Category Archives: Laos

Leaving Laos or the goat on the roof

It’s time to say goodbye to Laos. We stayed three days in Savannakhet’s  laid back  old town that looks like a scenery from a historic movie.  We gently touched one-hundred-million-year-old bones in the local Dinosaur Museum. There we got an excellent tour by the Lao expert who was part of the team excavating one of the major dinosaur skeletons in Laos.

We continued our journey to Pakse and just want to spare one sentence. We were there. Early morning we moved on to Si Phan Don, which means “4000 islands”. We travelled on a local bus, which, as usual, was a lot of fun. Apart from fans fixed on the ceiling, local people sitting on plastic chairs in the middle of the narrow aisle, this time there was no motorbike in the bus, but a goat on rooftop. We thought the poor thing would fall off with the first movement of the bus, but it held its ground in all the curves for three hours. A shame that during the journey it had to pee through the open roof window.

Cycling on Don Khone and Don Det islands, we avoided the tourist road toll booth by taking adventurous off-road paths. We were surprised by the impressive waterfalls, and felt Don Khone was quite relaxed, despite the fact that everything (guesthouses, restaurants, bicycle renting) is set up for the visitors.  The days ended with a beautiful sunset and a cool Beerlao.

To sum it up, we loved Laos. In general, people were really very welcoming and friendly, and we very much enjoyed staying there. It is quite a inexpensive destination and you can have a very good time.

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‘Homestay’ with Lao family

The last 40 km of our road were among the most beautiful – we drove past many villages and had to slow down and watch out for all kinds animals that appeared on the road and made unpredictable moves and for children crossing, waving and smiling as they greeted us. We were offered a ‘Homestay’ and it turned out te be the most authentic experience we made so far!

First we were led by a local on a motorbike deep into the village past dozens of farms, coops, stables, wooden houses, greeting and smiling people and mud where we caught a flat tyre. Finally we arrived at the house we would stay for the night and met the seven family members: father, mother, four sons and their sweet little daughter.

We tried to remember their names which we obviously forgot and to communicate with the little of Lao language that we were able to speak (literally ten words), but here we could rely on some Lao beer and Laolao Whiskey that facilitated the conversation.

Soon we got our supper served – some sticky rice, a papaya salad and something we thought or rather hoped to be some beans or the like. After a few spoons full of them we discussed it quickly and both agreed that we got some larvae, bees and bugs served. Now, with the whole family sitting around you, smiling, having probably served you the most delicious snack ever and them, eating only rice, what would you do?

We couldn’t disappoint the cook. It tasted like anything we’d tried before, the white larvae slightly sour and soft under our tongues, while we were also pleased to find that there were some crunchy bigger bees and their transparent wings. We enjoyed commenting on our food to make it easier and put up the prettiest smiles we had to compensate just in case the housewife understood. And we ate it all!

The after-dinner walk right on time for  sunset showed us that the whole village was full of offspring – there seemed to be puppies, kids, chicken, piglet, calfs everywhere, running around, squeaking and playing in mud together. We slept on the semi-covered veranda which also served as living room and kitchen at the same time, and felt a little bit watched by the locals. At least they talked about us, because we heard the word falang quite often, which Lao people used for white strangers like us. The night was quite short; at 4am the oldest son got up, at 5am the rooster was awake, then all the other farm animals and we, of course.

Now guess what we got for breakfast. You’re right, the same as for dinner! Now for all the kindness, warmth and cooperation we tried to pull ourselves together, but we couldn’t eat up the bee-bowl at 7am. I hope we met half way, because they continued to eat what we hadn’t finished and I tried to make up with some cosmetics she will probably never use, but looked at least pleased to please me. After our hunger was satisfied we tried out our newly fixed tyre and drove out of the village to see one of Laos’ nature wonders, the amazing Kong Lo cave!

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The Loop around Tha Khaek

We learned about the ‘loop’ from our guidebooks. It is a round trip (Tha Khaek, Kong Lo Cave, Xao Lak, Thalang, Tha Khaek, appr. 400km) which is done on a motorbike, usually in three days.

Day 1

After renting a 125 cc motorbike we started our loop in rainy and cold weather, putting on all clothes we had brought, and hoping that information about sunny weather on the coming days was correct (it was). Going clockwise on the loop, we first had to kill boring 100km before arriving in a beautiful landscape of limestone mountains. Enjoying the scenery we made it to Kong Lor  Village and were offered a ‘Homestay’ with a local family.

