Backpacking Senior Citizen Style through Laos (#1)

Trip Start Oct 20, 2010
1
12
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Trip End Feb 07, 2011


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Where I stayed
Sabadiy 2 Guest House,
Haysok Guest House

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Champasak,
Thursday, December 9, 2010

During our previous trips to SE Asia to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, all the backpackers we met along the way told us that the best trekking place is Laos.  So when we left Penang, we flew to Bangkok, then Seam Reap and finally arrived Pakse, the southernmost city in Laos.  I looked at the two checked luggage and told Ray that if we ever lose these luggage, we would never be able to track them down with 3 airlines over 4 countries.  Little did we know that at Seam Reap, Cambodia, we were met by the airport local handlers who guided us to the VIP lounge and took care our immigration and luggage transfers.  When I tried to give him some tips to show our appreciation, he refused.  I have never been treated so well in any airport with such great services.  Our hats off to the Seam Reap airport!

In Laos and Malaysia, we have stayed at a few "backpackers" lodging to get a taste of the young people's experience.  Sabadiy 2 Guest House in Pakse is highly recommended by backpackers- no A/C ,no shoes allowed indoor, no flash toilet (flash with water in a barrel, it works).  It is clean with open room and nice garden at a dirt cheap price of $8.5 a night. We met and talked to fellow travelers – middle age couple from Seattle and Germany, young plumber from Belgium, a brave Chinese girl traveling solo.  That is the experiences you don't get in staying at 5 star hotels.

Laos is a landlocked country with gentle people who talks in sing song voice. 95% of the people follow Buddhism and donate rice and vegetables to local monks every morning.  It is also a underdeveloped country with beautiful scenery.  Every single travel book, however, warn us about Laos infamous buses.  They cramped people in tight seats, pile luggage high on the top and stop along the ways to pick up more passengers.  The road throughout the mountainous country are winding and in general not very good.  Comparing with the luxury buses we enjoyed throughout Malaysia, Laos transportation was quite a different story. 

We decided to take tours with Green Discovery (not the cheapest ones) mainly because we like their philosophy about preserving local environment and culture while encouraging tourism.  We started with a 3 day tours through Mekong river region.  We took our first of many long tail boat rides, cursing down the beautiful river and visited Wat Phou Ngoy temple (a smaller version of Angkor Wat).  We were also introduced to Laos cuisine –meat fried crisp and dry in oil  with stir-fried vegetables and the ever present sticky rice.  Laos sticky rice is the main starch for the meal and it is not served sweet as Chinese dessert.  They steamed it in a basket once a day and carry it (cold) in a small basket all day long.  They roll the rice into a ball and eat it by dipping into chilly and fish sauce in every meal.  I met a mother who was feeding her young baby sticky rice ball with fish sauce.  Habits form early in a child’s life.  Laos’ people is proud of their national dish “Lap” which is a salad made with chopped meat/fish, cucumber, tomatoes flavored by mint leaves and other herbs.  Breakfast are usually rice noodles with a plate of raw bean sprouts, mint and greens.  Laos cuisine are fairly simple and doesn’t have the diversity as Chinese food but they do serve great coffee (with a layer of condensed milk in the bottom) and tasty French baguettes. 

Another boat ride took us to the Thousand Island area where we stayed at Don Khone – a one street town.  We arrived amidst a festival and dragon boat race on the island.  There were sports, music and carnivals in the evening.  We watched a game sort of like volley ball except the players kick the ball with an incredible acrobatic flip over the net.   Laos dance were done by men and women facing each other in circles with lots of hand gestures but never touch each other.   The carnival ride was powered manually by 3 strong young men jumping and swing like monkeys to turn the center wheels. This is one of the most unusual festival we have ever seen.

After crossing back to mainland, we visited the waterfall Khone Phapheng.  This fall on the west and the Liphi fall we saw the day before on the east basically block all boat traffic on Mekong river.  Early French explorers had to build a rail to portage the boat (cut in half and put on wheels which was pull by local Laos to the other side of island and then put it back together).  Ray was impress with how solid the French Pier built 100 years ago.

We flew to Vientiane, the capital of Laos and stayed at Haysok Guest House – a Chinese owned hotel by with some imposing teak wood furniture.  We spent the evening visiting the famous That Luang Stupa – the gold gilded icon that is Laos national treasure.  Unfortunately the light was getting dim and I wasn’t able to get a good picture to truly reflex its beauty.

We headed for a 2 day orchid trekking with a French tour guide Lulu.  She moved to Laos 9 years ago to work on an orchid farm with her brother.  We met a local husband and wife guides at the village of Ban Hatkhai and started our trip with a 45 minutes long tail boat ride down on the beautiful and tranquil Nam Mang river.  We saw many herds of water buffalos foraging foods in the wild by themselves and soaked in the river all day long.   Villagers usually put out salt licks to lure them home.  We also saw hundreds of butterfly that congregated on sand bars.  When they fly, they look like graffiti floating through the air.

The orchid trek we took is inside a national park where we walked through dense bamboo grooves and evergreen forests. Along the way, we saw many wild orchids but only a few with small blooms. The best time to see orchid bloom actually is September and October.  We made it to the top plateau with a grand view where we saw Mekong river and Thailand far away.  At this time, Lulu and the guides pulled out picnic table cloth and laid out a magnificent lunch - banana leaf wrapped roast pork and a huge omelet, two kinds of spicy sauce and sticky rice.  The food tasted good but unfortunately we were under attack by ants and gnats.  It was too bad we couldn’t spend more time enjoying this lunch which they put in a lot of effort to it. 

We spent the night at one of the villager’s home.  Their traditional Laos house was built on stilts.  The downstairs is for storage, the bedrooms are upstairs.  We slept  in the big room living area on a mat with mosquitoes nets over it.  We took cold showers in an outhouse which doesn’t have any lights but the bathroom is clean and the cool water feels good.  The dinner was cooked in a kitchen over open fires.  We were served in another open platform which also is the gathering place for family and friends .  The host’s wife prepared a fish soup, vegetable cooked with banana (surprisingly good) and bamboo shoots with coconut milk plus the ever present sticky rice.  The meal was excellent and we learned more about Laos culture and daily life.  Even though the life is very simple in the village (they only had electricity about 5 years ago), the villagers keep in touch with outside world with cell phone and television. 

We slept well and awaken by roaster croaking,  gecko clicking, bird chirping and then suddenly a radio blasting that disrupted the peaceful morning.  We ate a great breakfast and set out for 2nd day trekking.   In this area we saw more blooming orchids.   A short walk after lunch landed us at this beautiful Pha Xay waterfalls.  The water cascading down several layers of rocks into a gorgeous pool.  The water is so clean and inviting so we jumped right in.  I swimming over to the waterfalls and let the water fall down on my back.  What an exhilarating experience.  We said goodbye to Lulu and promise to recommend her to anyone who is interested in orchid in Laos to contact her at  Laurence.Lovera@yahoo.com or vtorchid@laotel.com
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Comments

Jay Young on

What an adventure you're having!I just returned from a week in Haiti on a humanitarian mission. It was really challenging, but very interesting. I'll tell you all about it the next time we see you.
Best,
Jay

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