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"Sabaidee" Laos (February & March 2014)
 
When you drive through Laos on a bicycle or a motorbike there are hundreds of happy, joyful children waving and smiling at you and shouting "Sabaidee" which means "Hello" in Lao. Their happiness is intense and honest and it is impossible not to smile back. Of all the Southeast Asian countries we visited Laos had the happiest, kindest and most laid-back people. Life is really relaxed here and everything is a bit slower. When you walk along the street there is nobody trying to talk you into buying something and even the TukTuk drivers don't bother you as much as in other countries.
 
We entered Laos in the very south and our first stop was "4000 Islands" in the Mekong delta. We did not count them all ;-) but as the name says there are supposed to be a lot of islands in this region. We decided to stay on Don Khong which is the biggest of the islands but at the same time much more quiet than the two other permanently inhabited islands. We could really feel the slower pace of life here. Hectic is a word that does not exist and when you order your food or drinks you should always have a good portion of patience... when you order something in Laos it is pretty common that somebody will leave the restaurant on a (motor)bike to come back later with a bag of ingredients for your order.
 
One day we rented a bicycle and cycled 25km around the southern part of the island. On the road we crossed more goats and water buffalos than cars. As we left rather early for the bike tour the temperatures were pleasant. In Southeast Asia we generally got into a rather early day rhythm. We always tried to get up between 6:30 and 7:30 so we could benefit from the lower temperatures in the morning.
 
cycling around Don Khong
cycling around Don Khong. Notice the butterfly in the picture :-)
 
Besides a boat trip to Don Det and Don Khone we relaxed a lot and enjoyed the nice balcony of our guest house over the Mekong river.
 
On our way northwards we had stops in Pakse and Thakhek but these two towns had nothing worthwhile mentioning and besides spending a nice time with traveler-friends we did not do much there.
 
In the small town Ban Na Hin we rented a motorbike and drove to Kong Lor - a small village from where you can enter the huge Kong Lor cave. We had a very good timing because as we arrived in the village the people were harvesting tobacco. The atmosphere was very joyful and the people were happy to turn their hard work of the last months into profit. We were told that on the same field they grow tobacco in the dry season and rice in the wet season.
 
tobacco harvesting
the villagers harvesting tobacco
 
The next day we took a tour into the Kong Lor cave. This huge cave has a river flowing through it, is 7km long and you can exit it at the other side which made it kind of special.
 
Our next station was Vientiane - the capital of Laos. We stayed there for some days - met our Austrian friends again, had delicious food, tried to get rid of the bed bugs (German: Wanzen) with help of the freezer and the bath-tub of our hotel, explored the city and in general enjoyed life :-)
 
From Vientiane we took a night bus to Luang Prabang - a lovely little city with a wonderful historic center surrounded by the Mekong and Nam Khang river. There are lovely old buildings and uncountable temples and monasteries in this charming city where we ended up staying for one week.
 
Luang Prabang - Haw Kham (Royal Palace)
Luang Prabang - Haw Kham (Royal Palace)
 
When you wonder through Luang Prabang you will see dozens of orange-dressed monks and every morning they pilgrim along the streets of Luang Prabang to collect alms. The monks (and monk students) are very thirsty for knowledge and eager to practice english. One day we went to a temple to find a Geocache and after the monk student showed it to us - it was hidden inside a Stupa, somewhere we would never have looked without the permission of a monk. Afterwards he spoke to us for half an hour to practice his English and to learn more about Europe. He was surprised how many foreigners come to "his" temple looking for a tiny plastic box (the Geocache).
 
Next to Luang Prabang are some amazing waterfalls. We rented a motorbike and drove to the Kuang Si waterfall early in the morning (once again we went early to avoid the masses). You are allowed to swim in some pools and the water is much cooler than you would expect and very refreshing. Although we had already seen several amazing waterfalls on our journey around the world this one did not fail to amaze us - it was very elegant and gentle with many shallow pools on different levels.
 
Kuang Si Waterfalls
Kuang Si Waterfall
 
On the main street of old Luang Prabang is a square where there are about 20 shops selling delicious food and drinks - we ended up enjoying 8 Sandwiches, 9 Pancakes and 13 fruit shakes there :-)
 
Luang Prabang fruit market
delicious shakes, sandwiches and pancakes in Luang Prabang
 
After a wonderful week it was time to move on to our next (and last) destination in Laos - Vang Vieng. This town used to be a hardcore party town for years and after many people died being drunk (mostly tubing on the river) the government shut down many of the bars. Apparently drunk people behaved very rude and bad in the past. Probably as a result the locals in Vang Vieng were the unfriendliest we met in entire Laos.
 
With its limestone formations this town reminded us of the Halong Bay. The landscape was beautiful but unluckily it was very hazy. You could tell it had been a long time since the last rain as the landscape was very dry - much drier than we expected.
 
We had a wonderful time in Laos and enjoyed the country and its very friendly, peaceful, relaxed people. As nature/landscape lovers we had the feeling it would have been better to visit Laos right after the rainy season in October or November.
 
 
more photos in the gallery
 
 
NOTES & ANECDOTES
 
in Southeast Asia we have the feeling that they always try to place the bus station the furthest away possible from town center. We guess the reason behind that is that the TukTuk drivers can earn more money.
 
if you only have to tell your fruit shake vendor "one same same" you have probably been at the same place for a longer time ;-) Our absolute favorite: Mango-Passionfruit!
 
as soon as cities (like for example Luang Prabang) have their own airport we recognized two effects:
1) more Chinese tourists
2) more tourists with a higher budget. As a result the prices rise compared to the rest of the country.