Lost in Laos - Nathan Winder

Lost in Laos


16.02.2014


After a brief stay in Bangkok, I took a night train to the Laos border. From there I crossed over into the sleepy capital of Vientiane.


Sunday in Vientiane was very quiet. Hardly anyone was on the streets and most the shops were closed. I did see a Rolls Royce, though.


To be honest, there isn't much to see or do in Vientiane. 80% of Laos people live in the countryside so even if they don't do cities very well, Laotians, as I would find out later, rock ruraly.


Originally, I had planned to stay overnight in Vientiane, but I decided to book an onward night bus (even though I had just come from a night train). And so I had a Sunday afternoon to visit a few of the temples.

And this Arc du Triomph-looking thing.


It was a long bus ride through into the northern hills, but I was able to sleep a bit in my bumpy bus seat.


I arrived in the cool morning to the French-flavored town of Luang Prabang.

This is a town of many temples and Buddhist monks, perched above the Mekong river.


It's also a town of many tourists. In fact, the city center is almost exclusively dedicated to tourism and so there is little authentic Lao life there. 


There is, however, the Tamarind restaurant, whose goal it is to introduce westerners to the delicious Lao cuisine. This taster platter has been one of the best meals of my trip so far. You can even see a piece of buffalo jerky in there.



I was eager to get away from the tourist trail so I decided to book a three-day, two-night trek into the hilly countryside. 


After doing a bit of research, I booked with White Elephant (a shout out here for anyone Googling around). It was only me and Marc, a police detective from Barcelona. From the moment we were picked up with our local guide, Man, to the moment we were dropped off again in Luang Prabang two days later, we didn't see a single tourist or westerner. 


It was great to be hiking in the jungle...

There are very big leaves in the jungle.


Man did an excellent job of telling us about the local people, as well as the natural surroundings. 


We passed through rice paddies and by grazing buffalo...

Eventually we came to a Hmong village and visited the nearby school. This was a school for all the kids in nearby villages. They were having sports when we arrived...

The classrooms were humble, but both the kids and the teachers seemed to be happy to be there and having fun.


As you can see, the kids were a bit shy at first when we arrived...

But we played a little soccer with them and tried our best to communicate and then they warmed up...

We hiked a bit further and then came to a lovely Khmu village, where we were greeted by a piglet...

This was real Laos village life. They didn't come parading out in their traditional costumes for us, they didn't do any demonstrations, they didn't try to sell us anything. They just lived their normal life and were kind enough to let us be among them and observe.

Man did a great job of preparing simple, but tasty meals for us, and in Laos, sticky rice accompanies almost every meal...

That night we sat by the fire and learned a bit of Khmu from the kids. 


Chicken = iyer

Cow = lambo

Horse = hambrang

Pig = sokor

Dog = so

and my favorite...

Cat = meow





They had a special little hut for us as visitors and as we were getting ready for bed we heard the squealing of a pig outside. Man poked his head in the door and told us we ought to take a look at what's going on.


The shaman had been called to send away evil spirits from the hut next door. We stood in the doorway and watched as he chanted and waved around some branches with their tips alight. Meanwhile, someone was ringing a gong and there was a piglet tied up on the floor squealing and convulsing periodically, trying in vain to get free.


Soon they picked up the little pig and held its neck over a dish. It seemed to know what was coming as it squealed desperately until a knife was inserted into its throat and the blood flowed into the dish until the animal was quiet and still. 


Intense...

The next morning we woke up with the roosters and the bustle of the villagers going to work. Many go to to gather wood and food in the forest, others go to prepare land for planting rice and other crops...

And the hunter with his rifle went out to look for game.

Grandma stayed home with the kids...

It was soon time for us to go. I thanked the chief for letting us stay and he let me take a photo with him...

We were back in the beautiful wild...

Cows know a Winder when they see one...

Later that day we came to another village with a school for both Hmong and Khum children. We had fun playing soccer and getting to know them as well...

They loved the camera...

We spent the night in another Khmu village. It was as peaceful a scene as you can imagine in the evenings as everyone comes home from work, bathes, eats, and plays...


The next day was a bit more of a hike up the top of one hill and then down down down to the river valley below. 


To top it all off, we went for a cool swim in the river...

Back in Luang Prabang, I enjoyed a nice long shower and then a delicious Lao red curry in a restaurant overlooking the Mekong. Of course there is sticky rice and a coconut shake...

Luang Prabang has a fun night market each evening along the main drag...

Fried rat, anyone?

Another day I went outside of the city a bit to visit some waterfalls. There was a bear sanctuary at the entrance...

The waterfalls were idyllic, starting small and then getting progressively bigger as you followed the trail...

You can even swim in some of the pools...

Soon it was time to leave Luang Prabang. I woke up early and saw the monks in their daily procession to collect alms from the faithful...

And then I began a two-day journey up the Mekong by slow boat. 


It was nine hours both days with a stop in a dingy little town along the way. Still, it wasn't too crowded so we could all spread out and it was a lot of fun getting to know the other people on the boat: British, Italian, German, Dutch, Japanese, French, Lao. 


Meanwhile, the jungle and countryside rolled past with the occasional village, fisherman, buffalo, or kids playing in the water...

There was even an elephant as we set off in the mists on the second day...


Eventually, we made it to Huay Xai and crossed the border into Thailand. 


It was Sunday again and thus ended one incredible week in Laos.


  • nathanwinder

    on February 19, 2014

    Thanks you guys. You'll always have reasons not to travel so find your best excuse to go and then go!

  • Carla June Carroll

    on February 18, 2014

    What an adventure! I would love to visit Laos and Thailand someday. Thank you for sharing!

  • Rachel Linton

    on February 18, 2014

    Nate, that looks amazing! You're quite the photographer. I'm so jealous of your travels!

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