Laos was finally open to tourists and recovering from the illegal US American invasion and bombing, although the effects of the latter have remained for many years. I traveled to the border from Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong in Thailand to cross the Mekong to Huay Xai in Laos to spend the night.
The “slow boats” to Luang Prabang left around 9 in the morning; there are speedboats, but no reason to hurry and it was much nicer to travel slowly and take in the scenery and ambiance.
The slow boats also carry cargo, so there are frequent stops along the way. The trip entails two stops for the night in Pakbeng and Bn Khon Kat. The villagers seemed quite interested in seeing the foreigners on the boats, but were also waiting for deliveries and to send things via the boats.
Monks making their rounds
Boy working on the boat
Our backpacks were on the roof, but they assured us that they would not fall off.
I originally thought that the villagers would be more curious about the foreigners traveling on the boats, but that was restricted to renting beds for the night and their makeshift stands providing dinner and breakfast. The tourist business had apparently already given them a good income, because many had satellite dishes for watching Thai television shows. Since the languages are very similar, they had no problem understanding Thai.
It was a wonderful and relaxing trip down the Mekong to Luang Prabang, which still retained its old charm with sundry beautiful Buddhist temples. The town was still rather sleepy (no Chinese, Eastern European or Russian tourists yet) and a perfect place to hang out for a few days and visit its temples.
Okay, enough temple pictures, but just to show that it was not always that peaceful there:
Nearby across the river is Wat Tham Xieng Maen, a limestone cave that goes back 100 m. It is filled with many Buddha images, often taken from temples that have been destroyed or abandoned.
A high-speed railway linking Vientiane (and most likely Bangkok) with Kunming in China, passing through Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang, is scheduled to be completed in 2021. That will be the definitive end of peaceful days in Luang Prabang, so I especially glad that I experienced it before the deluge.
On to Vang Vieng, which later became a party town for young Europeans and North Americans: lots of drinking and drugs with consequent deaths. The Laotians eventually put a stop to that, and now there are plenty of outdoor activities such as zip lines, kayaking, rafting, etc. The river had very little water when I was there, so floating down the river in a rubber tube was very slow and less than exciting.
Vientiane as a last stop.
Decaying French colonial buildings
Drinks at the river separating Laos from Thailand: I met a bunch of Chinese construction workers who were taking a break from their work up north at the Chinese border. They really like my t-shirt with the lettering 洋鬼子 (Foreign Devil), laughed a lot and shared their food and drink with me.
I discovered these strange photos of statues of monks in my folder with my pictures from Laos, but I cannot remember whether I saw them there, later around Bangkok where I got my flight to Taipei, or in Taiwan itself. If anybody knows, I would appreciate the information.