Sunday, January 21, 2007

you know you're in Lao when you see...


[1] this Lao People's Democratic Republic entry stamp with stars - any country that bothers adding the word 'democratic' to its name is usually communist ;)
[2] a different style of Buddha images with super-elongated earlobes (Wat Sing Jai, Muang Sing)
[3] Laotel's ubiquitous M Phone & We Fly adverts, & a sign in Vietnamese as reminder of proximity to Dien Bien Phu (Udomxai)
[4] dried river moss with garlic & sesame seeds, to be eaten with buffalo skin paste (Pak Mong)
[5] signs in French (Phongsaly)
[6] motor insurance in the form of paper 'charms' drawn by monks (Nong Khiaw-Luang Prabang bus)
[7] and white strings tied around the steering wheel in basii ceremonies to bless the vehicle (Nong Khiaw-Luang Prabang bus)
[8] monks & novices drumming & clashing cymbals at 4PM at temples across Luang Prabang (Wat Phra Mahathat)
[9] snake-like characters that look similar to but don't exist in the modern Thai alphabet


[1] UN 4WD vehicles - why are they almost always white? (Luang Prabang)
[2] projects to replace opium poppy cultivation (Phongsaly)
[3] this multi-layered style of temple roof design (Ho Prabang, Luang Prabang)
[4] this little green English-Lao dictionary (Luang Prabang)
[5] as many Theravada novice monks as tourists (Wat Mai Suvannaphumaham, Luang Prabang)
[6] even more Laotel M Phone & We Fly adverts (Phongsaly)
[7] these two flags (Udomxai)
[8] wordings like 'Organisation of the People Prosecutor Provincial' on signs at ministry buildings (Phongsaly)
[9] more baguettes than you've ever seen in a Delifrance outlet (Luang Prabang)


[1] propaganda signs where hilltribe people are represented - Akha lady at bottom right corner (Phongsaly)
[2] bright yellow crates of Beer Lao (Sainyabuli province)
[3] ladies of all ages wearing sinh (skirts) with beautiful 'tin chok' at the hems (Luang Prabang)
[4] UN agency & NGO offices in all province capitals (Luang Prabang)
[5] offerings of sticky rice & flowers on vehicles (Luang Prabang)
[6] the daily 'orange tide' of monks & novices collecting alms at dawn (Luang Prabang)


[1] this New Interchange English textbook full of Lao scribblings (Lovanh College, Luang Prabang)
[2] this style of stupa (Wat Sing Jai, Muang Sing)
[3] these methods of carrying stacks of kip (Luang Namtha)
[4] ladies wearing sinh(Luang Prabang)
[5] this flag & e 3 elephant head symbol (Luang Prabang)
[6] bomb casings recycled as greeting signs, pig troughs, flower pots, etc (Pak Beng)
[7] e ubiquitous Kaysone monument (Phongsaly)
[8] UNESCO conservation project signs in French (Luang Prabang)
[10] school girls wearing black or blue sinh (Luang Prabang)
[11] bomb casings made into temple bells (Muang Khua)
[12] AIDS & HIV awareness posters in guesthouses (Luang Namtha)

life by the river...

life by the river

along the Nam Ou, Nam Phak, Nam Khan & Mekong...


[1] digging Nam Ou silt for construction use at Hat Sa, Phongsaly province
[2] Ban Hat Teu villagers, Udomxai province
[3] motorbike & toilet bowl cargo at Tha Heua Luang, Luang Prabang
[4] morning at Pak Beng, Udomxai province
[5] empty market stalls along the Nam Ou, Phongsaly province
[6] unloading Beer Lao, Sainyabuli province
[7] kids playing in the Nam Khan, Luang Prabang
[8] weaving bamboo 'mats' for construction use at Ban Sop Houn, Luang Prabang province
[9] boat landing at Nong Khiaw, Luang Prabang province


[1] prow of slow boat at Pak Beng
[2] water buffalo, Udomxai province
[3] backpackers & cyclists trying to board the Luang Prabang boat at Pak Beng (someone with a suitcase tumbled down)
[4] village in Luang Prabang province
[5] unloading at Tha Suang, Sainyabuli province
[6] teak logs at Pak Beng
[7] monk, brother & teacher on their way to Hong Sa for New Year, Tha Suang
[8] teak-laden barge, Udomxai province
[9] morning at Hat Sa


[1] bamboo shops & homes at boat landing in Muang Khua, Phongsaly province
[2] slow boats & barge at Pak Beng
[3] kids playing in the Nam Khan, Luang Prabang
[4] boats at Ban Sop Houn
[5] 'propeller generators' in the Nam Phak, Muang Khua
[6] weaving bamboo 'mats' for construction use at Ban Sop Houn

