Christmas cheer, New Year and Buddhas

Weihnachten, Neujahr und Buddhas

Photo gallery

(English below)

Auch wenn etwas spät, wünschen wir allen unseren Lieben und Mitlesenden einen schwungvollen Start ins neue Jahr! Vielen Dank auch für die lieben Wünsche aus der ganzen Welt, die unterstützenden und motivierenden Worte, die uns stets neue Energie schenken, unsere Beine stärken und uns auch immer wieder gern an Zuhause denken lassen.

2013 war für uns ein ganz besonderes Jahr voller grösserer und kleinerer Ereignisse, ein Jahr der Zweisamkeit, ein Glücksjahr: Jeder einzelne Morgen war ein Start ins Ungewisse, jeder Tag mit Abenteuern und warmen Begegnungen ausgefüllt, jeder Abend ein Moment des Ankommens und der Dankbarkeit, jede Nacht ein Ausruhen in stets tiefstem Schlaf. Wir freuen uns auf die Reisemonate im neuen Jahr ebenso wie auf den Alltag, zu dem wir mitte Mai heimkehren – auch 2014 wird spannend!

Green and mountains south of Luang Prabang

Green and mountains south of Luang Prabang

Interesting delivery methods

Interesting delivery methods

Sunset from Kiewkacham

Sunset from Kiewkacham

High above the clouds

High above the clouds

Die letzten paar Tage im 2013 verbrachen wir in Laos – erst im bergigen Norden, später im flachen Mekongdelta. Wir verliessen Luang Prabang am 17. Dezember Richtung Vang Vieng und bereisten eine der landschaftlich schönsten, körperlich aber anstrengendsten Gegenden unserer bisherigen Reise. Die Steigungen waren schweisstreibend, die Ausblicke auf Hügel, Berge, Dschungel und später Karstfelsen eindrücklich, die Abfahrten Momente purer Freiheit und vollkommenen Glücks. Am 17. Dezember erklimmten wir gesamthaft 2200 Höhenmeter – ein neuer Rekord. Die erste Nacht verbrachten wir in Kiewkachan, wo wir auf 1400 m.ü.M., hoch über allen Hügeln, einen stimmungsvollen Sonnenuntergang bewunderten und den Tag mit den Tourenfahrenden Rob und Francisca aus Holland ausklingen liessen. Von zwei langen Tagen erschöpft, erreichten wir am 18. Dezember einfache, als Bungalows dienende Holzhütten an einer warmen, auf den ersten Blick verlassenen Quelle, in der wir kurz darauf unsere müden Beine ausstreckten und die uns umrundenden Karstfelsen bewunderten. Während wir die Wärme des Wassers genossen, gesellten sich immer mehr Dorfbewohner hinzu und verwandelten die Quelle in ein gemeinsames Badezimmer: Schulkinder warfen sich spielend Plastiksandalen zu, Erwachsene seiften sich, schrubbten Füsse, putzten Zähne, wuschen Haare, füllten ihre Trinkflaschen auf oder erledigten gleich die ganze Wäsche. Die Quelle war nicht ganz so verlassen und damit sicherlich auch nicht so sauber, wie wir das zuerst angenommen hatten und so blieben wir nur noch paar Minuten sitzen, schauten diesem gemeinschaftlichen Baden, Spielen und Waschen zu und zogen uns schon bald darauf in unser kleines Hüttchen zurück.

Am 19. Dezember erreichten wir die in eine eindrückliche Karstlandschaft eingebettete Touristendestination Vang Vieng, die bis vor Kurzem noch eine Art Abenteuerspielplatz für Backpacker-Ballermann-Touristen war: Tausende junge Leute reisten hierhin, um sich im Rausch auf Traktorenreifen den Fluss “ Nam Song” runter treiben zu lassen, sich an Seilen übers Wasser zu schwingen und zu hämmernden Bässen Tag um Tag in Wasser und am Ufer durchzufeiern. Der Ruf einer neuen Party-Mekka ging um die Welt, es wurde hier von Jahr zu Jahr exzessiver gefeiert, bis sich die Drogen- und Unfalltoten zu sehr zu häufen begannen (Offizielle Zahlen fürs Jahr 2011: 27 Tote. Nach inoffiziellen Zahlen sollen es weitaus mehr sein). Vor einem Jahr hat die Regierung die meisten Bars schliessen lassen, so dass wir Vang Vieng als ruhige Touristendestination ohne viel Bumbum kennenlernten. Wir ruhten uns zwei Tage lang aus, bewunderten Sonnenuntergänge, kurvten auf einem Motorrad durch die Karstgegend, erkundeten labyrinthähnliche Höhlen und verausgabten uns bei europäischem Essen – so gerne wir auch immer wieder regionals Essen ausprobieren, so sehr freuen wir uns ab und zu auch über eine einfache Pizza. Dies ganz besonders in Laos, dessen simple Küche im Gegensatz zu China keine all zu grosse Vielfalt bietet und stets aus Klebereis oder einer Nudelsuppe (“Fö”) mit oft undefinierbarem Fleisch, immer aber Büffelhaut, besteht.

