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.

Lu Temple

Lu Temple

Muang Sing

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.

Stupa That Yxieng

Stupa That Yxieng

Pangthong

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.

Wat Chao Pha Kham Sing

Wat Chao Pha Kham Sing

Laos

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).

Morning market

Morning market

Oudomxai

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.

Chomphat Temple

Chomphat Temple

Laos

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.

While sailing along the Mekong

While sailing along the Mekong

Laos

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.

Caves Pack Old

Caves Pack Old

Laos

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.

The morning market

The morning market

Luang Prabang

At dawn for the begging of the monks, Phra That Khong Santi Chedi (Pagoda of Peace), Wat Nong Sikhunmeuang

We got up before dawn to go and see the suggestive begging of the monks.We visited the Phra That Khong Santi Chedi (Pagoda of Peace ), a great stupa built recently but which has quickly become one of the attractions of Laos. Nearby there is the Wat Nong Sikhunmeuang, a much simpler temple, which dates back to the early 1800s and is a reconstruction of the original pagoda of 1729, destroyed by a fire.
Begging monks

Begging monks

Luang Prabang

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.

Xieng Thong Buddha

Xieng Thong Buddha

Luang Prabang

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.

Kouang Si Waterfall

Kouang Si Waterfall

Laos

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.

National Museum

National Museum

Laos

Other temples of Luang Prabang: Wat Choumkhong and Wat Xieng Muan

The small Choumkhong Wat is surrounded by a splendid garden, full of beautiful statues; we visited it while the monks were eating their only daily meal. The Wat Xieng Muan temple has very rich paintings. In its surroundings, some monastic quarters were recovered and restored and now are used to teach to the new monks various disciplines such as painting, wood carving and sculpture.
Wat Choumkhong

Wat Choumkhong

Luang Prabang

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.

Temple Tart-Phat-Tich

Temple Tart-Phat-Tich

Luang Prabang

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!

Elephant Village

Elephant Village

Bang Xieng Lom

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.

Tat Kuang Si falls

Tat Kuang Si falls

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.

Elephant cave (Tham Sang)

Elephant cave (Tham Sang)

Laos

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.

Tham Chang Cave

Tham Chang Cave

Vang Vieng

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.

Ponsong Temple

Ponsong Temple

Laos

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.

Buddha Park

Buddha Park

Laos

Ventiane, Patuxai (Gate of Triumph), Wat Si Muang

The most important monument in Vientiane is the Patuxai (Gate of Triumph), which vaguely resembles the Parisian Arc de Triomphe. It is surrounded by beautiful gardens and it is a “must” for Laotians. Wat Si Muang is considered to be the abode of the guardian spirit of the city and the place where the phallic pillar of Vientiane (Khmer origin) is guarded. They trace its construction back to 1563 and it has been used for religious purposes for over thousand years.
Patuxai (Arc de Triomphe)

Patuxai (Arc de Triomphe)

Ventiane

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.

Wat Si Saket

Wat Si Saket

Ventiane

Ventiane, Pha That Luang (Golden Stupa)

I close my visit to Vientiane with the most important monument of the country, the Pha That Luang (Golden Stupa).The king ordered its construction in the middle of the sixteenth century. The great stupa is visible from afar, not only for its size but also because it is completely golden.Nearby, typical stalls were selling tourist products and I present some pictures to show their brightness.The visit continues in the trip named Southern Laos.

Tempio Wat Pha Phat Luang

Tempio Wat Pha Phat Luang

Ventiane

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.

Da Ventiane a Pakse

Da Ventiane a Pakse

Laos

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.

Cascate Tat Fan e Tat Lo

Cascate Tat Fan e Tat Lo

Laos

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 sito eco-turistico

Pha Xuam sito eco-turistico

Laos

Pha Xuam waterfall and ferry to Champasak

We visited the Pha Xuam waterfall before arriving on the banks of the Mekong river; then we crossed it by a local ferry and so we had the change to participate to the life of the local people.
Cascata Pha Xuam

Cascata Pha Xuam

Laos

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.

Antico complesso Khmer Wat Phu

Antico complesso Khmer Wat Phu

Laos

 

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.

Kingfisher eco lodge

Kingfisher eco lodge

Laos

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).

Ban Hatsay Khouon

Ban Hatsay Khouon

Laos

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.

Muang Khong

Muang Khong

Laos

Rural life in Muang Khong village where monks dedicate to gardening

The next day we did a walk in the village of Muang Khong. In addition to the usual scenes of rural life we were attracted by a temple where the monks were busy in a meticulous gardening.
Muang Khong Village

Muang Khong Village

Laos

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.

Isola di Don Khon

Isola di Don Khon

Laos

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.

Waterfall Khon Phapheng

Waterfall Khon Phapheng

Laos

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.

Hmong Ethnic group

Hmong Ethnic group

Laos

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.

Hmong ethnic group

Hmong ethnic group

Laos

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.

Yao ethnic group

Yao ethnic group

Laos

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.

Thai ethnic group

Thai ethnic group

Laos

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.

Akha ethnic group

Akha ethnic group

Laos

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.

Alak ethnic group

Alak ethnic group

Laos

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.

Katu ethnic group

Katu ethnic group

Laos

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.

Khamu ethnic group

Khamu ethnic group

Laos

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.

Khmu ethnic group

Khmu ethnic group

Laos

Visiting a village of Kanu Akha ethnic group

I was not able to identify any ethnic group that matches the name given to me:” kanu Akha”. Not even  searching the name “khanu” or “khan” followed by “Akha”. I can only conclude that this group come from the ethnic group Akha already described in the photo-gallery nr 5.
Kanu Akha ethnic group

Kanu Akha ethnic group

Laos

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.

Landlam ethnic group

Landlam ethnic group

Laos

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.

Mong ethnic group

Mong ethnic group

Laos

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.

Phonsaad ethnic group

Phonsaad ethnic group

Laos