Day 2

Waking up with all the animals in the village at about 5 am, we were the first to arrive at stunning Kong Lor Cave, a 7km long tunnel-like cave which goes right through a mountain. It is possible to navigate the cave on longtail boats and taking a local boatman, we had this wonderful experience.

It was hard to get enough from the cave, but eventually we continued on our journey on a beautiful road through the mountains to Xao Lak, which translates into km 20, as it is 20km from the Vietnamese border. The place did not really invite us to stay, so we ventured on in order to find one of the noodle soups at the roadside restaurants we had learned to enjoy so much. Unfortunately, the world seemed to end just after Xao Lak. The road turned in gravel, then into gravel with potholes, then into just potholes, which later on were filled with mud.  A very nice ride on a motorcross bike, but quite a challenge with two people and a full backpack on a 125cc. But we enjoyed it a lot (at least I did as I was the driver).

Still we had this food problem, and while driving through one of the few villages along the road, some locals sitting around a few beers invited us to join them and have some beer and sticky rice with water buffalo. While language-wise conversation was very difficult, we spent a funny half an hour before moving on. The locals assured us that the worst part of the road was over. They could lie with straight faces, as it now became worse, going up and down hills in the forest. To cut it short, we made it to Thalang just for sunset and had a fresh Beerlao, so everything was perfect.

Day 3

The next morning we continued on better gravel road, as usual passing a lot of friendly children shouting their ‘Sabaidee’, hello, to us. We made quite good speed and had our first real stop -apart from noodle soup breaks- at the Tham Sa Pha In cave, the water of which is said to have magical powers. It was quite small though. Our stop at the Tha Falang lake was supposed to be a nice break with some swimming and sunbathing, but turned out to be rather unpleasant due to millions of flies and the fact that you had to watch your stuff constantly, so at least we had heard. The final cave before our return to Tha Khaek was Tham Xieng Liap, and it was truely great. A wide cave, about 200 meters long, you could climb around on the rocks.

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Leaving Vang Vieng

After a week in Vang Vieng which is known as a climbing paradise surrounded by hills and mountains, we are heading to Laos’ capital Vientiane. We enjoyed kayaking the river Nam Song, tubing through water caves on inflated tractor tyres, were stunned by beautiful sceneries and limestone cliffs, went jumping from swings into the river, crossed hanging bamboo footbridges, did some mountain trekking and of course, enjoyed Lao food. Fried rice, red and green curry, banana pancakes and excellent baguettes had a great taste, even though once there was an allergic reaction with skin rash all over the body, which fortunately disappeared after two days.

It is a shame we couldn’t go rock climbing, but one of four feet was still injured from our little motorbike accident in Chiang Mai and it was simply impossible to squeeze it into a climbing shoe. What we disliked was how touristic this place is, fully controlled by stoned and drunk western 17-25 year-olds getting wasted tubing down the river and stopping at numerous bars, or just sitting for hours in bars watching endless repetitions of Friends soaps. On every corner, concrete guesthouses are built in such a hurry that they do each other out of business. We plan to leave the touristic highway we’re on now and to see some untouched places and meet more people who aren’t only focused on tourists.

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On the Mekong to Luang Prabang

We decided to go to Chiang Khong by bus, to enter northern Laos at Huay Xai and then travel by slow boat along the Mekong River to Luang Prabang. Everything worked out, as usual the bus driver stopped where we were supposed to spend some money. On the border to Laos, we both got a 30-day visa on arrival. The next morning, we got on our slow boat. The boat trip of two times seven hours was ok despite the rain and cold. Of course, the boat was full of tourists we had already seen in Thailand, which however was no surprise given we were travelling on a “tourist highway”. The two-day trip required an overnight stay in the small, unexciting riverside village of Pak Beng. From the boat we saw forests, fishermen, some water buffaloes and even an elephant :-)

Luang Prabang, former royal capital and World Heritage-listed, is situated 700m above sea level, at the confluence of the Nam Khan and the Mekong River. Once we got through the usual bunch inviting us to spend the night in their guesthouse ‘Need loom?’, we started to enjoy the small town and its surroundings. Even if quite touristic, it is a laid-back place with nice restaurants and guesthouses.

Orange-wrapped Buddhist monks inhabit half of the beautiful 66 historic temples. We were not sure what it meant to be living like a monk, but they seemed to enjoy using their mobile phones or watching Lao girls dressed in pink pass by on their bicycles.

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