Laos (04.12.09 - 05.01.10)

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Asia » Laos
December 4th 2009
Published: March 14th 2010
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Again apologizes for our dear readers. It has been very difficult to keep up with the writing the last months. We can say that slow and relatively expensive internet connections are the reason, but in reality it is mostly laziness. Losing our pictures from Cambodia and the first half of our Laos trip didn't do any good to our writing inspiration. After traveling in Myanmar and a bit in India, we are now in Nepal. This beautiful country has been inspiring us and we are now ready to give the writing a go again.

Cambodia - Laos Border Crossing
Since this border crossing wasn't mentioned in our guide book, we were excited to cross. Our contact in the village arranged a boat for us which dropped us of in a small village on the other side of the river. Our backpacks and 3 persons (including driver) on one motorbike were driving for 100 meters through the village to arrive at the tiny border crossing. After waiting 5 minutes at the border shack, an official came with a suitcase to check our passports. We concluded it was a long time ago since he had done this, because it took him ages to set the correct date on his stamp. After passing the Cambodian border we had to drive through Laos land for 15 minutes to get to the Laos border for our entry stamps. When we hopped on the bus, we discovered we were doing backtracking into Laos land to get to our first destination. We were for 15 minutes illegally going around in Laos 😊

Don Det - Si Phan Don
We spend three days chilling on this relaxing island in southern Laos. Si Phan Don means 4000 islands. They are known for it's tranquil atmosphere. The main island to stay on is Don Det. They are recently connected to the electricity network from main land, though our accommodation was still using a generator. We had a cheap hut overlooking the Mekong river and the islands, with our own porch from where we could see amazing sun sets. There is no traffic on Don Det, accept for bicycles, which we rented to see the wild waterfalls on the other side of the island.

Pakse and Bolaven Plateau
When we arrived in Pakse, we decided to go on a motorbike trip around the surrounding area of the Bolaven Plateau the next morning. We left our big backpacks in our hostel, taking only our two small backpacks on the 3-day motorbike trip. During this trip we saw many waterfalls of which a few where very impressive. One of the highlights was the dusty road through the jungle over the plateau passing a few small villages and coffee plantations. We slept each of the 2 nights in a hut near a waterfall, where we had a sunset swim and enjoyed the peaceful sound of the falling water.

Savannakhet and Tha Khaek
We took a dead slow bus to Savannakhet. The town is nicely situated on the Mekong river bank, from where we saw again the sun set behind it. Unfortunately I got sick, so Anna had to go around in Savannakhet by herself. For this she rented a bicycle. So there she was cruising Savannakhet on a bicycle enjoying the colonial architecture and checking up with me from time to time.

Our next stop was Tha Khaek, another town on the Mekong river. The town itself is not as nice as Savannakhet is. For us it was mainly a stopover to organize a trekking in the beautiful karst scenery. We hooked up with a French and Swiss couple for a 2 day trek. We walked in the bloody heat between the karst mountains, visiting caves, a blue lagoon for a refreshing swim and stayed overnight in a tribe village. They held a ceremonial welcoming for us. They gave white ropes as bracelets while everyone was touching a small table with candles and food on it. Later that evening we played card games with the locals and drank home brewed rice wine.

Things to do in Vientiane
The capital of Laos is the most relaxing capital of Southeast Asia. The traffic is quiet in comparison to the traffic in cities such as Phnom Penh and Bangkok and let alone Jakarta. A perfect city to rent bicycles to explore the city. We went to see the country's national symbol, the golden Pha That Luang stupa, Vientiane's landmark the Arc the Triomphe and visited the lovely Buddha park. In the evenings we sat along the Mekong river where we ate some local food such as Laap and delicious curries. At that time Vientiane was a bit more busy, because the city hosted the SEA games, so we saw a lot of enthusiastic fans and
X-mas tubing in Vang ViengX-mas tubing in Vang ViengX-mas tubing in Vang Vieng

Check the dude hanging on the rope swing on the left.
athletes from all over Southeast Asia.

Further more we had some visa issues to take care of. For this we had to bike to the Laos immigration to get a 5 day extension on our visa validity. We were disappointed when we learned that they could not issue this the same day. Since it was Friday, we had to wait till Monday before we could pick up our passport and go to the Thai embassy to apply for a Thai visa. We needed the Thai visa, because new legislation says that a visa on arrival at a overland border crossing would allow us to stay only 15 days in Thailand. We planned to stay longer in Thailand. Luckily we knew that a Thai visa was free at the embassy in Vientiane and so did a couple of hundred other travelers. When I arrived at the embassy half an hour before opening, there was already a enormous queue in which I was number 151. Meanwhile Anna had biked to the gym, where she could use all machines, swimming pool, saunas, enjoy a massage and a yoga lesson for a couple of thousand kips.

