Thursday, December 19, 2013

Short Journeys: Laos

Hi everyone. My latest kindle addition is up and ready, so if you'd like to read about my time in Laos, my opinions, and a little information too. Here is the front cover:

And a link to the amazon page where you can buy the book:

And some snippets from the book and photos.

Introduction: Why go to Laos?

Laos is found in the depths of South-East Asia. It borders China to the north, Thailand to the south, Vietnam to the east and Cambodia to the south-east. It’s right in the thick of it, you might say. It’s not everyone’s first, second or even third thought when they think of South-East Asia, but, perhaps that’s what makes it special - because it is special, very much so.
The peaceful Luang Prabang, perched on the Mekong and the gateway to less-explored north of the country, is one of the most relaxed and calm places to visit in all of South-East Asia. The unassuming capital, Vientiane, is a delightful spot right on the border with Thailand, and out in the east is Phonsovan. Phonsovan is famous for the Plain of Jars, a collection of huge stone jars dotted about the plains near Phonsovan. It’s also in an area that was heavily bombed in the 60s and 70s, and some 30 percent of them didn’t explode on impact. Laos is one of the most bombed/mined countries in the world. The way the community has dealt with the problem of unexploded ordinances is eye-opening and perhaps inspiring.

The Mekong River

Well, it’s a mighty river flowing through different countries winding its way across land to eventually meet the sea in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam. In Luang Prabang you are more than a thousand kilometres up stream, but it’s still beautiful. Walking along the banks is a nice experience in the late-afternoon when it’s cooled down ever so slightly. You’ll find the occasional long bamboo bridge which the locals use to get from smaller villages to the town.

Luang Prabang is actually situated on two rivers, the Mekong and the Nam Khan. A confluence of rivers is often a popular place for a town. Walking along either and both in the late afternoon or early morning is a very pleasurable experience. Stop at one of the open restaurants overlooking the river and have a cold drink and take in the serenity. There’s a lot of serenity there!

Kuang Si Waterfall (entrance 20,000 kip, 2011)
For me this was the real highlight of Luang Prabang, a waterfall not that far from town which admittedly a lot of tourists head to. It’s a superb place for a swim and to cool off, and its setting is somewhat idyllic and beautiful.
On said path is a sanctuary for bears which is worth a little look. The company running the bear sanctuary is called ‘Save the Bears’ and the bears there are ‘Asian Black Bears’. They are kept in enclosures of a decent size I guess. I don’t really know what an appropriate size is for a bear to live in, but at least they are safe there and it’s nice to check out.
After you’ve said hello to the bears, keep on going to the waterfall. It’s not that far and it’s a truly beautiful spot. Green and lush, the vegetation parts for the river, and over the top of some rocks the Kuang Si Waterfall heads down to a deep pool of still water, the perfect place to go when the heat is getting  to you. It was regularly in the mid to high thirties when I was there, so it was truly a welcome sight. A small tropical paradise hidden away in the jungle.

Phonsovan - Plain of Jars

Phonsovan was the place I most wanted to visit in Laos, because of the ‘Plain of Jars’ – hundreds of ancient large stone jars spread over three separate areas which has been a mystery for many years. Although really it’s not that much of a mystery, I think, personally, it’s pretty obvious what the jars are, or at least were, they were, for want of a better word, coffins. In fact, this is one of the theories and to me the most logical one.
They are well over a thousand years old, and therefore today they are a tourist attraction, for foreigners and locals alike. Although often they are not high on the tourist’s list of things to see in Laos, I think they should be! The issue that a lot of travellers have is the distance, it’s not in the middle of the Vientiane to Luang Prabang road, and many don’t want to go.
Phonsovan itself is a dusty old town; it has almost a frontier feel, dusty, a little forgotten. At the peak of the day there is plenty of traffic on the wide, main street, but that’s about all there is. There are a few hotels, a couple of places to eat and the MAG centre.
Craters restaurant, main street, Phonsovan.
We had a great guide, informative, helpful, fun. That’s all you really need right? Good English too. We headed out to the third site (Plain of Jars Site III on the ticket) first. We had to walk across fields to get there, and as we did we passed little markers on the ground with white and red paint. They were markers that signified that bombs had been located and removed in the area. Usually they marked out a space and between the markers it was safe to walk. You do have to follow your guide and watch for the markers. Anything that looks like a solid trail will be safe, but don’t go wandering off on your own for hundreds of metres, because there’s plenty of land that hasn’t yet been searched and declared safe as yet. Not that I’m trying to scare people, it’s 100% safe if you just use common sense!
View of the capital, Vientiane

Inside the Gold Stupa, Vientiane.

Laos is a wonderful place... take a look at the book - or why not visit yourself?

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