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From Vang Vieng to 4,000 islands

February 9, 2012

5th February

With Neringa, we took a bus at 9am from Vang Vieng to Ventiane. The road to get there was really bumpy, the worst I have seen so far!

We got there around 1pm, and wanted to buy a ticket to go straight to Pakse with a night bus in the evening, but it was full.We bought tickets for the next evening. We looked for a 60,000kips (7.5 dollars) room for a while before to find it.  We had some French baguette sandwich andItalian bruschetta.

You may be used to it, but when you had only rice, noodles or soup as your main dish for 3 months, this meal is a rarety you enjoy even more:

Bruschetta and quiche

Then as we were back to warm weathers, we just chilled out all afternoon.

We went for a walk at sunset. We ran into the American girl Sarah and her boyfriend that we had met in Phonsavan and decided to meet for diner later. Then we walked close to the river, actually on a really long stretch of sand. Locals really enjoy it and come here to play football or just to seat on the dune, or write in the sand, or walk along the “beach” or do Buddhist sand castles with kids.

Dad and kid making sandcastle

There was also a fisherman who had just come back and people were checking his fishes to buy some directly to him. You could hear “sam sip” (30), or “sii sip” (40), and some bargaining going on.

Fisherman

The sunset was gorgeous with beautiful colours over the sea.

Sunset

In the evening, we met with Sarah and her boyfriend and we treated ourselves with real French food and French wine at Le Vendôme restaurant. I felt the same as when I had crêpes in Siem Reap on my last day in Cambodia, incredibly happy and savouring every single bit of the dishes I miss. Yummy!

Yummy

6th February

On our second day in Ventiane, we started with some internet catchup first in a wifi café, and then had coffee at the place of Mickael Perier, a French photographer living in Laos I had contacted while in Luang Prabang. Here is his website http://focus-laos.com

It was great to talk about the place of photography in Laos, and media, and journalism, the way there is a kind of auto-censorship and limited journalism here.

He recommended me a boutique where a Nikon expert could have a look at my camera. I went there, to Black and White studio shop, and the expert looked at the camera and told me that the shutter was broken and it would cost about 600 dollars to replace it, and time as they need to have a spare one to do the repair, whether in Ho Chi Minh or in Bangkok. Oh well…

After hearing that, I ran into a French pâtisserie where I ate delicious sweets, a lemon tart, a chocolate tart, a chocolate fondant and a chocolate brownie.

Tarts

Pfiou. I felt better and could digest the fact that my dear D700 was broken and costing 3 months of travelling to be replaced by a second-hand one until I can get that broken one to be repaired and sold itself as a second-hand later.

Then we went to see the exhibition of Adri Berger at Top’Chai Gallery. He is one of the main photographers of Laos, with gorgeous portraits of Tribe women and beautiful landscapes.

http://www.adriberger.com/

On the way to a library, I ran into another photo gallery that had just opened and was doing an exhibition of another photographer of Laos, Peter Livermore. He is a British photographer and had an exhibition in Paris about Laos in 2007 apparently:

http://www.voanews.com/lao/news/a-52-2007-10-12-voa3-90686519.html

I chatted with the owner, Lat, a Lao guy, photographer too who doesn’t have a website yet, but we sat for a while and he showed me his photos of Laos. It is always great to see how a local photographer sees his country. He had particularly really interesting photos of Laos coal mines.

Then we had a quick shower and a quick dinner, still French though, delicious baguette with liver pâté, yummy! Oh Ventiane, thank you for your lovely French food.

We went at 7pm at the travel agency to wait for the minivan pickup. When waiting I chatted a bit with the travel agent and his wife, in French! First time in Laos actually. Fluent French. They had actually moved to Dunkerque, and were back in Laos only from times to times.

The minivan came and drove us to the bus station. On the way to the bus station, we took the road leading to the Ventiane’s Arc de Triomphe. It was a really strange feeling as for those 5 minutes drive, I felt as if I was already back in Paris, in a taxi bringing me back home and driving on the Champs-Elysées on the way home. I could realise that when that day comes, I will be very happy and excited to be back but…that now would be way too early for a return, too much still to see, too many friends to meet!

The night bus Ventiane to Pakse looked really great, with real beds.

Sleeping bus

I had taken one like this in India once in Rajasthan and these are really great buses.  Neringa had not closed fully the 1.5litre bottle of water, so when she puts it on the bed, she poured half the bottle on it. We drove the stewardess crazy by asking her for “ik neung” (one more!) plastic bag and again and again that we used to put flat on the bed to cover the wetness and cover with the blanket after. Crazy beginning of trip, but funny too. I could imagine Neringa playing Mister Bean and going talking with every single person of the bus, turning on and off their lights, their air ventilation, checking on their bags, etc etc.

7th February

The bus trip was fine, we could actually sleep quite well. We arrived in Pakse at 6:31am. One minute late! Well done Laos! In Pakse, we walked to the local bus station to get a bus to Champasak.

On the way, I bought some lotion and anti-allergy pills as my right arm was covered with bites I had got the day before and which were really itchy. A doctor woman in a centre where I stopped explained me that it was ants bites and that my body was just over-reacting and it would be gone within 3 days. Pfiou.

