Trip to Laos 2004
All travel reports are translated electronically although minor improvements are sometimes made.
Laos 2004 – travel report
A much more complete, accurate and more extensive description of my expedition around Laos is on the 2011 Laos expedition.
My trip: Huay Xai-fast boat trip on Mekong river-Luang Prabang-Vang Vieng-Vientiane-The land of 4000 islands-Voen Kham.
Fast boat to Luang Prabang
(Border to Huay Xai, unbelivable adbenture on my boat trip on Mekong river)
I jumped to the boat on the banks of the Mekong River in Thailand and after a few minutes I got to Laos. I reached the border crossing point at Huay Xai, a small town, which is the starting point for tourist interest. My immigration matters were settled quickly and smoothly and then I went to my first Laotian breakfast during which I began to plan things further. I decided to take a boat and go to the former capital of Laos and one of the most beautiful places, Luang Prabang. Being in the north of the country where the Mekong has its rafting, boat trips are a great attraction and an opportunity to see the natural beauty and the way local people live. I had two options to choose from. I could take a free boat, which would take two days or a quick boat, where the same route would take only eight hours, including a dinner in a wooden pub on the water. I knew that if I wanted to get to know the surroundings better, the boat would be better, but my impatience, temperament and passion for speed made me take a speedboat and then it turned out to be super fast. It was rather a narrow canoe where four people were housed and the back was a very powerful engine. The porters packed our luggage into the canoe, gave us helmets and started moving. Lucky people had ear plugs that were needed because the engine generated a huge noise. The ride was a great adventure, but it was also very dangerous. It was more like a water slide because there was a second boat with four other tourists nearby, and sometimes we risked a corner.
It was not just a race. On the way I watched the nature and the people living on the Mekong in their primitive wooden huts set on long wooden boards and thatched with thatched palm leaf. Children bathing in the river always waved and screamed at us. There were also buffaloes in the mud or into the water, through which we had to slow down in order not to collide with them. Our driver used his boat not only to bring tourists but also to trade. He traded exchange with people from villages living on the river. He brought clothes and tools but I saw that once he loaded his big fish into my boat so that I could sell him in the lower part of the river. Everything was happening against the backdrop of beautiful, mountainous jungle views and previously mentioned huts. The whole setting of my trip was beautiful. After about four hours of race we reached a small hut on the water where there was a very modest diner with very good food. Then we bounced off the wall of the hut and started walking further. This time, with such impetus that our heads jumped backwards. After another four hours we reached Luang Prabang.
(Night market, temples, beautiful waterfalls, a village turned back in time, Laotian massage)
We were waiting for the young boys who took my heavy suitcase on the back and ran up the hill. There were buses waiting for us, which took us all to the hotels. I stayed in a very nice, clean and very cheap room with breakfast, run by the Chinese. It was not difficult to notice because the characteristic red lanterns were under each part of the ceiling. The most important thing was that at last I was able to rest after the all-day rally on the Mekong River. Since I’m in Laos, I’m traveling with a German boyfriend so it makes me feel better. It also allows you to take photos and share your transport and hotel costs, albeit incredibly cheap. Laos is very cheap.
Although I was tired, I left the same evening to Luang Prabang center to find out where I was. I reached the big night bazaar where the trade flourished at best. They encouraged me to buy their canvases, paintings and many other things.
