Laos is Lovely!!!!!

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October 29th 2007
Published: October 29th 2007
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Mekong RiverMekong RiverMekong River

View from Chomsy hill. 320 steps to the top.
Laos is Lovely!!!

We’ve had wonderful time in Laos and we were fortunate as we spent our time in Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiane. It is a marvelously beautiful nation whose people are quite friendly.

We arrived in Luang Prabang from Chiang Mai, Thailand. Originally we had considered taking a 6 hour bus trip to the Laos border, and then a two day boat ride down the Mekong River for the adventure. It sounded quaintly adventurous and we thought that it would be a great experience. We changed our mind and flew into Laos and it appears that we made a very good decision. We were at a travel agent’s office and overheard a conversation from some people who did that and they said it was horrible. The trip was on a longboat and the river was rough, the boat was packed with more than a 100 people. All the luggage and backpacks were tossed in the back and some got wet. They related the conditions as being awful. We came close to taking that trip and are very grateful to have been saved from that agony. Sometimes you do the right thing and don’t really know why,
Luang Prabang Luang Prabang Luang Prabang

View from Chomsy hill. 320 steps to the top.
but are incredibly glad you did.

Upon arrival to Laos, the one most important item that you can bring along with you is a $3 calculator to help you your first day in a new country. We exchanged $400 on arrival and were given 3,840,000 kips. (pronounced keeps) The exchange rate is 9600 to $1. You can imagine the wad of bills that we were walking around with. It made Monopoly money seem sparse in comparison.

Generally speaking, by the 2nd day in a new country you can do the conversion in your head but it is an enormous help in the beginning. It initially comes as quite a shock as we paid 130,000 for dinner. After consulting the calculator, we were amazed that we had actually only paid After taking a look at the calculator, we felt much better as we had spent only $13.55 for a very nice meal!

As we rode in the taxi truck from the airport to the hotel (that had given our room away) a smile came to our faces. We could tell immediately that we were going to love Luang Prabang, the ancient capital of Laos. A town of about 25,000, Luang Prabang is quaint and French colonial, historically influenced by French provincialism. It is a delightful town with rich foods and lovely little shops. A wide variety of Laotian and Thai foods can be found here along with many French and European delights. Lots of wonderful fresh breads, pastries, croissants and bagettes!!

There is a plethora of things to see and do in this part of the country. There seems no shortage of elephants on parade, whitewater rafting, trekking, waterfalls and temples. We opted to rent bicycles (it is safe here) and do a tour of the town and the temples. The architecture is different from those in Thailand and Malaysia. We have decided we like the temples here as they have not been fully restored. They look aged and have far more character. The wats (temples) here are quite old, having been built over 500 years ago.

Laos is not overdeveloped with tourism so the country seems very pure and natural. Laos seems to offer all of the outdoor activities that can be found in Thailand, absent the commercialization.

Luagn Prabang is situated at the confluence of the Mekong River and the Nam Khan River. The Mekong is far bigger and wider than we imagined. It is a major river in Southeast Asia.

From here we traveled south via minivan to Vang Vieng. This was advertised as a 5 hour ride. We are learning that it is wise to add about 25% to the times they give us. It actually took about 6 ¼ hours. The road was paved and it was a two lane road ….. that was the good part. Somehow our driver managed to hit every pothole on the highway and we were seated in the back row of a 12 passenger van that the shocks were shot. It sounds like we are complaining but really we are not. This was the most lovely drive through the mountains. We went up a mountain, down, and up the next mountain dodging goats, cows and small children sitting or playing in the road. We passed small villages full of people going about their daily work of hauling water from the local river, or drying the rice and peppers in the sun. Laos has the most amazing countryside and is well worth booking a trip so you can make the drive. It is green, lush and breathtaking.

In Laos we have decided that there is no rule that says you can not pass another vehicle on a curve. At one point in the drive on the curvy, winding mountain road, our driver was passing a truck when (MJ) looked up to see a tour bus passing a truck and both were heading for us. She was chanting, oh shoot, oh shoot, oh shoot ( or something similar) when the bus got back in his lane. Dave looked at MJ and smiled with that what are you worried about look- there was at least a 3 inch clearance.

