Archive for the Category ◊ Laos ◊

23 Apr 2009 Luang Prabang, Laos
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We absolutley loved the city of Luang Prabang!
The city was formerly the capital of a kingdom of the same name. Until the communist takeover in 1975, it was the royal capital and seat of government of the Kingdom of Laos.
The city is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Once a French territory, there are still many of the French influences…beautiful French colonial buildings, amazing bakeries, wine, fresh baguettes, real coffee, adorable cafes and modern bars…Utopia was one of our favorites as it had a great view of the river.
We rented bikes and enjoyed strolling the streets and exploring the numerous temples.

21 Apr 2009 Our 2 Day Trek in Laos
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Around 8am a tuk-tuk truck from White Elephant Adventures arrived at our guesthouse. We hopped in the back, dropped our large backpacks off at their storage and we were on our way. We were very lucky to have a small group of only 5 people going on the trek, Fiona (a girl from England), Sherri, me and our two guides Kai and Keo. We heard that the children in the villages couldn’t afford paper notebooks so they had to write on small chalk boards and then erase what they wrote, so we asked our guides to stop at a store on our way out of town so that we could purchase some to take with us and give out to the children in need.

It was about an hour ride out of town to where we were dropped off to start the trek. With our small packs loaded down with bottles of water, a few necessities and the supplies we had just bought we set off through the rice fields. It was sooooo hot and humid!!! Over 90 degrees! The beginning of the trek was in the open fields where the scorching sun beat down on us. Thankfully, after an hour or so we came upon some shaded areas. The trail was a fairly skinny dirt path. We passed people working in the fields, water buffalo bathing in the river and we even had to get out of the way of some cows that were coming down the path in the opposite direction. We stopped for lunch in the shade by a small stream. The food (which the guides had carried for us) was really good. Lunch consisted of rice (of course!) with chicken curry and beef with vegetables. It was way too much food, so we gave our extras to a hill tribe man that was passing along the trail.

After a steep climb uphill (and a lot of sweat) we arrived at the first village, Had Kho which are part of the Khmu mountain dwellers. The children all came running and gathered round as Keo and Kai told us about this village and its people. The kids were soooo cute! Keo is a descendant of the Khmu people, which are the indigenous inhabitants of Northern Laos. We handed out some of the notebooks and pencils to the kids that needed them. In this village, there is only 1 classroom/hut and the kids that go to school all study together. Some children do not go to school, as some parents need the them to help in the fields.

The next part of the climb was tough…it was even more steep but the views were gorgeous! At the top of the mountain we looked out over the valley and our guides pointed to a village in the distance, “there is our next stop”. To the far right, at the top of another mountain you could just barely see a bit of red roof, “and that is the village where we will spend the night”. We thought they were joking, but they were quite serious. At least the next part of the journey was downhill but is was also steep and a bit slippery. Kai and Keo were super sweet and patient, constantly reminding us to go slow and be careful and they even found us bamboo hiking sticks to help us down the hill.

After about 2 hours we arrived at the Phapheng village, which is part of the Hmong Hill Tribe. The Hmong people originated from China and Kai is related to the Hmong people, so he could speak their local dialect. This village was much larger than the first one and there were tons of animals (pigs, dogs, turkeys, chickens, etc.) running loose all over the place. School was in session when we arrived so we peeked our heads in and passed out notebooks and pencils to the children that didn’t have any. Fiona had learned to count to 10 in Lao and the children got a real kick out of hearing her count. We also got to see the inside of the chief’s home, who is also the village shaman. According to believers, shaman’s can treat illness and are capable of entering supernatural realms to provide answers for humans.

We continued onto the next village up another huge hill. Our final destination for the day was the Mok Chong village which is a mix of Khmu and Hmong people. It was about 5pm when we arrived and we were exhausted. Our clothes and backpacks had white residue all over them from the salt we had sweat out during our journey. Keo had told us there was a stream that we could rinse off in at the village. We changed into our swimsuits and headed down the hill to discover that the “stream” was just a small stream of cool water coming out of a bamboo pipe…Fiona and I grabbed the bucket and joined the locals in filling it up and pouring it over ourselves. It was actually very refreshing. 

