Archive for the ‘Laos’ Category

We continued our journey southwards, to Kong Lo village, set in a dramatic landscape of karst mountains- as we all agreed, the area is dominated by vertical and horizotal lines: flat ricepaddies, above which the mountains tower, vertically rising from the flat land surrounding them, as if drawn with a ruler. Kong Lo is home to one of the longest subtarranean caves in the world- we boated along the river that is slowly meandering through the dark. The caves are full of stalagmites and stalagtites, and re-emerging on the other side of the tunnel was an amazing sight, with the karst mountains rising high above our heads. (sorry, there are no pictures of the cave as it was too dark inside)

The Mekong

The Mekong

From there we continued further south, with a brief stop in Tha Khaek and a few days spent in Pakse, before making our way over to the 4000 islands to kick back and relax for a few days. As the name suggests, there are quite a few islands along this stretch of the Mekong river- we stayed on Don Det, and spent time walking around the whole island (it is not very big), as well as crossing the bridge over to Don Khon to check out a huge waterfall in the Mekong, with millions of litres of water cascading down rocks every minute. We found a lovely place to stay, complete with veranda and hammocks and riverview and thus had a few very enjoyable last days in the country- and we got to sample some delicious food again.

Lazy Pig

Lazy Pig

The food had been an absolute pleasure for our entire stay in the country. The Lao national dish is called laap, it is a minced meat salad, spiced with chilli (very spicy indeed) that is eaten with sticky rice (and the Lao sticky rice is really sticky, you can roll it into ittle balls that won’t fall apart at all). Other favorites include yeows, spicy pastes made from either eggplant or chilli, or peanut, eaten with boiled vegetables and sticky rice. Then there are the soups. They come with rice noodles, with either chicken or pork (we had a braised pork one at a market in the north, in Muang Sing, it was one of the most delicious soups I have ever eaten). The soup seasoning is DIY again, like in Thailand. Every table has an array of sauces, chilli- and shrimppaste, and fresh greens such as mint leaves, beans, lettuce, cabage and slices of lime that are added to the broth. There are rice soups as well, and the usual suspects such as fried rice or noodles. We concluded our stay with a steamed fishcake in Banana leaves and all agreed that there could have been no better way to end our truly enjoyble stay in the country!

This guesthouse is only for jesus or people who travel with a paddle boat in their backpacks!

This guesthouse is only for jesus or people who travel with a paddle boat in their backpacks!

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Beautiful Water-pools

Beautiful Water-pools

Laos is the least visited country in the area (apart from Myanmar, of course), which does not mean, however, that there is no tourists. It is a sparsely populated place (6 million inhabitants in a country the size of the UK), and very rugged and mountainous in the north, while flat in the south along the Mekong and hilly again to the southeast. The Mekong river forms the border to Thailand for a long stretch of its journey south.

We entered Laos by taking a boat across the Mekong and headed north after a nights stopover in the border-town. The monsoon had become quite heavy by now, with irregular intense downpours, but it has still not marred our fun traveling this far.

Dining in the rice fields

Dining in the rice fields

Bus travel in Laos proved to be a good exercise in patience once more, with bussed not departing until 2 hours after the scheduled time, stopping all the time for no particular reason (or, so that the driver could sit down and have lunch, but he failed to inform any of his passengers about this 30 min break, so that we all missed the opportunity to get some food ourselves…). We traveled alongside bags of vegetables and fruit, fish in plastic-bags (still alive) and motorbikes parked in between the seats. We had leaky roofs dripping water on us, or got entirely drenched inside a soorngataau (a public transport vehicle, a converted pick up with benches and a roof, but open on the sides), when the monsoon hit-  but we safely made it to all our destinations, and after all, who does not want to travel alongside chicken and fish every now and then. What caused Simon the biggest headache is the fact that most buses play music all the time- or show music videos alongside the tunes, too. And it is not good music (it has to be agreed, of course, that tastes vary, but why force everyone to listen to the same songs?)

That's my baby!

That’s my baby!

To continue with the journey, we made our way to Luang Nam Tha, in a valley surrounded by mountains in the north of Laos, where we rented bicycles for a day to explore the area (one very unimpressive waterfall included, after we had first sweated our way up a wrong(!) steep path). We passed through a number of villages, all with houses on wooden stilts (this is the dominant style of houses both in the North of Loas as well as Thailand), had to get Simon’s bike fixed, sat down for a drink of water with an old man and exchanged lighters with him and at night explored the markets.

