24th October 2014 Entered Laos with an easy border crossing (see travel notes) reached our first town, had lunch, booked a hotel and Judy is now asleep 3.30pm. I think it will take a few days rest to get over the China Experience.
25th October 2014 Laos is jungle, just as we imagined it to be. It’s hot, humid in what would be our mid autumn although they only have a wet and dry season. This is the start of the dry season but we have already had plenty of rain.
After two nights R&R and clean up in a hotel we motored south east to reach Muang Ngoy which is in a beautiful valley. It is a tourist place with many pale faces in the streets. They all look miserable and wont even return a wave. I miss China already!
This area and a little further south was involved in the Vietnam war with carpet bombing of villages, defoliation and still many land mines. You are warned not to go off the beaten track.
We found a camp by a stream (thank you Troopy Tracks) near a cave, apparently used by the military which we will explore tomorrow.
26th October 2014 The cave was very interesting. To get there I had two eight-year-old Laotian girls to guide me. The bridge had been washed away and only a log replaced it as we trekked through you’re typical, steamy jungle, already 7am. The cave itself had a long concrete staircase to get to the entrance but in the war days it would have been a ladder. It was quite a complex, able to house two hundred men. It had separate vaults such as the Governors room, police room, etc. Some bush furniture was still intact.
As I am now elderly my Laotian guides held my hands through the darker sections of the cave.
And onwards to Luang Prabang which is a real tourist mecca with more Caucasians than we’d seen for months.
This was a real tonic after the rush of China and we bumped into Rob and Heidi, a Swiss couple from Our Convoy. We did lunch and had the first salad roll since Sydney, Just Great. Found a spot to free camp overlooking the Mekong right in restaurant land, had a meal and unlaxed.
We met a lone French overlander, François , also in a troopy and exchanged travel tales.
27th October 2014 What a great day. It started with our first Western breakfast for about a year, checked the local market (non tourist) and headed for the Kuang Si Waterfall some thirty K’s south. A stunning series of cascades with boutique pools for swimming all with clear azure water culminating in a big waterfall at the top. I’m guessing now, 300 metres, not man made.
As an added bonus a bear preservation shelter was also there. I was surprised that bears would live in such latitudes but there they are.
These bears are being decimated to provide bile for Chinese medicine. I also seem to recall Rhino horn, ivory and other exotic Chinese remedies. All of these can be replaced by other chemicals, they are myths and the superstitious beliefs are now making animals extinct.
Not enough beauty we then looked for the Elephant restoration park and we finally found it at about 3pm. It is actually a resort, albeit, with the high moral stance of trying to save the ever dwindling elephant population and also looking after the old elephants, too old to do any more forestry work.
The place was almost deserted, we wandered around the manicured gardens and had a perfect couple of drinks in the cool of the shade, overlooking a river and flat lands as the sun went down.
Now, finally, getting over a bad cough through the high altitudes I have cracked and taken antibiotics, in the words of James Brown, I feel good.
29th October 2014 Reached the town of Phonsavan, the night before, which is known for the plain of jars, a two thousand year old archaeological site which is a mystery to this day. The plain has the added quirk that it had the bejesus bombed out of it during the Vietnam War, with huge craters within this unique site. Laos suffered badly during his war and there are still many unexploded ordinance lying around just waiting for you to tread on them and we are warned to keep to the beaten track.
The rest of the day we travelled southeast through beautiful mountainous areas and small, poor villages, to reach a spot on a river somewhere on the way to Thailand. We have decided not to go to Vientiane.
31st October 2014 Camped under the Friendship Bridge No 2 (No.1 is at Vientiane) at Savannakhet, applied for a 60-day visa and got a 90-day visa for Thailand (see travel notes). Had lunch at a nearby lake in one of a series of grass huts right on the water. The food was true Lao with some very unusual offerings most of which could be identified such as miniature fried fish, various native sausage, some strange eggs and seafoods. After this I fell asleep.
In the afternoon we found a dress shop for Judy which she had mentally bookmarked previously. She picked out some material that she liked and we haggled down the price to about AUD$100.00 and went to the ATM before returning to find that the price was in fact AUD$1000.00. Woops!
Next-door was a miniature tractor shop, which they use on their small farms and I could have bought one for just US$1500.00.
Evening now and we are having dinner in a series of grass huts right on the water, in town this time.
The road from Luang Prabang to here was very scenic and good bitumen, I would recommend this route.