Friday, February 05, 2010

Laos

For the last couple of weeks I've been in Thailand and Laos, enjoying sunshine and friendly people. I know it isn't about Taiwan, but I loved Laos, so I'm going to show you a few pictures from the week I spent there with Michael Cannon, Michael Klein, and Hui-chen, Michael K's wife. Here we are about to take the international bus from Khon Kaen, Thailand, to Vientiane, the capital of Laos.

Vientiane from the Victory Gate.

Breakfast vendors in Vientiane.

Laos was colonized by the French. A positive legacy of French colonialism is the excellent bread sold by vendors everywhere.

Samples of a photography shop's wares.

Morning traffic, Vientiane.

The Mekong, with Thailand on the far bank. I went out to eat with friends.....

....who took me for sunset on the Mekong. The river is low this time of year, the dry season.

The entertainment was provided by a group of locals who somehow managed to get their jeep stranded in the Mekong. Why they chose to drive it there was a mystery, but when we left after sunset, they still hadn't managed to winch the vehicle ashore.

Breakfast condiments.

The day after we arrived in Vientiane, Michael C and I rented scooters and drove north out of the city along 10, until we ran out of pavement. That scooter ride was a blast.

A house on the way.

Boats in a stream.

Michael inspects his picture as workman fix a wooden plank bridge over the stream.

We came to this ferry on the Nam Lik River north of Vientiene.

We had a great time chatting with the locals, one of whom got us the right price for the crossing, $2500 kip. Here I am on the ferry.

Boats on the shore.

The dirt road narrowed.....

...and shot straight through the rice fields of south-central Laos.


Video pan of the fields.

This farmer was thrilled that we were taking pictures of his cows and pond. Michael C got a great pic of him saluting, and here they are inspecting it. He thanked us and shook our hands.

Rice fields. Most of Laos only gets one rice crop per year.

We arrived at this dusty crossroads thoroughly lost.

There we asked directions, which involved me reading names in awful Lao off of the map while they laughed and said they had no idea what I was talking about. Finally I hit the name of the town of "Nadi" which they understood. That way! they pointed. Off we went, but first we gassed up at this boondocks gas station. There a young girl fed us the gas from 55 gallon drums out of a hose. Despite the isolation, we met plenty of people who could manage broken English, and one or two who could converse.

We crossed the Nam Lik again on another ferry similar to the first.

What's going on here? I never found out.

Our crew, and the engine.

The following day we headed up to Vang Vieng, a town overrun with foreigners of every description, all behaving as if they had just been paroled after a half-century in prison. The town has become a major stop on the banana pancake circuit, filled with the dreadlock-and-braless crowd. In the restaurants, the TVs showed Friends, on an endless loop. Laos is also overrun by Chinese merchants, and all the places selling clothing, souvenirs, and tools, were run by Chinese, most from the same district in Hunan.

No comment.

Vang Vieng is in an area of lovely karst topography, and there are treks, tubing expeditions, climbing, hiking, and bike rentals available.

We did a boat ride on the river, a great way to start the next day...

...and headed back to Vientiane.

From there we flew to Phonsavon, a town on the famous Plain of Jars.

There are three Jar sites open to the public. As you can see from the sign, there are extensive unexploded ordnance clearing operations ongoing. During the Vietnam War the US bombed Laos, resulting in millions of unexploded bombs, cluster bomblets, and other munitions still remaining unexploded in the ground to this date, and for the foreseeable future. The bombs make it dangerous to clear land, and maim and kill hundreds each year in the area.

We visited Site 3 first, which necessitated 15 minute walk through cow pastures.

Site 3.

The Jars are in varying condition. All are empty, if they ever held anything.

The views across the beautiful hills of Laos are one of the best reasons to visit the area.

Michael C, with Jar.

Michael K, with Jar.

The Jar sites tend to be on hilltops, and the plain is so flat that a little relief gives the impression of immense distances.

Jar and top.

Jar and Laos, Site 2.

Michael Cannon views a bomb crater. The Lao communists hid out in the area, which was the scene of bitter see-saw fighting between the Lao factions in the anti-communist wars in the area. The sites are cut through with their trenches. The US bombed the Plain of Jars extensively, meaning that craters litter the area, and many of the sites were hit. I felt a deep sense of shame knowing that my nation had bombed these precious historical relics. Amazingly, there does not seem to be much resentment among the Lao people.

The road back to Phonsavon.

A local homestead.

Walking home.

Dinner. Ground pork fried in basil with other spices (Lao laap), rice, and tea.

A foggy morn in Phonsavon.

Site 1, the most extensive of the open sites. Note the bomb crater at the bottom left of the site. Scars of bombs, lingering after 40 years, carpet the mountains.

A Jar at Site 1.

Drinks for the thirsty tourist.

We also visited a small set of ruins, which we were told US bombs also hit.

A ruined stupa.

...and a Hmong village.

Boys at play in the Hmong village.

Michael C pitched in to help them grind sugar cane for juice....

...shown here dripping from the ripe cane.

Terraces in the dry season. In this area I saw little, if any, irrigation.

Laos. I'll be back.
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13 comments:

Ben Goren said...

Fantastic pics. Makes me want to go and have a look round myself. The following had me rolling in the aisles:

"The town has become a major stop on the banana pancake circuit, filled with the dreadlock-and-braless crowd."

"No comment"

Anonymous said...

Oh, come on Ben.... You know man... like the people there, man... like just have it all like, figured out and stuff... the only thing they are missing is like a drum circle or somethin'.

Marc said...

Wonderful! Michael, I was curious about the communication -- do the locals speak French?

soarhevn said...

And got to say Michael, those bike rides are doing wonders for you. You look even much different then when we saw you in early November.

Brock

Prince Roy said...

Prince Roy and Spicygirl don't even merit a shout-out in your Laos exclusive? Wow...

Michael Turton said...

Marc, I don't know if they spoke French, since I don't!

Todd said...

Looks like you guys had a blast! Excellent pictures, I really like the "Walking Home" photo.

jerome in vals said...

Bred and strong coffee, the most enduring legacies France left behind whether it be Indochina, Madagascar or West Africa.

Left behind, indeed. At more than € 0,75 apiece, none of the fancy bred on offer here can compare to a simple baguette bought in Dalat or on a dusty street in Tahoua, Niger.

It would be neat for those countries to offer on-the-job training trip packages to French bakers. Recently home-baked bred is all the craze here. A 15 year-long lag behind Japan.

Great photos. You make Laos look very enticing.

Anonymous said...

I really hope you beat that guy wearing the man-skirt down. After he expounded his theories on western hegemony evoking notions of 'the man' to you.

P. S. said...

Michael, really enjoyed the pics and narrative. Would like to have been there when you asked directions in the middle of nowhere...

Anonymous said...

back in time french called Laos a jungle country.. now it all gone.

What's going on here? I never found out.

1: goldwashing
2: pumpingout the drenage chanel to rice fields.
3: geting sand from river bank

Brunty said...

Excellent Michaeland what a trip on teh motorbikes, that is exploring.

Great pics and Lao is such a beautiful place but teh roads at times are so terrible.

Thanks for sharing

said...

I also live in Taiwan and also took a vacation to Laos. We seemed to have shared similar experiences. It is a shame Vang Vieng cannot live off the charm of its location and people exclusively, instead of pandering to the walking stereotypes I saw there.