The land of hammocks. In my mind, I have always pictured Laos as a spiritual country filled with friendly people living their lives on the Mekong River. Unfortunately our first few days of Laos were not happy ones due to the corruption we experienced crossing the border, from north Vietnam to north Laos. The border control ‘officials’ fleeced tourists of every cent they had without so much as a smile. Now this kind of behaviour is almost expected in poor countries, right? But should people not talk about it and pretend that it doesn’t dampen your first few days into a new country, hell no! Everyone left the border disheartened, quiet and many with a negative view of Laos. Anyways I’m trying to use my experiences of border crossings as a positive and have written a blog on tips to help prepare travellers for land border crossings. Click on he following link: Tips to make your land border crossing easy.
Thankfully the Mekong River helped wash away any feelings of anger and upset. The image of stunning backwater scenery and village full of playing children really is true. There is no hurry in this country, Laos runs on its own time which for the life of me I still can’t figure out.
Our first stop was the pretty river town of Muang Khoua where we caught a long tail boat down the River Nam to beautiful Muang Ngoi. Here we spent our days relaxing in hammocks outside our wooden bungalow, motorcycling through villages high up in the mountains and drinking mint tea in Alex, a bohemian cafe filled with comfy patterned cushions. At night we cooked hot pots with Canadian friends and Tim was forced to drink copious shots of rice wine by laughing Laos men, paying the price the next day.
Reluctantly we moved on to Luang Prabang, a French colonial town, where we planned on staying for two days but ended up staying for four. We observed the youngest and oldest of monks, dressed in orange awakening at sunrise to receive their Alms. Buddhism is the main religion in Laos so we visited as many temples as we could admiring the intricate detail and glowing gold paint.
My birthday was coming up (yipee) and I really wanted to see the elephants of Laos in an ethical environment so after much research Tim bought me a full day with the elephants at the ‘Elephant Village Sanctuary and Resort’. The female elephants have been rescued from logging and now spend four hours of their days bathing, feeding and completing short rides, howdah free, before they go back into the jungle. The day was so much fun, my elephant was gentle and loved being petted behind her ears and cooling down in the river. I learned the commands using ‘mahout’ and loved the fact the ride was very short and hook free. It was an incredible experience I’ll never forget.
Our next stop was the tiny idyllic village of Tao Lo surrounded by lush greenery and waterfalls. We stayed at Fandee Guesthouse where Tim ate his weight in French cheese as we watched French guests take their poker very seriously. We met an amazing French couple in their forties who had sold their house to take their two children travelling for a year. What an amazing education for their children!
Next it was onwards to Phonsavan so we could visit the Plain of Jars and learn more about the secret war in Laos. We saw dozens of bomb craters and the land of Laos is still covered in unexploded landmines. The people here have been through so much but as with all of the Asian countries we have visited who have experienced war, the people remain resilient and simply carry on.