On the way to Vang Vieng

On the way to Vang Vieng

Heading towards Vang Vieng

Heading towards Vang Vieng

Wir verliessen Vang Vieng am 22. Dezember und damit auch die Berge, kamen auf Hauptstrassen schnell voran und erreichten tags darauf die Hauptstadt von Laos, Vientiane, wo wir die Weihnachtstage verbrachten. Auch hier genossen wir Pizzas und zu Weihnachten sogar ein mehrgängiges französisches Menü, schauten uns Tempel und Buddhas an, wobei der “Xieng Khuan Buddha Park” mit seinen über 200 teils bizarren hinduistischen sowie buddhistischen Steinfiguren besonders eindrücklich ist, und bewunderten an der Promenade Vientianes rosa Sonnenuntergänge.

Besuchenswert ist auch die Ausstellung von “COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise)”, eine gemeinnützige Organisation, die Menschen mit körperlichen Schäden medizinisch und mental unterstützt, insbesondere indem sie ihnen unentgeltlich Prothesen zukommen lässt oder ihnen Zukunftsperspektiven bietet. Der grösste Teil der Patienten und Patientinnen sind Menschen, die auf scharfe Munitionsreste gestossen sind und bei deren Explosion Beine, Hände, Arme oder das Augenlicht verloren haben. Laos ist denn auch das meist bombardierte Land der Welt. Doch wie kann das sein, in welchen Krieg war Laos überhaupt verwickelt? Die USA warfen von 1964 bis 1973 (also neun Jahre lang!) rund zwei Millionen Tonnen Bomben (durchschnittlich alle 8 Minuten eine Bombe!) über Laos ab, um Handelswege zur “Nationalen Befreiungsbewegung Südvietnams” abzuschneiden. Einen offiziellen Krieg in Laos gab es also nie, umso schockierender sind die Zahlen: 30% der Bomben explodierten nicht, so dass nach dem Ende des geheimen Krieges geschätzte achtzig Millionen Blindgänger liegen blieben, die für die laotische Bevölkerung nach wie vor eine enorme Bedrohung darstellen. Bisher konnte knapp 1 Prozent der betroffenen Gebiete von Blindgängern befreit werden und so ereignet sich in Laos im Durchschnitt noch heute alle drei Tage ein Unfall mit Blindgängern, wobei die Opfer meist Kinder sind. Merkwürdigerweise lässt die laotische Bevölkerung keinerlei Amerikafeindlichkeit erkennen. Ich frage mich, wie viel Wiedergutmachung geleistet wird und wenn ja, ob überhaupt etwas davon an die Zivilbevölkerung fliesst. So geheim der Krieg geführt wurde, so unklar bleiben auch heute noch viele Einzelheiten. Laut der NGO “Legacy of War” sollen die Vereinigten Staaten für ihren geheimen Krieg in Laos mehr als 13 Millionen US Dollar täglich ausgegeben haben, während an die Minenräumungen bisher bloss 3 Millionen US Dollar aus der amerikanischen Staatskasse geflossen sind.

