Sunday, 9 October 2011

South Laos: Vientiane to Don Det

The south has its own charm and beauty; from the sleepy capital Vientiane to the remote 4000 thousand islands on the Cambodian border. On the journey one can explore the mountainous Plain of Jars, witness mighty cliffs and the breathtaking 7km limestone cave of Kong Lor, at every turn you encounter beautiful waterfalls, sip the best coffee on the famous coffee plantations on the Bolaven Plateau, pay homage to the impressive ancient temples of Wat Pho and relax on Don Det watching the Mekong river in all its glory and power drive by; a day here could very easily pass into a week... believe me.

On the 11th September we arrived in Vientiane, the 450 year old Capital that is set on the banks of the Mekong river and has been an important strategic point since the 9th century and has been controlled by the Vietnamese, Burmese, Siamese and the French. Their influences have all been left and interwoven into the culture of this sleepy capital. The highlight of the visit was meeting a Buddhist monk who's nickname was Ping. He invited us into his temple showing us all traditional ways of living until he pulled his laptop out and logged onto 'Facebook'. He was fascinated with our way of life and wanted to know everything about us, so I told him all about my family, Kirkby, Liverpool and showed him pictures of All Saints and told him about school life and the pupils. He was a Manchester City fan, which actually makes a change as everyone in Asia it seems supports Man U......Isn't that a shame? I told him that he must watch a real team, the mighty Liverpool!!!

Me and Ping
After a short drive from Vientiane on the 15th September we arrived on the southern tip of the Plain of Jars, a place called Tad Leuk. Here we camped next to a beautiful waterfall in a very secluded spot with a group of other travelers. I done some fishing just next to the waterfall, and caught one and then lost it, (a fishermans tale) but it must rank as my best ever fishing peg, what a view. 

My best ever fishing peg, Tad Leuk waterfall
The next day we travelled to Kong Lor, the mighty 7km limestone cave formed by the Hinboun River, a place were you are surrounded by beautiful high limestone karst cliffs and small traditional villages that make you feel like you have stepped back in time to a bygone age. You explore the cave by canoe, its complete darkness inside, the main cavern reaches up to 90 meters wide and 100 meters high in places, and the boat stops along the way to observe stalactites and other limestone formations. It is pitch black, and the sound on the river, the water lapping up against the rocks and the shadows created by the guides flash lights makes you feel as if you are in a 'Lord of the Rings' movie; there were times when I have expected Gollum to jump out from behind a rock....Frodo Baggins!!!. On the way back to our Hotel the local children were intrigued by us, as always. I watched children as young as 4 or 5 fishing for food, carrying firewood and other resources essential for their family. I stopped to play with them, chasing them down the road until I was like the pied piper with a line of children behind me all wanting to play. Its really amazing to see children who have absolutely nothing, who have to work most of the day and in most cases never get the opportunity to go to school and yet they are happy. They also have the upmost respect for you, when you sit down the children duck down as they pass you by so they are below your head height as a sign of respect to you. We can learn so much from these children, and it puts it in perspective on how much we take things for granted back home.

The South in all its tranquility

The breathtaking Limestone Karst cliffs of Kong Lor

Enterance To the 7km Kong Lor cave

The children just want to play

It feels like the who village wants a chase

That night we had a truly enriching experience when a family in the village invited us into their home and into their family to eat dinner and take part in an important ceremony practiced in Laos culture called a 'baci'. A baci ceremony is carried out to mark important events, so to have one in our honor made us feel very special. Lao people are very spiritual who believe that spirits called 'phi' leave and enter the body all the time, the ceremony brings them back making you spiritually enriched and filled with good luck. The ritual of the baci involved the women of the house tying strings around your wrist to preserve good luck, chanting and singing prayers to you as they tie them onto your wrist. Before we ate our meal of sticky rice and chicken, the full chicken was placed on the table, in which all present was given a small piece and a prayer is chanted. This lasted about 15 minutes and then well all tucked in, washing it all down with plenty of Beerlao, as is always the custom here in Laos.

I take my piece of chicken as a prayer is chatted to me
Sticky rice is beautiful...Notice the strings tied on my right wrist for good luck

We travelled to Thakhek and stayed there for one night before heading to to Tad Lo on the Bolaven Plateau, spending the morning getting a tour of the coffee plantations by a slightly crazy Dutch man who has owned the plantation for years. It was very interesting and I learned all about the different types of Coffee beans and drank some great strong coffee that was roasted and prepared for me from cant get fresher. We then visited Tad Yueang waterfall in Paksong, a big powerful waterfall, really beautiful before spending the night in sleepy Pakse.

Tad Yueang Waterfall
Wat Phu (or Vat Phu) which means "Temple on the Mountain" in Lao language is one of the oldest archaeological sites in Laos, located in Champassak province along the Mekong River in the southern most part of the country. It is 670km from the capital Vientiane and 50km from Pakse. Wat Phu has a complex history involving two religions; Hindu and Buddhism and spans over 15 hundred years, but the surviving structures date from the 11th to 13th centuries. Its is enchanting, mystical, peaceful and has a genuine spiritual atmosphere that engulfs you as you slowly walk up the mountain side and into the low hung clouds of the mountain once considered the home of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, the supreme god who has absolute authority over death, rebirth and immortality. The link below gives a detailed informative overview of Wat Phu and is worth a look to really appreciate the history of this place.

The mountain that was once considered the home of Shiva

The Buddhist Era

A look of Wat Pho from the top of the mountain
We spent one night in Don Det, which is part of the 4000 Islands, before we got on the express bus back to Luang Prabang. We spent 3 nights there relaxing, got our Vietnam Visa and booked our sleeper bus to Hanoi. The sleeper bus was eventful, bumpy and a little crazy and in all took us 30 hours to get to Hanoi. This is a new country with a different culture, a different people, and is stepped in some of the most volatile, brutal and significant history of the 20th Century that still indirectly affects us today.

Chapter 3: Vietnam.

1 comment:

  1. This looks amazing sir and the children r so cute