The second country I visited on my five week five country trip around South East Asia in 2013, Laos was my favourite, for avoiding the worst developments of its neighbours, and for it’s low key charms. It may not have the big ticket sights of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam or Malayasia, but it didn’t have the crowds either, making for a more enjoyable experience.
I crossed the Mekong River from Thailand to Huay Xai (Houayxay) by boat, a more romantic way to arrive in a new country than by the Fourth Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge which opened in December 2013, a few months after my visit.
Huay Xai is a small border town of 20,000 people, which made obvious that Laos is an economically poorer country than Thailand despite recent development.
On top of a hill was the quite beautiful Jom Khao Manilat temple, built in 1880.
A short walk from town was Fort Carnot, an atmospheric French fort built at the turn of the 20th century, seven years after the French took control of Laos. It was in a decayed state, though supported by large beams on one side. Braving the internal ladder gave good views of the Mekong River, which I’d spend the next two days travelling down.
Most of the river taffic was either noisy and uncomfortable looking speed boats, or more sedate open boats.
The guidebook suggested that these would be the mode of transport for tourists as well, so I was pleasantly surprised when we boarded our far more comfortable covered boat, with an eclectic interior fit out.
I loved cruising down the river enjoying the hyponotic scenery, vividly green and lush but sadly almost completely devoid of wildlife.
We stopped to visit a small village, which at the time was probably the poorest place I’d ever been, which made me feel quite uncomfortable. The plastic bottle powered satellite dishes were a bit of a mystery.
More photos of the riverside scenery, villages and developments.
I spent the night at Pak Beng, the main stop for boats heading between Huay Xai and Luang Prabang. This is another small village, home to the Vat Si Chom Cheng temple and views of the sediment heavy Mekong River.
The local market was quite an experience, particularly the live frogs!
The landscape became more dramatic further along the Mekong, with sizeable limestone cliffs.
These cows sat on a river beach were unexpected!
At the mouth of the Ou River (Pak Ou), about two hours upstream from Luang Prabang, are a pair of caves home to hundreds of Buddha statues.
Tham Ting (lower cave) was the larger of the two, with more statues.
There wasn’t much inside Tham Theung (upper cave), other than darkness illuminated by my flash.
Next stop Luang Prabang!