Lao People's Democratic Republic

December 2003 - January 2004

After finishing up our time in northeastern Thailand, we headed into Lao PDR.

We took a two minute boat trip across the Mekong into the town of Houayxai. After our first sticky rice meal, we booked a two day slow boat trip down the Mekong river to Luang Prabang. Two days in a little boat is a bit much, but there was enough room to move around a little, and we got to meet a few other travelers. Compared to the fast boat where you sit without moving while wearing a life jacket and a helmet, it was luxury.

Beer Lao and wads of kip Mekong scenery Special treat: sticky rice and coconut milk cooked inside a bamboo stalk

We arrived in Luang Prabang the afternoon of the second day and found a little hotel right in the middle of town--our window opened on to the central main street--for US$3.00 a night. Laos is great. After that we just relaxed in this laid back little city. Keep in mind though, this is the third largest town in Lao, so it's much more cosmopolitan than most parts of the country. We walked up the central hill Phou Si to see the wat and the sunset. We rented bikes to see the town and "suburbs" (also known as "sticky rice fields"), and we generally just walked around checking out the wats, nagas, monks, and whatever else we came across. After having enough of this "big city" life, we headed north to Muong Noi.

Xiang Thong temple in Luang Prabang Rice cakes drying in the sun Buddha and traditional Lao long haired dancing lady View of Luang Prabang from the central hill of Phou Si Kwang Si waterfalls View from the top of the falls Looking down the falls Another of the little falls at Kwang Si Phet the tiger Luang Prabang suburbs Nagas at Wat That Wat That

Muong Noi is reachable only by boat, and it was an all day affair up river in a little boat. Fortunately, we had room to stretch out since we shared the boat with only one other guy (plus the driver and his wife). The scenery is great with jungle coming down to the banks of the river occasionally broken up by groves of teak trees.

Scenery on the river Ou Gathering seaweed... well, river weed More Ou scenery

We finally passed all the rapids and seaweed gathers (actually riverweed, of course) and arrived in town just after sunset. We weren't in the mood to look around for a hotel too much, so we just settled on the first one we found. At US$1.00 it was hard to complain.

We spent nearly a week there, though it didn't really feel like it. One day we rented a boat and paddled up steam to a little island to have a picnic. Another day we hiked over to an even smaller village called Ban Na and spent a night there. Other days we walked to more remote villages or just hung out near the river. All in all, it was a great place to relax--the lack of hot water showers was really the only thing I could complain about.

On the return trip to Luang Prabang, we opted for a combination of boat and bus which was quicker (and cheaper) than the all day boat. And after enjoying a few more days in Luang Prabang--including a great selection of banana bread, fried mini-coconut pies, pork jerkey, and buffalo kebabs--we made plans to head down to Vang Vieng.

Rice fields and mountains More rice fields, more mountains Pondering waterbuffalo Meeting the locals in Hoy Xen The caves on the way to Ban Na Lovely scenery and UXOs (bombs)

This town is the ultimate backpackers paradise (or backpackers' slum, depending on how you want to look at it) rivaled only by Khao San road in Bangkok. All the restaurants advertise pizza, american breakfasts, and movies. Lots of movies. You can have your pick of movie any time of the day for free while you enjoy a meal or a fresh fruit shake. The over-abundance of backpackers not withstanding, we had a great time. We took a kayaking trip down the river, including jumping in from about 7 meters up. I know, I know: lots of people dive from 10 meters, so 7 isn't really that big of a deal. But it looks like a mighty long way down when you haven't done it before.

Start of kayaking trip in Vang Vieng Angela takes the first plunge Matt finally jumps Six meters looks pretty high to us Crazy tractor-taxi things Slightly stuck while delivering the new Buddha After the bike broke Our lift back into town

Next it was down to the big capital city, Vientiane. Here we rented bicycles and saw such cultural treasures as the big Buddha Park and the Beer Lao factory. The Buddha park was filled with some mighty strange sculptures, but it made for a nice bike ride. I stopped and the beer factory along the way, but I couldn't get a tour. They said they don't have a regular one, but they sometimes do one... but they were too busy right now. Oh well, maybe next time. We also spent New Year's there, so we splurged and had a proper French meal. Real French cuisine cooked by an French chef: rillette, pate, blue cheese, duck in a nice sauce--it was quite a treat.

Fixing a flat Impressive nagas Gigantic reclining Buddha More sleepy Buddhas Monkey boy Confusing Pig-man statue Arc de Triomphe That Luang Another part of That Luang

Then to finish up our time in Lao we headed a bit further south along the Mekong river to areas that aren't quite so squarely on the tourist trail. And we found out why. Thakaek and Savanakhet were boring. Really boring. And this is coming from two people that amused ourselves nicely doing almost nothing for the previous few weeks. But there was just nothing much of interest there, so we ended our time in Laos just a touch early and headed back into Thailand.

Last modified: 10 February 2004