Friday, January 19, 2007

streets of north lao


[1] Huay Xai, capital of Bokeo province
[2] Ban Sop Houn, Luang Prabang province
[3] Thanon Phothisarath, Luang Prabang


[1] Luang Namtha market
[2] Ban Phou Sai, Udomxai town
[3] Muang Khua, Phongsaly province
[4] Pak Beng, Udomxai province


[1] Pak Beng market
[2] junction of HWY 1 & HWY 13, Pak Mong
[3] Muang Khua bus station
[4] Luang Namtha

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

sisavangvong road

through the boundary walls of Wat Mai Suvannaphumaham....

late afternoon in the old city
along the main thoroughfare of Sisavangvong Road
the night market starts to take shape
as hawkers unload their goods from carts
lay out straw mats on the pavements
painted with yellow numbers to indicate their lots
string out electrical wires & extension cords
hang light bulbs from wooden frames
unpack their wares from made-in-China canvas bags
Burmese puppets, saa paper lanterns
Lao silk skirts tailored to farang proportions
cellphone pouches with Yao cross-stitch patterns
hilltribe silver accessories that shine gold in the light of the setting sun
bags made from the fabric of Hmong skirts
silk wall hangings & table runners with the patterns & designs
of Tai Lue people who neither use coffee tables
nor decorate their own walls with their weavings
piles of T-shirts with the Beer Lao logo
wooden frogs that wouldn't look out of place
in the markets of Chiangmai, Bangkok & Bali
tuktuks and motorcycles weave between them
monks & novices with book-laden shoulder bags
walk past oil paintings of the shaven-headed & saffron-robed
as they return from schools in Wat Sop & Wat Siphoutthabat
as tourists make their way up the steps of Phou Si hill
to capture the sunset over the Mekong with their digicams
before 30,000 kip dinners in one of the cafes
listed in their well-thumbed copies of the blue backpacker bible
that is the Lonely Planet



[271206] sunset from top of Phou Si Hill, Luang Prabang:


[201206] Nam Ha National Biodiversity Conservation Area, HWY 17A between Muang Sing & Luang Namtha:


[211206] Pak Nam Noi, junction of HWY 1B & 2E, Phongsaly province:


[251206] Nong Khiaw, Luang Prabang province:



looking upriver along e Nam Ou:


sunset downriver:


[311206] Pak Beng:




[311206] Mekong, Bokeo province:


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

het boun

het boun (lao) = tham boon (thai) = make merit (english)


[1, 2, 6] Phou Fa, Phongsaly
[3, 4, 5] Wat Phra Maha That, Luang Prabang


[1] Wat Sing Jai, Muang Sing
[2] Muang Khua
[3] Wat Ho Xieng, Luang Prabang
[4] Phou Fa, Phongsaly

lao temples - 03

all images in this post from temples of Luang Prabang


[1, 2] Wat Ho Prabang
[3] Wat Xieng Muan
[4, 5] Wat Nong Sikhounmuang
[6] Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham


[1] Wat Phra Maha That
[2] UNESCO training centre, Wat Xieng Muan
[3] Wat Ho Prabang
[4] Wat Xieng Thong Ratsavoraviharn
[5] Wat Xieng Muan
[6] Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham

lao temples - 02


[1, 9] Wat Sing Jai, Muang Sing
[2, 4, 7] Wat Chom Khao Manirat, Huay Xai
[3] Wat Phra Maha That, Luang Prabang
[5] Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham, Luang Prabang
[6] Wat Saen, Luang Prabang
[8] Wat Ho Xieng, Luang Prabang


[1] Wat Ho Xieng, Luang Prabang
[2] Wat Ho Prabang, Luang Prabang
[3, 4] Wat Xieng Thong Ratsavoraviharn, Luang Prabang
[5] Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham, Luang Prabang
[6] Phou Si, Luang Prabang

lao temples 01

travelling in Theravada Buddhist countries has always been an artistically + architecturally + spiritually inspiring experience for e cat.


