Archive for the ‘Northern Laos’ Category

  • Towards the capital, Vientiane


    Vientiane, capital of Laos, is situated on a bend in the Mekhong river, which will follow our way down south Laos, crossing Cambodia and up to south Vietnam. The city is the country’s hub for travel to the rest of the country and it can be visited in one day and the truth is that there is not much to see. There are still few traditional wood houses and colonial mansions, but most of the city is now full of concrete structures with little appeal. We walked along the streets, explored the market, saw some nice French colonial houses, a couple of Buddhist temples and that was it.


    french-colonial-architecture2.JPG that-dam-black-stupa.JPG

    At least we found one little stall in Talat Sao market which seemed the only place in the whooooole city that apparently could fix the camera. It was one of this stalls where they open up any electrical device with very basic but effective equipment, gut their contents and reassemble everything again as a puzzle. The guy had all short of watches, mobile phones and digital cameras and little bits and bobs all around. It was the kind of place where you wouldn’t trust to leave any valuable, just in case they mess it up even more, but hey! we where pretty desesperate and this was our only chance in the whole country (the alternative was to go back to Bangkok). So he worked for more than 3 hours on the camera, opened it up to the very little pieces, cleaned he dirt here, put some grease there, soldered few wires and played with it for a long time until he succeded to make the camera work again…. for a while. The lense is fixed, it can open and close properly, we can swith on and off the camera, and even take pictures, but after 1 minute being on the screen blaks out and asks you to switch the camera off. We don’t really know what’s the problem and this guy couldn’t fix it, but he was so nice he didn’t even charged us a kip for the long time he was working on it since it wasn’t completely repaired. At least some good news!! It seems we will have to wait until being back in Bangkok to fix it properly and in the meantime use the camera as little as we can. Mission half-accomplished, we can now head south Laos and continue with our trip.


  • Luang Prabang


    For many centuries the city was the former capital of Laos, where artisans, Buddhist monks and merchants of the Khmer kingdom lived in harmony. Dominated for several kings during 6 centuries, it was the most powerful area of the Indochina peninsula. For many years suffered the occupation of Burmese and Siamese reigns until king Oun Khan finally signed a cooperation pact with France, starting thus the French colony period.


    Luang Prabang is renowed for its outstanding cultural and natural beauty. The town is one of the best preserved places in Southeast Asia and its beautifully restored temples, period buildings, traditional cultures and tranquil atmosphere make it one of our favourite cities so far in this trip. We found a small but charming guesthouse (Mai Pai Inn House) in the old quarter just next to the Wat Xieng Thong, the city’s oldest and most magnificient temple. The wooden and bamboo lodge is run by an old Turkish ex-archaeologist who has been travelling for long time and, fascinated by the city, decided to stay in Luang Prabang. He was very friendly and thoughful, always trying to help us in any possible way and has been for us one of the best hosts in Asia, we felt like at home and will definetely come back if we ever go back to Luang Prabang.


    The city mix of shiny temple roofs, crumbling French provincial architecture with its fading facades and multiethnic inhabitants gives a feeling of a town lost in time and trends to captivate almost all the travellers. Hmong, Mien and Thai tribal people can often be seen walking around town on their way to the markets. Orange-wrapped Buddhist monks walk along the streets early morning for the alms giving ceremony, called Tak Bat. Every morning the people line up the streets to offer food and pay respect to the monks who form a procession through the town in a beautiful yet solemn religious ceremony. There are many sites to visit in the city and many surrounding villages, rural communities and mountians to explore, but above all it’s a great place in which simply relax and unwind.


    Unfortunately, our digital camera broke and we couldn’t find any place to fix it. Laos is not a developed country and reparation shops are nowhere to be found. So we have had to change our route and go directly to Vientiane, to see if we could find someone who was able to repair it, fingers crossed!!!


  • Navigating the Mekong river downstream


    We went back to Huay Xai just as a stopover before boarding a slow boat going down the Mekong river southeast to Luang Prabang. We got into the barge with many other foreigners and a couple of local people. There we found Kip and his wife again, a Dutch couple that we met in Thaton and again in Chiang Rai and who are travelling around Southeast Asia riding their bicycles (it’s not the first time that we keep on finding again and again people that we have met along the way).


    Navigating this part of the Mekong river it’s been such a scenic boat trip. The boat moves forward slowly through the Mekong’s brown waters, one of the biggest rivers in the world. The first span of the trip goes between Thailand and Laos riversides, both covered of dense vegetation and sprinkled with little villages. A sand beach in one of the shores, kids playing on the riverbank, few rocks in the middle of the river or some rapids make the journey different and exciting as we continue downstream. After seven hours we arrive to Pak Beng, a small riverside town half way of the trip and where we will spend the night.


    The next morning we hop on the boat again and navigate along the river getting inside Laos territory. Sometimes the boat stops in one of the villages to pick up more passengers or goods, is on that moments when we can observe closer the life along Mekong’s shore: children splashing in the water, a fisherman repairing the fishing nets, women in their bath time… After eight hours we arrive to Luang Prabang, a beautiful city encircled by lush emerald mountains and set at the confluence of the Khan and the Mekong rivers.


  • Muang Sing, the northern mountain region


    This is not much more than a couple of streets in the middle of a plain and surrounded by some small mountains and forests, but Muang Sing has been a well known place since long ago. First as one of the biggest opium markets in Laos and nowadays as the starting point for many eco-minded treks in the mountains. Even having asked in many guest houses, in the tourist office and to some locals too, we could not get much information about trekking independently in the surrounding area. It was thanks to an american guy who gave us a copy of a hand made map that we could start to think it was possible to hike by ourselfs, with no guides, group or whatever.


    On our second day in town we couldn’t do much because of the heavy rain (the wet season is just starting and, from our point of view, it’s doing quite well: raining everyday sometimes 24 hours non stop!!). But we used that day to familiarize with some Akha hill tribe women who were in town to sell their souvenirs to tourists. They were very friendly and we had good fun together, although they constantly tried to sell us things that we had refused just minutes ago.


    The next day we rented a mountain bike and made our way through extremely muddy paths up and down the mountains towards the Chinesse border (just 12 km away from Muang Sing). We visited many tribe villages and played with many kids, but the best thing that day was the good time we had riding the bikes through these narrow, muddy paths between rice fields and forests.


    After aproximately 8 hours biking, we came back to town completely knakered and with pain all over our bodies (specially in our bums), so we just relaxed and got ready to go back to Huay Xai the next morning.