We sat at the table outside as the animals and children ran around us. Sherri brought out her i-phone, which she had 1 music video on and about twenty children and a few adults gathered round watching with wide eyes. Kai cooked an amazing dinner of vegetables, chicken and rice which we ate by candlelight. Afterwards we took a couple shots of Lao whiskey with Kai and Keo. We were exhausted from the long day so we called it an early night and crawled under our mosquito nets and into our sleep sacks.

The roosters started crowing while it was still dark outside…we waited for the sun to come up and eventually we pulled ourselves out of bed. Prepared for our second day we stopped by the school to give out the remaining notebooks and pencils. This school was actually quite big in comparison to the others. There were 3 classrooms and tons of kids. We set off down the hill for about a two hour hike back to the road where we met up with some additional travellers to kayak down the Nam Khan river. We spent the rest of the day on the river…we even kayaked down through a few rapids, which I’m proud to say we made through without falling out of the kayak! Unlike the guys from England who flipped their kayaks over in every rapid. On the way down the river we passed a large group of kids playing in the water…we paddled over to them and soon about 10 laughing, smiling children were climbing all over our kayak.  We didn’t think we’d ever get out of there! It was hilarious!

All in all it was an amazing adventure!

18 Apr 2009 Two day boat trip down the Mekong River
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We left Chang Mai and spent the day in the “VIP” AC bus, which was actually a packed mini van. Since we were picked up last we had to sit up front with the driver, which was a little uncomfortable for a 6 hour drive.  We stayed the night at the border in the city of Chang Khong.  The next day we were eager to get on the boat as we had heard it was a very fun trip.  We were told by our driver and the guy who sold us the package that since we already had our Laos visas we could leave on an earlier boat.  However, that turned out not to be true and the boat that was supposed to leave at 10am didn’t leave until after 11am.  I’m not sure if it’s a miscommunication with the language barrier or people just say yes even if that’s not really the answer, but that is one part of traveling that gets super annoying.  And everything takes longer than expected.  Finally we were on board and the boat loaded down with people pulled away from the shore.  We met some nice people from England who were well prepared for the long boat ride and came equipped with two cases of beer and a cooler with ice.  As we went down the river we saw a few fields on fire since it was the end of burn season.  Some of the hill tribe people burn parts of their fields before replanting.  After 6 hours we docked the boat at the small hillside village of Pak Beng.  They run off of generators so at 11pm all of the electricity shuts down…including the fan in our room, much to our dismay…it was a hot and sweaty night. 

The next morning I got up early and went for a walk/jog through the little village.  The air was heavy and thick from all of the smoke.  I don’t think many people exercise here as I got a few sideways glances from the locals.  But most people were smiling and friendly and I got some good photos.  I came across a group of small children crowded around a window.  As I got closer to see what they were all trying to look at I realized they were watching TV.  Television is a novelty for many of these villages and towns whose families do not have electricity or a TV of their own. 

We headed down to the boat and made a bee line for the back baggage room to score a spacious spot next to the window where we could lean against the bags.  We were the only non-locals in there.  Part of the time we would spend up front with our English friends.  It was nice to hang out and play cards and drink with everyone up front, but it was also very nice to be able to escape to the quiet back of the boat as well.  It was so peaceful laying next to the window and looking out at the lush emerald mountains passing by.  We made many stops at small villages to drop off locals and supplies…I guess that’s why they call it the slow boat.  There is a fast boat which gets you to Luang Prabang in about 6 hours (compared to 2 days).  It’s a very small boat and very dangerous.  We saw a couple of them pass by.  The passengers and driver wear helmets since people have died on the fast boat…scary!  We liked the slow boat because it’s a lot more relaxing, social and safe.  We were originally told that we would arrive in Luang Prabang around 3:30, but surprise, surprise we actually got there closer to 6:00.  But once we saw how beautiful Luang Prabang was, we decided it was definitely worth the long journey.