20-day trip to Laos
Visiting Huay Xai, Luang Namtha, Muang Sing, Pangthong, Nam Ha, Oudomxai, Luang Prabang, Ban Xang Hai, Pak Ou caves, Tat Kuang Si waterfalls, Van Vieng, Phou Khoun, Ventiane, Ang Nam Ngum artificial lake, Pakse, Tat Fan waterfall, Tat Lo waterfall, Pha Xuam, Champasak, Kingfisher, Don Khong Isle, Muang Khong village, Don Khon island, Li Phi waterfalls, Khon Phapheng waterfalls and the villages of the following ethnic groups: Hmong, Yao, Thai, Akha, Alak, Katu, Kamu, Khmu, Kanu Akha, Landlam, Mong, Phonsaad.
Northern Laos: Huay Xai, Luang Namtha, Muang Sing visiting Lu Temple and the local market
Due to the length of the trip (20 days) and to the vastness of the territory visited, I have divided the presentation of Laos in the following order: northern Laos, central Laos and southern Laos. I also added a page in which I document the Laotian ethnic villages.
We entered Laos by crossing the Mekong river with a small boat in Huay Xai. After bureaucratic delays for our visas, we began our adventure in Laos. Along the way, we had lunch in a restaurant that I present for my readers. In Luang Namtha we wandered in the streets encountering a street restaurant and a stall of the local country fun-fair. I also present an old documentary photo to show typical ancient costumes. We moved to Muang Sing where we visited the Buddhist Lu Temple. Before dawn, the following day we visited the local market that I wanted to document widely being the first real contact with Laotian life.
Pangthong (border with China), Stupa That Yxieng, Nam Ha protected area
We arrived at Pangthong where there is the border with China. Near the National Museum of Luan Prabang we had the opportunity to buy some local products. Then we visited the Stupa That Yxieng.
The next day we went to the Nam Ha protected area, which occupies more than two thousand square kms. We crossed a small part of the area proceeding in the rice fields and passing through a forest of gum trees. We had lunch in the middle of the forest using huge leaves as dishes; the lunch had been prepared by our guides.
Nam Ngeam village (Tai Dam), Stupa That Phum Pouk, Temple Chao Pha Kham Sing
When we finished our frugal meal, we went to the village Nam Ngeam (Tai Dam). Then we climbed up a hill to visit the Stupa That Phum Pouk which dates back to 1600 and is considered a masterpiece of Laotian architecture. The next day, on the way to Oudomxai, we met a market in which they sold bats, mice and frogs. Before arriving to Oudomxai, we stopped to visit the Chao Kham Pha Sing Temple which was very interesting, even for the presence of several young monks.
Oudomxai visiting the local market and the one for the Chinese customers
Oudomxai is a flourishing market town thanks to the proximity with China, for this reason it has important commercial markets. We visited a market that serves both local customers and Chinese ones (we visited it at dawn).
Wat Chom Phet (or Chomphat), Pak Ben Hotel and a ride on the back of the elephants
Nearby, on top of a hill which allows a wonderful view of the river and the city, we visited the beautiful Wat Chom Phet (or Chomphat Temple) that was built in 1800 by the Thai army.
We moved to Pak Ben Hotel located on the banks of the Mekong River.
In the afternoon we made a pleasant ride on the back of an elephant.
Sailing on Mekong river, stop at Ban Xang Hai village where they produce Laotian whisky, called “lao-lao”
We embarked on a nice, comfortable and fast boat that brought us to Luang Prabang.
Along the way, we could admire beautiful landscapes that I photographed until the arrival which took place at sunset.
Along the way we made a few stops, one at the village of Ban Xang Hai, famous because most of its people are concerned with the production of “lao – lao”, the Laotian whiskey.
Pak Ou caves
On the opposite bank of the Mekong, near the” whiskey village”, there are the Pak Ou caves. There are two caves, a lower one and an upper one, inside of them are preserved countless Buddha statues of all kinds and all sizes.
Luang Prabang, city markets (in the morning and in the evening)
Luang Prabang is considered one of the treasures of Laos so that UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1995.
I open the photo gallery of the town showing the two city markets, the first one which takes place in the morning and the other which takes place in the evening.
