Welcome to Laaaaooooo!!!
The country of slowliness. 🙂
I started my trip in Laos by taking the slow boat between Thailand (Chiang Kong) and Luang Prabang (Laos). This boat takes 2 days down the Mekong and stops one night in a small village called Pak Beng. Ah the Mekong! I only spent 2 days on it, but I love this river already. It is a wide quiet river which really has a charm and character of its own. Here is the landscape you see for 2 days when looking at the riverside.
How relaxing! My seatmate during this trip was a guy from New York, Jason, who was travelling for 2 years, mostly around Asia. There was also the couple I had met the day before, Mark and Jessie. The four of us had dinner in Pak Beng the first evening. In the morning of the second day, I saw some monks passing in the street and receiving food from a woman and her daughter. It is some scene that become familiar to the eye in Asia, although this is so special and unusual for us, still.
The second day was more quiet. People were used to the landscape, and we all were catching up with readings! We arrived in Luang Prabang for the sunset, which was pretty cool. Gorgeous colours!
Mark had been sick that day, so Jessie and him went for the closest nice guest house. With Jason, we walked the streets and checked a lot of guest houses, taken aback by the high prices and finally went back to one. We then went to the night market where we ate some soup. The night market in Luang Prabang is one long central street where mostly women put down some carpets on which to sell goods. What I was mostly interested in was the fact this is their everyday life, the way some of these women get really tired, the way they are just on their mobile, or laughing with each other, and the way also that children create their own playground space like here.
Monday 9th January, I spent one day in Luang Prabang chilling out. I started my day by searching for photojournalists or photographers to meet there, to maybe do a story, and also contacted some friends. Photographers replied quickly but were busy or not there for most of them. At the bookstore where I bought a copy of Lonely Planet Laos, I chatted with a Spanish couple, Paolo and Violetta asking where to get free maps. They had just spent one year in New Zealand and were on their way back to home, in Canary Islands. We went for lunch and then crossed a bridge to go see weavers and paper makers. I had been only a few hours in Luang Prabang and was already happy to escape the mass tourism, by just going across the bridge!
On the way back, I popped into Jessie and Mark and we walked around, and they invited me for a nice cocktail on the river side and a nice dinner afterwards. Here is a street of very developed Luang Prabang, you can see it could almost be in Europe.
On Tuesday 10th January, I took a 9-hour bus to Luang Nam Tha, in Northern Laos. The landscape to get there was really gorgeous, going through many wild forests in the surrounding mountains.
In the bus, I met Amando, Joel and Zoad. Amando and Joel were from Switzerland and had known each other for long, and Zoad was from Israel. The three of them had met each other when crossing from Cambodia to Laos and travelled together since then. They were a really cool lot. During the 9 hours of bus, Amando tought me the about 30 essential things to know to say in Lao. So useful and great! Our bus broke down at some point and with him we went to the houses nearby to ask for some food, as we were starving (the bus had done a kind of lunch break around 11am without telling us and no stops since then!). The couple we met was really kind and was preparing us some food.
Sadly, the bus driver found a minibus to take us for the rest of the trip, so we had to leave. In Luang Nam Tha, the four of us looked for a guest house which was quite quick to find as the village was quite small.
On 10th of January, we had first some rice for breakfast at the market, where we saw the “Opium Mamas” who came to seat a bit with us and joke with us. They sell bracelets but in reality they test you to see if you may be interested in buying opium. They have an incredible energy and are really tenacious when selling, but at the same time really funny. Incredible women. I sadly don’t have better photos than that one where the woman looks a bit serious.
Then when we walked around to buy some food, we met some other young backpackers we had seen the evening before and a girl from Switzerland too, Susie, joined us for a small hike. We walked away from Luang Nam Tha, and took a small path on our left. Lots of rubber trees, a bit of jungle. We arrived at some houses and asked our way to the people. Then we spent some time with a father and son wood carpenters.
After that, we went back to the road by another path of our own, walked a bit, and decided to cross the river. We got water just above the knees and some got wet but we did it, and it was fun.
Then we walked a bit and arrived at the dam. We saw a piece of island in front, and there was a boat so we asked the people if we could borrow their boat. They accepted and we crossed by boat, and it was some fun again. The boatman brought us one fish in the evening that he had just taken.
Once there, Zoad made a fire, we put the tent, and Joel used his crazy super-pump to clean the water to use it for cooking. We chatted, and I also had my first smoking experience with them of opium, but I didn’t feel anything. It is a kind of brown paste that you put on a needle and then you put it close to a long pipe and burn it and the smoker has to inhale it. A bit disappointed though, oh well. Still an interesting experience. We slept “à la belle étoile” and luckily it didn’t rain. When falling asleep, I realised how much I enjoyed walking the forest with good company, making a fire, sleeping outside in a tent. I had not escaped London enough to do that. It is coming back to simple things which are so relaxing though. I felt connected to the four elements of nature, water (crossing the river, taking the boat, a bit of rain in the evening), fire (making a fire), earth (walking on it, sometimes bare feet, sometimes deep into the mud when taking the boat), air (a bit of chilly wind in the evening). Isn’t a fire beautiful?
On 12th January, we woke up quite late on our piece of island. We made some tea on a reburnt fire, and then packed all and went back to the road via the bridge. We had some lunch there and then walked back to Luang Nam Tha. This little adventure wasn’t far, but was a really really good fun. In Luang Nam Tha, we just chilled out. Had some dinner, played some music. Susie had her guitar, I had my tin whistle I still don’t know how to play, and Zoad who had just been 5 months in China had a beautiful Chinese flute. We also watched on the netbook the photos of the day. Did a night check of the kitchen to look for food and ate a pack of Chinese fruit chips we paid in the next morning.
On 13th January, the 4 of us went their way to Thailand, in the direction of the 3-days Reggae Festival in Pai. I took a minivan full of Lao people for Muang Sing, 1h30 North West of Luang Nam Tha.