Laos is a long country, from north to south, so we went there after visiting north Cambodia. Coming from Siem Reap, my wife and I were the only passengers to alight from the plane in Pakse, Laos’s second biggest city after the capital Vientiane. Again, our travels were captured on one small,
Apart from its market, there is nothing remarkable about Pakse. But that market is surely one of the biggest in the area and is fertile ground for the
Our first stop was in the Katu villages. We were rather disappointed when we stopped at the first settlement since all the inhabitants were dressed in traditional clothes, probably a government idea to develop tourism in the area. I felt a bit uncomfortable about making images of people but I managed to get a few decent shots.
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Fortunately, we visited in other villages
Ho Chi Minh Trail.
After we left the Katu area it was time to go on a hike among the coffee plantations and walk on the Ho Chi Minh trail. It was an odd feeling since I grew up as a young kid hearing of the Vietnam war. I saw reports of the war when my parents took me to the cinema as a young boy to see some Disney cartoons or films for children.
The cinemas shared the same ritual, starting with international news accompanied by somewhat blaring music, followed by the advertisements and a cartoon. There was then a short interval when you could buy ice cream, and finally the main feature. Some images I saw at the time are still vivid in my memory fifty years later.
The American army dropped more bombs on Laos than they did on Vietnam. Some munitions are still unexploded and, despite de-mining operations, continue to create havoc among farmers tilling their land or children playing. The Boloven plateau is peaceful again and it was great to walk in the coffee plantations — except for the red ants that keep stinging your feet and your calves. The fragrance of coffee flowers is pure bliss. The plateau is also home to some amazing waterfalls.
After spending a few days on the plateau, we started the descent to the Mekong river to visit the pre-Angkorian site of Vat Phu. It is less spectacular than the temples in Angkor, but the site with the surrounding nature is magnificent.
The temple was built more than a hundred years before the Angkor temples. You meet very few tourists and needn’t hurry to climb up the thousand-year-old stone steps that lead to the temple. On top, children climb up jackfruit trees to reach the fruits.
The 4000 islands
Our final destination was the 4000 Islands situated on the Mekong and extending down to the border with Cambodia. The water level is pretty low during the dry season. Only a few of the islands are inhabited — including Don Khone and Don Det.
People earn a living mainly through fishing, timber and agriculture on the fertile banks of the river thanks to the silt of the monsoon floods. The islands are also home to falls whose flow rate is stronger than the Niagara falls insert.
We stayed for a few days on the biggest island, Don Khong. The place is really quiet. In the main village, there is a school, some hotels and guest houses, a few monasteries, rice paddies and shops with bikes for hire.
In our experience, however, cycling after ten in the morning is nigh on impossible because of the searing heat. Life is incredibly slow. And everything is at a standstill from noon until five. Then life resumes again. Children bathe in the river after school, monks hunt for wasp nests and farmers resume their working day while fishermen