Laos

Laos (VI): Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang was to be my last stop in Laos before returning to Tailand and it would be in a stretch because I hadn´t much time to cover all the distance I wanted. I guess it is the normal dilemma for all travelers who have some degree of choice: Travel deep, taking the time to see people and things properly or to travel wide and see more places but staying on the surface only?

Luang Prabang, Laos, 2013.

Luang Prabang, Laos, 2013.

Luang Prabang may well be gathering the best of two worlds; It is prepared to receive foreigners and travelers, so it is possible the stay comfortably lodged in one of the many guesthouses in town. One can eat, drink, shop and stroll whenever one likes because there is plenty of choice. On the other hand, some things run as they did hundreds of years ago and that makes all the difference…

Luang Prabang, Laos, 2013.

Luang Prabang, Laos, 2013.

Luang Prabang, Laos, 2013.

One of the great emotions of being in places like Luang Prabang is the inner conscience of knowing that they won´t stay as they are for much longer. It´s like watching a world being lost, slowly but irrevocably, for ever. That feeling does make my eyes open widely and all my senses become sharply attuned. In no time, I feel the humble responsibility of being a witness and share those experiences…

Vat Xieng Thong – Luang Prabang, Laos, 2013.

Vat Xieng Thong – Luang Prabang, Laos, 2013.

Seeing myself – after so much time not noticing me – can be an unexpected surprise. I forget myself easily when I´m wandering around…

Vat Xieng Thong – Luang Prabang, Laos, 2013.

Luang Prabang, Laos, 2013.

Two great rivers meet in Luang Prabang: The Mekong and the Nam Khan.

Tham Phu Rham – Vang Vien, Laos, 2013.

It took a rough and slippery journey inside the Tham Phu Rham cave to see the reclining Buda up close…

Vang Vien, Laos, 2013.

The narrow elevated paths stretching for miles within the rice fields are an invitation to endless walks.

Silk cloth stall – Vang Vien, Laos, 2013.

Time to say goodbye to Laos…

All photographs by António Marques – © António Marques Photoblog, 2014
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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.

Bon Sa Phai, Laos, 2013

Novice Monks – Bon Sa Phai, Laos, 2013

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.

Saturday afternoon fun – Soui Lake, Laos, 2013

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.

Monkey Forrest guardian – Ban Lamchan, Laos, 2013

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 – Savannakhet, Laos, 2013

That Inchang is one of the most revered places for laotians, as they believe that Buddha himself was here, leaving one of his footprints.

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Savannakhet, Laos, 2013

Outside Savannakhet, Laos, 2013

The landscape is breathtakingly strange…

Thakhek, Laos, 2013

The freedom and independence of children, riding bicycles and playing with each other on the streets, amazed me deeply…

Long boat training on the Mekong – Thakhek, Laos, 2013

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.

Roadside view on the way to Konglor village, Laos, 2013

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…

Konglor village, Laos, 2013

Playing barefooted near the fluorescent green rice fields…

Konglor village, Laos, 2013

…and striking a pose.

Konglor village, Laos, 2013

Always that smile…

Cave entrance – Kong Lor, Laos, 2013

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.

Cave exit – Kong Lor, Laos, 2013

Cave exit – Kong Lor, Laos, 2013

Kong Lor, Laos, 2013

The biggest butterfly I have ever saw! Sorry but no visual reference for measure available…

Cave exit – Kong Lor, Laos, 2013

Waiting to take us back…

Road to Paksan, Laos, 2013

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…

Keam Kong River – Paksan, Laos, 2013

Thathon, Laos, 2013

Thathon, Laos, 2013

Plain of Jars – Phonsavan, Laos, 2013

Nobody really knows the purpose for these ancient stone jars, scattered in the area by the hundreds.

Phonsavan, Laos, 2013

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.

Phonsavan, Laos, 2013

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.

The lovely waitress – Phoukhoun, Laos, 2013

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


Laos (IV): The Bolaven Plateau

Laos isn’t exactly a rich country, except if we consider its ethnic and biodiversity. Years of civil war and multiple foreign intrusions crippled the country’s development. I knew that Laos remained one of the most heavily bombed countries on the planet. What I didn’t suspect was that the remainders of those days were still very much present on the ground, in the form of bomb craters, outer bomb shells lying around or used as building materials and warning signs for UXO (unexploded ordnance) that are still buried under the ground. I had the feeling that Laotians prefer to skip this subject matter in their chats – at least with foreigners – perhaps because the wounds open in those troubled times are not yet completely healed.

Leaving Pakse – Laos, 2013

Cutlery makers and their dog – Outside Pakse, Laos. 2013

Tad Fane, Pakse, Laos. 2013

Coffe beans – Thateng, Laos. 2013

As I went further East and up North into the mountains, I could notice people struggling much harder for their daily life. Everything there is primordial and if it wasn’t for the occasional satellite dishes or some parked pickup trucks, I might think I was traveling back in time. Many people live by the roads in fragile little wooden or bamboo houses and children walk around dirty and barefooted. Even in ethnic villages supported by cultural preservation projects from local and foreign governments, poverty is very tangible.

