By Heather Stoeckley

Today we fly to Laos, leaving behind our thrilling week of explorations – quasi Indiana Jones style – through the various jungle temples at Angkor Wat.  Once arrived, we enjoy a serene meander down the Mekong River and eventually reach the ending point to board our bus for lunch.  Today’s fare is at a truck stop of a restaurant, but most of our group agrees that the beef and vegetable stew we quickly devour is probably the best, most flavorful dish tasted so far…. And certainly the most authentic.

The drive to Vat Phou takes us past rice paddies, shimmering with the afternoon sun’s reflection.  We wave at the farmers who take a momentary respite from their work to wave back, happy to share a smile with us, the uncommon tourist.  Colorfully painted pagodas dot the mountainous landscape and despite the bumpy detour through a nearby village, our journey today is one of the most peaceful in our trip thus far.

At Vat Phou, we make the trek up to the archaeological site, where ruins of this former Khmer temple complex still stand and where various countries claim restoration projects, perhaps attesting to its historical value.  Those brave and not completely exhausted among us attempt to climb the frangipani-lined stone steps up to the sanctuary, which is now a pilgrimage site for Theravada Buddhists.  Winded by the time I reach the top, I briefly pause to donate/purchase an incense stick and flower offering.  Continuing inside, I pay my respects to the Buddha image resting inside and exit.  I pick a spot at the edge of the cliff and peer down to the ruins below… It is sunset and hardly any people remain on site.  Some subtle chanting begins from the locals who remain and I know that my time on site must come to an end.  So I begin my descent back down the steps, picking up frangipani flowers along the way as my own souvenir of this magical, relaxing place.  Already Laos has far exceeded my expectations….

Travel with Far Horizons to Cambodia & Laos in 2013 or 2014!