Luang Prabang is the former capital of Laos and one of the major tourist attractions. There are many temples and monasteries with monks living there, but also natural beauty in the form of waterfalls and caves, which I came here. On my second day, I saw that the main street of this small town was a very quiet, sleepy settlement, full of colonial architecture, restaurants and mopeds and tuk tuk offering city tours. Me and my German colleague went so to the Kuang Si waterfalls located about 20 miles out of town. The road was difficult because we were driving through the jungle through the verandas, but beautiful plenary compensated for this effort. This waterfall is one of the most spectacular views. It is great and in its lower parts there are natural pools with blue water and smaller waterfalls. All waterfalls and beautiful, picturesque pools are one unit. To get to the top I had to climb uphill for about half an hour but it was a very nice walk as I walked through the jungle and every now and then I saw the pools mentioned earlier with smaller waterfalls. When I reached the summit, I saw that the waterfall was really impressive, high on at least five floors and located in the jungle. The water flowed directly into the small tank from where it fell lower and I could watch everything closely because I was on a bridge embedded in the lower part of the waterfall. I also made the entrance to its highest point, a lateral, very winding road, and soon after I got to the top. It was a difficult and tiring walk but I had a better view of the entire jungle and a number of waterfalls. On the way down I stopped in front of lovely, small pools with shining blue water and bathed in them. The water was cold but in the monsoon, the warm climate of Laos was not so much felt. I also went to the trees to hook up the ropes for speed and thus jump into the water. The Laotian nature was beautiful and I played very well. There was also a resort where black Asian bears were kept. I was allowed to enter their cage where I bought bananas and I could feed them.
Although black Asian bears are one of the smallest, they are very strong and can be dangerous, especially when they smell food. I mean, while they were not aggressive and did not attack, grabbing the bananas, they grabbed me very hard with their teeth and scratched their big, sharp claws. Fortunately, there was a teddy bear keeper who, when needed, treated them with a rubber tube and teddy bears. When the bananas were over, the bears immediately climbed the crowns of trees because this species spent most of the day and night there. Next to it was a cage with a tiger, which was built in such a way that a jungle piece was surrounded by a thick net. There was a brook in the center, and there was, of course, a lot of bushes and the cage itself was set at an angle. I only saw the tiger for a while and although I tried to see it again, I did not succeed because it is a camouflage champion. After leaving the house I went to eat a bowl of rice with vegetables, under the thatched woven palm. So far everything in Laos is done in such a simple and so good way. During the meal I noticed that our driver played cards with other drivers and my travel companion told me that he read that in Laos many men are gamblers and this custom came from neighboring China. It was nice to spend time here, but we also had plans to see other places. We went to Ban Phanom Village, away from the rest of civilization and living at the entrance to the jungle. The people living there were ethnic minorities from southern China and have been separated for years. So far all of Laos is back in time but this village is backed down for many centuries. These people lived in built huts without electricity and water was drawn from the well and probably from a nearby river. When I went into the village, I saw an old man in his hut dissolving lard in a rusty, dirty pot. Children ran to barefoot and the women held the babies in their hands feeding them breastfeeding. The whole village was an informative experience although it was evident that it was geared towards tourists. As soon as I got out of the tuk tuk, children immediately caught me wanting to sell my canvas, napkins and tablecloths and for all I wanted them to pay with dollars. No wonder the Laotian currency – “kip” is very miserable. The village was a very nice experience but I was farewell rather without ovation because I did not buy anything.
In the evening I went to dinner for a nice and again, very cheap restaurant, I saw that life here was just getting worse. In the streets began to unfold stalls as the night bazaar is very popular here among tourists. I also saw that local beggars also have a good deal here. One went out of his booth and looked like he was just waking up, then walked around the restaurant and got something from everyone and then locked up in his booth and probably went to sleep again.
The next day I was rolling around the city and saw some interesting temples but somehow I did not pay attention to that, although I knew I should have. They were somewhat similar to those in Thailand, but differed in particular from the roofs. I thought I was going to do it the next day, as it turned out I was not given. Again, I went out to see the waterfall, this time it was Tad Se. This waterfall is not so known and is different from Kuang Si. It is also much smaller. It does not consist of a major mainstream but several stairs where the water flows down a large stream into a pool of blue water, which in turn falls into the river. It was a beautiful, unforgettable sight. The most memorable blue of falling water and leaves of a size larger than a large animal, such as myself. I got a tuk tuk and then took the canoe which sailed to the waterfalls. This property was also located near the village which gave me another opportunity to see the rural life in Laos. Here, however, the houses were bricked and there was electricity.
I wanted to go to laotian massage but as I learned from one tourist it is quite different than hard Thai massage and for some reasons I gave up. Lao massage is a very delicate stroking of the whole body and I mean the whole. From the toes to the head, with a very accurate fold of the butt and the inner thighs of the highest parts. I did not realize that all parts of the body needed professional massage.
