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Pleading for Laos – episode 2

Sights of Laos: Mekong

Let’s continue to follow Mihai’s paths throughout Laos… This time on water, on the great Mekong, the river around which several countries from South East Asia live. Not the richest, but perhaps, the most beautiful.


And I rolled on theMekong. And I was right, this country is fabulous. This country dispels any counter candidate from the area in what concerns beauty. IT IS ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE.

This is a country made for cinematography, for movies.

Wherever you turn your head, savage mountains covered from head to toes by dense jungle, everything preserved like in the beginnings, the chocolate – coloured Mekong making its way through mountains, above there are painted clouds, on the top of the mountains fog and smoke. Then, there are the people that make you feel at the end of the world, not only geographically. An agrarian way of life in which the technology and the Westernization did not make their way, everything is extremely simple and relaxed. In which Buddhist monks from 10 year old children to the old ones romp through birds, little animals, flowers. Everything is so picturesque and beautiful that sometimes your heart bursts out of your chest. Your mind aches.

Rivers of Laos: Mekong

I have also seen Ha Long Bay and it is just a preview that pales against the beauty of this country. I think nothing in Europe, not even the fjords of Norway can lay claims against Laos.

I can say bluntly. Laos beats everything I have seen until now. Actually it does not just beat it. It outclasses!!! Today was the most beautiful day from all the excursions from South East Asia. It is one of the last corners of paradise left by God on Earth for us to take care of.  It depends of how big the interests will be and in what way will take place the modeling of this so poor country. The Westernization. Because this country will be the star of South East Asia any time soon, and as the gates will open more, the tourists will multiply. As Bourdain said:

“A place this beautiful can not stay hidden forever”.
Everything is extremely well preserved.

Today I had another great surprise. Around the middle of the trip on the Mekong, the boat pulled on the right in a traditional Lao village where they are producing whisky. Everything is extremely poor, the most severe poverty in the most amazing landscapes. I have never felt so far away from civilization. This village on the shores of the Mekong is as far away from home as someone can imagine. In the cackling of hens from the side of the road, I hear behind me in the most pure Romanian language: “Look how nice are the little dolls at these people”.

I have been bitten twice by a mosquito last night and I think already I have become delirious. Malaria! The Dengue Fever! The wandering makes me imagine that people are speaking Romanian. I will die soon. I hear the second voice in Romanian. Then, the third. All the people around me laugh and speak in Romanian. God have mercy on me in order not to collapse!

“Are you Romanians?”

The old lady before me almost has a heart attack. I do not blame her. I take her more softly, I hug her in order for her to recover.

“Yes, from Constanta”

“And how many are you? How did you arrive here?”

“Around 14. Well, with a trip from the country”

“Trip from the country ????????????????? In Laos????????????????? Can you do that ?????????”

“Well why can’t you. We are in a circuit: Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos. Excuse me, do you have any idea how can you get to Burma?” It is too much. Four retired people from Constanta, Romania ask me about a visa for Myanmar in a remote isolated village on the shores of  Mekong in Laos. May someone say that this World is big. Anyhow, they start making thousands of crosses worshiping their God when I tell them that I am alone and I have come alone up to here. After I give them some details, I tell some stories, I tell them that I am from around the area, they start to recover as well.

Laos rural area

Through the jungle

I strolled through the jungle around 8-9 hours, from the morning until the dark.

Laos landscapes

I will not lie:

It was terribly difficult. It was painful. Here and there it was humiliating to go downhill helpless through the mud. It was exhausting. All the clothes that have been used today are so impregnated with mud that I do not think that they will ever be able to be used again. After half an hour of intensive washing with soap, my hands are still grimy.

I am almost sure that this was the hardest day of my life. Imagine an endless very narrow road full of mud. The snickers at a certain point do not help you anymore. The sandals at a moment do not help you anymore. You start walking barefoot through mud mixed with weeds. Sometimes, when descending, you ski through mud helped by a single stick and in bare feet. Sometimes you cross rivers that stroll downhill. Half an hour of steep ascent through mud in which everything slips below you. It takes 5 minutes to complete five steps up. You stop thinking that through the weeds through which you support yourself can be snakes or other little animals. It is really the last thing that can concern you. The first is to maintain your balance.

As a chill-out moment, you walk through the rivers tens of minutes in bare feet, careful at every stone. I think I have a sample, a feeling of what guerilla through the jungle means. You yell, you swear on all your saints in order to cool yourself down. And you try to keep calm through bushes that slap your face.

