Sunday, February 26, 2017

Hmong Hill Tribe

The village of Phaton where we slept the night
Paul and I signed up for an overnight trek and homestay at a Hmong village high in the mountains above Nong Khiaw. The Hmong people are one of the larger tribal groups in SE Asia having migrated south from China in the 17th century.

Children, hoping for treats, are ready to welcome us
Children seemed to have the run of the village as most adults were out working in the fields when we arrived. They were a little shy of the five tall strangers who showed up with gifts, but soon they were chasing the balloons we brought around the village.

Rather than candy, we brought balloons, pens and notebooks as gifts

We began the 2nd day of our trek high above the clouds

The 7-hour trek home took us through bamboo forests and rice fields

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Nong Khiaw

 From Luang Prabang Paul and I took a 3 hour bus ride to Nong Khiaw, a town on the banks of the river called Nam Ou. We had heard that it was in a beautiful karst mountain setting and "off the beaten track". We weren't disappointed!

 Each morning we woke to a fog that settles in over the river valley. By midday the sun had burned the fog away revealing the panorama of mountains that ring the town.

We made Nong Khiaw our base for this finally leg of our journey through SE Asia. We took a couple of excursions up river to visit smaller villages, waterfalls and a remote hill tribe living high in the mountains. Our trek to stay overnight with the Hmong people of Ban Phatam will be the subject of my next blog.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Luang Prabang

One of the many Wats or Buddhist temples in Luang Prabang
Our boat journey down the Mekong River terminated in Luang Prabang, a small city in northern Laos. Once the country's royal capital, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site rich with architectural, cultural and religious significance.

Setting off from our guesthouse to see the sites
It was Chinese New Year when we arrived and though the city is a maze of guesthouses, we had difficulty finding accommodations. Despite this being a tourist mecca there wasn't the typical hyper-activity of other Asian cities we had visited; there was leafy tranquility about the streets that was very attractive to me.

Monks receive alms each morning from both locals and visitors
Buddhism plays a large role in Laosian life. Many boys become monks at an early age and the wat, or temple, is at the centre of community life.

Old bombs decorate the courtyard of the UXO Lao Information Centre
Laos has a big problem of un-exploded ordinance (UXO), old bombs and land mines littering the countryside. Every year more people are killed or injured by this menace but at the current rate, it will take many more decades to clear them all away.

The travertine pools of Kuang Si
One of the most beautiful places that I visited was the Kuang Si waterfall, just outside Luang Prabang. Over time the calcium in the water has created a series of terraced pools that are a delight to swim in. It's a popular destination, so if you go, go early!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Long Boating

Sunset over long boats moored on the Mekong
Travelling by river on a long boat is a bit slower than taking the bus, but much more comfortable - and fun! You have time to get to know your fellow travellers while watching the local scenery drift slowly by.

On our overland journey from Thailand to Laos, we took two river journeys: a 4 hour ride down the Kok River from Tha Ton to Chiang Rai; and a two-day trip down the mighty Mekong, from the Laos/Thai border to lovely Luang Prabang.

7 passengers board the boat to Chiang Rai: 2 Americans, 2 Canucks, a Frenchwoman, and local mother and child

On the 2-day trip down the Mekong, we shared the ride with dozens of other travellers from all over the world
(Note: click any photo to expand its size.)

A flock of stilts fly by
A gorgeous kingfisher 
The Kok River runs through an area of tribal villages, farms and a National Park.

I was fortunate to see some interesting birds along the riverbanks,

...and the Lahu village we visited was holding a New Year celebration and the villagers invited us to join them!

More beer for Paul

Sharing beer and loud disco: Lahu girls like to party!

Water buffalo like mud baths but also bathe in the rivers to cool off
The Mekong carves its way though many karst cliffs and and mountains ranges
Morning light on the Mekong