Laos……………

Having travelled quite extensively in Thailand and Vietnam and to a lesser extent in Cambodia, it becomes immediately obvious on entering Laos, that it is a poor relation to these other southeast Asian countries; this difference is perhaps more pronounced crossing from Thailand as I did, where the infrastructure of the country is far more advanced………….The quality of the roads in Laos are not as good and unlike Thailand they do not have any rubbish collection system, so you notice a lot of garbage strewn by the side of many roads in this beautiful country………………….

Laos is home to only 7 million people (approx.)  but despite having such a relatively small population, a third of them live below the official UN poverty line, which is defined by those living on less than US $ 1.25 per day (75p)………..there are many different ethnic groups including a lot of Vietnamese that have migrated across the country’s eastern border with Vietnam……………..

The Vietnamese in Laos are immediately recognisable by their hats, which are worn universally by all Vietnamese, almost like some kind of symbolic badge of national identification……..

Frogs for sale in a roadside market…………

I watched her selling some and she sells them by weight, making sure that none of them are jumping in the air at the time of reading the scale…………..

……….a few stalls along, and some cooked ones, on a stick………..I’d rather have a raspberry mivi……………..

above and below…………….another of the waterfalls that we visited………….

These girls were flagging down all vehicles……………..they were collecting for the building of a new temple for their village…………..

 

above and below………….the ancient temples of Vatphu; constructed of stone and of Khmer architecture, they bear a resemblance to the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia………although not as vast and impressive as Angkor Wat, I found visiting them a lot more satisfying because they were free of the thousands of tourists that seem to be omnipresent at the vast complex in Cambodia…………

 

above and below…………more waterfalls, and although the many falls that we visited were not on the Mekong, with the exception of the falls at Khone Phapheng on my previous posting, they were all very beautiful and spectacular in their own right…………..

 

above and below ………….families from 2 different ethnic groups in their traditional costumes……………………

Children learn to mimic at such a young age………..the 2 young girls above have obviously been watching the ridiculous poses that teenage girls in Laos (and Thailand) strike in an attempt to look provocative in photographs………….

above and below…………….no such posing issues here………….

I saw this wonderful bamboo growing by the side of the road and immediately wanted to build a business empire making furniture from it……………..

On one of the large islands on the Mekong that we visited, Yada noticed a little, one room school…………so naturally, being a school teacher and speaking Lao, she had to go in and have a chat with the teacher, who, like all the kids was wonderfully friendly and laughing and smiling……………until I took my camera from my pocket, when, like most people in this region, they all put on their “passport photo” faces

 

Yada and our tour guide buying some fruit at the roadside…………..

…………from this Vietnamese lady…………..

Buddha ………….between the roots of two old trees………..

above and below…………in the grounds of an old temple by the side of the Mekong

Huge Buddha at another temple………..note the diminutive red shirted figure in the foreground…………………

Above and below…………..a small shop in Pakse is run by a charity for the survivors of human trafficking and their families……………they have 2 looms in the shop where they weave beautiful scarves and other garments from silk and wool; and where they also teach survivors and underprivileged youngsters how to weave…………..if any of you are ever in Pakse please support this wonderful enterprise…………… Dream Weaver is their label….

 

Below…………..we happened to be in Laos for Songkran (Lao New Year) which is the biggest festival of the year in Laos; officially 3 days, the first being the last day of the old year,  the second being “the day of no day” falling into neither the old or new year, and the last day being the first day of the new year……………traditionally celebrated by the respectful pouring of water (usually perfumed with fresh flowers) over elders and monks for the blessing of a long and healthy life, before escalating into a manic free-for-all throwing of water over anyone you can……….

above and below…………….a lot of the youngsters in Laos, like these ones celebrating in Pakse, have modernised the throwing of water by using shaving foam, flour and apparently, whipped cream !! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FLOWERS AND BLOSSOMS OF LAOS………………………………………

Friends on Facebook will have already seen most of these pics, but for those of you that haven’t…………….………every country in southeast Asia has a national flower, and in Laos it is the frangipani…………but they also have many other stunning flowers and blossoms that you might like to take a peek at…………

………..Lotus

……….spot the red ants………………

This frangipani was on the banks of the Mekong, which seemed rather fitting for the national flower of Laos……………….

I just love the depth of colour of these climbing flowers, and the stark contrast with their green surrounding………………….

spot the butterfly………………………….

blue hydrangea, I believe…………..well it’s blue ………….

Orchids ??

Christmas thingamajigs !!

 

 

Overland From Thailand Into Laos……… (Lao People’s Democratic Republic)

I made the journey by car with Yada, her Mum, her younger sister Kak and her auntie (her Mum’s sister from Sakon Nakhon) to Pakse in Laos; we drove south to Ubon Ratchathani, in Thailand, where we had booked a taxi and a driver for a 6 day trip into Laos……….taking a Thai registered car into Laos is a logistical nightmare, and in the case of Yada’s car, impossible. You cannot take any car into Laos without full documentation to show that there is no outstanding debt on the vehicle, and Yada still has 2 years finance on her car, so the taxi and driver was our only option, an option, I might add, that we are now pleased that we were forced into…………..