Song River (Nam Song)

Song River (Nam Song)

Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng

Boats on the Song River

Boats on the Song River

Sunset in Vang Vieng

Sunset in Vang Vieng

Limestone karst, Vang Vieng

Limestone karst, Vang Vieng

The start of the Vang Vieng Grand Prix

The start of the Vang Vieng Grand Prix

A reclining Buddha in a cave, Vang Vieng

A reclining Buddha in a cave, Vang Vieng

Messing about in a cave

Messing about in a cave

Huge cave system

Huge cave system

Song River

Song River

Delicious French dinner

Delicious French dinner

Nach unserer Pause in Vientiane reisten wir während fünf Tagen (26. bis 30. Dezember) auf der Hautpstrasse Richtung Südosten. Die Strecke war eben, die Umgebung bestand aus Wäldern und abgeernteten Reisfeldern und hie und da bot sich ein Blick auf den Mekongfluss. Wir kamen schnell voran, doch die Fahrt selbst war etwas monoton. Highlights waren die lebendigen, wenn auch simplen Dorfmärkte, die Kinder, die uns schon von weitem mit einem fröhlichen “Sabaidee” begrüssten und mit ihrem Strahlen die ganze Welt zu verzaubern schienen, die goldenen Tempel in jedem Dorf, der laotische Kaffee, der aus 3 Schlücken stärkster Kaffeebrühe und ebenso vielen Schlücken Kondensmilch besteht, und das abendliche Bier mit Isabella und Pete, einem deutsch-australischen Radlerpaar, das wir zufälligerweise jeden Abend wiedersahen.

Am 30. Dezember erreichten wir Savannakhet, die mit 120’000 Einwohnerinnen und Einwohnern zweitgrösste, jedoch ziemlich verschlafene Stadt des Landes, bekannt für ihre französische Kolonialarchitektur, die langsam am Zerfallen ist. Hier schlenderten wir durch die Gassen, organisierten paar Dinge, schrieben und lasen ein wenig und trafen uns ein letztes Mal mit Isabella und Pete. In einem Restaurant führte uns ein junger Kellner und Student, der sich mit uns in Englisch übte, erneut all zu deutlich vor Augen, wie arm ein grosser Teil der Bevölkerung ist: Seit drei Jahren wohnt er bei Verwandten, um in Savannakhet studieren zu können. Seine Familie lebt in der Nähe von Luang Prabang, d.h. etwa 800 Kilometer nördlich von Savannakhet. Eine Busreise dahin dauert mindestens 15 Stunden und kostet rund 20 Franken. Da die Heimreise für ihn zu teuer ist und einen Lohnausfall bedeuten würde, hat der junge Mann seine Familie seit drei Jahren nicht mehr gesehen!

In Savannakhet feierten wir auch Silvester und schafften es – entgegen unserem Radlerrythmus – sogar, bis kurz nach Mitternacht wach zu bleiben. So unspektakulär unser Jahreswechsel auch war, so festlich gestaltete sich der erste Tag im neuen Jahr: Wir radelten auf Nebenstrassen dem Fluss Mekong entlang, reisten durch kleine Dörfer, wo die Menschen – Kinder, Grosseltern, Frauen, Männer –  zur Feier des neuen Jahres schon frühmorgens laute Musik (laotischer Reggae) spielen liessen, tanzten, schlemmten und uns alle zum Mitfeiern einladen wollten. Die lockere Atmosphäre, das Lachen, die Unbekümmertheit der Menschen waren so ansteckend, dass wir uns ab und zu auf einen Schluck Bier oder Laolao (laotischer Reisschnaps) überreden liessen und selbst voller Leichtigkeit ins neue Jahr starteten. Welch warme Begegnungen, welch fröhlicher Tag!

Am 2. Januar wechselten wir wieder auf die Hauptstrasse, die Strecke wurde wieder etwas monotoner, wir übernachteten in einem einfachen Hotel in Kongsedong und erreichten am 3. Januar, kurz vor Mittag, das Städtchen Pakse, unser letztes Ziel in Laos. Hier mieteten wir am 4. Januar ein Motorrad, um die alte Khmertempelanlage Wat Phou Champasak, die an den kambodschanischen Angkor Wat erinnert und seit 2001 zum UNESCO Weltkulturerbe gehört, zu besichtigen.

Pakse ist das Tor zur fruchtbaren Bolevan-Hochebene sowie den vielen kleinen Mekonginseln (“4’000 islands”) – beides hätten wir sehr gerne noch bereist. Da unser Laosvisum am 6. Januar ablief, blieb uns jedoch keine Zeit, das südliche Laos weiter zu erkunden. Wir hoffen deshalb, eines Tages zurückzukehren – Menschen und Land haben auch uns verzaubert.

Christmas cheer, New Year and Buddhas

A little belatedly we like to wish everyone a rolling start in the New Year, 365 days devoid of punctures, rollicking tailwinds and smooth roads.  Thanks for all of the wonderful support and kind comments throughout last year, which always topped up our energy levels and helped to propel us along.

