to Laos: Part II

 

Laos rice paddies.

Before getting to the pictures of what we saw and where we went, I want to talk a little about the day-to-day life that I observed. For knowing absolutely nothing about Laos culture beforehand, my observations are based solely on the drive up and down the one long highway that stretches through the south of Laos and what our guide told us. You should take this with the normal grain of salt when listening to the observations of a clueless tourist who is temporarily invading someone else’s day.

With our guide’s constant narration filtering past our ears (who kept her eye contact laboriously focused on the only member of our van who could understand Thai… poor Mint), glimpses of day-to-day rural life flashed by: a family working in their rice patty. A group of children running out of a puddle wet and muddy and laughing. Motorbikes whizzing by. A woman pulling four cows to a different part of the road to graze.

No school from May to August meant the presence of children working alongside their parents, picking and plowing or playing and swimming in the deeper ends.

View from the van window.

Cows and goats chewed the grass alongside the road. Dogs and cats lounged or trotted alongside at their leisure. Men sat around their homes, drinking and talking, peeing beside the road. Women picked their way through the fields, intricately embroidered skirts pulled just high of the mud.

Now, on to the tour.

The waterfalls:
Five in total. All of them beautiful and powerful in the rainy season. The first we reached by taking a river boat up the Mekong into the Siphandon area but for the life of me I can’t figure out the name of this particular waterfall:

 

No beach in the rainy season.

 

Really fast!
Lots of water moving.

The second was Khone Falls. The late afternoon sun didn’t make for great pictures, but it was a spectacular view. And very very popular.

 

 

The third waterfall, Tat Lo, had a great stump walk way to keep our feet dry from all the mud:
Best idea ever.
Hami, Jerica and I at waterfall # 3
Scary bridge that takes you to…
Elephant statues. Photo opp!
Sure, how about another? We all look so good.
The fourth waterfall was spectacular! The name once again is eluding me but I’ll update as soon as I confirm it. We had to walk down a windy, slippery wooden staircase to get to the vantage point, where we were completely engulfed by a cloud of waterfall spray.  It was awesome. The pictures just don’t capture the mist or how soaked we got. I’m surprised my iPhone made it out alive. It was like getting an all natural waterfall bath without having to be dunked under it.
The top of the 4th waterfall.
Is Jay spying or hiding? You make the call.
View from the bottom of the stairs.
Mint and her dad.

 

First level of the stairs  going back up from the waterfall.
Group shot at the bottom.

 

The fifth and last waterfall was too foggy to really see so instead we wandered in the misty forest and stared into the fog, listening to the mysterious sounds of rushing water as it came muted through the mist. 

Into the fog.
Follow the light to the coffee stand.

The temples and buildings and other such things:

Here we are at a coffee plantation near the fifth waterfall. Best coffee in Laos. So wish we could have come everyday just for a cup of fresh dark coffee.

 

Best coffee in Laos.
Coffee at the plantation.

As a time filler on a particularly rainy day, the guides took us to the Champasak Grand Hotel, a palace from one of the last kings in Laos that was converted into a 5 star hotel and we made it to the roof to take in the view of Pakse:

View (of us) from the top of the hotel.

We also went to a Buddhist temple and observed a traditional blessing by a resident monk.

You should know by now how much I love ceilings.

A historic village outside of waterfall #3, set up with volunteers in traditional costumes as an example of Laos culture and history.

An example of traditional Laos housing.
The ruin of Wat Phou Champa, a mountain temple that we visited on a very rainy day, was hands-down our favorite cultural site. There were several ruins of palaces on the lower grounds which we walked past and up a few terraces to get to the topmost sanctuary and rock garden. The sanctuary at the top is still in use for Buddhist religious worship today.
The misty mountain and the road that leads to it
 
North Palace on the walk

 

South Palace on the walk

 

Pam, carefully picking her way up the stairs.

 

Looking down from the second stair landing.

 

Sanctuary at the top.

 

Details of the building
The ground was just as interesting as the buildings:
Big shaped stones in the rock garden


Crocodile
Elephant carving


On the way down: Jerica and Pam.
Further down: Pam and Jay bypassing the stairs completely.

 

The Food
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, were all included so we basically just sat back and let the food roll in. The best thing that sticks out in my mind about the three days are the omelettes. And fish. And oh, did I mention the omelettes? Sooooo good. Oily, tasty, and served lunch and dinner in Laos and for breakfast in Ubon.
A Thai breakfast to start the trip off right.
I think Hami and Jerica agree. 

A typical river-front restaurant where we’d eat lunch and dinner in Laos. 

This one creaked and swayed with the waves.

An example of what we ate most days, fish, soup, rice, vegetables, and spicy, spicy mush. A different meal below:

Notice the omelette being stabbed by a spoon. It disappeared fast.

Our last meal in Laos was this five star hotel pictured above. It’s the closest to the Laos-Japanese built bridge on our way back to Ubon. There was a great assortment of food at their buffet including this very familiar fare:
Good hearty bread

It was a great trip with my friends and a really interesting introduction to Laos. I suggest a tour package like this if you want to knock out several top priority sight-seeing destinations in a short period of time. It’s like the hit-and-run of traveling done in a safe, you-know-it’s-ok-to-be-here sort of way. But if you’re feeling confident and independent, definitely do not. And although I felt a disconnect from the local culture and language in such a tidy package, I suppose having tours like this saves the locals from being pestered by mispronounced questions all day.

In any case, visit Laos if you have the chance. And bring plenty of American cash. It does wonders at the markets.

Our view of Pakse from the hotel window.

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