Across the border in Laos, yet more historical treasures and natural wonders await. Jon says:
“I remember being blown away upon entering Laos and taking a slow boat towards Luang Prabang. The whole place was just covered in undisturbed, pristine jungle.” One of the highlights of Luang Prabang is Wat Sen, or ‘Temple of 100,000 treasures’, a Buddhist site which, as its name suggests, contains a wealth of material and spiritual riches. Buddhism is also practised at the Pak Ou Caves, where the sight of hundreds of stone carvings of Buddha and modern-day saffron-robed monks demonstrates powerfully how strong the link between past and present here is.
The past is also alive and well in the work of the region’s artisans. The local rice whiskey ‘lao lao’, for example, has been prepared in Ban Xang Hai using the same methods for centuries, as has the handiwork of the jute paper craftsmen of Ban Xang Khong. (Incidentally, lao lao has the dubious distinction of being the world’s cheapest whiskey. Don’t let that put you off however—it has a mild, almost vanilla-like taste and is notably less likely to leave you with a hangover the next day than many of its far more expensive counterparts.)
“Every traveller’s experience of somewhere as huge, dynamic and dramatic as the Three Kingdoms is bound to be different—after all, this is a place of extremes, even though it is perfectly suited to self-reflection and spiritual awakening”
Back across the border in Vietnam, and not far from the capital Hanoi, is the heart-stoppingly beautiful Ha Long Bay. This UNESCO World Heritage site is an enchanting maze of charming grottoes, idyllic islands, gorgeous beaches and impressive limestone pillars that ascend from the azure-blue and emerald-green waters. It is probably about as close to paradise as it’s possible to get on earth, and a perfect place to conclude a visit to the country.
Every traveller’s experience of somewhere as huge, dynamic and dramatic as the Three Kingdoms is bound to be different – after all, this is a place of extremes, even though it is perfectly suited to self-reflection and spiritual awakening. But the underlying sense of peace, harmony and wonder that governs life here is tangible. It is no coincidence that many of those who have already been are counting down the days until their return.