[1, 4, 5, 7] Wat Xieng Thong Ratsavoraviharn, Luang Prabang
[2] Wat Ho Prabang, Royal Palace, Luang Prabang
[3] Wat Xieng Muan, Luang Prabang
[6, 8] Wat Saen, Luang Prabang
[9, 10] Wat Nong Sikhounmuang, Luang Prabang
[11] Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham, Luang Prabang
[12] Wat Chom Khao Manirat, Huay Xai


[1] Wat Sing Jai, Muang Sing
[2, 4] Wat Xieng Thong Ratsavoraviharn, Luang Prabang
[3] Wat Saen, Luang Prabang
[5] Wat Xieng Muan, Luang Prabang
[6] Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham, Luang Prabang



[1, 2] Phou That, Udomxai
[3, 8] Wat Maha That, Luang Prabang
[4] Wat Ho Xieng, Luang Prabang
[5] Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham, Luang Prabang
[6, 7] That Chomsi, Luang Prabang

lao meows


[1] Wat Maha That, Luang Prabang
[2] Sunset Guesthouse, Ban Sop Houn
[3] Muang Khua
[4] Phongsaly
[5] Wat Maha That, Luang Prabang
[6] Wat Saen, Luang Prabang
[7] Thanon Khem Khong by e Mekong, Luang Prabang
[8] Thanon Sisavangvong, Luang Prabang
[9] Sunset Guesthouse, Ban Sop Houn


[1] Sunset Guesthouse, Ban Sop Houn
[2] Wat Maha That, Luang Prabang
[3] Ban Phonheuang, Luang Prabang
[4] Thanon Sisavangvong, Luang Prabang
[5] Wat Saen, Luang Prabang
[6] Thanon Sisavangvong, Luang Prabang

travelling in rural lao...

by bus, songthaew, tuktuk, slow boat & two hindpaws in the cold & dry season - public transport in Lao is THE best way to meet locals & make new friends & to literally get a taste of (the soil of) Lao =)

away from the main Vientiane-Vang Vieng-Luang Prabang tourist trail that is HWY 13...
  • buses are second or third hand vehicles that spent their past lives in China
  • highways are mostly unpaved or were once paved
  • roads literally dissolve away in the rainy season
  • buses wait for bulldozers to create a path along the highway in order to pass
  • it 'rains' soil when excavators dump their diggings right on top of passing vehicles
  • the soil can be too loose for tyres to get any grip
  • tyre changes mean replacing the most flattened with the second most flattened
  • buses roll downhill when they stop on upslopes
  • buses carry a block of wood to be placed behind the tyre whenever the bus stops, so that it won't roll too far downhill
  • at steeper slopes everyone gets off to walk uphill to meet the bus at the top of the slope, if the engine is good
  • everyone gets off to help pull the bus uphill, if the engine isn't so good
  • passing vehicles kick up dust clouds that reduce visibility to zero
  • drivers have to wait for dust clouds to settle in order to see the road again
  • seats may be sacks of grain or plastic chairs in the aisle or steps at the door
  • things can be loaded & unloaded through the windows
  • small-sized locals can alight by climbing out of the windows
  • toilets are the great outdoors (beware of UXO)
  • it can take 7.5 hours (dry season) to 13 hours (rainy season) to travel less than 200km
  • speedometer needles never move beyond 0 kph, which reflects the pace of life
  • at the end of the ride, whatever people dig from their noses & the corners of their eyes is brown
  • whatever people spit out is brown
  • when you jump on the spot you create your own dust cloud
  • when you comb your hair your comb turns brown
the rougher the road, the more frequent the breakdowns, the more local passengers throw up, the more overloaded the vehicle is, the more passengers will take care of one another...
  • sharing food, drink, jackets, gloves, scarves, conversation & laughter
  • searching for plastic bags for the nauseous
  • helping to load & unload one anothers' belongings
  • helping to calm & entertain babies & kids
  • huddling together to share body heat
  • using their own body to shelter others from the biting wind
  • lending glove-less fellow passengers their jacket pockets to keep their hands warm
  • hanging onto those hanging onto the door/back of truck to prevent them from falling off
  • letting dozing passengers rest their heads on their shoulders or knees
  • alerting the driver if anyone has been left behind
  • helping the driver to repair the vehicle
  • helping you find your connecting bus/truck/boat
  • helping to make sure you are not overcharged for your fare
& drivers know every major pothole along their route to avoid, & will stop & even backtrack to pick up fallen slippers...

which more than makes up for the lack of rearview mirrors & non-punctured spare tyres =)

account of the HWY 3 journey between Huay Xai & Luang Namtha by someone who travelled along it just a few weeks before e cat did.

click on images to view larger version


[1] lunch break along HWY 1B from Pak Nam Noi to Ban Yo, Udomxai to Phongsaly
[2] lost count after 5 breakdowns & tyre changes along the infamous HWY 3, Huay Xai to Luang Namtha
[3] 'seats' for 2 more passengers on sacks of grain in aisle + standing room for 2 at door, Huay Xai to Luang Namtha
[4] Pak Beng to Huay Xai slowboat
[5] down the beautiful Nam Ou river from Hat Sa to Muang Khua
[6] afterwhich you have to remove the Nam Ou from your backpack
[7] American MIA from Xieng Kok since early 2005
[8] ugly side of tourism
[9] the 4 guys who paid for my trip