It turns out Vang Vieng is a small village on the edge of the Nam Song River.
The river runs along the foothills of the mountains. People come here for eco-adventures, plenty of hiking, caving and tubing. The river is beautiful and clean.
Our hotel was on the edge of the river so we enjoyed sitting at starring at the mountain. They are described in the Lonely Planet guide as stunning limestone peaks.

It takes about 15 minutes to walk the entire town if you are walking slowly. For some reason, this
Kids playing at schoolKids playing at schoolKids playing at school

Yeah for recess!!
little town has TV’s in most of the bars and restaurants in town and they have “Friends” reruns playing non-stop. I’m now sure how or why this got started but we found it rather annoying. Plenty of backpackers seemed to be enjoying it.

In Vang Vieng we had a wonderful conversation with a couple of women from England who now live in Laos. One has been here 15 years and owns the hotel that we are staying in, the other has been here for 1 year. They tell us that the main sources of income in Laos are farming and construction. A rice farmer can make about 20,000 kip for a 14 or 15 hour workday. (about $2) She has a friend that does cement work and receives 13,000 kip per day (about $1.30) and is required to work 7 days a week. If he misses a day of work he is penalized 16,000 kip. She has many Laotian friends and is in the process of buying property. In Laos you must buy property with a Laotian. The government can take the property back at any time they want. She is paying $8,000 for about ¾ of acre. She
Monks building a boatMonks building a boatMonks building a boat

Getting ready for the boat races.
has a friend who bought an acre of land in the mountains for $30.

Our observations have been that the women are very hard working- they sell their wares, do the cooking and all the cleaning. They seem very industrious. The men appear to be lazy. Our friend from England confirmed our observations. I asked about their dreams and aspirations and she tells us that they don’t have many. Most Laotians make less than $1,000 a year. If they do well and make more they do not save their money they spend it. They don’t think ahead to the future and make plans. This is a very day to day existence.

We’ve stayed in a couple of guest houses that only have cold water. It has given us a respect for having hot water and for that matter running water. Needless to report, many of the people in Asia do not have running water in their homes.

We’ve managed to plan this part of the trip perfectly. We are in Laos in time for their Bun Nam River Festival which occurs that the end of Buddhist lent. In celebration they are having boat races and boat parades.
Mountain driveMountain driveMountain drive

6 hours to Vang Vieng
We were lucky enough to see the boat parade in Vang Vieng. All the local villages have decorated a boat to be entered into the contest. They had music and lit the candles on their boats before they floated down the river for judging. It was beautiful to watch the boats float by. On the river bank the people from each village followed along after their boat- they sang and beat on drums. They were very proud of their boats. It was a beautiful thing to see.

Our last stop was the capital of Vientiane. It was a 3 hour ride from Vang Vieng and the countryside was rolling hills and not mountainous. Compared to the other towns in Laos, this is a large town of 200,000 people and feels rather chaotic because of the festivals, but chaotic in a good way.
The boat parade in Vientiane was very different from the one in Vang Vieng. In Vientiane, they have large boat with fancy lights and music. The ones in Vang Vieng were all handmade and they used candles to decorate. Both we enjoyable but our favorite was the one in Vang Vieng.

The most important National Monument

A beautiful drive
in Laos is in Vientiane, called Pha That Luang which is a symbol of both the Buddhist religion and Lao sovereignty. It is lovely. We loved our trip to the Buddha Park, where they have a field full of stone Buddha’s of all sizes and shapes. It was a wonderful park.

As you can imagine we have found time to have a couple of massages and found them to be delightful. No two massages are the same, but they all seem to feel wonderful. In Laos they use their feet more than they do in Thailand.

Oh--- we forgot to tell you that they drive on the “right” side of the road here.