At dawn for the begging of the monks, Phra That Khong Santi Chedi (Pagoda of Peace), Wat Nong Sikhunmeuang
Luang Prabang visiting Wat Xieng Thong with the mosaic of “tree of life”, the Sanctuary of the Reclining Buddha, Tripitaka library
Wat Xieng Thong (Temple of the Golden City) is the most important temple of Luang Prabang dating back to 1560.
It consists of several buildings, such as the Sim on whose back side is represented the “tree of life” made by a mosaic, the Sanctuary of the Reclining Buddha, the Tripitaka library.
Kouang waterfall and the homonymous temple, back to Luang Prabang for a walk
The day was dedicated to visiting the Kouang falls, located on the outskirts of Luang Prabang.
The waterfall is formed by a series of jumps on the limestone rock that makes the water appear magnificently turquoise. Nearby there is the homonymous temple.
Back in Luang Prabang, we spoilt ourselves a tour of the city during which I could catch some of its curious aspects.
Wat Mai, Ho Kham (Royal Palace Museum)
The Wat Mai is a very rich temple with an imposing construction enhanced by a front porch with beautiful decorated columns.
The Ho Kham (Royal Palace Museum) was built as residence of the royal family and transformed, after their exile, in the National Museum.
The building is interesting from the architectural point of view. Inside noteworthy are the large entrance hall, the king’s audience hall and the royal apartment rooms.
Numerous works of art are on display; the most important is a Buddha (made of gold, silver and bronze) which weighs more than 50 kg and is considered to have been manufactured in Sri Lanka in the first century AD.
Other temples of Luang Prabang: Wat Choumkhong and Wat Xieng Muan
Walk on the other side of Mekong river, Luang Prabang Temple, Chua-Phat-Tich and sunset
We spent the day visiting the opposite bank of the Mekong where we could see many small temples, craft activities, beautiful villages and many children. Quite interesting also the rural life near the river.
After crossing again the Mekong, we visited the Chua Phat Tich Temple located right on top of the high bank from which we enjoyed the beautiful sunset.
Ban Xieng Lom, elephant safari with a ride in the river
We arrived at Ban Xieng Lom resort on the banks of a river. We enjoyed an elephant safari which included a ride in the river. Very exciting!
Boat ride on the river and visit to Tat Kuang Si waterfall
In the afternoon, with a fast boat we sailed up the river. We could admire beautiful rural scenes along the way.
When we arrived, we found the beautiful Tat Kuang Si waterfalls.
The visit continues in the trip named Central Laos.
Central Laos: Phou Khoun market, Vang Vieng, Elephant Cave (Tham Sang), boat ride on Nam Song river
After the visit of the northern Laos, we began the visit of the central Laos.
We left Luang Prabang and moved towards Vang Vieng.
Along the way we stopped at the market in Phou Khoun.
In Vang Vieng, first we visited the Elephant Cave (Tham Sang) with some Buddha statues and Buddha’s footprint, then we went up the river with small boats.
We enjoyed beautiful rural scenes and we saw many young tourists sailing down the river on big inner tubes; there was the possibility to rest in numerous “bars” that sold a little of everything.
Vang Vieng, Tham Jang cave, towards Vientiane stop at the fish market of Thahua
Early in the morning, we visited the Tham Jang, the most famous cave in the area, located at the end of a long and tiring flight of steps. Inside, thanks to a good lighting we could see beautiful limestone formations. Those who wanted had the possibility to swim in an underground river.
We began to travel the road that would take us to Vientiane, the capital of Laos.
We made a stop at Thahua to visit the fish market.
Ponsong temple and artificial lake of Ang Nam Ngum
During our journey towards Vientiane, we stopped in a small town and visited the Ponsong Temple. In the afternoon, we went for a boat ride on the artificial lake of Ang Nam Ngum.
Ventiane, Buddha’s park (Xieng Khuan) and National Museum of Laos
Once in Vientiane, as first thing, we visited the Xieng Khuan (Buddha’s park). This is a park with several Buddhist and Hindu sculptures made in cement. The idea came to Luang Pu, a famous shaman and yogi master.
In the afternoon we visited the National Museum of Laos. The main complex is interesting and so are the gardens that surround it. Inside there are memories of the revolutionary struggle of the past.
Ventiane, Patuxai (Gate of Triumph), Wat Si Muang
Ventiane, Wat Si Saket, Wat Ho Phra Keo
Wat Si Saket is the oldest temple in Vientiane. In the inner cloister there are more than three hundred statues of Buddha made of different materials . Most of the statues come from Luang Prabang and date back from the fifteenth to the sixteenth century. Inside there are over seven thousand Buddha images.