The Bolaven Plateau has a unique fresh climate given by its altitude and the region just oozes with natural beauty. A Garden of Eden, inhabited by people who deserved to enjoy the beauty of their land in a much more comfortable way…

Laos, August, 2013.

Lakhao Village, Thateng, Laos. 2013

Lakhao Village, Thateng, Laos. 2013

American bomb – Huay Hun, Bolaven Plateau, Laos. 2013

Huay Hun, Bolaven Plateau, Laos. 2013

Drying peanuts – Huay Hun, Bolaven Plateau, Laos. 2013

Huay Hun, Bolaven Plateau, Laos. 2013

Huay Hun, Bolaven Plateau, Laos. 2013

Huay Hun, Bolaven Plateau, Laos. 2013

Huay Hun, Bolaven Plateau, Laos. 2013

Huay Hun, Bolaven Plateau, Laos. 2013

Huay Hun, Bolaven Plateau, Laos. 2013

Tad Pha Suam, Bolaven Plateau, Laos. 2013

 All photographs by António Marques – © António Marques Photoblog, 2014

I wish you all a Happy New 2014. Thank you for stopping by.


Laos (III): The Dao Reung Market in Pakse

Pakse has a charming French colonial touch as part of its heritage but it is in rapid expansion due to tourism industry and strong commercial links with neighboring Thailand. The effervescence of this often chaotic growth is best experienced in Dao Reung Market. Shopping malls have yet to make its appearance in this town so everybody comes to this gigantic market to buy anything and everything they need…

Laos, August, 2013.

Dao Reung Market – Pakse, Laos, 2013

Dao Reung Market – Pakse, Laos, 2013

Dao Reung Market – Pakse, Laos, 2013

Dao Reung Market – Pakse, Laos, 2013

Tobacco seller at Dao Reung Market – Pakse, Laos, 2013

Dao Reung Market – Pakse, Laos, 2013

Dao Reung Market – Pakse, Laos, 2013

Dao Reung Market – Pakse, Laos, 2013

Dao Reung Market – Pakse, Laos, 2013

Returning home- Pakse, Laos, 2013

All photographs by António Marques – © António Marques Photoblog, 2013


Laos (II): Down and around the mighty Mekong

It was now time to face the legendary Mekong River, a gigantic, overfloaded, brownish yellow serpent that moved rapidly towards South. We decided to go all the way to the Cambodian border, where the main river divides itself into dozens of narrower ones, surrounding a great number of islands of all sizes. We took a small boat from Champasak to Done Khong island and during the four hour-long journey, we barely spoke: the nursing sound of water bubbling on the sides broken with the occasional pouring rain, the exotic scenery of lush green palm trees and the vision of local day to day life taking place on the river banks, completely absorbed my mind…

Laos, August, 2013

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Mekong River, South of Champasak, Laos, 2013

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Mekong River, South of Champasak, Laos, 2013

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Sunset on the Mekong river at Done Khong island, Laos, 2013

Time likes to play games with our memories… In retrospect, I realized how nice it would have been if I took my time. I could get to know better the owner of the old French colonial style manner where we spend that night, the Done Khong Guesthouse. Besides being a widow, all I found out about her was that she was a former teacher and spoke very good french. I didn’t felt comfortable to ask her to take her picture, as she appeared to be a very reserved person who kept herself to herself. I didn’t think much of it at the time because my schedule was tight and there was so much to see. However, thinking back, the idea of that woman running such an old but well kept guesthouse in what appeared to me to be a god-forsaken and remote place kept me wandering to this day. It´s funny how these little dormant recollections arise long after the events took place…

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Dinner pavillion, Done Khong Guesthouse, Laos, 2013

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Done Det, Mekong river, Laos, 2013

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Mekong river, aproaching Done Khone island, Laos, 2013

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Khone Phapheng Falls, Mekong river, Laos, 2013

All photographs by António Marques – © António Marques Photoblog, 2013


Laos (I): Vat Phou, Champasak

The day after crossing the border into Laos, I headed South to the Campasak area. Hot and extremely humid, one might say we were having a permanent sauna, but the almost untouched ruins of the Vat Phou temple more than compensate for the occasional discomfort. It’s one of those places that seem to remain inhabited by shadows of the Khmer people who erected it. The dense rainforest surrounding the place, helps to emphasize that mood.

Laos, August, 2013

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Vat Phou, Champasak, Laos, 2013

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Vat Phou, Champasak, Laos, 2013

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Vat Phou, Champasak, Laos, 2013

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Vat Phou, Champasak, Laos, 2013

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Vat Phou, Champasak, Laos, 2013

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Vat Phou, Champasak, Laos, 2013

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Three local young beauties – Vat Phou, Champasak, Laos, 2013

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Vat Phou, Champasak, Laos, 2013

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Vat Phou, Champasak, Laos, 2013

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Vat Phou, Champasak, Laos, 2013

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Vat Phou, Champasak, Laos, 2013

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Vat Phou, Champasak, Laos, 2013

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Vat Phou, Champasak, Laos, 2013

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Vat Phou, Champasak, Laos, 2013

All photographs by António Marques – © António Marques Photoblog, 2013