X-mas catastrophe in Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng is known for it's backpackers atmosphere. Set in a beautiful karst scenery along a river, the small town has a everything a traveler can ask for. We rented a motorbike for one day to explore surrounding villages and went to a blue lagoon (again!?), where we had lunch and cooled down by jumping from the rope swings. Another day we rented bicycles and biked to some nearby caves.

What was supposed to be a chilled out Christmas party, turned out to be a catastrophe. It started when our minivan to Vang Vieng was hit by another van from the back, causing a 3 hour delay. On Christmas eve we ate pizza and we had drinks and partied with some people we had met. The following Christmas day we went tubing: Along the river a few km north of town where 20 bars with loud music and rope swings are lined up. Each bar can be reached by floating on the river using a inner tractor tube. Since most of the people hang around in the first three bars only, we didn't do much tubing. Many people were dressed up in some way: Men in women dresses, Christmas hats and
Vang Vieng river viewVang Vieng river viewVang Vieng river view

We had breakfast on the river on the right a couple of times
funky sunglasses were most popular. The downside of the story is that somewhere we lost our memory card with pictures starting in the beginning of Cambodia till present. We shouldn't have changed our full memory card in the heat of the moment. It took us a while to get over it. Even now we sometimes 'picture' our pictures with a feeling of immense sadness. I guess we just have to do with our memories.

Luang Prabang
Because we discovered the missing memory card in the bus to Luang Prabang, we couldn't search for it anymore. After the beautiful 7 hour long ride on winding roads through the mountains, we decided that I would go back the following morning to see if I could find it. While Anna explored Luang Prabang on her own (she went to a bowling alley with some friends we had met earlier in Vang Vieng), back in Vang Vieng and tired from the bus rides, I rented a bicycle and went early morning to the tubing bars to search and ask around. No result!

When I returned in Luang Prabang 2 days later, Anna showed me around town by bicycle. Luang Prabang is a world heritage city and has some beautiful architecture. We visited some temples and wondered around the touristy but nicely set night market and bought her a bag. We were both devastated by our loss, so enjoying Luang Prabang to the maximum was almost impossible.

Luang Nam Tha
In order to forget our disastrous loss, we went further up north to Luang Nam Tha, a village a bit more off the beaten track. The north of Laos is virtually unspoiled and the villages are surrounded by hill tribe communities. We rented mountain bikes and went around in the surrounding villages, where we got invited by local youngsters for some drinks to celebrate the upcoming New years eve. New years eve itself we celebrated in one of the few bars in town with an American and German couple we had met in the bus. At 12 we went to the opposite market where the 'tourist committee' had organized a countdown, complete with loud karaoke music. Only a hand full of tourist were there to enjoy the rather lame party, which ended exactly on 00.30 hrs.

Akha trail from Vieng Phoukha
With the American and German couples we booked a 3 day 'Akha trail' trekking at Green Discovery for no more than 50$. The trekking would start from Vieng Phoukha, to which we had to organize our own transportation. When we arrived in Vieng Phoukha early afternoon we were welcomed by a local contact of Green Discovery and got some instructions. During the day, we lazed around in the small town where it seemed as we were the only tourists. The following morning we were picked up by 4WD and we got dropped to start our trek. We visited several villages from different tribes, but mostly we visited Akha tribes. For 2 nights we stay at a village, where we could wonder around, interact with the people and see how they live.

With no toilet facilities, tap water and electricity available, it's a tough life. During daytime the villages are inhabited by the children only. They take care of each other and play together, while their parents are working in the forest and fields. We have seen that the women have the toughest jobs, some of them carrying piles of wood on their back for kilometers. Some villages were so remote, that even a motorbike can't reach it. They have to walk 3 to 4 hours in order to get to the main road, from where they can hail a pickup to go to the market. Besides the unspoiled villages and their beautiful people, we enjoyed some amazing scenery and had fantastic views over the mountains and valleys. Needless to say that this is our Laos highlight.

Additional photos below
Photos: 57, Displayed: 29


View from Luang Prabang Phou Si hillView from Luang Prabang Phou Si hill
View from Luang Prabang Phou Si hill

In the distance you can see the golden temple

15th March 2010

Your update
Made me horribly jealous now that I am back in London. Sorry about the pics though. Travel safe Sue
17th March 2010

Lämmin ilmasto mahdollistaa hieman paremman tuuletuksen talon seiniin :))
9th April 2010

Hi Anna... Really enjoy looking at all your pics, i envy you! :) Enjoy the rest of your trip. Can't wait for your India pics, need more encouragement to travel India :P Greets from Jakarta :)

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