Laos Travellog: Part II

The Journey Continues

From the small and lovely Muong Ngoi, we ventured an hour downriver to the slightly larger Nuan Kiaw, a small town consisting mainly of homes annd shops gathered on each bank of the river, joined by a large bridge. We spent three nights here in a lovely, simple bungalow with a hammock in front, where I napped in the mid-day heat most days.Nuang Kiaw

Nuan Kiaw boasts several restaurants, including two authentic Indian ones, and we ate well. In fact, so far in Laos, it hasn’t been too difficult to maintain our vegetarianism, rather to my surprise. I can’t tell if it’s traditional or tourist influence, but most places we eat have lots of veg options. The majority of our meals have been some variation of rice (sticky, steame or fried) or noodles (stir fried or in soups) with vegetables and often tofu, as well as baguettes sandwiches with egg or veg. But anywhere with a significant tourist base has also had Indian, Thai, Chinese and Western foods. My favourite thing, though, his the fruit and fruit shakes: mango, banana, pineapple, passionfruit, oranges and watermelon are plentiful in the markets.

In Nuan Kiaw, we rented bicycles for half a day and explored some of the surrounding area passing through villages where the children called and waved to us, and we were chased by one dog, who was luckily was no match for the bikes. At the end of our morning, in the mid-day heat, we were able to go down the river to swim and cool off. That evening, the children at the local elementary school put on a small performance of three traditional dances, as a fundraiser for their learning centre, and we, along with many of the other tourists in town, turned up to watch.

The next day, we joined a tour for the day that took us out to see two small villages then a 40 min trek to a waterfall, small now in the dry season but with enough water for a swimming hole. The return trip was in kayaks, with a few small but exciting passes over white water, and long stretches of silence on the Nam Ou river, appreciating some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen.

The Old Capital – Luang Prabang

The next day saw us on a bus to Luang Prabang, the old capital. Roads through Laos, though few, have generally been in good condition for us, possibly because many are relatively new. For centuries, most of northern Laos was only travelled by boat, and when you experience the roads, you can see why. Hardly 50m of road is straight at any given point, winding endlessly up and down and around mountains, and snake turn by turn continously. But there is little traffic and few potholes, so it’s not bad if you don’t get carsick!1974013_10152325491554434_1603200199_o

Luang Prabang is an old city, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with dozens of buddhist temples (wats), a mixture of traditional Lao and French colonial architecture, and a large handicraft night market. After the quiet and calm of the towns and villages on the river, the busy atmosphere of the city, even a small city, had little appeal, so we stayed only 2 nights. We’d been told, however, that the waterfall outside of town was not to be missed, and it didn’t disappoint. We got to the falls early and avoided the crowds, climbing to the top of the many tiered falls, which were spectacular, and swam as the day heated up.

Near the falls was also a bear sanctuary, Free the Bears, where moon bears, 1979171_10152325490909434_1520515810_orescued from poachers, live in large, nature-scaped enclosures. Having spent time with our friend Steve in Hanoi, who works for Animals Asia that does similar work, it was a neat experience. Moon bears are used in the cruel practice of bile extraction, kept in cages with tubes extracting bile from their gallbladders for traditional Chinese medicine, and these groups are working to rescue and rehabilitate bears, and educate people to end the practice.

Our last evening and morning in Luang Prabang had us catching the sites, the national museum and the wat atop Mount Phousi, before boarding a bus once more.


Ancient Jars

In Phongsavanh, we rented a motorbike for a day to explore the Plain of Jars, which are ancient stone jars scattered throughout the area. The area was bombed heavily during the Vietnam war, and the remenants are visible as craters and bomb casings on display, with info on the landmine clearing that took place. We had an interesting day, also visiting a village that produced spoons and other trinkets made of bomb metals. The town was not too exciting, though, and after one day, we got back on buses to head south.



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