(Great fun on Mekong river, mountainous area, caves, food, AK-47, the subtle law of Laos)
The next day I left Luang Prabang and although I did not see everything I wanted, I was happy because I was filled with the charm of this place and saw the beautiful nature, which is the greatest asset of Laos. I was heading south, this time to the small town of Vang Vieng. I drove by bus and not by boat and the whole five-hour journey was over the picturesque mountains. The views were intriguing. We rode the mountain road one by one, the old and very depressed bus and around were beautiful jungle-covered mountains. When we got out of the bus we heard the sound of birds. After five hours we reached Vang Vieng. At first it did not look like anything special. At the entrance to the settlement were waiting uniformed police officers, who wrote the passport numbers of all tourists. Then I took my big suitcase and on the way, changing the asphalt and gravel, I reached the settlement. The main street (with the rest was only one) were guest houses and bars and restaurants. I stayed in a very nice room with double bed and shower for only four dollars a night. Vang Vieng is a very small mountain village, very popular with tourists. It is located on the Mekong River where very popular are the rafting down the river and walking in the mountains. There are also beautiful caves and waterfalls, but not as spectacular as in Luang Prabang. After settling, I left for the settlement. I walked along the road along the river until I reached the wooden long bridge. From here I saw the area more closely. Beautiful mountains, magnificent nature and under me a restless river. I walked over to the other shore and stopped in a wooden hut where the monkey holding me on the chain cursed me. I reached for her hand and she jumped on my back, ran for me, then stole my glasses and ran away. She was on the chain, too, and I managed to catch her and take my glasses off, but they were already bitten. After the incident with the monkey I just walked around and enjoyed the surroundings as it was warm and the views beautiful. In the afternoon I also went to the river where I saw tourists on the car tires flowing with electricity and with Lao Beer beer in hand. In many places the rocks were waterfalls and on the beach stood a table where drunken tourists from Lao Beer laughed and jumped from quite high rocks into the water. We all enjoyed ourselves very well in beautiful circumstances and in a very low price world. I also jumped in the water, we were swimming, our Laotians handed over new boxes of Lao Beer but someone had to stand on guard because the monkey jumped from the chain and was picking up our clothes. After a very nice day I went back to the cottage and then went to the shoemaker. Finally, in Laos, they repaired the slippers I bought in Thailand and have suffered an accident in Malaysia. I had to wait a long time. It was dark so I went to eat and came across a very good place. I was in a cafeteria where they put me on a mat with thick layers of blankets and over me was a very low table. When I ordered dinner, the waiter approached me and asked me to choose a movie I want to watch. In this very lazy position I ate and watched the movie and then fell asleep. I woke up when it was eleven o’clock, and that’s why the cleaning services sent everyone to their quarters. The owners of the pub immediately turned off the lights and went out of the TV to have no trouble. In Laos it is apparently right that after eleven o’clock the nation should go to sleep and not have to walk the streets. This is taken very seriously here. When I left the pub, it immediately became very quiet and there was no one in the street except the police. I thought I was going to squeeze but they caught me. Everyone had a Kalashnikov on their shoulders and very determinedly told me to go to bed. I agree with the AK-47.
Speaking of rights, there is another law in Laos that is well worth knowing and which can easily be forgotten by white men arriving here from Thailand. Well, if a tourist spends one night with a girl from Laos, he must either marry her or go to jail. I read about one Englishman who met a girl here and she the same evening she took him home. On the spot, the girl’s father gave them a room and even sent a bed for them. But it was more than just a father’s liberalism because police came in the morning asking them when they were going to get married. When the Englishman disagreed, he was taken to jail where he held up two weeks after he had to agree because he could not see anyone from his embassy or any lawyer. When he mentioned about the embassy, Laotian policemen only laughed.
He married her and on his honeymoon he took her to Thailand where he fled the first plane to Europe. This story tells you that it is worth knowing the local laws and that you should take them seriously.