Last winter I spent 3 hours crossing the border from Thailand into Cambodia at Aranyaprathet /  Poipet, so I was anticipating another protracted procedure at the Thai / Laos border at Chong Mek; fortunately, my fears were unfounded…………..firstly, this border crossing is nowhere near as popular and consequently as busy as the Thai / Cambodia border which is the gateway to Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor Wat, and secondly, I had Yada to negotiate the whole palaver for me, she speaks fluent Lao and consequently it was all very swift and painless……………..

This lady was just crossing into Laos for a day’s trading…………..

 

Lovely old motorbike and sidecar combo in Pakse……………..

Above and below……..this young rascal had been stationed outside the toilets at a petrol station, it is apparently the norm in Laos and he was charging 1000 kip (7 pence)………..

above and below………….the freshly pressed juice from sugarcane is very popular in Laos and stalls like these are everywhere………..I tried it once in India where it is also very popular, but it is a tad too sweet for my liking……………

……….some beautifully crafted offerings left outside a temple……………….

 

………..above and below…………..we made a day trip to the waterfalls at Khone Phapheng which are situated in southern Laos, very close to the border with Cambodia; the largest waterfalls in south east Asia and the widest waterfalls in the world, comprising of 6 main falls several kilometres wide……………..any photographs other than ariel, can never begin to capture the power and majesty of this spectacular place, as the full force of the mighty Mekong river cascades and thunders over the rock formations…………..

…………these magnificent waterfalls are the main reason that the Mekong river is not fully navigable into China…………..so they have been a key factor in preserving the integrity of the river and have been a massive help in protecting the river from the inevitable industrialisation that would have taken place many years ago if the falls were not there………….there remain some places on our planet where mother nature still holds sway……………..

Although Laos is a land-locked country, the Mekong provides it with an archipelago of over 4,000 islands, known as Si Phan Don which are situated in the river stretching northwards for about 50 kilometres from the  Khone Phapheng falls………..here the river splits into many channels and tributaries around the islands and sandbars, widening to 14 kilometres in places………….

We took a boat trip on this part of the Mekong around some of the islands……….some of the larger islands are inhabited, but the vast majority are not, and provide a wonderful refuge for the great diversity of wildlife that inhabit this huge pulsating artery that is the lifeblood for millions of people, fish and animals……………..this part of the Mekong is home to the rare freshwater species of dolphin known as the Irrawaddy dolphin…………we were not fortunate enough to see any of them (on this occasion)

Above…………one of the many restaurants along the banks or as in this case, in the river Mekong at Pakse…………………….and below, Yada and I on a rooftop just before a sunset dinner at the restaurant in the 3 pics below…………..

 

…………..above………….sunset by the side of the Mekong at Pakse

Khanom to Sakon Nakhon………………

I left Khanom on 1st April to drive Yada’s car north to Sakon Nakhon in the north east of Thailand; with her Mum and Dad and younger sister Kak in the car, it was a leisurely drive that took us 3 days………….we had no reason to hurry and Yada and her Mum in particular  like to stop and visit temples along the way………….and there are an incredible number of temples in Thailand, so, much as I enjoy visiting them myself, I was grateful that they were reasonably selective……………..

Above and below, at this temple there were 2 huge statues, a perspective of their size can be gained by the 2 people in close proximity to the statue above…………..

Above ………….Yada beneath some pink frangipani blossoms………and below, orchids growing wild at the side of the road……………..

 

Above and below……….this hill top temple was reached by following road signs to the cable car, which was in fact a funicular, but the description was close enough………………..

Above………..we were greeted by this notice when we clambered out of the funicular carriage at the summit…………and it was not a hollow warning, there were scores of monkeys everywhere, and some, like the adolescent male below, were quite aggressive…

We stopped at this roadside stall to buy some of these lotus flower stems………mmmm, not very pretty I thought, then Yada explained that they were for us to eat…….I remained unconvinced until she started popping the pods out of the “shower heads” and removing the outer skins for us to eat………… another delicious snack…………..

………….. above…………the lovely smiling lady at the Lotus stall…………….and below, Yada’s younger sister wanted to stop at this place called “The Swiss Sheep Farm”…..a friend had told her that they had black sheep there…………….

They did not, much to Kak’s disappointment, have any black sheep, but they did have a lovely black swan, below………….

Below………….they also had a couple of swings and I managed to get a reluctant Yada to pose on one of them…………….as always, sans make up, and considering that she cannot afford to spend much of her salary on clothes, she seems to find some very pretty little dresses…………