day 6 | 9 Days Lao Women’s Tales: between tradition and emancipation

Day 6

Luang Prabang – Vientiane                                                                                            [B]

Breakfast at the resort

While a break away from all the impressions may be on one’s mind, other explorers of Laos may just want to continue to enrich the country’s deeply rooted connection with food and culinary delights with an optional cooking class. Led by a female master chef, the ins and outs of what defines the tastes of Laos are presented during a morning joint introduction to excellent Laotian cuisine.

Heuan Chan Heritage is an early 20th-century constructed traditional house called Villa Xieng Mouane that dated back to over 100 years and has been classified in the World Heritage List in 1995 by UNESCO. Opened in late 2017, Heuan Chan Heritage is a museum, as well a cultural and recreational centre and a one-stop place for historical and cultural information. Learn how Lao cuisine is packed with flavour using local fresh herbs on a cooking class suited to everyone regardless of their culinary prowess. This class starts with an introduction of what defines Laotian cuisine before taking up your place at Heuan Chan’s kitchen. Four to five different local dishes are prepared under the guidance of the chef. Afterwards, budding chefs savour the fruits of their labour sitting down together to tuck into their creations.

When time permits, explore the culturally enthralling grounds of Huean Chan Heritage and admire the exhibits.

Transfer from your booked accommodation in Luang Prabang to the town’s international airport for a short domestic flight to Vientiane. Upon arrival at Vientiane International Airport, transfer to your booked hotel in the Laotian capital. Laos’ national capital Vientiane offers a blend of French-colonial architecture and Asian spirituality, most notably the golden 16th-century Pha That Luang – the nation’s symbol of independence and sovereignty. Visitors can stroll along smart tree-lined boulevards and enjoy drinks at Fa Ngum, a pleasant road adjoining the Mekong River.

The rest of the day is at leisure.

Dinner is on own arrangement

Accommodation is offered in downtown Vientiane

Day 7 | 9 Days Lao Women’s Tales: between tradition and emancipation

Day 7

Vientiane                                                                                                                           [B, L]

Breakfast at the hotel

A warm welcome by your Laotian guide signals the start of a full day exploring one of Asia’s smallest capitals.

On the outskirts of Vientiane on the Mekong River is a vast manicured garden lined with trees that is home to over 200 concrete sculptures of Buddha, Hindu Gods, demons and mythological creatures of different sizes. The park’s most striking sculpture is a huge pumpkin with three levels representing earth, heaven and hell which can be explored via a staircase and at the top offers spectacular views of the park. Despite its interesting sculptures, Buddha Park is not a temple although locals regularly frequent the park to worship its religious monuments like its large reclining Buddha.

Next on the programme is a leading non-government organization, aiming to give back and give even the less-fortunate the chance to provide to one’s family. Founded on the principle that every Laotian deserves the right to an education and run by Lao women with either physical or mental disabilities, the Lao Disabled Women’s Development Centre is a not-for-profit vocational centre with its own restaurant. After a 30-minute visit to the centre, you will take part in a hienhou numkan (meaning learn together – an expression expressed when we want someone to get to know us better). This will include focus group discussions with some of the staff working at the centre, where you can understand each person’s individual story, their challenges and how they are providing essential aid to other people with disabilities.

Driven by a local chef, the lunch served here is part of the on-the-spot training by the women and has a distinctive local flavour. All profits made from the lunch is put back into the Lao Disabled Women’s Development Centre in further give training to those in need.

After lunch, we head back into the direction of downtown Vientiane to pay respect to the national symbol of Laos. The Pha That Luang is one of Laos’ most treasured Buddhist monuments as reflected by its entirely golden colour that glistens under the sun. This large stupa is in a characteristic banana flower shape, reaches 45 metres into the sky and is enclosed by golden cloisters with tiny windows. Local legend cites that That Luang was built to house a breast bone of the Buddha.

The end of this fascinating day ends at the Mekong River for a leisurely stroll and watch how the locals enjoy their time playing, eating and chatting the night away.

