By: Sarah Greer- Journeys Within Guest 2012
I lived in the Kingdom of Laos in 1968 as a foreign exchange student (AFS), spending most of my time with my Lao family in the capital, Vientiane. I was privileged to drive on the then-new gravel road to beautiful Vang Vieng, at that time a very sleepy country crossroads, where I marveled at the karst mountains and rice paddies. My most unusual experience was going to the king’s palace in Luang Prabang, where I attended a royal wedding. Journeys Within organized a trip that allowed my husband and me to re-visit these fascinating places. Many of the sights and sounds have changed dramaticallysince the country became Lao People’s Democratic Republic. For example, the morning market is no longer an open field, but a tall modern building. There are signs of foreign investment and building of new infrastructure in many places throughout the country. But most patterns of living have hardly changed at all, especially in the countryside. Many Lao still wear traditional clothing, they farm and gather local food, and their Buddhist traditions and animist spirit beliefs remain strong. The monks still walk at dawn, collecting alms. Our Journeys Within guides were phenomenal and eager to show us Laos past and present. I was especially grateful for help in connecting with my Lao family. The family was part of the Lao diaspora when the country changed hands in 1975. It was encouraging to learn that many Lao expatriates have now returned to live and work in their homeland. I was able to visit with my “sister” and “brother” and an old friend, and our guide took me to Wat Sisaket during the full moon festival to pay my respects with offerings of candles, incense and flowers at the stupa of the parents who had hosted me. This trip allowed me to rediscover a wonderfully friendly and constantly intriguing county.