Laos (V): Heading North, alongside the Mekong
I was told that going up North from Pakse meant facing mountainous terrain and some very rough roads, especially during monsoon time. I was about to discover that for myself but for a couple of days, crossing the roads that go alongside the Mekong River was a relatively smooth thing.
I could appreciate the simple life of those people going about their business; fishing and harvesting the rice fields nearby or weaving long colorful pieces of cotton or silk cloth.
Unlike other communist regimes, Buddhism was always tolerated by official rulers in Laos and co-existed with Marxism in spite of the obvious contradictions. Almost every man in the country joins a Buddhist monastery for some period of time and some of them stay for good. This adds a spiritual dimension to life and not just on a personal level. It’s a collective experience, shared and lived by the entire community.
Not everything is spiritual, though. Consumerism is also on the rise and cell phones, scooters and cars are the elected goals for many young Laotians. Communal outdoor parties with loud music and lots of beer are also appreciated. In Soui Lake´s leaking dam, entire families and groups of teens riding on the back of pickup trucks gave me a good insight on how they enjoy themselves on a hot Saturday afternoon.
Feeding and attending to the ever-shrinking community of monkeys living in “Monkey Forrest” is one of the duties of local Buddhist monks.
That Inchang is one of the most revered places for laotians, as they believe that Buddha himself was here, leaving one of his footprints.
The landscape is breathtakingly strange…
The freedom and independence of children, riding bicycles and playing with each other on the streets, amazed me deeply…
A display of healthy rivalry… It is commonplace to riverside villages to have their long boat teams. They practice for months to the local boat race festivals taking place after the rainy season.
As we went further into the mountains, it started to rain frequently. Unplanned road stops due to landslides – or to attend the poor bladder condition of our driver – where common at this stage. In one of those stops, I remember been dazzled with the roadside view above. Sadly, the picture I took doesn’t do it justice but I find some excuse in the fact that I was at the edge of the road with my arm stretched holding the camera, balancing precariously above a 200 meters cliff…
Playing barefooted near the fluorescent green rice fields…
…and striking a pose.
Always that smile…
Kong Lor Cave was without question one of the highlights of this trip to Laos. The 7,5 Km long tunnel-like mountain cave was carved by a river. Going and returning on small rented motorboats took us around 3 hours. Sorry but no pictures of the inside… Besides the pitch-black environment and the permanent splashes of water, I was grabbing my tinny boat with both hands. The strong current was bringing logs along the river and the boat driver had sometimes to make sharp evasive turns to avoid them! The nearby scenery was just unforgettable.
The biggest butterfly I have ever saw! Sorry but no visual reference for measure available…
Waiting to take us back…
Our driver had stopped (again) to attend a nature call and as I looked down to the riverbed that stand along the road, I spotted some fishermen fishing with a sort of umbrella-like nets. One particular woman caught my attention and I slide down the hill from the elevated road as quick as I could until I reached the riverside. – Can I take your photo? I imagine she thought I was crazy but she burst in laughs and agreed to my request…
Nobody really knows the purpose for these ancient stone jars, scattered in the area by the hundreds.
I was eating my breakfast in a street stall in Phonsavan and I noticed this kid staring at the cartoons playing on the tv set behind me.
This little guy was helping his mother on her market stall. Everybody wanted to se him up close and ended up buying some thing in the process… It worked with me.
Heading from Phonsavan to Luangprabang turn out to be a tough ride. A mudslide covered the road and we waited more than two hours for a local farmer to clear the way with his tractor. After that, tree more hours of bumpy roads amidst rain and fog. We found refuge and a late lunch in Phoukhoun, a little village in the juncture between route 7 and route 13, with no more than a few houses, shops and food stalls by the road. In this muddy and God forsaken place we went to the Xaiphavong stall to eat some vegetable soup and to be attended by the loveliest, kindest and most efficient waitress I’ve met in Laos.
Laos, August, 2013.
All photographs by António Marques – © António Marques Photoblog, 2014