The Haw Pha Kaeo was built to house the famous Emerald Buddha, and today is a museum of sacred art in which it is strictly forbidden to take pictures.
Ventiane, Pha That Luang (Golden Stupa)
Southern Laos: from Ventiane to Pakse, coffee plantation in Lung Song and free shots
We left Vientiane in the central area of Laos flying to Pakse to start the third and last part of our visit in Southern Laos.
I documented the most curious and interesting things met along the way.
We also stopped to visit Lung Song coffee plantation.
Flowers of eco-tourism site of Pha Xuam, waterfall of Tat Fan and Tat Lo waterfall
We stopped for lunch in the eco-tourism site of Pha Xuam; I present the beauty of the site enriched with wonderful flowers.
In the afternoon we visited the Tat Fan waterfall, which is considered one of the most attractive waterfalls in Laos, and Tat Lo waterfall which is less important.
Eco - tourism Pha Xuam site, reconstruction of a typical ancient village
The next morning, we went to visit the eco- tourism Pha Xuam site. Typical houses have been rebuilt with original furniture and furnishings , while the indigenous wear their traditional costumes.
Pha Xuam waterfall and ferry to Champasak
Ancient Khmer Wat Phu complex
Near the town of Champasak there is the ancient Wat Phu, a Khmer temple complex. It is preceded by two huge ponds followed by two “pavilions of the veneration”; going up a steep staircase, we reached the highest level with the triad of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma (Trimurti), the crocodile and elephant’s stones, the sacred spring, and the meditation cell.
Crossing the Mekong river, eco lodge in Kingfisher, elephant ride visiting Phu Asa (the Laotian Stonehenge)
The next morning we crossed the Mekong river again; I describe what we saw until the arrival to Kingfisher eco lodge situated in a very good location and run by an Italian and his Laotian wife.
In the afternoon we went for an elephant ride and reached the top of a hill where it stands an archaeological site consisting of brick and slate columns placed on the sides of a rectangular space.
Laotian people like to compare this site to Stonehenge.
Sailing towards the Islanf of Don Khong, visiting the Ban Hatsay Khouon temple
We left towards Don Khong island. Along the way, we stopped to visit the Temple Ban Hatsay Khouon. It is located on top of a hill with beautiful views of the area of the “Si Phan Don” (The 4000 islands).
Arrival to Don Khong island and walk among the people of Muang Khong village
We arrived at Don Khong in time to make a walk; in this photo gallery I illustrate scenes of the life of the island.
Rural life in Muang Khong village where monks dedicate to gardening
Landscapes during our sailing towards Don Khon island and scenes of life on the island
We embarked and transfered to the island of Don Khon which we reached after more than an hour and a half of sailing with beautiful scenes of fishermen’s life.
In the afternoon, we went for a long walk along the shores of the island with beautiful landscapes and typical scenes of rural life.
Li Phi waterfalls, dolphins of Mekong, Khon Phapheng waterfall
We visited Li Phi Waterfalls that, as a matter of fact, are a “fiery series of rapids”. In the water, there were several fishermen who defied the violence of the water for fishing and placing large bamboo nets.
In the southern part of the island of Don Khon, where the water is deeper, being lucky it is possible to see the Mekong dolphins. We were lucky and we could see them .
We concluded our long journey in Laos by visiting the Khon Phapheng waterfall that is the most impressive one of all the Mekong waterfalls. Indeed it was impressive to see that huge amount of water that spouted with great violence against the rocks below. That same afternoon, we returned to Pakse and went to Thailand.
The visit in Laos is finished but I propose a fourth and final part in which I have collected images of the numerous ethnic villages visited; each photo-gallery regards a different ethnic group.
Laotian Ethnic villages: visiting four villages of the Hmong Ethnic group
Before describing the ethnic villages I must write an introduction: the ethnic groups have multinational origins, in fact they may come from Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma, China and Laos. Practicing nomadism they are divided into a huge variety of groups and subgroups, so it is difficult to outline clear profiles, with regard to their names too. I was able to find some information, even if uncompleted, about some ethnic groups and, on the contrary, nothing about others.