A portion of descending without mud seems a gift from God.

After the nightfall when you hear voices from a wretched village on the side of the road you feel like you have reached the most advanced civilization. The Laos jungle is not a walk of pleasure. For me it was very difficult. It is true that some Converse shoes are not adequate gear for jungle trekking. I fully assume my mistake.

I was in an organized tour by Green Discovery Laos. Five tourists (me, two German girls, and a couple Dutch guy – English gal) plus two Lao Sherpa. They have absolutely no problem in crossing the jungle in slippers. They have absolutely no problem under the fiercest rain to finish their hearty meal consisting of frogs. However they are very protective in what concerns us. Lads of pride. I have also seen some remote mountain villages. The Hmong and Khamu tribes (I will return to this if the writing is wrong and I will give some more details). Among the poorest and most smiling people from the world. It is absolutely shocking to see something like this in this world in 2008. If I am happy about something following this day, is that a good part of the money I have paid today for this trip will reach these people that carry their house beam after beam through the jungle. Where it is needed most. But 25 USD * 5 tourists will change the situation too little. I would be happy to know that the money from the tourism that this fabulous country will produce (and it surely will) will reach this social category.

Hill tribes of Laos: Hmong villagers

The landscapes on the road are dreamlike. Unfortunately I managed to take very few photos for such a special occasion (I think 30 photos in total). But the ones I took are enough of an example for what has happened today.

A day of rest

Today, it was the relax day – I strolled through Luang Prabang. A day of rest in comparison to what it was yesterday. I entered in a few temples, I also went to the royal palace. Probably the most unusual and the most exotic museum in which I have ever entered. Surely, the only one I have ever visited barefoot, being obliged to take my shoes off at the entrance. It is a boyar house, a mansion at most. Even the clothes of the queen, and the royal bedroom, and the dining room… nothing is astounding.

Things to see in Laos: Royal palace

This is not a chalet from France or the Dolmabahce Palace of Istanbul. A sultan will laugh with tears towards the opulence shown by the king of Laos. He would say: “Poor guy, he received a plate from Vietnam and two paintings from China and Thailand and he pulled out a museum”. Two things stand out in this country.

One: The influence of France that continues even now in a totally illogical way against the actual arrangement that seems to abide a long time from now on. As long as China will be Communist, so will be Laos. Even so, in high esteem in the palace is a room with books in French: first editions from “In Search of Lost Time”, histories of France, images with jazz singers, all the Parisian good taste was transferred at the royal court. It is also remarkable that the in – power regime does not abnegate the historic past of the country, somehow at the antipode as principles of life and ruling. All that is connected to the old monarchy or the French colonialism is in sight. Laos would be a medium-sized country for Europe, but the population is about 6 million inhabitants. Oh well this country was ruled from the interior by a French governmental apparatus formed from… 600 Frenchmen. Of which half were very mobile. 300 people that came here only for 2-3 years, the time needed for a first stage in diplomacy. Laos was for them kind of a junior assignment before climbing the professional hierarchy.

The French population in Laos was still only around 600 by 1940, more than half living in Vientiane. Most were officials for whom a posting in Laos was no more than a step on the ladder of promotion. For many their terms of service were tedious, if undemanding. They ‘kept up appearances’, socialized and gossiped. A few succumbed to the charm of the country and made Laos their home. (Lonely Planet Laos guidebook)

You can imagine how quiet and civilized were the locals if they did not question a rule reinforced by a mere few hundred people. They took care of their agriculture and Buddha, the French bewailed that they were ruling them. I have nowhere met people so calm. I have nowhere been so little assaulted by the locals like in Laos. It was actually annoying that they ignore me:).

Which brings me to the second remarkable thing in this country, actually the only one that really matters in the minds of the locals: Buddha. Buddha is everywhere and in everything and is he is the true leader, not the political regime. I have never seen so much Buddhism like here. This element, and the fervor with which it is practiced transforms this country for a stranger into an enigmatic country. You cannot penetrate the local culture. It is too culturally distant and way more different than the West. As for me Laos will remain enigmatic even after leaving it, I can at least offer for the eye a few samples of Laotian culture.

A few temples of Luang Prabang.

Things to see in Laos: Luang Prabang

Temples in Laos: Luang Prabang

Buddhism in Laos: Luang Prabang

Temples of Laos: Luang Prabang

Temples of Laos: Luang Prabang

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