laos 4: phonsavan—dead cats, freezing nights and the plain of jars


I will never forget Phonsavan. It is a strange town—in the middle of absolutely nowhere an entire congregation of ugly cement and brick buildings flung far away from wide expanses of brown, barren, dusty roads.

It took me nine long gruelling hours to reach this remote outpost, driving endlessly through convoluted winding roads hugging blue-green hills high up in the skies till I could taste my breakfast in my mouth over and over again. Moral of the ride: Never have bacon and egg bagels before driving off to nowhere!

Phonsavan is the main town of Xieng Khouang province, one of the poorest provinces of an already poor country. The town was established in the 1970s and sprawls out from a meaningless centre with no plan or direction. Public transport is limited and sporadic. It is illegal to rent your own vehicle here. None of the streets are named or at least the names are not used. There are no public phones and the weather is bitingly, freezingly, heartlessly cold. Phonsavan is neither friendly nor unfriendly. It just doesn’t care at all. Continue reading

laos 3: sacred chants and harmony in luang prabang


Luang Prabang resonates with sacred chants and harmony. The various layers of life in this charming, medieval, religious town blend seamlessly into each other to create a complete whole. From the saffron robed monks going about their daily tasks to the local Lao whose lives revolve around the wats; from the night market which sells indigenous handicrafts to the thronging tourists, to the tourists themselves, mature and sensitive to the spirit of Luang Prabang. Nothing jars here. Nothing irks. Every aspect of this palm fringed, sleepy, former royal capital by the Mekong is in peace with itself. Continue reading

laos 2: vang vieng, a backpacker’s and non-backpacker’s paradise


Room with a view
Vang Vieng’s main claim to fame is the view from my hotel room. It is beautiful. The blue green karst hills towering over the Nam Song river is like a Chinese silk painting; the mountains most dramatic and spectacular at sunrise and sunset when the mist and blackness of the night lift to reveal nature in all its pristine beauty.

Vang Vieng’s other claim to fame is as a backpacker’s paradise. There are thousands of young Americans and Europeans whiling away their days here, floating endlessly in hollow tubes down the river and downing countless bottles of beer along the way. There are so many of them that they form their own little commune, watching reruns of ‘Friends’ at the restaurants, chatting on the internet, and partying late into the night, high on cheap whisky. It is not a pretty sight—a foreign self-absorbed world totally unconnected to Laos or the Lao people. But maybe I am just old fashioned in my ideas of travel … 🙂 Continue reading

laos 1: vientiane, first-last impressions


First impressions
I have to remind myself that I have been in Laos for less than 36 hours. It feels like a very long time. Everything and everyone is welcoming and simple. No traffic, no noise, no cell phones, no crowds, no garish modernisms. The pace quieter, the days longer, the moments richer. Continue reading