Where shall I go and what shall I do in Laos? Here are some ideas; please add your own in the comments!
Volunteer at Big Brother Mouse in Luang Prabang
Big Brother Mouse is a Lao-owned business with the motto “books that make literacy fun for children in Laos.” They publish books in Lao and deliver them to children all over the country; sometimes these are the first books the children have ever seen. A couple things I really like about this organization: non-Lao people contribute to it, but it’s owned and run by people from Laos who want to improve literacy in their own country, not just foreigners who want to import their own ideas; along those same lines, while they publish some public domain books in English, their main focus is publishing in Lao so that children grow up reading their own language; and as you can see in their motto, they present reading as a fun pastime, not just another form of schoolwork. You can donate money to help fund publishing (you can see how trustworthy they are here). You can also drop by their bookstore in Luang Prabang and do some informal English practice with young folks, and that’s what I intend to do when I’m there. (I learned about the program from this post by the niece of a travel blogger I follow.)
Wander the mysterious Plain of Jars
Like Stonehenge or the Pillars of Carnac, the Plain of Jars is a collection of stone objects with some significance lost to the modern age. No one is quite sure who made these jars or why, but various sizes of stone jars are scattered near the town of Phonsavan, and you can pay about a dollar to walk among them and speculate to your heart’s content. Funerary jars? Food containers? Alien practical jokes a la the pyramids? An interesting tourist destination, anyway, that’s for sure.
Visit the temples of Luang Prabang
Because this formerly royal city is a Unesco World Heritage site, trucks and buses are banned from the city center, so it’s retained much of the calm that attracted worshipers and tourists alike. There are over 30 Buddhist temples in town, most of them active, so many orange-robed monks mix in with the crowds of locals and visitors. The daily alms giving ceremony is either not to be missed or overrun with tourists and devoid of meaning, depending on who you ask. I probably lean toward not gawking at ceremonies of the devout, but we’ll see what the situation is when I’m there.