17 September 2011

Laos, Part 2: A Long Sunset on the Mekong

From where I sit now at the Grass Valley, CA Public Library, Laos feels like a world away. It IS a world away. Thinking back to the last two weeks there, exploring Luang Prabang, being awed by the great valley to Vang Vieng, and lackadaisically hammocking along the banks of the mighty Mekong at Dondet, 4,000 Islands, I am amazed again. My pictures remind me of the moments my breath was taken away, and humble me to the beauty of that land and its people. So far, it has never been easy to select which photos to show, and choosing 60 best pictures from this portion of the trip was harder than any other... decisions decisions! It was difficult to take a bad picture with scenery this amazing; I hope you enjoy my final selections!

We embarked from our river boat into the old city of Luang Prabang, which, historic as the former French provincial capital, is laid with distinctive architecture. It is also blessedly tranquil, seeming to sleep on the banks of the Mekong. There is a nightly market where you can score excellent Laos made textiles and silver, beautiful temples and many strolling monks, and astounding waterfalls in close proximity.

Our river boat was like the small one in this picture.

A look around town shows...
White stucco colonial era buildings...
Slope-roofed temples...
Saffron robed monks...

We motorcycled out to our first waterfall, Kuang Si.
Here is an Asian Sloth Bear, at the reserve set up by the waterfall.  It was an unexpected surprise to meet this guy here!

Rushing with water, Kuang Si waterfall overwhelms its viewing area well past flood stage levels.
The roar was incredible!

A rare picture of the two of us, wet with mist.

Before shopping at Luang Prabang's night market, I suggest filling up with an all-you-can-put-on-your-plate meal, less than a dollar to fill up!
After dark is when the night market starts to get busy.

Aiyanna eyes silver bangles and silk scarfs...

Fun oddities everywhere, so many fun things for sale I just wished I could buy it all!

Another day another waterfall outside Luang Prabang:  Tad Sae.
Jungle and waterfall collide, forest merging with rapid.

Swimming and rope swinging here is quite refreshing also.

At the food market... moth chrysalises.  The green ones were too young, still caterpillars.

This rainbow reflected in the Nam Khan besides stretching the whole sky.

I specifically asked the travel agent who booked our bus ticket, "How are the roads?"  "Good," he said, "The landslide is clear now."
He lied.  We hiked where the road had been washed away weeks before, and that probably won't be fixed until the monsoon rains clear.

We had originally intended to take our bus straight from Luang Prabang to Vientiane, the capital, but as we desended into the valley approaching Vang Vieng, we changed our minds.
We got to our hotel room just in time for this sunset off the balcony.  See why we stayed?

This was the reason we almost didn't stay:  we'd heard about the bad scene happening here between locals and party seeking tourists.  They come to get drunk and tube the river, they don't care about modest local customs, and they seem happy watching episode after episode of Friends and Family Guy at the "TV Bars" lining once quiet streets.  There were probably 20 different TV Bars, in one section there were 4 bars in a row, all with Friends on.  PUKE!!  This was NOT what we came to Laos for, and we were sad to find this ongoing "worst-of" culture wreck.

Luckily, scooter journeying outside of the town itself brought us to the beauty we were looking for.
Rice fields run into cliffs, caves abound!
One such cave above one such rice field...

Cool formations inside!

The hike down we met many little local friends, like this downclimbing millipede.

Ant battle!!  The mega-ants were getting wrecked by the micro-nasties.

Buzz, land, buzz, dash: a dragonflies life for me!

Water scorpion?  Don't know what to call him.

A real local, she stopped us to touch Aiyanna's hair.

Another scene from the hotel balcony... morning.

A drive back up the valley, revisiting our bus route in the open air of a rented scooter made for the most beautiful drive of the trip.  Epic scenery!!

Returning to the hotel after our long drive, butts soar and getting rained on was nothing as we chased this rainbow down the valley.

We cruised through Vientiane, Laos's unremarkable capital, and overnighted in Pakse after an overnight bus trip south.
Men playing the local sport in Vientiane.

A boy bicycling in Pakse.

Next stop: Si Phan Don!  4,000 Islands, as it is also called, is laid back place alive with local culture while simultaneously sleepy with hammocks.
Fresh fish!

We took a boat to our island, Don Det, where we would spend about six days relaxing and soaking in the views.

Boats are the primary transport around here.

Storms are made better when viewed from your small hut!

Bungalows line the river for tranquility seeking tourists like us, but luckily in low season they are almost all empty!

Not just a pretty flower here...

"Mumbua", or lotus seeds, make a snack... raw, tastes like a big fresh pea.


Bringing water into the school house from the river.

Crossing between Don Det and Dong Kong, this bridge is left over from a French railroad that once connected the islands.

From anywhere on Don Det you can hear the roar of this waterfall, only a fraction of which is pictured here.  The waterfall stretches accross the entire Mekong where one plate is sucked below another.  It's not a high waterfall, but in terms of volume, it's the biggest in SE Asia.

A kitten hisses at my camera.

Water buffalo looking... water buffalow-ish

Kids on the island.
More kids.  We watched some other children, younger than this, making a fishing pole with a meat cleaver.  No parental supervision seemed to be necessary.

I was invited to this business opening banquet.  Laos people really like to celebrate, as you can see from the feast spread before us!  It was really fun to party with the locals and experience some authentic local culture.

Watching storms come in from our bungalow was a favorite past time of mine.

Our bungalow for four nights was made of bamboo and grass.  The roof, though I could see sky through it in the day, somehow did not leak.

A swarm of insects around the light at night, an incomprehensible number.
One of my favorite scenes from the island rice fields.

Your truly.

to the beautiful Mekong...
And farewell to Laos.

The next day we crossed into Cambodia, where we spent six days at Siem Reap and around the temples of Angkor Wat... another chapter of the voyage that, from America and Grass Valley, seems so distant.  

Well here I am!  Writing about the past in my own present, I leave this blogging world to go back and live.  My phone is back on, and I have wheels and some time to travel.  Talk to you soon?

Thanks for reading everyone, love to all.

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