• Sunday , 21 January 2018
Sanity restored: Laos

Sanity restored: Laos

Laos is what Thailand promises to be in the brochures. Where Thailand is jaded and there is no forgotten corner left anymore, Laos is still an un-crowded rural country that has its charms in tact. The slower pace of life here, along with mountainous terrain made for great motorcycle riding. The locals are friendly in a reserved and proud sort of way. I could see myself living here someday.

Laos has a low population density compared to the rest of SE Asia. This translates into a country with minimal traffic and lots of wide open spaces. Road to Kong Lor Cave, Laos.

Central Laos is a laid back place. The villagers are always busy but the pace of life moves to a different rhythm than we have in the western world. No doubt life is hard in rural Laos but we found smiling faces and kids having fun everywhere we went.

We’ve already toured Northern Laos on a rental bike years ago so this time around we stuck to the bits we haven’t seen, the Central and Southern regions. Leaving Thailand’s clambake of import regulations was a relief. Bringing the bikes into Laos was a simple affair and we easily got insurance and a thirty-day import permit at the border. Night and day compared to Thailand.

We spent a total of 23-nights in Laos starting our trip in the capital Vientiane. From there we headed south to tackle the Thakhek Loop. The Loop is a 350-mile back road journey through stunning emerald mountains, rice fields, and small villages. The Loop is popular with the young backpacker set on scooters but this intrusion does not diminish the splendor or adventure of this mountain ride. We took a leisurely seven days to complete the circuit stopping for days at a time to explore caves, ride bicycles, or just nap in the guesthouse hammock.

The Nam Hin Bun River flows through the Kong Lor Cave for over four and a half miles. We took a boat through this limestone natural wonder to reach a village at the other end of the cave. Phu Hin Bun National Park, Khammouane Province, Laos.

Going old-school in Central Laos. Traveling slowly gives us time to park the bikes for days at a time and explore the surrounding area a little closer.

Sometimes the simplest things in life give great pleasure. We hired some bicycles instead of using our motorcycles to get to the caves, it was a good call. Phu Hin Bun National Park, Khammouane Province, Laos.

Where once there was forest a lake is born. Hydroelectric projects are happening all over Laos. Near Tha Lang village the dead trees still stand in the new reservoir.

After the Loop we followed the Mekong River south to Savannahkhet. Our friend, Jodi, flew into town for the weekend and we had a blast catching up with her. Savannahkhet is a hot and humid town and it is often referred to as boring by other travelers, just how we like it. The dilapidated French colonial architecture along the Mekong River and the bustling night food market were all that we needed for a wonderful weekend with Jodi. We continued south through Champasak visiting the ancient Khmer temples at Wat Phu before exiting into Cambodia. However, we were not quite done with Laos just yet.

Tetanus shot recommended for the merry-go-round. Savannakhet, Laos.

The old French colonial quarter of Savannakhet, along the Mekong River-front, is depressed and crumbling but still charming.

Having a little dim sum at the night market in Savannakhet, Laos. Our pal Jody works for USAID and was in Bangkok for a conference. She booked a flight to Savannakhet for a weekend visit with us before going back to Thailand.

Smart rooster ain’t so clever once the wind blew the raft away from shore. He patiently waited for his luck to change and eventually made it to safe harbor. Savannakhet, Laos.

Wat Phou is a ruined Khmer Hindu temple complex in Champasak Province, Laos. Not as monumental as Angkor Wat in nearby Cambodia, but Wat Phou is an uncrowded and interesting place to spend the day.

Monks walking on the path at Wat Phou. Champasak Province, Laos.

Long before we knew about the harsh new Thailand vehicle regulations we set up a holiday with Shannon’s parents who would fly from Seattle to Southeast Asia and intersect with us in Laos. Unfortunately to stay one step ahead from the Thai government we had to rush our trip and get our bikes back into Thailand. We hurried through Cambodia faster than we wanted and entered Thailand just as the doors shut behind us (more in a later post). We parked the bikes in Bangkok, grabbed a flight to Luang Prabang, Laos and made the parental rendezvous on the pre-determined day.

For five days we were treated to hotels, tours, and fine dining with Shannon’s parents and their traveling companions. The visit put our homesickness on hold for a while. After a tearful goodbye at the Luang Prabang airport we flew back to our bikes in Bangkok for the second half of our Thailand ride.

More friendly faces greet us in Laos! Shannon’s folks, Michele and David, flew from Seattle for a visit and we spent a wonderful week with them in Luang Prabang, Northern Laos.

No gasoline today, and don’t hold your breath for tomorrow. These were the private pumps for the King of Laos. Luang Prabang, Laos.

Carp is king along the Mekong River.

Naptime at the monastery. Luang Prabang, Laos.

The Kuang Si Falls is a three tier waterfall south of Luang Prabang and made a great day trip for us.

Along with Shannon’s parents were two other couples in the holiday group that convened in Luang Prabang. The eight of us took a Lao cooking class one evening at a private home. Left to right: Shannon, David, Kristi, Michele, John, Andrew and Kim.

A cooking class with a view. And oh what treats we ate that evening. Luang Prabang, Laos.

Indigo dye starts out as a green plant leaf. After the leaves are mashed and soaked the blue tint reveals itself. In this traditional weavers cottage the pails of prepared indigo are ready for the cotton cloth the village is known for.

This guy was working away in front of his home when we walked by. He was more than happy to let us watch the process of making a rice winnowing basket.

Laos was made for motorcycle adventure travel.

Nong Khiaw is a beautiful little town on the bank of the Ou River in Northern Laos.

I asked this guy what the sun dried wood chips were for. With a chuckle he explained the dried mixture was used as “jungle Viagra” and that he has 11 kids, proof of its effectiveness.
I really am having a fun time with my new friend but whenever I am told to smile on cue for the camera I usually look like I am painfully constipated.

The dog magnet plies her trade in Northern Laos.

Schoolyard graffiti on the schoolhouse in Muang Ngoi Neua, a remote Lao village along the Nam Ou River, Northern Laos.

Finally I see why they are called water buffalo. Nam Ou River, Northern Laos.

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