For a poor country Laos seems very modern with good infrastructure. A benefit from all the foreign aid it receives. We've travelled the country by minibus on some very windy roads through jungle covered hills- luckily there is very little traffic as we spend a lot of time on the wrong side of the road!
We really enjoyed a few days in laid back Vang Vieng- on the banks of a tributary to the Mekong River surrounded by tall rocky cliffs. We explored some caves (1 by pulling ourselves into the dark interior on the River on inner tubes), enjoyed kayaking down the river and hired a scooter for a day - that was an experience! Luckily there was very little traffic as we wobbled our way along the gravel roads at no more than 20 mph. The reward was a beautiful 'blue lagoon' to swim and cool off in and a steep climb up to a huge cave.
Next we moved onto Phonsavan. This is now a mining town but is famous for the ancient monolithic "jars" scattered around the area and the infamy of being the most heavily bombed area in the world. The jars are huge stone jars that it is believed were burial jars. They are carved from limestone and weigh up to several tonnes. There are up to 1000 in the area but nobody quite knows what they are. A tour of the area always includes the many bomb sites and many bomb craters are clearly visible. We we're told to keep to the marked paths as they have been checked for UXO (unexploded ordnance) and the locals still cannot use all of the land due to unexploded bombs remaining from the Vietnam war. We also visited some caves where the locals lived during the war, including one used as a hospital where there were still lots of empty glass medicine bottles. On our way back we visited a village where the locals had used parts of bombs and other ordnance to build their homes, which was a bit bizarre.
Another long minibus ride took us to Luang Probang, funny how the AC never seems to work. Eight hours of windy roads. Luang probang is a lovely colonial town on the Mekong river full of French architecture and temples. Using Luang Prabang as a base we hired a guide and went trekking to a hill tribe and spent the night in a tribal house. The trekking is bloody hard in 35 degree heat but we had a great time playing Dobble with the village kids. Then we kayaked on the Nam Ou and Mekong rivers for a day before spending the night at an elephant camp. The elephant camps take elephants no longer needed for logging in the forests, there's not much forest left and it's mechanised now, and use them for tourism. We spent the evening and the next day riding the elephants and learning how to control them with simple commands. We had a great time although it was all very tiring - it's hard enough getting onto a horse, and an elephant is much bigger (it's a good hip opening exercise for you Yogis) Bathing with them in the river was especially fun when the mahouts gave the instruction to spray water over us and to 'shake' so that we fell off into the river!
Back to luang prabang for the new year's celebrations which involve a lot of water fights, great in this heat! It starts with kids with water pistols and develops into hosepipes and buckets. Then they add the food colouring. Then comes the flour! There are water militia travelling around in the backs of pickups with drums of water and the biggest water guns you can imagine! You could be in war torn central Africa but for the smiles and laughter. After three days this all stops and the religious part starts. There are processions of all of the Buddhist monks and the important Buddhist statues, which are all "washed" by the devotees (another excuse for buckets of water). Then there are blessings at the Wats and cultural dancing, all an interesting spectacle. Craig was taken ill in the kitchen department during the festivities and so we have stayed here longer than originally planned and not gone further north. There's lots here so not a bad place to recuperate. We've visited the towns Wats, temples to us; visited the local waterfalls to cool off; visited the local bear sanctuary; been rice farmers for a day; enjoyed a dinner cruise on the Mekong and had a nice massage. This is the end of our time in laos as we fly to Hanoi tonight. We have enjoyed our time here and the people are lovely. The country is changing fast so come and visit soon.
Happy Easter and Love to all.