Category Archives: Laos

Pak Beng, Chiang Khong, and Chiang Mai

We boarded a long boat for our two day journey on the Mekong River and only two hours in we made our first stop at the Pak Ou Caves.  Here rests thousands of Buddha statues, and by the dust and cobwebs on them, they lie untouched.
We didn’t make it to the upper level of caves and after reading this, I was sorry we didn’t.
A long boat similiar to ours, perfect for seeing the scenery while having the mobility to walk around, a table and chairs to dine at, rows of seats to recline on, and the wonderful ease and joy of a restroom!  The alternative to the slow boat is the fast boat.  Our group was comfortably reading and playing cards as one passed us at lightning speed with all passengers in full face helmets holding on for dear life.  It was our turn to have the wisdom that comes with age!
After a full day on the boat we arrived in Pak Beng in time to watch the sun go down beyond the river and behind the mountains.  From everything I read before hand I was not expecting much of this virtually one street little village.  I was pleasantly surprised to find there were several little shops, restaurants, and guesthouses.  The village had a lighthearted, cozy ambiance and we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner.
Early the next morning, with a fog still clinging to the air, we hopped back on our boat for day two of our boat journey.
Our captain must have been the “early bird catches the worm type” as most all the other slowboats were still docked and the passengers most likely still getting shuteye.
Daily life along the river; men bagging rice?
Women and children fishing.  All images by PepperKeyStacie
Chiang Khong is a sleepy little border town often used by travelers going between Loas and Thailand.    We took a long walk by the river and chose this neat restaurant.  A nearly full moon hides behind the palm.
One of the greatest and lasting impressions of Thailand will be due to this magnificent piece of modern art; The White Temple or Wat Rong Khun.  It is the vision of artist Chalermchai Kositpipat who wished it to be an imitation of heaven on earth. 
This gleaming white most unusual temple was started in 1997 and the artist intends for it to be his life’s work.  He believes it’s construction will take sixty to seventy years to complete and has prepared for it’s continuation even after his death.   The cost to see this wonder for yourself, $0.  That’s right, it’s free.
This golden structure is not a temple, it’s actually the toilet.  To read more about this amazing place and this remarkable artist who is succesfully bringing tradional Thai art to a global audience, please read this article.  This post marks the end of my SE Asia travel entries, congratulations if you have made it through every one!

Luang Prabang

En route to our destination we made a pitstop at a pretty peak with great views and a small cafeteria.  Snack food in Asia is a multitude of flavors, some flavors westerners may find strange to find on potato chips!
One of many roadside markets we passed on the seven hour dusty journey.
We reached the city in the late afternoon and while Stephane attended a cooking class I took to exploring the the streets.  I wandered around ancient temple grounds, through quaint alleyways lined with charming restaurants and villas, and browsed through several boutiques displaying art, decorative textiles, and antiques.  Before I knew it, hours had passed, the sun was setting, and the night market was coming to life.
The three or four hours the market is open is hardly enough time to feast your eyes on all of the wares; vibrant silks, woven tapestries, handmade paper journals, sparkling metal jewelry, handpainted ceramics, and a multitude of curious antiques. 
Even the monks can’t help themselves!
Throughout South East Asia naga’s, or multi headed snakes or dragons, are placed at the entrances of sacred sites to protect them.
All images by PepperKeyStacie
The heart rate elevating climb up Mount Phou Si
Near panaramic views of the Nam Khan River from the top.
Luang Prabang was perhaps my favorite city of the trip. It was a winning combination of cultural, historical, and natural attractions that finally came together in the same place. I could have stayed here far longer than we had allotted time for.
It was a very difficult decision to set the daily agenda with options such as Kuang Si Fallsock pop tok weaving centre, and The Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre .  Watching the film earthlings we were made more aware of elephant abuse.  During our trip to the floating market outside Bangkok our driver had stopped at an elephant ride camp and we witnessed for ourselves the mistreatment of these gentle giants.  All two dozen adults were chained, barely shaded, and heavily scarred.  Their piles of food were minimal and the saddest sight of all was the main “photo attraction” our guide eagerly lead us to; a baby elephant chained heavily to the ground with only a foot of chain link to move about.  The poor animal spun it’s trunk around and round in circles and rocked back and forth, back and forth, with the one foot space it was allowed.  The repetetive movements were a clear sign of terrible distress and psychological trauma.  All of the members of our trip refused to participate and voiced our anger and sympathy for such practices.  After that experience we wanted to do something to help.
   We opted to support the Elephant Village an approved rescue center.
This little girl we saw on our ride demonstrates the best of human nature; to care, nurture, and protect.  It is unimaginable that there are people in the world who can torture living creatures like this.  It is especially difficult to digest that these practices can go on in a Buddhist country where respect for all living things is stressed and the elephant is supposedly revered as a sacred animal.
Our day at the village we learned a great deal about the Earth’s largest land animal.  Their ears radiate heat, flapping them cools their body temperature.  They sweat through their toe nails.  Pregnancy lasts 22 months and a newborn weighs 200 pounds   Their trunks contain 100,000 muscles and are used for breathing, smelling, trumpeting, drinking, and for grabbing things as demonstrated below.
They eat up to 300 pounds of fruit, grasses, bark and roots in just one day, so based on that fact alone,  imagine the cost to provide for just one of these beauties. All the elephants at the village were females, and apparently our two are great friends and the only pair that like to dip completely under water when bathing!  Good thing we are used to going for swims!  To read more on the memory of matriarchs please click here and check out these “interesting facts” from here

