Travel time…Laos

Having rested for the night in Chiang Khong, a stroll alongside the Mekong took me to the Thai border.  I clambered upon a long boat to the Laos side and after getting through the usual checks, money changing etc, took my first real steps in Laos.

I walked down to the ferry port and paid the 900 baht that would take me along the southern vein of the Mekong for two days to my eventual destination, Luang Prabang.

Crossing the Mekong to Laos

Crossing the Mekong to Laos

7 responses to “Travel time…Laos”

  1. The long boat left Huay Xia with every seat occupied and passengers squashed in like sardines. Not enough space left to squeeze a lemon.

    We traversed down the river and passed by fishermen throwing their nets out for the daily catch, children playing, people building on dusty side roads, buffalo stopping for water, women washing clothes against rocks.

    Port at Huay Xia

    The port at Huay Xia

    The day rushed by and as the sun fell away it heralded our arrival into Pak Beng, the overnight stop. I found a place to sleep and crashed. Around 4.30am, I awoke to a rooster singing its usual chorus, and couldn’t get back to sleep. Clearly this rooster had a lot on its mind and decided to carry on chiming until daylight. An early morning stroll in the mist uncovered people hurriedly working at the port basin, loading crops onto mini vans and shepherding objects from one boat to the next.

    I took some coffee and spotted some children playing football in the street. Using a wooden framed goal, and stopping only for passing traffic, the little guy stood in goal whilst the taller one belted the ball between the posts at every given opportunity. I couldn’t resist and joined in. Wow, this breaks so many barriers and I don’t need to utter a word. The ubiquitous language that is kicking a footie.

    Overnight in Pak Beng

    Overnight stay in Pak Beng

    With fewer passengers on day two, we made it to Luang Prabang in the early evening and after taking some dinner, I collapsed into bed.

  2. Laos, or to use its full title, Laos Federal Democratic Republic, has the most wonderful currency. Here are the rules:

    There are no coins.
    The lowest denomination is 500 kip, as far as I can tell.
    £1 = around 13,500 kip.

    Should I decide to go out and buy some golf clubs, not that I play golf or anything, I would probably be paying around 4 million kip for them. Its the only place in the world where you can give the guy behind the counter a million and he won’t blink. You gotta love that.

    Luang Prabang itself is a gentrified oasis, in a french colonial sort of way. I can see why its a world heritage city; it has all the trappings you could wish for – wats, palaces, markets, french mansions and ofcourse, buddhist monks.

    I cycled out of town and chanced upon the local radio station HQ. The music spilled into the street and stopped me in my tracks. A soft, slow, earthy voice and simple background chords. You could feel the depth of sorrow and pain in the man’s voice as he told his story. I don’t know a word of Lao, but it matters little. Like much of the music in Asia, village songs are written and preserved to resonate with all peoples. Even more so as you take in the rich, rugged, utopian surroundings.

    Money and People

    Laos Currency and monks in the sun, Luang Prabang

  3. No time in Laos would be complete without mentioning buddhist monks. They command a kind of respect that is hard to explain, a yoda like reverance. Perhaps its a sense that they just get it, and quite frankly, I don’t. Or maybe its the fact that I rarely hear them speak, or even the way they dress. Whatever it is, its there, everyday, and just feels right.

    The following morning, I awoke early and went to see the monks walk side by side out of their monastries to collect food from the locals. On receipt, they dropped this into their urns and then passed on a little to those less fortunate. Anything left over would make up their personal quota for the day.

    Monks procession in Luang Prabang

    Monks procession in Luang Prabang

    I left Luang Prabang for the capital on the night bus. At the beginning of the journey the driver came around and offered passengers multiple plastic bags. I get it now. The roads in Laos are often bumpy, dusty, narrow and tend to follow one close bend after another… for hours. It felt like I had just swallowed a washing machine.

