We're currently in Laos PDR (Peoples Democratic Republic of Laos or Laos 'Please Dont Run'), Since leaving Chiang Mai in Thailand we spent several days traveling north east towards the Laos- Thailand border. Two of those days were spent in a small town called Chiang Dao, where we stayed in a wooden hut; it was great. We hired bikes, bathed in a hot spring and visited a buddhist monestry on the side of a mountain. We also descended into a very large and very dark cave, the only light was a gas lantern which the guide held, it was great fun.
On leaving Chiang Dao we took a speedboat ride along the Mekong river from Thaton to Chiang Rai, then a short bus ride to the Laos border; which is reached via another short boat trip across the Mekong. On arriving in Laos it was quite a noticable change from Thailand, Laos is not as wealthy country as Thailand and whilst it's still a great place; it doesn't quite have the sheen which Thailand enjoys. Never the less it's pretty much all positives here, the people are probably even more friendly than their Thai neighbours which is no mean feat. They smile, laugh and joke alot and seem incredibly laid back.
The currency is really funny, you get about 12,000 Laos Kip to 1 British pound! Buying something feels like an easy going Maths test.
On arriving in Laos we stayed one night in the border town Huay Xai (
Think you can prounounce it? go on i'll give the answer when we get back) before taking a very loooong 2 day boat trip down the Mekong river again to a small city called Luang Prabang. The city (if it can be called that) is really beautiful, and filled with Buddhist Temples (or Wats) and a very large night market. The only slighlty dis-heartening thing was that in the city centre every buliding was either a guesthouse, restaurant or tour agency catering for tourists of which there were alot. But we can't begrudge this because without the money from tourism the people would really be in trouble here as there isn't a whole lot else on offer for them. Sinead got up really early on the last day (5am!) to watch the buddhist monks receive their alms from the locals which she really enjoyed.
On leaving Luang prabang we got a realisation of the terrain in Laos which hadn't clicked before, the majority of the country is mountainous. We took a very winding bus trip across to a our next location Phonsavan, and thinking back to the 2 day boat trip we were constanly surrounded by very large hills then too. Because of this the infrastructure here is very basic and it's easy to see why tourism is so important for the people as there isn't much in the way of job's and industry in the places we've visted so far.
As mentioned we're now in a charming little city called Phonsavan, it's history is that of a sad one. During the vietnam war the USA secretly bombed Laos and especially this area extensively. Unfortunately that experience still lives on becasue there are 10's of thousands of unexploded bombs still littered in the countryside which are still claiming lives. We visted a charity today at the UXO information centre (unexploded ordenance) who are doing great work to help the victims. I have to pay mention to our room here too, it's Huge; so big that in order to fill the space the owners have but a very large dining table and chairs in the middle of it; it's pretty much the works all for a massive sum of 13 pounds a night!
So on the whole positive views on Laos, the people here really are jolly for want of a better word, which is testiment to them becasue on the face of it you wouldn't think they had a lot to be jolly at. It definately puts a few things in perspective when you think of the relative luxary we all live in back home.
The picture is that of a sunset over the Mekong river.
Melanie King Very interesting to hear about Laos people being happy and jolly despite their upsetting past!
Jenny Watts Hi Andrew and Sinead. Great blog to read. Only just got back from France so now catching up. Laos sounds a great place to visit and the people sound really great. The tales you will have to tell us when you get home! I think you'll probably be in Malaysia by now so looking forward to reading the next instalment and to seeing you both next week. Lmdx