2013 was an incredibly special year for us, a year more or less just the two of us, every morning a start into the unknown, every day new adventures and warm encounters, every evening an arrival somewhere and the gratefulness to have arrived, and every night a deep restful sleep.  We’re immensely excited about what’s in store during the next five months of travel and both finally getting to see our family and friends again – 2014 also has lots in store for us.

The last few days of 2013 were spent in Laos, at first in the mountainous north, and later in the much flatter Mekong delta.  Under clear skies, we bid Luang Prabang farewell (December 17th) and headed further south.  The road led us through not only some of the most picturesque scenery of our entire trip, but almost some of the most physically challenging.  Two long, long, long ascents had sweat streaming down our cheeks, the views over the hills, mountains, jungles, forests, and later karst formations were awe-inspiring, and the long, gentle, winding descents were moments of freedom and pure bliss, surrounded completely and unendingly by green.  On this first day out of Luang Prabang, upon reaching our destination for the night in Kiewkacham, we’d climbed a total of 2200m for the day, a new record for us – more even than the hills of Eastern Turkey, or Kyrgyzstan, or Yunnan in China could throw in our path.  Perched at an altitude of 1400m, with a wide panoramic view over the encompassing landscape, cold Beer Lao in hand, we watched as the light seeped out of the day, offering us a stunning sunset, filled with all the intensity the sun could muster after a long day in the sky.  A pleasant evening with two Dutch cyclists, Francisca and Rob, who we would inadvertently bump into numerous times over the following weeks, rounded out the day, before everyone dragged himself or herself off to bed for a well-earned sleep.

Buddhas carved into the rock

Buddhas carved into the rock

Rock carvings hidden in the forest

Rock carvings hidden in the forest

Another long day, beautifully similar to the one previous yet only slightly less challenging terrain-wise, left us feeling a little leg-weary.  When we came across an inviting roadside sign titled “Hot Springs Resort”, it was with little hesitation that we called it a day, located the housekeeper to check in, then set off to familiarise ourselves with the hot springs visible from our bungalow.  Just to keep things in perspective, not that anybody starts thinking we’re spending all of our time swooning our ways from one luxurious 5-star retreat to the next, the bungalow was little more than a wooden garden shed complete with cold shower, whilst the hot springs consisted of a large shallow half cement half mud basin filled with hot mineral water cascading over rocks out of the nearby hillside.  For four heavy, tired legs though, it was pure bliss.  We scrambled eagerly into the water, lay down, and didn’t move for the following hour, with what proceeded to transpire around us leaving us thoroughly entertained.

With the day coming to an end, we found ourselves at the epicentre of the local village.  School-uniformed children arrived in groups, dumped their books, stripped off and plunged into the water, sending shrieks of laughter echoing around the hillside, men washed the dust and sweat of a hard days toil in the fields from their lithe bodies, women wrapped in sarongs expertly scrubbed every inch of skin from head to toe, teeth were brushed with toothpaste, hair washed with shampoo, bodies cleaned with soap, occasionally someone arrived with the family’s washing and scrubbed away, rinsing the now clean clothes in the warm water, and people arrived by car or motorbike to fill water bottles direct from the spring.  As much as we were entertained by everything going on around us, the local people found our presence equally interesting.  A few shy “saibaidees” were sent our way, occasionally someone paddled over towards us for a closer look, but all in all everyone was busy enjoying the endless possibilities of their own thermal pool.

Vientiane's own Arc de Triomphe

Vientiane’s own Arc de Triomphe

Sunset on the Mekong, Vientiane

Sunset on the Mekong, Vientiane

Vientiane

Vientiane

Another reclining Buddha

Another reclining Buddha

Vientiane

Vientiane

Feeling rejuvenated after our “Hot Springs Resort”, we continued along Route 13 the next day (December 19th) towards Vang Vieng, the mountainous landscape giving way to karst scenery, where the roads also flattened out, allowing us to make good progress.

