Northern Laos

Laos started off the best way possible with the Gibbon Experience, an ecotourism conservation project where a series of zip lines criss-cross the canopy in the Nam Kan National Park.
Out of 3 options, we chose the 2day/1 night adventure zip lining across valleys with a night at the world’s tallest tree house. A once in a life time experience!!

IMG_6987.jpg
First day trekking in between the zip lines

IMG_7048.jpgMoving like a bird across the treetops

The cables spanned entire valleys, some of them as long as 600 meters. It was like flying with nothing above but the sky, surrounded only by mountains and 200 meters of nothing between us and the forest below.

IMG_7031.jpgSoaring through the forest

It was a frightening but incredible feeling where the adrenaline kicks in and suddenly we’re flying at super speed through the deep jungle. 

IMG_7061A natural high!

After 8 hours walking and zip lining we got to the 40 meter high tree house where we spent the night.

IMG_3061
The nest!

The tree house was surrounded by the immense green tropical forest with breathtaking vistas and loud birds singing all around.

IMG_7097We were amazed by the view!!!

After the tiring day we were welcomed with some lovely traditional Lao snacks followed by a cozy nap on the sunny deck.

IMG_7113 Can’t stop looking!

IMG_3042
The tree house monkeys!

IMG_7128
The most beautiful sunset ever – I wish the picture could do its justice

IMG_7182.jpg
Cold shower with a view

After a delicious Lao meal we played cards while drinking the typical Lao whiskey, Lao-Lao. Apart from the loud birds and the noisy meddling rats, we had a perfect night’s sleep!

IMG_7192
A 6am start!

The next day we zip lined our way back to the pick up area where a car drove us back to the town of Huay Xai. From there we took our very first night bus all the way to Luang Prabang, it was a hard 14-hour drive!

But worth it!

IMG_7215

Luang Prabang enchanted us in all possible ways, with its laid back atmosphere, its charming colonial French architecture mixed with the ancient Buddhist temples, the sound of chanting monks drifting through town at dawn and dusk, the delicious coffee, the untouched surrounding nature… I could go on and on!

IMG_7221
On our way up to Mount Phousi, a woman tried selling us birds to release for good luck

Mount Phousi is a temple on a hill at the heart of old town with spectacular views to Mekong  river, on one side, and Nam Khan river on the other.

IMG_7241
Nam Khan river view from Mount Phousi

IMG_7245
Old town view

IMG_7249
Mekong river view from Mount Phousi

IMG_7297
Walking along the river

Walking around town we noticed how quiet and easy-going the town was – actually, later we realised it was the whole country, sleepy Laos!

IMG_7299

IMG_7290
Capturing the local life

IMG_7294
Lao beer – our best companion!

IMG_7282
Bamboo bridge, built every year after its been destroyed by the Monsoon

A visit to Luang Prabang wouldn’t be complete without seeing the Kuang Si waterfall, a single large cascade that tumbles from the jungle feeding a series of falls and clear blue pools that make perfect swimming holes.

IMG_7325
Kuang Si Waterfall

We started at the lowest pool and wandered toward the waterfall. Despite the crowds, the walk up was breathtaking, with water flowing over white limestone rocks into beautiful blue pools surrounded by tropical trees.

IMG_7369
IMG_7372
IMG_7360
Beautiful cascading pools

Finally we reached the giant waterfall, it was impressive!

IMG_7373The feeding mother

It was then, while trying to take a picture that, luckily, I saw through my lens someone looking from above, somewhere half-way up the waterfall.
We decided we also wanted to get there and took a  ‘no way up!’ path on our right. We knew that from there, we had to turn left towards the cascade but we couldn’t find a way! After half hour or so going up and down a muddy, steep trail, we finally found a hidden entrance with a ‘no entry’ sign. As little rebels we walked passed it, then climbed through a barrier to walk along a path until we got to a barbed-wired fence. On the other side was a secret mid-level pool!!

IMG_7381
Secret pool, surrounded only by jungle

IMG_7380
View from the edge where we found a little shelf to sit on, look down, and spy on the tourists below

IMG_2914

IMG_5892
Just us and the nature! And Gus, taking the photo!

Of course we ended up staying the rest of our day there…

IMG_7397
Sunset view to Luang Prabang

After Luang Prabang we headed north to Nong Khiaw, a little picturesque town nestled on the banks of the Nam Ou river, surrounded by gorgeous and imposing limestone mountains. Without a doubt, one of the most photogenic spots in Laos.