The next day in Vang Vieng I drove a tuk tuk to see the caves and even more beautiful nature. The caves are one of the biggest tourist attractions and a natural phenomenon. I went to the Tham Hoy cave, which is deep for seven kilometers. There were babies waiting for me to come in, and then I got a helmet and a flashlight, and then I could go inside. I did not enter the whole seven kilometers, I entered maybe at 50m-70m which made me feel this place. I was also in the Tham Chang cave to have a comparison but there was not much difference. Both caves were dark and slippery and the road was very winding and uneven. In many places the water was standing on the surface and sometimes slowly flowing from the walls. Sometimes I had a lot of space and sometimes I just squeezed. In some places there were paintings of the Buddha. Generally, these were very interesting places where you could spend long hours but I think I was not prepared to visit the caves most. First of all, I was alone. As usual all my tours are organized by myself, but on the example of caves I came to the conclusion that it is better to have a guide here. In Vang Vieng there are one and two day tours where you can see more and also get into kayak caves and sail on the other side, although there are many possibilities. Around Vang Vieng I had the opportunity to see Laotian life in the countryside. These were simple wooden chests where chickens and pigs were running, and the houses were nested on sturdy wooden balls, with the walls and roofs made of braided leaves. I believe that under these conditions it is even a universal solution, both in dry and wet season, because natural materials retain their breathability and water resistance. Also building houses on elevations is a very good solution as Laos lies in a tropical monsoon climate and during the rainy season the river often spills and few, good roads are impassable. There were also houses of plywood and sheet metal but these belong to a worse category. The whole village (as always in this country) was located very picturesque against the backdrop of mountains. Some of the rocks grew out of the ground, being narrow in the perimeter and high on several floors. I noticed that even more than the temples (which I do not describe here) and more than other items described in the guides, I like the nature itself and the kindness of people. When I go tuk tuk people wave me from the rice fields and laugh at me and when I first see someone, they greet me with the words “sa bai dee” or good morning. Especially in Vang Vieng, always on the road outside the city, children sell their products and fruits. People often keep crappy guys in cages and they always allow me to contact them. I would like to remind you that the giraffes are birds of the savage family, which mimic human speech very well, they can learn a few hundred words and sing and whistle the melodies and have better diction than parrots. For example, when I was coming back from a cave, I was at a bazaar and splitting myself a coconut, the whistle blowers often whistled and said “sa bai dee”. The magic of this place is beautiful landscapes, modest huts embedded on the bales and people plowing their rice fields with buffalo. Everything looks so uncomplicated and at the same time so nice and relaxing. My first days in this country were very successful and informative.
(General impression of the capital of Laos)
The next morning I left beautiful Vang Vieng and went on a three hour trip to the capital of this country, Vientiane. I was able to get a comfortable air-conditioned bus for tourists but chose the cheapest option. I was driving in a big lorry in the back of a truck with the citizens of Laos, squeezed like a sardine. After getting to the suburbs of Vientiane I took a tuk tuk, which took me to the cheapest hostel in the city. I slept on a wooden, bunk bunk and shower with cold water and only cold was outside. It was enough for one night. Before arriving here I got a passport for the Lao Embassy so I did not come to Vientiane on certain days because it was just a gathering of the nations of South East Asia. Vientiane is always described as a very uninteresting place where there is nothing to see but I thought I would still go to see it. As I could expect from the capital of a developing country, Vientiane is a small city where about a quarter of a million people live and many of them are monks in their orange robes. Many roads are not even asphalted, a few buildings are blown away and the center is no problem walking on foot. But there are a few things to see and the fact that Vientiane is located on the Mekong River where you can enjoy a relaxing drink while drinking coconut milk, makes you want to stay here a little longer. You can also eat here very well and very cheaply. So far I have been traveling to Asia usually eat most meals with rice sticks. I saw a couple of French restaurants and one Italian restaurant. I