Laos is lovely and we think you would enjoy your time here!! Laos has been a very pleasant surprise, and not what we had pictured.

Laos Background: Information and Other Opinions

Laos , officially Lao People's Democratic Republic, republic (2005 est. pop. 6,217,000), 91,428 sq mi (236,800 sq km), SE Asia. A landlocked region, Laos is bordered by China on the north, by Vietnam on the east, by Cambodia on the south, and by Thailand and Myanmar on the
Children playing IN the roadChildren playing IN the roadChildren playing IN the road

You just never know what you will see in the villages.
west. The capital and largest city is Vientiane. The country is divided into 16 provinces.

The terrain of Laos is rugged, mountainous, and heavily forested. The Mekong Rives flows through Laos.

Lao is the official language; French and English are widely spoken. The majority of Laotians are Buddhists. Rice is the chief crop, along with corn, sweet potatoes, coffee, tobacco, sugarcane, and cotton. Fish from the rivers supplement their diets. Tourism has become increasingly important in providing many jobs.

The Lonely Planet perhaps puts it best, “the nation we know as Laos is a foreign invention. Before the French, British, Chinese and Siamese drew a line around it and the French added the silent ‘s’ to ‘Lao’, it was a collection of disparate principalities subject to an ever-revolving cycle of war, invasion, prosperity and decay.”

The Lao people have known invasion, colonialization, chaos, and finally nationhood. Modern history can best be described as Japanese invasion during World War II, France finally ceding independence to a nation they had long ignored, a resistance to American imperialism (and bombing), and finally a communist victory in 1975 which formed the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos. This on the surface
Vang ViengVang ViengVang Vieng

View from our hotel.
seems a contradiction in terms having a democratic republic where there is a one party system and criticism of the government is not allowed.

Laos struggled throughout the rest of the 20th century as a result of communist rule and the inability to produce enough goods and exports to lift itself from a status of an underdeveloped nation. The U.S. finally lifted trade sanctions just a few years ago.

The average Lao makes less than $1000 per year, but most that talked with seem relatively happy with their lot in life in this beautiful nation.

Additional photos below
Photos: 29, Displayed: 29


Sunset at our hotelSunset at our hotel
Sunset at our hotel

The full moon was amazing later that night!!
Practice for the boat racesPractice for the boat races
Practice for the boat races

Each village has its own boat and team.
Kids following us to townKids following us to town
Kids following us to town

They followed us from the airport giving us the peace sign.
Monk CeremonyMonk Ceremony
Monk Ceremony

They came to our hotel to chant before the boat races.
Buddha ParkBuddha Park
Buddha Park

About 20 miles from Vientiane. Beautiful
Patuxay ParkPatuxay Park
Patuxay Park

View from the top
That LuangThat Luang
That Luang

This one is very nice (even if you are tiring of temples)
Vientiane Boat RacesVientiane Boat Races
Vientiane Boat Races

This is the big event of the year....everyone goes.

29th October 2007

what they don't know
Poor children - they didn't have us to warn them about Dave! Good thing you didn't have Bob with you - that would have done them in! Glad you are enjoying Laos - I'm enjoying your blogs!
30th October 2007

world travels
I continueto be amazed by your ability to adapt to each culture, each siutation and willingness to try any kind of food and go with the flow! It continues to be an awesome privilege to follow you in your travels.
30th October 2007

This looks like a place i'd really love to go, thanks too for the tip on flying to Laos from Chang Mai. How is it going with the number of clothes you have and getting them cleaned? I think you each just have one backpack right? Thanks for adding details about the country.
3rd November 2007

What an adventure!
Hi Merry Jo! I am so happy for you and Dave. What wonderful experiences you ar having! Thans for including me in on your travel blog as you tour about the countries. Stay safe and warm. Love, Susan
11th November 2007

You guys are inspirational!
Hey guys, so glad that you're having a great time! You've made me laugh, wonder, get a little anxious at times, and (most importantly) be ever so thankful for hot, running water! Wishing you the best! - Bill

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