IMG_7483The town spanned along a bridge with a few cafes and hostels along the river

IMG_7406
View from the bridge late afternoon

Everywhere so quiet and slow-paced, we loved the relaxed vibe. During the day we would explore the surrounding magnificent landscapes. At night, during the cold hours, we would snuggle at a small backpacker’s cafe by a fire, playing cards or watching a movie (the cafe was also the local “cinema”) while eating delicious home-made deserts. We had found a little paradise in that sleepy town!

IMG_7450
Exploring around

IMG_7453
Inside the Pha kuang cave

IMG_7462
IMG_7469
Villages around Nong Khiaw

IMG_7470
Shy village kids

IMG_7481Delicious Lao meal by the river with Lewis and Harriet

Later that day, we decided to trek to the hilltop viewpoint for sunset. We were warned the trail was steep and that we should give ourselves at least 90 minutes to get there. Just before starting we went to get the torches for the long and dark way down. It was then we realised we had lost the keys for our room. After half hour looking for it we finally found them and rushed off, having under an hour to get to the top. It was a hard, sweaty walk but when we got there we knew it was worth all the effort!!

IMG_7502
View of the town

We were rewarded with stunning 360 degree views of Nong Khiaw and its surrounding valleys.

IMG_7527
Opposite side

IMG_7543
IMG_7540IMG_7546.jpg

From Nong Khiaw we took a day trip upstream the Nam Ou river to visit some villages only accessible by boat.

IMG_7551
Morning start at the “pier”

The scenery along the river was very special with limestone karst mountains and small villages along the way.

IMG_7675
IMG_7637IMG_7580.jpg

The first stop was Ban Sop Jam, a beautiful remote village where they weave cotton and silk and are very friendly. I would dare say that, together with Nong Khiaw, it ranks as one of the top must sees in Laos.

IMG_7597
Arriving in Ban Sop Jam

IMG_7598The village is very small with homes flanking a single dirt road

We walked around exchanging smiles with the friendly locals. The language barrier was overcome through funny mimic and gestures.

IMG_7618Rice grains drying in the sun

IMG_7611
Local school

IMG_7615
IMG_7623
IMG_7624
Village kids carrying firewood on their heads

We hopped back on the boat for another 45 minute journey to the little town of  Muang Ngoi.

IMG_7638Arriving in Muang Ngoi

IMG_7649
View of the town from the top of the hill

Our next stop in Laos was Vang Vieng, once known as the party destination in Laos it is now rebooting itself as an adventure destination with a backdrop of serene cliffs and  vivid green paddy fields. There is a lot to explore, from water caves to blue lagoons or viewpoints, you choose!

IMG_7772
Exploring!

Blue lagoon

Blue lagoon didn’t really impress us, it was very touristy and smaller than we expected. What did impress us though was the Tham Phu Kam cave, which just a few people make to as it requires a steep, slippery climb.

IMG_7721
Inside the cave

The cave was huge and quite scary with a labyrinth of dark chambers filled with stalagmites and stalactites; the air was cold and moist.

IMG_7705
IMG_7690

After a good time spent exploring the cave we carried out with our adventure and trekked for half an hour to a beautiful viewpoint where we took a restoring nap.

IMG_7759
View

Later that day we visited the water cave and it was an incredible experience! The water cave is an endless underground river where you float on a tube pulling yourself with a rope. The water is cold and the darkness and disorientation makes for an exciting experience. We got there quite late so there was no one around but us which made everything even more scary!!

Despite not being as wild as it used to be, Vang Vieng is still the party place of sleepy Laos. We spent some time relaxing on the main street bars with a hangover!

Last but not least came the laid-back capital of Laos, Vientiane.

IMG_7800
Biking around town

IMG_7813 (1)
Patuxai – Vientiane’s Arc de Triomphe replica

IMG_7849
Pha That Luang – great sacred stupa

IMG_7854
IMG_7860
Reclining Buddha

IMG_7831
Wat That Luang Tai

We were very eager to visit COPE (The Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) visitor centre. COPE is a non-profit that runs rehabilitation centres to provide care and support to UXO (unexploded ordinances) survivors.

IMG_7865
Prosthetic devices displayed

The visitor Centre educates about the devastating consequences of war, the country’s profound UXO problem, the impact and struggle survivors face and the work that COPE does to give them hope. A very moving project!

IMG_7869
COPE museum

A big ride away from the city centre was a famous sculpture park, the Buddha Park with more than 200 religious statues .

IMG_7891Buddha Park

IMG_7888Inside one of the sculptures

IMG_7874
Mekong riverfront sunset – with Thailand on the other side of the river

We said good-bye (for now) to Laos and crossed the river back to the noisy, crowded, incredible Thailand!

One thought on “Northern Laos

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s