Dinner is on own arrangement

Accommodation is offered in downtown Vientiane

Day 8 | 9 Days Lao Women’s Tales: between tradition and emancipation

Day 8

Vientiane                                                                                                                            [B, L]

Breakfast at the hotel

It is wise to leave some space in your stomach as this morning continues with more delicacies of the local kind. Together with your guide for the day, we head out to one of the hidden gems of Vientiane – Kung’s Café.

Located inside a quiet street, right across from the Ministry of Health, Kung’s café is a tiny garden café, run by Kung and her daughter Daeng. The café used to be located on Fa Ngum Road, but the family was forced to relocate it to the narrow alley where they live before the road they resided in was reconstructed. Now, three generations later, women still serve delicious Lao cuisine to both locals and expats, who have made this their favourite hangout spot because of its green oasis, far away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Our recommendation is to try out Kung Cafe’s Lao coconut coffee and sticky rice pancakes with fresh fruits.

After this delectable break, we dive deeper into Vientiane and its unique landmarks. Wat Si Saket is Laos’ only temple that survived the Siamese invasion in 1828 which devastated most of Vientiane. It is also the capital’s oldest Buddhist temple. Wat Si Saket has an ornate design with a five-tiered pitched roof adorned with serpents and a pretty floral ceiling in the ordination hall. A museum now resides in the cloister housing over 10,000 Buddha sculptures images with the oldest dating back to the sixteen century.

Finally, the Patuxay is on our itinerary. This iconic landmark is likened to Arc de Triomphe since it has a similar concrete structure with an arched gate, although typical Laos’ decoration features at the top of this monument. Patuxai translates to ‘Victory Gate’ and was built to commemorate those who lost their lives during several wars. It is situated on Lane Xang Avenue, which leads to the Presidential Palace in the centre of the capital.

Lunch will be served at a local restaurant

Enjoy the remainder of the day at the comfort of your accommodation or venture out on your own to experience the sights, sounds, and smells of charming Vientiane.

In the evening, we offer two choices, of which one sees continuation of digging deeper into the culinary aspect of women and their connection with Laotian cuisine. You will have the unique opportunity to discover the legendary Laotian hospitality and meet an amazing woman – a proud Laotian resident who has worked for many years as a licensed guide, and who still possesses the art of sharing with travellers her love of country passionately. She will welcome you in her house for a homemade dinner while telling captivating stories of her life and her beloved country.

The other option is to continue taking it easy and enjoy dinner on your own. There are plenty of restaurants and venues available within a short distance from your overnight address.

Accommodation is offered in downtown Vientiane

Day 9 | 9 Days Lao Women’s Tales: between tradition and emancipation

Day 9

Vientiane –Vientiane Departure                                                                                [B]

Matching breakfast with your scheduled departure time from your booked Vientiane hotel to our next destination will be something worth considering on the final day of this female-powered experience. Following the resort’s check-out times and conditions, our guide and driver will be waiting for you at the resort to bring you in comfort back to Vientiane International Airport.

Depending on your departure time today, numerous travel options are at your disposal, all coming with that female touch. Below some examples on how guests can fill in their day

Carol Cassidy’s Lao Textiles
For the weaving lovers, Carol Cassidy’s Lao Textiles is a must-visit place.
Arrived in Laos in 1989 as a textile expert with the United Nations Development Program, her passion for weaving and her background in seeing a lot of the world, identified Laos as a handicraft paradise, made her settle permanently in this part of the world. One year later, she founded Lao textiles. Her team of predominantly female weavers use hybrid looms to produce intricate brocade, ikat and tapestry textiles. If you are lucky, you may have the chance to meet Carol herself, who will guide you through the gallery and share with you her (love) story with Laos.

Mulberries
A lady with a story to tell. Kommaly Chanthavong, the founder of Vientiane’s Mulberries, fled her village in rural Laos after it was destroyed by a US bomber during the Secret War”. At that time, she was only 11 years old and did walk across the country for over a month before reaching Vientiane. Having faced the devastation bought by the war, she created a silk-weaving organization to offer a source of sustainable livelihood to displaced women and their families. Certified by the World Fairtrade Organization, Mulberries now employs 3,000 farmers and artisans from over 200 families across Laos.