The next days brought adventure- we rented a scooter and a motorbike (Nico taught himself how to ride on youtube…) and we drove to Muang Sing, a village close to the Chinese border. It was a beautiful cruise through mountainous terrain. There are many ethnic minorities in Muang Sing, and the surrounding mountainside is dotted with villages of the Hmong and Akha tribes, to name just a few. We went on a trek the following day, passing through villages, rice fields (the rice planting was in full progress), and up a mountain through dense forest (very sweaty affair…). Finally, there was lunch on top of the mountain with our guide, extremely tasty pieces of pork, Lao sticky rice, chicken and bamboo shoots. After re-descending and making it back to the village, we took our bikes for another cruise and nearly accidentally drove into China- the border post was rather unassuming.

Monks collecting alms

Monks collecting alms

Our journey continued over bumpy mountain roads via small roadside villages, all complete with huge numbers of pigs and chicken roaming the streets and finally brought us to Luang Prabang, famous for its richly decorated temples. We went exploring around the city, followed by enjoying the view over the Mekong river from atop a hill.

Our next stop was Phonsavan, the location of the Plain of Jars- as the name suggests, there are jars. Many of them, all made from stone, some of them huge, scattered around he countryside just outside of the city. And nobody really knows where they came from, and what purpose they served. Phonsavan has another, darker heritage, too, though. During the Vietnam war, it was one of the most heavily bombed places in Laos (and Laos is one of the most heavily bombed places on earth- the U.S. dropped bombs to interrupt smuggle along the Ho Chi Minh tail, and to destroy communist groups gathering to fight the enemy, despite the fact that Laos had been declared neutral territory). It is estimated that after the war, 80 million pieces of unexploded ordnance remained hidden in or just above the soil in the country (of the 2 million tons of bombs dropped, 30 % failed to detonate), and these have caused many casualties. The plain of Jars, for instance, is only safe to visit in certain areas that have been cleared of bombs, and there are still visible bomb craters everywhere.

Items made of bombshells

Items made of bombshells

Clearance is in progress, but will take decades to complete. Meanwhile, some locals have adopted a more pragmatic attitude to this worrisome legacy and are using empty bombshells as building materials for houses, create BBQ’s or flowerpots out of bombs, or melt them to recast them as cutlery- we bought a set in a small village close to Phonsavan.

Our last destination in the North was Vientiane, the nation’s capital, complete with a mini arc de triomphe (the former French influence is still visible in many of Laos’ cities, especially in the architecture of brick and stone houses, but also through the presence of French cultural institutes, restaurants and schools).

Here ends the first account of our impressions around Laos, soon to be followed by our adventures in the South!

Another Waterfall

Another Waterfall

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Well, as it seems Anna doesn’t really feel like writing at the moment and I can’t remember every detail over such a long period of time. Therefore this is just going to be a very very short post with a very brief summary of the last few weeks. A more detailed post might follow soon.

So I flew to Bangkok to meet Anna and Simon there. As I had extended my stay in Myanmar I was a few days late and therefore couldn’t really explore Bangkok anymore. So we had a nice diner in Bangkok and too the train on the next day to Sukkutai, which was the capital of the former Thai-Empire. The old temples were certainly of historical significance, but other than that not very spectacular. After Sukkutai we went up north to Chiang Rai and explored the surrounding region. After that we already headed for the border of Laos and crossed the Mekong River into Laos where we were planning on staying a little bit longer than Thailand. In northern Laos we spent some days hiking and scootering around. We rented some scooters and I taught myself how to ride a motorbike on You Tube and rented a proper chopper. It was a lot of fun riding on the streets of Laos, as they are in a rather good condition and they are not as crowded as in other Asian countries.

After that we went further south, to Luang Prabang, a very atmospheric town with a lot of French influence, followed by Vientiane, the capital of Laos. We enjoyed some city life in those cities, including some good and quite decadent food.

I added a few photos below to give you some impressions of the last few weeks and I hope that the more detailed report will follow soon.

Stay tuned, Rock’n Roll, Nico

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