06.08.2007 - 14.08.2007
Just a short entry for a country we passed through in only a week. The whole of Laos is remarkable for its lush green vegetation. This was a particular contrast for us with the Tibetan Plateau we had recently left. On the way to Luang Prabang we missed a crucial turn-off. As road signs are almost non-existent, we carried on unaware until the end of the road, at the Mekong river. The Mekong runs almost the length of the country and is an important transport link (the road we had taken led to a port town). There was no choice but to turn around and drive the 200km back to the junction. This made for a frustrating, late night arrival in Luang Prabang. The city is renowned for its Buddhist temples (wats). It is also firmly on the Western tourist trail, which took some getting used to after not seeing any Westeners for a long time. However, we were glad to find some familiar foods; bread was not available anywhere we went in China.
The original plan had been to continue south to Vang Vieng and then east towards the border with Vietnam. We now knew that it was not going to be possible to take the truck into Vietnam; their price and travel restrictions were not acceptable. So the truck would continue south to Cambodia and wait for us while we explored Vietnam by public transport. We were still given the opportunity to drive east to the Plain of Jars and return to Vang Vieng. The Plain of Jars is an area containing many groupings of large stone jars, about 2000 years old. The most popular theory is that they were used for cremations. This area was heavily bombed during the Vietnam war and there are many large craters and unexploded bombs. Only three sites have pathways cleared for visitors and warning signs are everywhere. This gives something of an edge to a stroll around the randomly scattered jars. We were there on a drizzly afternoon and the effect overall was rather underwhelming.
After returning from our trip to the Plain of Jars, we continued to the capital, Vientiane, sitting on the north bank of the Mekong, facing Thailand on the opposite side. Vientiane is largely a French colonial city, but with many Buddhist monuments and wats. The city has a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere and is a noticeable contrast to the poverty seen elsewhere in Laos. We arranged our travel to Vietnam from here, for me a flight to Hanoi.