was also glad when I saw the internet. It is clear that modernity has also reached Laos. The city offers many temples (“Wat” or monastery in Thailand and Laos) but the symbol of Vientiane is Patuxay or Victory Monument. Ironically, it is a building that is made the same way as the Parisian Arc de Triomphe and is dedicated to those who fought in the war for independence against the French. It is located on a large square and at the fountain where you can meet many monks, which in Vientiane is a lot. Patuxay is quite ugly, gray and made of concrete though you can enter it to see the countryside. The next place I visited was Talaat Sao or an early bazaar. It was a great bazaar where you could buy everything from small snacks and fancier to electronics. For a large bazaar it was a very quiet place where no one pressed me. I could walk and watch the goods calmly. Here I was also on a meal. I ate buffalo soup with noodles and it was very good and as usual cheap. Then I walked around the city, I took some pictures with the monks and the temples. I also went to one of them where I had the opportunity to admire the native architecture and talk to the monks. However, I have noticed the things that characterize this country. The main street in Vientiane was decorated with national and communist flags, with a sickle and a hammer on a red background. Also in the post office was the post office in French and baguettes were sold which, apart from European buildings, is a strong evidence of French colonialism. I also went to see the impressive Presidential Palace, Ho Kham, formerly the residence of the Governor-General of Indochina. Quite close by, only 20km from Vientiane, there is Tha Na Leng village, which is the border crossing with Thailand. This is a very special place as both countries have a “bridge of friendship” that connects both sides of the Mekong. In the evening I went to the hotel where there were several souvenir shops, ate something and then went over the river where I sat at one of the temples and drank the coconut milk. It was very quiet for the capital, I sat on the grass on the banks of the Mekong and watched the sunset. Vientiane is very quiet and you can stay here. At dusk I strolled around the city and saw that in the outdoor, lighted outdoor area, women of all ages practiced aerobics. I like it in their culture that even older people organize themselves to practice. They moved very spontaneously into the rhythm of the music and made pitches. In Europe, unfortunately, the older people are sitting in front of TVs.
Walking to Vientiane I had an interesting meeting because of the very nice Laotanka on my moped. She stopped and started talking to me. Then she let me sit behind her and made me a tour around the city. She showed me buildings and talked about them. We were well together but unfortunately the police stopped us. We did not go too fast so it could be a simple check, but as I watched the policeman he asked her questions for about half an hour. I recalled Laotian law here, that is, “you sleep with Laotian so get on with her lashes.” Fortunately, she succeeded in explaining that she was not familiar with me, so we got on a moped shortly afterwards and drove me to the evening bazaar near my hotel. Before we parted, she told me the story of a man who was selling chocolate pancakes with bananas. She said she might be interested in me because it gives me an idea of how people live in her country. The pancake vendor came from a small village where he had a modest hut and his rice field. He frys the pancakes in the capital and his wife and daughter work all day in the field and their life is very heavy. This example was to show me the realities of life in Laos. While eating my chocolate pancake, I went down to the river to drink milk from the coconut and sit in silence, behind with a beautiful Buddhist temple. Late at night I returned to the hotel but it was already eleven o’clock and they would not let me in. There were five Canadians with whom I shared the same room with the hotel. After eleven, you can not swing around the city but we broke it right so we had to hit the door hard. Only after half an hour knocking the head of the hotel opened with a fuss and asked why we from Europe and America can never adapt to laotian rights. It was almost all my impressions and adventures in the capital of this beautiful country. The next day in the late afternoon I went to the bus station to go to my next destination. It was interesting that the station was only five minutes away from the hotel but the tuk tuk rickshaws would have wanted to take me there. I noticed that even when I was a few steps away from the hotel and they wanted to take me away. It looks like they think white people can not walk alone.
The land of 4000 islands
(Travel by a rusty bus on rice bags through Pakse and Champasak, the natural beauty of one of the most beautiful regions of South-East Asia.)