    The bus coughed its way to Vientiane, breaking down a few times, but arriving just before dawn. I didn’t bother taking a tuk-tuk and instead walked to the central area, where I found some digs and closed my eyes to the world.

  4. Where to begin. To appreciate Vientiane you need to dig a little. Its lack of pretention and traditonal consumerism is both refreshing and endearing. The city is garnished with old crumbling colonial buildings and stunning wats, but its as if time forgot about this place. Its my kind of town.

    Vientiane put on its best frock for the Chinese new year and the streets became showered in red for the weekend, with fireworks and dragon dancing; shop owners throwing money and rice from balcony windows to herald in its arrival.

    Around Vientiane

    Around Vientiane

    The Lao people are so warm and unassuming that it is easy to feel like you want to give something back to them. At the beginning of the week, I went to a local school and after consulting with a teacher, agreed to pop in over 4 days and tell the kids a little about where I came from, what I did etc etc. After all, English is supposed to be my strong point.

    The teacher, Ya, navigated me around the classrooms and explained the format we would take. Blackboard, chalk, wonky seats, gridded paper. Took me back. Before I knew it, I was scribbling away and asking the children to repeat words, phrases, numbers. Foreign currencies I had in my pocket floated around the room and the kids, as they grew in confidence, began to ask the all important questions.

    Do you have crocodiles in England?
    How do you wash your clothes?
    Why do you write with your left hand?

    I was rewarded for my efforts on day 3 when I received a banana flavoured mini swiss roll.

    Teaching in Vientiane

    School in Vientiane

    What a wonderful week. Ofcourse the schooling was gratifying beyond measure. To have the opportunity to contribute to other peoples lives in this way is overwhelming. It had a profound effect on me as I reflected on my week and prepared to pack and head south.

    I need a Roti Allee vendor to recover. Egg roti please, with a sprinkling of sweet milk.

  5. Ok, so I forgot to pack and decided to stay a little longer. I continued to participate in the schooling for a few more days and then tied up a few loose ends, as you do.

    I went to the Cambodian embassy and collected my visa; said goodbye to the sugar cane vendor; took my last Vientiane breakfast; washed laundry; ate fried banana and egg roti daily; cycled to anywhere; watched a local football match and had my haircut.

    Now I am ready to leave. Tomorrow, the cranky bus to Savannakhet awaits.

    Loose ends in Vientiane

    Loose ends in Vientiane

  6. As I travel south the landscape changes dramatically. The urban sprawl is replaced by a more gentle, rural setting. Village flophouses, chickens running, goats bleating, cows grazing, buffalo watering, children playing, people huddled. All this amongst the thick evergreen expanse.

    The bus from Savannakhet to Pakse was so full that the bus driver took out plastic stools and placed them in the aisle so people could atleast sit a little for the 5 hour journey. I had a feeling no one was in the mood for a game of musical chairs.

    Journey to Pakse

    Journey to Pakse

  7. I ended my time in Laos on an island in the south, Don Khon, slouched in a hammock that looked out onto the Mekong. Roosters running around everywhere. The sun shimmered against the low river tide and long boats made there way from one small island to the next. I simply just got lost in it all.

    Towards the end of my time, I cycled to the southern tip of Don Khon, and there, beyond the river islets, in all its glory, lay the silhouette of Cambodia. The misty backdrop gave it an enigmatic quality, but I knew that it was within reach.

    Don Khon memories

    Don Khon memories

    Laos is just wonderful. The people, the joy, the warmth, the energy, the hunger, the reality of the place. For me, a privilege beyond words. I leave behind nothing but great memories and a lingering feeling that I shall return one day.

    For travel time in Malaysia, click here.
    For travel time in Vietnam, click here.
    For travel time in Jordan, click here.
    For travel time in Syria, click here.
    For travel time in Turkey, click here.
    For travel time in Cambodia, click here.
    For travel time in Thailand, click here.
    For travel time in Myanmar, click here.
    To go to the start of this blog, click here.
    To go to, click here.

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