11/2010 - Laos 1st part: Northern Laos

20-day trip to Laos visiting Huay Xai, Luang Namtha, Muang Sing, Pangthong, Nam Ha, Oudomxai, Luang Prabang, Ban Xang Hai, Pak Ou caves, Tat Kuang Si waterfalls, Van Vieng, Phou Khoun, Ventiane, Ang Nam Ngum artificial lake, Pakse, Tat Fan waterfall, Tat Lo waterfall, Pha Xuam, Champasak, Kingfisher, Don Khong Isle, Muang Khong village, Don Khon island, Li Phi waterfalls, Khon Phapheng waterfalls and the villages of the following ethnic groups: Hmong, Yao, Thai, Akha, Alak, Katu, Kamu, Khmu, Kanu Akha, Landlam, Mong, Phonsaad.

Due to the length of the trip (20 days) and to the vastness of the territory visited, I have divided the presentation of Laos in the following order: northern Laos , central Laos and southern Laos . I also added a page in which I document the Laotian ethnic villages.

We entered Laos by crossing the Mekong river with a small boat in Huay Xai. After bureaucratic delays for our visas, we began our adventure in Laos. Along the way, we had lunch in a restaurant that I present for my readers. In Luang Namtha we wandered in the streets encountering a  street restaurant and a stall of the local country fun-fair. I also present an old documentary photo to show typical ancient costumes. We moved to Muang Sing where we visited the Buddhist Lu Temple. Before dawn, the following day we visited the local market that I wanted to document widely being the first real contact with Laotian life.

We arrived at Pangthong where there is the border with China . Near the National Museum of Luan Prabang we had the opportunity to buy some local products. Then we visited the Stupa That Yxieng .

The next day we went to the Nam Ha protected area, which occupies more than two thousand square kms. We crossed a small part of the area proceeding in the rice fields and passing through a forest of gum trees. We had lunch in the middle of the forest using huge leaves as dishes; the lunch had been prepared by our guides .

When we finished our frugal meal, we went to the village Nam Ngeam ( Tai Dam ). Then we climbed up a hill to visit the Stupa That Phum Pouk which dates back to 1600 and is considered a masterpiece of Laotian architecture. The next day, on the way to Oudomxai , we met a market in which they sold bats, mice and frogs. Before arriving to Oudomxai, we stopped to visit the Chao Kham Pha Sing Temple which was very interesting, even for the presence of several young monks.

Oudomxai is a flourishing market town thanks to the proximity with China, for this reason it has important commercial markets. We visited a market that serves both local customers and Chinese ones (we visited it at dawn).

Nearby, on top of a hill which allows a wonderful view of the river and the city, we visited the beautiful Wat Chom Phet (or Chomphat Temple ) that was built in 1800 by the Thai army .

We moved to Pak Ben Hotel located on the banks of the Mekong River .

In the afternoon we made a pleasant ride on the back of an elephant.

We embarked on a nice, comfortable and fast boat that brought us to Luang Prabang.

Along the way, we could admire beautiful landscapes that I photographed until the arrival which took place at sunset.

Along the way we made a few stops, one at the village of Ban Xang Hai, famous because most of its people are concerned with the production of “lao – lao”, the Laotian whiskey.

On the opposite bank of the Mekong, near the” whiskey village”, there are the Pak Ou caves . There are two caves, a lower one and an upper one, inside of them are preserved countless Buddha statues of all kinds and all sizes.

Luang Prabang is considered one of the treasures of Laos so that UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1995 .

I open the photo gallery of the town showing the two city markets, the first one which takes place in the morning and the other which takes place in the evening.

We got up before dawn to go and see the suggestive begging of the monks.

We visited the Phra That Khong Santi Chedi (Pagoda of Peace ), a great stupa built recently but which has quickly become one of the attractions of Laos. Nearby there is the Wat Nong Sikhunmeuang , a much simpler temple, which dates back to the early 1800s and is a reconstruction of the original pagoda of 1729, destroyed by a fire .

Wat Xieng Thong (Temple of the Golden City)  is the most important temple of Luang Prabang dating back to 1560.

It consists of several buildings, such as the Sim on whose back side is represented the “tree of life” made by a mosaic, the Sanctuary of the Reclining Buddha, the Tripitaka library.

I show everything with a broad photo gallery.

The day was dedicated to visiting the Kouang falls, located on the outskirts of Luang Prabang.

The waterfall is formed by a series of jumps on the limestone rock that makes the water appear magnificently turquoise. Nearby there is the homonymous temple.

Back in Luang Prabang, we spoilt ourselves a tour of the city during which I could catch some of its curious aspects .

The Wat Mai is a very rich temple with an imposing construction enhanced by a front porch with beautiful decorated columns.

The Ho Kham (Royal Palace Museum) was built as residence of the royal family and transformed, after their exile, in the National Museum.

The building is interesting from the architectural point of view. Inside noteworthy are the large entrance hall, the king’s audience hall and the royal apartment rooms .

Numerous works of art are on display; the most important is a Buddha (made of gold, silver and bronze ) which weighs more than 50 kg and  is considered to have been manufactured in Sri Lanka in the first century AD.

The small Choumkhong Wat is surrounded by a splendid garden, full of beautiful statues; we visited it while the monks were eating their only daily meal.

The Wat Xieng Muan temple has very rich paintings. In its surroundings, some monastic quarters were recovered and restored and now are used to teach to the new monks various disciplines such as painting, wood carving and sculpture.

We spent the day visiting the opposite bank of the Mekong where we could see many small temples, craft activities, beautiful villages and many children. Quite interesting also the rural life near the river.

After crossing again the Mekong, we visited the Chua Phat Tich Temple located right on top of the high bank from which we enjoyed the beautiful sunset.

We arrived at Ban Xieng Lom resort on the banks of a river. We enjoyed an elephant safari which included a ride in the river. Very exciting!

In the afternoon, with a fast boat we sailed up the river. We could admire beautiful rural scenes along the way.

When we arrived, we found the beautiful Tat Kuang Si waterfalls.

The visit continues in the trip named Central Laos.