I got on the bus going to Pakse. Pakse is a very interesting city and is only an important place of change. The trip was quite difficult as I sat around a very nice but very big American named Candice. The two narrow seats were so tight that I went to sleep on the floor of the bus. And so I was lucky because the buses in Laos carry everything that can fit so that night I slept on rice bags. After getting to the place, I almost grabbed a hitchhiking and this time a very old and barely traveling bus went further south. It is worth mentioning that on the way I missed quite interesting and often visited by tourists Champasak. I did this because of the lack of time and the fact that I was heading to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat. Champasak is a remnant of the Kmers empire that occupied today’s Cambodia and Laos, but the best preserved temples remain in Cambodia. I thought I had to give up something to see the priority objects. After a short ride, my happy bus blew me and my traveling companion in the middle of the empty road and then perhaps the last of the force went on. There was a short walk to the river from where we took the boat to the nearest island – Don Khong. To put it more accurately, I got to the beautiful land of a thousand islands called Si Phan Don. This is an area in the south of Laos where the Mekong River has many branches, and this is how about four thousand charming islands were formed. This is a beautiful area where you can see the nature and the nail of the program is the observation of river dolphins. Most of the islands are uninhabited and there are no traces left by man, giving travelers the opportunity to discover new things. This area is also a great opportunity to make money by the poor people of Laos, who are willing to take tourists on boat trips to get to know the terrain and of course to track the river dolphins. No doubt this is the most scenic and beautiful place in Laos and one of the most beautiful in South East Asia. The island where I stayed was most populated, there were many guest houses and restaurants, and as I was told, non-stop electricity. In the middle was a large bazaar and next to a large rice field.
It was very nice and very cheap. On this island I lived in one room with my big American who was a good traveling companion, she was funny and she took me to delicious pancakes. I spent a few days all over the area but my island left the next day as I had to move forward. So I went down to the south to get a chance to see the area. It was interesting as I sailed between tiny islands and thickets of trees rising from the water where river vortices often formed. I also noticed that other tourists borrowed their canoes and dived for the night on the uninhabited islands in the wilderness and settled down there. After nearly two hours of cruising and watching nature I reached a very small island where there were several huts built mainly of wooden skeleton and braided palm leaves. A handful of locals greeted me with a traditional “sa bai dee” and then went to rent my hut and dinner, mainly consisting of rice. It was beautiful and very peaceful, it was a break away from the world. I will add that most of the islands can be reached only by boat and only some are connected by bridges. This is the beauty of this area, which is minimal development, lack of modernity and first of all lack of concrete. There is only beautiful nature and nice people in their modest cottages. In places like this, it really does not need to be. The next day I got into the boat again but this time I sailed to the mainland. The land of thousands of lakes was the last place of my stay in Laos.
On the way to Cambodia
(My crazy trip on the roof of the van, the border in the jungle)
Now I’m just heading to the border with Cambodia and my road there was quite unusual. I also remember that here I started traveling with a girl from Ireland, which was extremely unpleasant because she was not used to the local conditions and was experiencing a period … well. My ride to the border was very cheerful and unusual as I was driving on the roof of a small van run by a Cambodian monk and his colleague, a monk from Laos. They made the music loud and I stood on the roof and holding fishing lines, dancing and waving people in the rice fields. They also waved at me and laughed at me. The ride was painful and in effect it might have been tragic, but then I did not care. I felt so free and happy, rushing the narrow road among the rice fields on the roof of old grat. That was the last time I watched Laos, people walking alongside their buffalo and endless rice fields. But laotian motoring here also failed me. When we almost reached the border, the car unfortunately broke down and from there I had to go in the company of my friend. We crossed the border near the village of Voen Kham and it was a very unusual border crossing. It was in the jungle where a wooden bar was standing and in front of it stood a satellite dish and the flag of Laos. After a moment, a guy in shorts and torn shirt came out, holding a basket full of stamps in his hand. He took my passport and stamped for two dollars bribe. Then we crossed the rusty barrier and through the jungle, on a bumpy road, we headed slowly towards the Cambodian border. On the way, I also saw stone statues covered with dirt and vines, the first one with the inscription “Laos” and after some time appeared another and in bad condition, with the word “Cambodia”. After a while I saw another barrack but this time with the terrace. That is how I got to the Kingdom of Cambodia.
Laos loved it and enjoyed every moment of it. Natural beauty is definitely the greatest asset of this country but also nice people and good cuisine. There are many mountainous, quiet settlements, picturesquely situated among the waterfalls and palm trees and the Mekong River. Warm climate and low price allows for absolute relaxation as it seems that time has stopped here long ago. Comparing Laos to Thailand, I find Thailand to be louder and much more busy, while Laos is something of a blissful bedroom where you can rest in the bosom of nature and enjoy its charms.