The Path Less Taken: Laos
Laos is one of the most pristine and laid-back countries in Southeast Asia, despite its landlocked location between such formidable neighbors as China, Vietnam, and Thailand. Laos is also one of the least developed and most impoverished countries in the region, so the opportunities for volunteer assistance are vast. The Globe Aware program takes place in fascinating Luang Prabang, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its charming French-colonial architecture. Monks in saffron robes still stroll to Luang Prabang's many temples with umbrellas over their shoulder, while longtail boats are guided gently down the Mekong River making deliveries. Unfortunately, Laos has the dubious honor of being the most heavily bombed nation in history because American fighters used it as a dumping ground for explosives during the Vietnam War. While landmines have been cleared from all major tourist areas, and the areas where Globe Aware works, thousands of Lao people are maimed and killed every year by the tons of unexploded ordinance still not cleared from the countryside.
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Your volunteer work may be spread between the government orphanage, and a variety of other village schools and community projects, as needed. Specific projects will be decided immediately before your volunteer week based on progress of previous groups and specific need at the time. You may make improvements to school structures. Facilities are often very inadequate, and you may be making general repairs such as replacing doors and windows, painting, or pouring a concrete floor, for example. You will be working alongside the local people to make vast improvements to their communities.
Projects vary depending on the number of volunteers, which projects were finished (or not) with the prior group, what priorities have changed, weather conditions, which supplies are available, and often the interest and fitness level of the volunteers. For these reasons, specific projects are often not fixed until the week prior to your arrival and can even change upon arrival.
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Food and Lodging
Volunteers will be lodged 2 to a room depending on group make-up in a modest hotel in the center of town, within minutes walking distance from all the major sites in Luang Prabang. Hot water is available, as are flushing toilets and electricity, and even excellent linens. Fresh Lao specialties are prepared for your meals including rice, noodles, chicken, and beef. Click here for accommodation images.
There will be several planned (but optional) excursions to see local sites, and you can also use your free time for site seeing.
Luang Prabang is set amidst the splendor of mountains, forests, and rivers, and offers a multitude of thousand year-old temples and shrines, a vibrant night market for local weaving and antiques, as well as a thriving Buddhist community of thousands of monks aged eight to ninety years old. Make sure not to miss the Royal Palace Museum, Kuong Sy falls, and Pak Ou Caves. In between temple visits, there are many small restaurants perched high on the banks of the Mekong where you can watch life float slowly by.
Arranging Your Airfare
Plan to arrive in Luang Prabang no later than 10am the Sat. your program begins. The program ends at 11a.m. the following Saturday. The airport is one of the return drop-off stops our driver will make. The airport is a 10-minute, $4 taxi ride from our program site, so you have flexibility with your departure if you want to leave at a different time, however your room is only arranged through to the Saturday morning your program ends. Most volunteers fly into Bangkok and book a connecting flight into Luang Prabang.
Need to Know
Laos is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination, and Luang Prabang is the most popular place to visit. Even still, our volunteer groups tend to be small, though trips are never cancelled. ATMs have been slow to arrive in this region, so it is important to bring cash to exchange or a credit card for cash advances; however please realize that you are not leaving civilization. Luang Prabang is a bustling city, and there will be abundant internet cafes, phones, restaurants, and shops at your disposal.