Imagine that. An elephant can remember a watering hole they have not visited in fifty years!  I can’t remember where I set my car keys on any given day. An elephant cries under distress, grieves when they lose a family member, and host greeting ceremonies when a wandering member rejoins their group. 
Anyone can see that these intelligent, emotional animals are a lot like us.  Please don’t support their abuse.
Boycott circus shows and inform others why they should as well.  If your traveling and you want to support any type of rescue camp or center, please make certain you are doing so at an approved location.  For those of you traveling to the Caribbean, exact parallels exist for dolphins.  Please boycott the entertainment shows that use and abuse dolphins!

Vientiane and Vang Vieng

Vientiane, (pronounced Wiangchan) literally the “city of sandalwood,” became the capital of Laos in 1563, moved from Luang Prabang due to fears of a Burmese invasion. The Golden Stupa is the national symbol and cultural pride of the country, originally erected in 1566 and standing 45 meters tall.
The courtyard of our guesthouse, Mali Namphu
Wat Si Saket is rumoured to be the oldest wat in Vientiane.  Built in the Siamese style, it was luckily left intact and not destroyed during the Siam army invasion of the city in 1827.
A unique feature is the thousands of niches built within the wall to house small buddha statues.
Wat Sisaket is the oldest surviving monastary in the city. Several monks and novices are still in residence here, in part due to restorations by the French in the 1920’s and 30’s.
The “Victory Gate” Patuxai largely resembles the Arc de Triomphe in structure but the ornamentation is Laotian with Buddhist depictions. 
 “The monument has five towers that represent the five principles of coexistence among nations of the world. They are also representative of the five Buddhist principles of “thoughtful amiability, flexibility, honesty, honour and prosperity”
Wouldn’t it be a better planet if all nations actually adhered to these five priciples?!
Our last sunset in Vientiane we walked down to the river, stopping for a toasted coconut water (we had never seen this practice before and now want to try it at home).  Unfortunately there was not a lot of river to see.  Modern life is slowly creeping up on Laos, here is an interesting article.
After Lak Xao I thought our giude must be joking when she explained we would be arriving in the backpacker town of Vang Vieng where we would be able to float the river on inner tubes.  Sure enough, as soon as we arrived we saw hundreds of young, water soaked, muddy feet river rafters coming back from what looked to be a day full of hard partying. 
With so much nature around to explore, and at least a decade of age on the vast majority of tourists in Vang Vieng, we decided to skip the tubing and go for caving, biking, treking, and kayaking.  Ten minutes into our big day of adventure, the camera batteries died.  Sadly those spectacular images and memories will stay in our minds alone.

Lak Xao

Immediately upon leaving Hanoi, a wave of relief set in with the passing scenery.  Laos was sure to be more of what we envisioned; mountainous, peaceful, surroundings of nature versus millions of people and cityscapes.
The further we journeyed into Laos, the farther the temperature dropped.  It amazed me to see so many travelers on the road walking barefoot in the cold rain.
A persistent haze stayed with us the entire trip but could not distract from the beauty of the country.
Water Buffalo are still vital and used for plowing, transportation, milk, hides, and meat.
In all of Southeast Asia it was common to see motorcycles carrying huge loads.  The picture book, Bikes of Burden, is a great visual summary.
We arrived at the Lak Xao market as the sun was setting.  Lak Xao is a major logging center but used by travelers as a transit town.
The town lies in the shadow of a large limestone mountain and perhaps that was why it was so cold.  The residents were quite used to it, leaving doors open for the frigid air to seep in.  Neither our hotel, nor the restaurant across the street where we ate dinner, had heating capabilities.  I thought perhaps we were being ninnies thanks to our Caribbean moderated blood, but the rest of our group was suffering the same.  After a restless sleep in three layers and hoods, we were overjoyed to see a bit of sunshine the following day.
All images by PepperKeyStacie