THE THREE ALPHA TRAVEL

… Africa, Australia (+ New Zealand) and Asia

Laos

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I have been thinking… I am very slow in posting lately and for a reason. I was in Laos. Oh what a terrific country! But then to keep up to date I would have to write only one post on the whole country! It has only happened with Singapore before and it does not reflect at all, my liking. Laos for me was the breath I wanted after traveling nearly 11 months. You know, you have been around S.E. Asia, you have seen a lot of limestone rocks, beaches, mountains, volcanoes and people but then comes Laos. Also let’s not forget that Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia they will remain virtually the same in the years to come. Laos not. Their tourist industry is very young still, which allows people to see travelers as people and not dollars. That is exactly what I took advantage of… read on.

We cross the border from the north legitimate pass with Thailand, Chiang Kong. With 40 Baht we cross the Mekong river (once again) and there we are; Laos! The Visa price is different for different European countries. For example for the French is 25 USD for the Spanish is 30 USD and for the Greeks 35 USD! Oh well I thought, you can’t win all the time. There is a slow boat to Luang Prabang stopping at Pak Beng overnight – a total tourist trap but hey… The first impression from Pak Ben is very good with the people being the protagonists. This was to be true all-Lao-long 😉

Reclining Buddha at Phu Si

Reclining Buddha at Phu Si

Reaching Luang Prabang I knew from before it was a World Heritage city and it lived up to my expectations. Comparing it to Hoi An though (another WH city of Vietnam) I have to say that the owners in Luang Prabang have found some ways through this title. In any case it is a nice place with loads to explore around and inside it. As all the plains of the Mekong river it was very hot. Spending a couple of lazy days we walk through the village visit the temples (it has more than Vientiane) and climb Phu Si. We also arrange a 3-day trek a bit north of Luang Prabang, an area called Phapuang. As the price is originally very expensive we agree with the guide to do it “off the record” so the company would not know. The nice things of Asia. The trek results very beautiful and we go through one the most primary jungles I have seen yet. The only downside, the food. We had to eat sticky rice for three days and two nights when we got assured by the guide that we would be OK without bringing our own food. Detail but an important one. We follow the route; Phapuang – Hoi Vai – Jek River – Buak Khoi – Saking River & village. When this is over we spend another two days in Luang Prabang and it is now time for Sofia to go back to Greece. Alone again – it had been more than 3 months.

A youth at school near Nong Khiaw

A youth at school near Nong Khiaw

Next stop the quiet town of Nong Khiaw. With this my Lao experience is getting extra marks. It is a place of karsts and rivers. My bungalow is just by the river and I spend my time writing my diary getting to know some interesting people and walking to the nearby villages. The north of Laos as I was rightly told so was to be the reason why Laos is for me one of my top visits.  North of Nong Khiaw lays Udomxai which looks like a huge truck stop but serves the traveler with its many bus connections. I went there and took a bus to Luang Nam Tha, home of the Nam Tha National Park.

One of Luang Nam Thas many faces

One of Luang Nam Tha's many faces

The place looked beautiful even from the bus so I rent a motorbike for my first day, with Livy, a girl from Israel. Simply beautiful. The minority villages are very unpretentious (not like some in Sapa, Vietnam) and even reach the borders with China. The ride is out of this world with rice fields alternating with high mountains and all kinds of rock formations. It seems that all the borders of China are just beautiful. Too bad I did not think at the time to visit Kumming… The next days I would go on a 2-day trek with Zac, Gina and Farell, a group of friends I have met the previous day. Mr. Kit is our guide and the trek is very enjoyable as it is easy enough (about four hours of walking everyday). Nonetheless the jungle is very welcoming and during the night we sleep in a hut in the middle of nowhere (or so it seemed). Thanks guys for the nice memories and the good times.

Muang Sing

Muang Sing

Muang Sing was very close from Luang Nam Tha thus I give it a go. A very interesting mix of tribes attracts me but not enough so I give it a couple of days and one night. After this is back to Luang Nam Tha where I thought it would be possible to go all the way up to Phongsali, the remote North. Alas I have lost the only bus and I would have to wait a whole day. Balancing the remaining days and what’s to see down south I decide to take the bus to Vientiane. After all it only takes 23 hours. And so it did.

Vientiane

Vientiane

I arrive in Vientiane in good company. A Hmong youth and his wife write in my notepad all kinds of words and phrases in Hmong. Another guy I meet on the same bus goes to Vientiane because he just learned his brother was killed in a motorbike accident… Vientiane is compact and an OK city for a capital. It must be the most chilled out capital of the world though! I spent a couple of days there seeing the temples and talking with the locals as much as possible. I even so a homeless expat, if that can be said about the status of a foreigner in this country 😉 I find out something very interesting while in the capital. At Tha Khaek there is a chance to do a loop motorbike trip seeing very interesting stuff. It is still very unpopular with the tourists and that seems like a good idea after what I saw in the city. So I do and after about six hours I am once again near the borders with Thailand.

One of the many wonderful visuals during the road trip of Tha Khaek

One of the many wonderful visuals during the road trip of Tha Khaek

Here it seems not many people speak English. Central Laos is definitely not on the “trail”. I rent a motorbike for three days having planned the plan the day before and I am off to what has been so far the most interesting road trip for me. Many interesting things have happened in these three days and I have once again been stunned by what I saw. I could not possibly give a full account of what happened here but just some incidents include crossing a river with the bike, eating at a restaurant with some Vietnamese officials and getting drunk in village with only five young people (including me) and a guesthouse (yes for out times it seems strange for it to be only one). Finishing the loop I am all smiles and on the way back I visit the famous “Buddha Cave” too (after having done 280 km on the last day).

A Buddha between two trees in Champasak

A Buddha between two trees in Champasak

Getting closer to the end of my stay I take a bus to Pakse (the usual 6 hours) and rent a motorbike to visit Champasak and its World Heritage temple – a first touch with the Khmer architecture I was to see lots of in Angkor. From there and having met a Dutch couple we travel together on a pick-up truck to the Khong Island – a beautiful place and part of the Si Pha Don (literally meaning “a thousand islands”) – and off to cross the border. Cambodia is next but after Laos I reckon it will only be the Angkor Wat to get me off my shocks.

Overall Laos was as refreshing as I needed it to be after traveling for a long time. You kind of reach the point that many things look the same and your focus is somewhere else (but you don’t exactly know where). Laos reminded me how it was when I was travelling in Indonesia or in New Zealand. Happy and smiling 24/7 just like a Zen saint, not caring very much about whether you are seeing the ‘highlights’ or if you took the right way. I’ll never forget it and I hope it does not follow the model of Thailand in the years to come although it has to be said that it is changing rapidly…

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Written by csm2mk

October 17, 2009 at 1:31 PM

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