In 1353 a prince founded the Kingdom of Lan Xang—‘The Kingdom of a Million Elephants.’ The wild landscape of Laos still echoes the romance of the country’s original name. Laos is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, with nearly three-quarters of its landmass covered in mountains and forested hills. National parks comprise 13% of the country, and Laos’ unofficial reputation is that of the being most laid back country in Southeast Asia.
But Laos is hardly parched for water. The Mekong River winds through the country for 4,180 kilometres before reaching Cambodia and, finally, the Vietnamese Delta. Khiri takes you along a tributary of the Mekong, the Nam Khan River, by bamboo raft to explore waterfalls outside of the picturesque town of Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
With over 40 different ethnic groups speaking over 100 different languages and dialects, ethnic minorities make up the majority of Laos’ population. Through close contact with ethnic minority villages such as the Hmong and Khmu, Khiri has developed a trusteed network in the highlands of northern Laos—places where very few Westerners have gone before.
The Ho Chi Minh Trail as it twisted through Laos provided a critical supply chain to the Viet Cong during the Vietnamese War. In its attempts to interrupt the communists’ supply line, the U.S. dropped over 260 million bombs over Laos, giving Laos the distinction of being the most bombed country per capita in the world. The Plain of Jars in northern Laos, in which there are hundreds of megalithic stone jars clustered throughout the landscape, is one of the most important archeological sites from the Iron Age. Three jar sites have been cleared of unexploded bombs—remnants of the Secret War in Laos of the 1960s—and are now easily accessed by visitors.
Lao people are known for their easy-going natures and, unlike their Thai, Cambodian, and Vietnamese neighbours, prefer sticky rice to jasmine rice with their meals.