Walking to the bus station, we were stopped by one song-taew (big blue Toyota pick-up) driver who offered us to take us to Champasak for 50,000 kips each. We knew the price was 20,000 kips per person, so we refused. He took it down to 40,then 30, then bargained hard at 25, then left, then drove again, then stopped again, and finally agreed on 20, but “please don’t say anything to my other customers” he said. In the song-taew, I chatted with a Dutch woman Cora who had been many times to Indonesia, and she gave me tips about Sumatra.

On the way to Champasak, we could see how the landscape had changed, with way less mountains and much more rice fields giving an intense green touch to the area.

rice fields

The driver left us in Champasak, where we got a room in a guest house and finally went for a breakfast in front, with a beautiful riverside view on the wide and quiet Mekong.

We chilled out until 4pm, and met a couple from Slovakia Darina and Ratim who had just been to Burma and could tell me more about it. We took a song-taew to the temples. There we walked around. This complex has been built at the same time of Angkor, around 10th-12th century. It is a smaller complex than Angkor temples but it is built on a hill, and the very old stairs give it a lot of charm.

stairs and frangipani

There is the sanctuary with a similar architecture.

Sanctuary

There is also a holy water source to which people come to fill their bottle.

Holy water

When at the top, we met with a German woman Theres travelling alone with her 3-year old daughter. She was full of energy, and we felt it was really great she could travel like this. Her daughter was blond and she explained us that all Lao adults constantly touch her hair, and her daughter is tired of that and sometimes pushes them back but they don’t understand, laugh and continue. We went down the stairs together, and as we were there on the last day of the Full Moon Festival, we walked around the alleys together, as there were a lot of food stalls and shops and women selling sticky rice inside bamboo troncs.

sticky rice

Some people were sending some candle balloons to the sky, the same ones as for New Year’s Eve in Chiang Mai, and  looking at them go. Behind them you can see all the orange lights burning on the hill, lighten for this special occasion.

Looking at the balloon

We came back around 9pm, some internet and beers together and bed.

8th February

A minivan picked us up at 8am and took us in a few minutes to a charming little pier where a woman and her kids were bathing close to boats.

at the pier

We embarked on a home-made floating thing, made of 2 wood boats tied together by 6 wood stuff on which they had nailed 15 flat wood boards. We were about 12 people on it, seating or standing, and the boat driver.

boat

On the other side, we took another minivan for about an hour and arrived at another little pier. There we got on another boat for Don Kon, one of the 4,000 islands. There, we walked a bit and got a room in a guest house. As the weather is really hot between 10.30am and 4pm here, we just chilled out all afternoon, drinking delicious fruit shakes and catching up on internet. Lots of German and French people around, very few other nationalities. This is the view I had while writing the latest Laos articles:

View

Then we went for a lazy walk in the late afternoon. In the evening, we had diner with a young German couple Pamina and Lucas who just arrived from Cambodia and are travelling for a total of 6 months.

At some point, there were a lot of mosquitoes flying close to a pillar.

Mosquitoes

The man from the guest house arrived with his fishernet and launched it, to catch some mosquitoes in it, and left the net for less than 5 minutes in the water. He took it out, and in this very short time period he had caught about 50 small fishes.

Fish

Smart! It reminded one day in April in Indonesia on Lombok island where I had seen 10 people pulling for an hour ropes to bring back to the shore a huge fishernet, 5 people on the left, 5 on the right, and that had caught nothing.

After diner, we were already knacked at 10pm and went straight to bed.

9th February

We woke up at 7am and walked to the waterfall via the riverside path of the village. This is how it looks.

Village

On the way to there, we enjoyed the morning golden light. There were women emptying fishes and putting them in jars with salt for them to marinate.

Women and fishes

There was a pig feading her kids while a rooster was plainly walking on here

Pig

And of course kids playing

kids

The waterfall site was really huge and gorgeous.

Waterfall

We walked to a nearby beach there, enjoying the view on the water.

beach nearby

On the way back, wwe saw a bird who could speak! He said “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.” And he had a human laugh. That was weird. I recorded him, I still just need to figure out if I can upload sounds in articles.

Then we walked to the “Irrawady dolphins” beach where it is possible to take a boat to go see the dolphins, although apparently, there are only a few left, which appear early morning or late afternoon only. The beach was a huge strip of burning hot sand but no real swimming beach.

other beach

It took us about an hour walk to head back. We saw some coton trees on our way back:

coton

we were back at 10.30am at the guest house, and the heat was already quite high. I did some laundry, and we chilled out again all afternoon. Had a nice quick swim in the river, then diner with Pamina and Lucas and also our last Lao beers!

After 5 weeks in Laos, time to move on, although I really wish I had also a month to explore south of Laos. So many things to see in such an incredibly beautiful country.

Tomorrow, 8am, bus to Kratie in Cambodia. Stop over, and then bus to Phnom Penh where I will stay a few days before to head to Vietnam and meet my Dad there to travel with him 3 weeks up to Hanoi!

Going to Phnom Penh, it feels almost like coming back home! 🙂

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