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Down the Mekong -
Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia & Singapore
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Laos

As we continued our trip through the heart of Southeast Asia, we had an adventure filled with vibrant cultures, breathtaking landscapes and moments that will linger in our memories for a lifetime.

Our expedition began with a two-day boat trip down the Mekong River, covering 300 kilometers from Huay Xai to the enchanting city of Luang Prabang. The Mekong, originating in Tibet and winding through several countries, revealed its diverse landscapes, and we marveled at its serene beauty. Accompanied by about 30 fellow travelers, we spent most of our time at the stern, taking in the remote river scenery and sharing stories with a delightful couple from the UK and a warm family from the Netherlands.

We docked for the night in a charming French hotel overlooking the Mekong, a former plantation that added historical charm to our stay. The next morning, after a delightful breakfast, we resumed our journey, ultimately covering 185 miles over the two days. The river, with its swift current, was surprisingly quiet, interrupted only by the occasional speedboat ferrying passengers. Fishing nets dotted the landscape, although we seldom saw anyone tending to them. Teak logs piled along the shore, waiting to be transported downstream, added to the picturesque scenery.

Our boat made stops at fascinating points along the route. One memorable visit was to a remote village off the river, where locals graciously showcased their farming practices and simple way of life with no electricity or running water. Another highlight was the sacred Buddhist site, Pak Ou Caves, housing over 4,000 small Buddha statues left by locals over the centuries.

Lunches on the boat were a culinary treat featuring delicious traditional Laotian meals, including curried fish, chicken, and a bounty of fresh vegetables.

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Luang Prabang, Laos

Upon concluding the boat tour in Luang Prabang, a town with French colonial influences, we settled into a beautiful hotel room overlooking the Mekong and one of its tributaries. The distinctly French hotel treated us to the best croissants outside of France for breakfast.

 

Luang Prabang, the capital of Laos until the 1500s, revealed its rich history. We visited a small royal palace, a gift from the French government, built to greet official visitors arriving by river voyages. Thanksgiving in Luang Prabang was unique, and we toasted our family and friends in a restaurant located on a beautiful lotus pond, savoring roasted duck breast.

 

A visit to the UXO Center brought a sobering reality. Laos, despite its stunning landscapes, bears the burden of over 80 million unexploded ordnances, a haunting legacy of the Vietnam War. More bombs were dropped on the small country of Laos during that time than all the bombs dropped in WW2.  The ongoing efforts to clear these hazards are hampered by insufficient funding and equipment. 

 

We also participated in a moving tradition in Southeast Asian Buddhist culture, witnessing monks and novices on their dawn almsgiving rounds. There were probably hundreds of monks and novices from all over town in a single file procession.  It was a humbling experience, connecting us to the local community. 

 

Our final highlight here were the Kuang Si Waterfalls, a multi-tiered waterfall series 20 miles from the city.  After hiking the wooded trail, we arrived at the first turquoise pool and proceeded up the path to the main event with a 200 ft drop.  Mark hiked to the top of the falls for a great view downstream.  There were 2 different wading pools with clear cool water for a hot day.

The trip from Luang Prabang to Vientiane was comfortable and quick in a new high speed train.  This line is part of a rail system, paid for by China, that will eventually run all the way south to Phuket in Thailand.  For now though, Vientiane is the end of the line.  This city, the capital of Laos, has a population of 1 million people.  It is less touristy because it is the seat of the national government but it has some interesting architecture because of its french influence, including its own Arc de Triomphe.  We were there during the Luang Festival which is a time for worship, celebration and family centered around a large Buddhist shrine in town.  People make we missed most of the crowds but apparently it gets pretty crazy at night