Tag Archives: Laos

Buddha, buddha!

Got back on the boat in the morning and began heading down the Mekong further towards our destination of Luang Probang. It was an incredibly overcast and misty morning, which are usually perfect for curling up and watching a movie, but I was blown away by how beautiful the mist was over the unique terrain along the Mekong. I could make a whole photo book out of the shots I took just that morning, but I’ll just share a few for now!

Morning Mist on the Mekong River.

Lao Mountains are breathtaking.

 

Traditional boat.

We stopped at another lodge for the night called Kamu Lodge. I thought I was staying in the jungle the night before, but this was REALLY the jungle. Each room was a tent set on a tile landing. Everything was run by solar panels, so no sun no electricity. The lodge was integrated into a neighboring village, “The Kamu People,” which is completely self sustainable. They grow and raise or hunt all the food they eat and sell, they pump running water from the mountain, and they use solar energy. I was so impressed by the quality of life and kinship I found in this village and lodge, I would love to be a part of a community like the Kamu people.

Kamu Lodge Tent.

Is it a bathroom? Shower? Sink? All in one?!

When we arrived our guide at the lodge name Khamla took us on a little tour. I got the chance to shoot the traditional bow and arrow, pan for gold (a source of income for the village), plow the rice field and plant rive, swim in their natural swimming pool (part of the Mekong), fish for river fish, and walk around and learn about the village.

We had a wonderful dinner in the lodge dining area, which was a platform in the middle of the rice fields. I have become immune to large bugs whizzing by at every moment, and actually captured 5 inch long fat beetles that wondered into my dinner.

After the sun went down we went back to our tents and since you can’t turn on a light to read or your bed will turn into the hottest bug bar in town, we went to sleep. Between the calming heat and the harmonic song of millions of insects, I fell into the deepest sleep I have had in a long time.

In the morning we had another eventful breakfast in the rice field when a cow from a neighboring village invaded the rice patties and was running ramped while 10 men chased him. All was well though and we went on our way to Luang Probang.

We made a pit stop at the Pak Ou Caves. Two story caves that are in a mountain side on the Mekong river. There are over 400 Buddha statues in the lower cave alone. The upper cave is 204 steps above the lower cave (yep, we counted). Both are something I have definitely never seen before.

Pak Ou Caves

 

400 Buddhas in the cave.

 

Pak Ou Cave

 

Pak Ou Cave

 

Me in the Pak Ou Cave.

Pak Ou Cave Buddhas

 

Entrance to the Upper cave of the Pak Ou Caves.

 

Old carving on the door to the Upper Cave.

Luang Probang is the 3rd largest city in Laos and used to be the capital. Because of its beautiful valley and river setting, the quality of life, and the culture, the whole town has been named a world heritage site. I took one look around and saw exactly what they were talking about. What a town! In a town of 60,000 people there are 65 temples (all gorgeous) and about 1,500 monks (disciples of Buddha).

We went to a few temples that seemed more for the local people than to impress tourists (a relief) and then to a lookout that was quite a climb where we could see the whole city.

Collection of Buddhas in local temple.

 

Collection of Buddhas in local temple.

 

Monk dormitories.

 

Memaid Carvings!

 

Buddha Army?

At night we went to the night market where there were many local crafts, but what was most interesting was an alley of the market where food was being sold. There was stand after stand of amazing looking food where you pay $1 for a plate or $1.50 for a big plate and fill it up! There were tons of backpackers eating around these stands, but also lots of local people.

In the morning we were out the door at 5:30 to go watch the monks get fed by the local buddhists, an ancient tradition since monks are not allowed to cook for themselves. They walked through the streets of the town with a metal bowl and each person gave a pinch of sticky rice to each monk.

Monks collecting food.

 

Monks collecting food.

 

Local giving food to monks.

 

Locals giving food to monks.

We then went to see a local food market that was already quite lively for 6 a.m. This market wasn’t for the faint stomached. They were selling everything from grub to bats, and from ant larvae to buffalo tail. And no, this wasn’t for show. These ingredients are found in traditional Lao dishes.

Mound of snails.

 

An assortment of ant larvae, red insects, and grub.

Huge Mushrooms.

 

River catfish. They grow to be up to 600 lbs!

 

More River Fish.

 

: (

 

Yes those are bats next to the grub.

 

Bats at the local food market.

 

Bullfrogs.

 

All parts of the Buffalo, tail included.

After the market we went to a place where students wanting to learn english gather. Anyone can stop in who speaks english and can have conversations with the students, read with them, or help them with their homework. it was a really neat way to learn a bit about the life of a young Lao person, but also a great way to give to them.

We had an amazing lunch by the river. I had coconut soup with chicken and noodles, sweet and sour tofu, sticky rice, and vegetable spring rolls. You might say: “Wow Marina, you really pig out!” But I say it is the best $6.50 I have ever spent on a culinary experience. And no, I didn’t finish it all, but I could have!

In the afternoon we split up and were on a quest for sun dresses (since we mistakenly only packed pants and hot dresses, luckily I did sneak in a pair of shorts) when we came across a spa. $5 for an hour long massage, mango smoothie included?? Yes please!