[1] breakdown along HWY 3, Huay Xai to Luang Namtha
[2] 'paved' road in Huay Xai
[3] breakdown along HWY 3, Huay Xai to Luang Namtha
[4] plants along HWY 3 can photosynthesise only during e rainy season
[5] breakdown along HWY 3, Huay Xai to Luang Namtha
[6] colour of comb after combing my hair after travelling on unpaved highways


[1] beginning of HWY 1B to Ban Yo at Pak Nam Noi
[2] travelled at 0 kph according to speedometers on most buses - usually nothing on the dashboard works
[3] 4 modes of transport - boat, bus, songthaew (opposite bank) & tuktuk, Muang Khua
[4] from Hat Sa to Muang Khua along the Nam Ou river
[5] Hat Sa, Phongsaly province
[6] removing the Nam Ou from cat belongings
[7] Luang Prabang to Pak Beng slow boats, Tha Heua Luang
[8] electrical tape - most useful item packed on this trip
[9] slightly less than half a million kip from trip to the bank, Luang Namtha

181206-010107 north lao pdr

final route:

blue = planned route
green = detour via Pak Nam Noi, Udomxai & Pak Mong

special khop3 jai1 der4 to:
  • 'been there befores': luthien, kairin & orange's pierre, for tips & advice
  • contact persons aka. 'base camp support': supergarf, fuchsiahalcyon & orange
  • ang moh guy on Chiangmai-Chiangrai bus, for jaga-ing cat barang
  • Chiangrai bus station guy who helped e cat reach Chiang Khong before dark
  • Sichuan guy & Kunming guy on e Huay Xai-Luang Namtha bus
  • Saitama guy & Kyoto guy on Luang Namtha-Muang Sing songthaew
  • Sendai guy & Belgian guy on Muang Sing Guesthouse rooftop, & Wat Sing Jai monks & novices for our evening entertainment under e stars
  • Muang Sing bus station lady who helped e cat reach Udomxai before dark
  • lady on Luang Namtha-Udomxai bus, for endless offers of food
  • Udomxai Tourist Info office guy for directions
  • monks, novices & their friends at Phou That, Udomxai
  • mute girl from Phongsaly, for wonderful dinner 'conversation'
  • Udomxai-Phongsaly bus driver & wife
  • SKST of Phongsaly Provincial Tourism Office, for info on Phongsaly Akha
  • French-Thai couple in Phongsaly, for advice on notorious Pak Beng
  • Luang Prabang lady bank employee & guys from unnamed Nam Ou village on Hat Sa-Muang Khua boat
  • Nam Ou boatman who sold fuel to our drifting fuel-less boat
  • Nam Ou boatmen at Muang Khua, for frank advice on getting to Nong Khiaw
  • PSBM from Ban Buammo village, for help in Pak Mong
  • Boten grandpa on his way to Sam Neua, for help in Pak Mong
  • Pak Mong-Nong Khiaw songthaew driver & wife, & other Pak Mong locals
  • Church Chanthavong & staff of Sunset Guesthouse, Ban Sop Houn
  • monk & novice of Wat Sop Houn
  • Khamsouk of Nong Khiaw Tourist Info Centre
  • Belgian guy in Nong Khiaw & Luang Prabang
  • Mrs Vandara Amphayphone & her high school friend & Udon of Vanvisa Guesthouse, Luang Prabang
  • monks & novices of WHS & their NX village friend
  • 6.30PM slot English class of school near Souansavan Guesthouse, Luang Prabang
  • Souphanouvong University students, Houa Panh guy, & Phongsaly guy & monk at Lovanh College, Luang Prabang
  • Done & GK of Big Brother Mouse, Luang Prabang, e latter for your attempt (in vain) to teach me e 7 tones of Hmong language
  • ang moh Manivanh College teacher & monk & brother from Hong Sa, Sainyabuli
  • Paul from NZ on Luang Prabang-Pak Beng boat
  • Stefan, Steffen, Richard, Carl & others on Pak Beng-Huay Xai boat
  • many more wonderful Lao people for their kindness, Lao language lessons, laughter, generosity in sharing what little they have, & attempts to stuff e cat to death with food
  • e monumental one for loan of xD cards & Olympus Li-10B & Li-12B batteries
  • those who believed in e cat & didn't try to stop it from doing strange things & living life
never has e cat felt so overwhelmingly blessed on a trip before =)