I celebrated the Lao Buddhist New Year (Pii Mai) in the capital city Vientiane. The new year is celebrated by massive waterfights for three days. All people got on the street to party and soak each other totally. And while the white tourists were a target for the locals, we aimed our supersoakers at the taxi drivers :) When new year celebrations were over I did some sightseeing to see a.o. the Pha That Luang, a big stupa and national symbol of Laos.
I spend three weeks in Laos and it was amazing. I doubted to do a visa-run to Thailand to be able to travel to the south of Laos as well. On the other hand I was curious to see neighbouring country Vietnam. So I bought a ticket from Vientiane to Hanoi. Laos is in my hearts now and I will remember it as a very laidback country with the friendliest people in South-East Asia.
Vang Vieng is a party town on the river. All young party backpackers come to Vang Vieng to spend days in the many restaurants that have non-stop Friends shown on television. On daytime the main attraction is tubing. The first day I went tubing I was the first one on the river and after 3km I was back in Vang Vang to chill out on the riverside. The second day I went later and I stopped at most of the bars for a drink being back in Vang Vieng just in time to return the tube. The party from the riverside was continued in the bars in the evening. Buckets of booz and other dope (most bars had a happy menu on the side) were largely consumed here.
Following the stream of the Nam Ou and the Nam Khan river I reached Luang Prabang. This beautiful town is an Unesco World Heritage site and many tourists are here to see the temples. Because of the past French breads are sold on the market and it was nice to have a meal and a drink at a proper restaurant after the time I spend in the remoted mountain villages. I got up early morning to see the monks collecting their food for the day.
One hour upstream from Nong Khiaw on the Nam Ou river in the village of Muang Ngoi I got myself a hut on the riverside again. This remote village can't be reached by road so there was no motorized traffic in the village. And though the generators only provided electricity from 6pm to 10pm I always managed to get myself a cold BeerLao With just a few other tourists around the local kids enjoyed speaking a bit of English with me. Most of the time however I spend in my hammock :-)
After two days of bussing through the mountains it was a relieve to stay on the Nam Ou riverside for a few days. I got myself a hut with a hammock and a view on the river and the limestone karsts. What a joy is it was to walk around in the small peaceful village and to be in my hammock reading a book and drinking a big bottle of BeerLao.
It took me two days in mini vans to get from Muang Sing to Nong Khiaw. The roads were dusty and the mini vans were packed with people and their luggage. And luggage in Laos can be stinky durian fruits or living chickens as well ;-) Though we didn't make more then 30km/hour I enjoyed the scenery and the friendly Lao people. I stayed the night in Oudomxai.
While most people go along the Mekong river from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang, we took a bus to the north and ended up in Luang Nam Tha. We rented a bike and got around the hill tribe villages and a temple site. We met some Lao guys and played a game of petanque (heritage from the times of French colonization) before we had some diner with them. I stayed for a few days while Margreet (a Dutch girl with whom I have been travelling since Pai in Thailand) left because of a her tight travel schedule.
By crossing the Mekong river we left Thailand and entered Laos. The village of Huay Xai is rather small so it was easy to walk around and see how life passed by at the temple sites, the streets and the market. Obviously the Lao people are very laidback and do not hassle the tourists like in Thailand.