The Hmong Ethnic group, in Laos, is the most numerous group and they are known to be aggressive and belligerent. Their religion is still the Animism of their ancestors. Their way of life is influenced by the altitude of their settlements. Their main activity is the cultivation of non-irrigated rice and of corn grown in soils obtained by burning the forests. They have the custom to dye their clothes blue indigo.
Visiting two more villages of theHmong ethnic group
Since it is a Hmong ethnic group again, I repeat the description of the previous gallery:
in Laos it is the most numerous group and they are known to be aggressive and belligerent. Their religion is still the Animism of the ancestors. Their way of life is influenced by the altitude of their settlements. Their main activity is the cultivation of non-irrigated rice and of corn grown in soils obtained by burning the forests. They have the custom to dye their clothes blue indigo.
Visiting a village of Yao ethnic group and three villages of Lanten ethnic group
The Yao ethnic group is also known by the name of Lanten ethnic group. This is an ethnic subgroup whose homeland is China. The first migration waves date back to 1300. They are known for the beauty and elegance of the women who wore austere indigo robes; moreover, since puberty, women have the habit of shaving their eyebrows.
This ethnic group is closely related to the Hmong one.
Visiting a village of Black Tai ethnic group and two villages of Thai Lu ethnic group
The Thai ethnic group is divided into various groups (including the Black Thai and Thai Lu); they distinguished themselves by the colour of the traditional dresses. They settle in sedentary agglomerations, placed at the foot of the hills, near wooded areas with water and hunting reserves. They still follow ancient animist beliefs together with the Theravada Buddhism.
Visiting two villages of Akha ethnic group (of tibetan-burmese origin)
The Akha ethnic group is a small ethnic group of Tibetan – Burmese origin, located on the hills in the area of Muang Sing. They are simple, merry and social people. They wear clothes made of handmade cotton dyed indigo. Men wear large trousers, a jacket and a flat turban. Women wear a typical cap embellished with coins, silver discs, pendants and beads. They wear skirts long to the knee and a sort of white spats on their calves.
Visiting three villages of Alak ethnic group (same austro-asiatic ethnic group of Mon-Kemer)
The Alak ethnic group belongs to smaller ones of the same ethnicity of Austro – Asiatic Mon-Khmer.
Little is known of their origins and they are supposed to come from the central Vietnamese area.
They live in villages usually formed by a minimum of 10 to a maximum of 60 families. They dedicate to agriculture and their main crop is rice. Not only they eat agricultural products but mainly eat fish and mushrooms. They practice animism and, in most of the villages, there are shamans who take care of the sick, make propitiatory ceremonies and predict the future.
Visiting a village of Katu ethnic group
The Katu ethnic group lives mainly in the Bolaven table-land; in their villages, the houses are made of straw and palm leaves and have a circular shape. Women are loosing the habit of having a facial tattoo.
This ethnic group is known for honoring the spirits by sacrificing water buffalos.
Visiting three villages of Khamu ethnic group
The Khamu ethnic group is the most numerous group of the ethno-linguistic family of Austro- Asiatic Mon-Khmer.
They practice rice farming, hunting, gathering of wild fruits and tubers. The social structure is based on the family unit. They worship the ancestors from which they draw a great spiritual strength.
Visiting two villages of Khmu ethnic group (of Mon Khmer origin)
The Khmu ethnic group finds its origin is Mon Khmer. To give an idea of the mixing between the various ethnic groups I list other names which define them: kho mu, kmhmu, khomu, khamu, mun xen, xa cau, cau kha, cam mu, mu kho. Therefore they come from the Khamu group described in the previous gallery.
Visiting a village of Kanu Akha ethnic group
Visiting a village (Ban Namleu) of Landlam ethnic group
I could not even identify the Landlam group; this name was given to me to identify the people of the village of Ban Namleu which I visited just before entering the town of Luang Namtha.
I can only make one comment: considering the costumes worn, this is certainly an ethnic group linked to the Hmong group.
Visiting two villages of Mong ethnic group
Even about this ethnic group, named Mong, I could not find any reference. I believe they belong to the Hmong group to which I invite you to refer.
Visiting a village of Phonsaad ethnic group
The last ethnic group is named Phonsaad; nothing could be found about them. I can only say that the visited village is located in the southern Laos, near the area of the four thousand islands. It was a very poor village, almost deserted, and the access stairs were detached to prevent the entrance to animals.