Our quest for a dress was a fail, but the day was wonderful.

Tomorrow we get on another plane and head to Cambodia. Second to last leg of our Asian adventure.

(Don’t want to leave you with a bad taste in your mouth from the market photos, so here are a few from a village we visited!)

Hmong Children

 

Translucent Butterfly!

 

That face!

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Wifi on the Mekong?

Well here I am.. sitting on a porch at a camp over looking the Mekong river in Laos.

Mekong River

PINCH ME!

How did we end up here? Well we got on a boat today in Change Rai and headed south towards the heart of Laos. You would not believe how close these countries are. I could literally thrown a pebble from thailand to laos across the mekong river.

but let me fill you in on the past few days since I was without internet. We spent a few days in the Golden Triangle. Famous for the trade and production of Opium. For such a corrupt place in the past, it had an amazingly peaceful ambiance. To tell us a little about that era in this area, they have a museum called the “Hall of Opium.” It was honestly one of the most elaborate and well thought out small museums I have ever been to. I couldn’t take many photos inside because it wasn’t allowed but i snuck a few of the tunnel walls that lead into the museum. They are cement depictions of people that suffer from opium. Pretty powerful.

Hall of Opium Wall.

After the museum we checked into our beautiful hotel called Anatara. and then were met by a master mahout (elephant trainer) in the lobby. He took us up to the elephant camp. Yes there is such a thing, and it is comparable to what I believe heaven to be like. What unbelievebly intelligent and emotional animals. I quickly turned my attention toward the baby elephant. 5 years old and still wobbling around like a newborn puppy. He plays tag and hide and seek and begs by hoisting himself up onto the bars of his pen for a banana.

5 year old elephant!

 

Phil Loves Bananas!

We then learned the controls of an elephant and got our very own. there was no seat and there were no reins. You sit on their neck, balance yourself with your hands on their head. and steer by kicking behind their ears and yelling commands such as “bai” (straight) “map long” (sit down). it was crazy how well they listen.

 

Bananas for bananas!

 

First splash.

We then road our elephants down to the river, took about an hour. my elephants name was Lana and she is the same age as me… and as feisty as me! Everytime there was a pond or puddle she would suck it up and splash me with it. I was soaked in no time. That thing is like a fire hose!

When we got to the river, she walked right in with all the other elephants. she didn’t really care that I was still on here and immediately began wallowing. I had to get my balance and try not to fall off as she completely emerged her head and body into the river (but I did fall off… twice.) It was like balancing on a barrel in water. I couldn’t stop laughing! meanwhile my dads elephant who was about 53 just laid under the water and didn’t move.. my dad lounged comfortably on top of him like he was a day bed or something.

I spy some bats in those caves!

 

Soaked!

Dad Lounging

When Lana finally stood up she doused me another probably 20 times with water and then we got out. It was an experience that is truly hard to explain, but is now a top 5 favorite memory of mine.

The next morning our master Mahout invited us back to the camp to wash and feed the baby and its mother. The baby kept wrapping his strong trunk around my arm that had the hose and pulling it into his mouth. Then he would run away like a dog that just played a funny trick. The way he walked it looked like he could fall over at any time, and many times he stumbled over his own feet. I also fed the mom water, but she would fill up her trunk (which held a couple of gallons) and then put her trunk into her mouth.

Giving the elephants water and a bath!

After we washed and fed the mom and her baby, we headed to the border of Thailand and Myanmar (formally called burma). We walked across the border and entered Myanmar. It had a different feel immediately. It was not as clean and didn’t seem quite as friendly as Thailand. Interesting what borders can do!

Standing in two countries at once!

We went and visited a tribe called the Karen People. There are a few different divisions of the Karen tribe but my favorite are the Longneck Karen. The women place rings around their neck to lengthen it. This tradition stems from a superstition that a tiger spirit was coming to kill the women in their tribe, so since the tiger bites the neck to kill, they put metal rings on it. It is now more of a sign of beauty and status. The woman with the longest neck in the tribe is thought to be the most beautiful.

Longneck Karens

 

Beautiful Burmese Girl

 

Inside burmese village home.

We shopped for a while at the market in Myanmar and then headed back to thailand, walked across the border again, and went back to our hotel. It began to pour so we just took it easy and called it an early night.

This morning we boarded the boat I was talking about at the beginning, and are now in the jungle of Laos, absolutely beautiful! And absolutely full of giant bugs. We stopped at a village where we were met by tons of kids waiting our arrival.They had embroidered bracelets for us to buy, and my dads soft spot once again hit and we ended up with about 20 of them. The kids were all so happy to see a photo of themselves, and video seemed to blow them away.

Girls on the shore of the Mekong river.

We made it to our camp lodge and are here for the night. I have my mosquito net up and my eyes open. Already found a huge tarantula looking spider in my room but was comforted when it seemed much more scared of me than I was of him (I hide my fear well). And a beetle the size of a small bird slapped me in the face while I ate dinner. The lady next to me screamed.

Should be an interesting night! Tommorow we continue down the river to the next camp.

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