A coffee tour with Mrs Nini
No trip to Laos is complete without a coffee tasting. The country is proud to be named one of Asia’s primary coffee-growing nations and is widely known for its coffee production. The Bean Discovery workshop is designated to enhance your understanding of Lao Coffee. Joining your instructor and well-known entrepreneur, Mrs Nini, be guided through the path from the coffee farm to your coffee cup. With her two sisters, they have developed the family business and opened shops, restaurants and cafes in the capital city and her success formula has laid the blueprint for many seeking similar business ventures.

During this workshop, visitors will learn about the roasting process and the art of coffee roasting. Partake in brewing your cup of coffee and get your taste buds ready for an authentic taste to discover the uniqueness of Lao coffee.

Lunch at the Living Library
One of Vientiane’s most striking colonial heritage buildings, the centrally located National Library of Laos, has been transformed into a cosy vegetarian restaurant. The elegant structure opposite the Nam Phou Fountain offers space for up to 250 guests, both inside and out. The newly named Living Library Restaurant serves healthy cuisine, using only organic produce sourced from local growers, which helps to distribute income to local farmers and encourage them to cultivate nutritious, organic crops. The perfect place for a delicious lunch.

Spa and wellness treatments at Papaya Spa
One of the first wellness centres to open in Laos, Papaya Spa continues to raise the bar in administering invigorating treatments. This facility is the brainchild of Mrs Vinh, a veteran of the country’s spa sector. She only uses natural ingredients and treatment techniques that maintain a deep respect for the local environment. Nestled in a quiet location outside of Vientiane in a traditional wooden house and surrounded by tropical gardens, serenity flows through the serene compound. Guests can enjoy massages to counter jet lag, or facials that use locally sourced and mixed products such as honey, tamarind and coconut

THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW

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INCLUSIONS

  • All transfers with air-conditioned vehicle with driver only
  • Tours with licenced English-speaking guiding services, primarily female guides. Other languages are on request and are subject to availability
  • Accommodation in sharing twin/double in Luang Prabang and Vientiane
  • All entrance fees for visits as mentioned in the program
  • All applicable taxes and service charges
  • All meals as indicated in the program (food only)

EXCLUSIONS

  • Other transfers as indicated in the itinerary
  • Personal expenses such as other meals, drinks, tips and gratuities, shopping, portage fees and optional tours/ visits, unless otherwise stated
  • Hotel accommodation in the destination of commencement.
  • Any domestic / international airline tickets, airport taxes, visa fees, specific camera / video fees, additional transportation cost from and to the general pick-up / drop-off regions (such as airports, out-of-town resorts, ports, harbours and accommodation in surrounding towns)
  • Any accommodation expenses of a personal nature. This includes (compulsory festive) meals and drinks, mini-bar consumption, laundry, room service, any telephone or other communication cost not mentioned in the program
  • International travel and medical insurance coverage for customers

GOOD TO KNOW

  • During this tour, we will enter religious sites where a dress code may be applicable. Please dress respectfully by wearing clothing that cover the knees and shoulders, avoid wearing clothing with bright, fluorescent colours of any kind, obscene prints or pictures, beach wear or strapless sandals / flip flops. Failure to comply may result in denying access into these sites.
  • Natural elements of any kind have a destructive effect on electronic equipment. It the customer’s own responsibility to ensure that any camera, mobile telephone or other device is properly wrapped and protected against these elements. We cannot be held responsible in any way for negligence and/or not following suggestions for any damage related to this
  • We reserve the right to make necessary changes to the tour in case of unfavourable weather conditions or situations where we are forced to make alterations to guarantee the safety of our guests
  • Tours and excursions often include obstacles of various kinds that may not make this excursion suitable for wheelchair users or guests with limited mobility
  • The protection of the country’s flora, fauna and its historical and cultural treasures is of immense importance for us. We will not pursue any activities that are not in line with our animal, wildlife and environment protection principles
  • Please ensure that you bring sunglasses, a hat /cap and sunblock with a high SPF factor when traveling with us. Even when it is cloudy, the sun still has an immense power
  • All mentioned times, durations and stops are based on approximations and may change due to unforeseen circumstances, weather and traffic conditions beyond our control

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