Until about two years ago, Vang Vieng’s reputation on the backpacker circuit preceded itself, but mainly for the wrong reasons.  Set amidst stunning scenery on the banks of the Song River (Nam Song), the previously quiet town was slowly drowning in a sea of drug and alcohol-fuelled sexually-charged binge sessions, courtesy of the exponentially increasing swarm of partygoers descending upon it every year.  Common practice was to procure an inflated tractor tire, then float down the Nam Song getting as ragingly blind drunk as physically possible by frequently stopping at the many hastily erected riverside bars to quench one’s thirst.  Giant water slides and gravity-defying rope swings added to the excitement, and in combination resulted in at least 27 official deaths in 2011 (unofficially probably more).  A large crackdown by the authorities has meant that almost overnight all of the riverside bars were demolished, and the hedonistic mist permeating the air slowly dispersed.  Rows of empty restaurants and guesthouses now line the streets, silent reminders of the “golden years”.  Lacking the intoxicated open-walleted tourists of yesteryear, Vang Vieng is slowly trying to reinvent itself as an adventure purists haven, offering kayaking, rock climbing, mountain biking, and of course, tubing, just in a more relaxed and inoffensive style.

Two days in Vang Vieng (December 20th/21st) gave us time to rent a motorbike and explore some of the stunning limestone karst landscape, scramble through endless cave systems, savour mindblowing sunsets during happy hour overlooking the Song River, enjoy the odd pizza or Boeuf Bourguignon with a glass of wine, courtesy of some newly opened French-run restaurants, and most importantly give myself time to recover from a stomach bug which had slightly incapacitated me through the mountains since leaving Luang Prabang.

Fully recovered after our rest we hit the mainly flat road again, and two days later arrived early afternoon in Vientiane (December 23rd), the capital city of Laos.  A short detour north of Vientiane from Route 13 along logging tracks led us to a peaceful sheltered forest secretly hiding Buddhas impressively carved into the cliff face.  An infestation of aggressive mosquitos meant that we were quickly on our way again, as soon as the obligatory photos had been taken.

Xieng Khuan Buddha Park

Xieng Khuan Buddha Park

Xieng Khuan Buddha Park

Xieng Khuan Buddha Park

Xieng Khuan Buddha Park

Xieng Khuan Buddha Park

Xieng Khuan Buddha Park

Xieng Khuan Buddha Park

With Christmas fast approaching, we decided that Vientiane might offer some chance of typical fare, and us such decided to stay for a few days (December 23rd – 25th).  What we found was a lively, buzzing town situated on the banks of the Mekong River, filled with temples and Buddhas.  A short day trip brought us to the “Xieng Khuan Buddha Park”.  Started in 1958 by Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat, a Lao priest-shaman, the park consists of over 200 Hindu and Buddhist statues, including humans, gods, animals and demons, incredibly ornate, some downright bizarre.  The open mouth of a 3-metre high demon head serves as the entrance to a three level sculpture representing hell, earth and heaven whilst an enormous 120-metre long reclining Buddha lies peacefully nearby.  The sheer array and imaginativeness of the sculptures made the bumpy journey there and back well worth the effort.

Sunset viewing and people watching on the promenade next to the Mekong quickly became part of our daily routine – night markets, group aerobic classes, cyclists, joggers, families walking their children and dogs, even one guy unexplainably standing in full “paragliding” outfit, waiting for a very strong gust of wind maybe?

Christmas lunch consisted of the menu du jour at a French restaurant around the corner from our guesthouse.  A delicious meal of fresh salad, marinated duck, pasta and mixed vegetables, followed by lemon tart and washed down with a glass of red wine made for a memorable day, certainly unlike any Christmas previously.

Something that both impressed and saddened us in Vientiane was the COPE Centre (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise).  It is a local not-for-profit organisation that works in partnership with the Laos National Rehabilitation Centre to provide access to orthotic/prosthetic devices and rehabilitation services.  The aim of the enterprise is to become a locally-staffed organisation that covers the cost of mobility devices and rehabilitation for people in Laos who cannot afford it.  The majority of the people requiring such services are those disfigured or disabled as the result of injuries sustained from unexploded ordnances (UXOs), which Laos is still littered with.

Inquisitive children

Inquisitive children

Monk transport

Monk transport

Energy-filled Lao coffee (with an inch of condensed milk)

Energy-filled Lao coffee (with an inch of condensed milk)

There's always room for another person

There’s always room for another person

On the way to work

On the way to work

Roadside fun

Roadside fun

Wary looks

Wary looks

Between 1964 and 1973, as part of the Secret War operation conducted during the Vietnam War, the US military dropped 260 millions cluster bombs (over 2.5 millions tons of ammunition) on Laos over the course of 580,000 bombing missions.  This is equivalent to a planeload of bombs being dropped on Laos every 8 minutes during the course of 9 long years, which equates to more than all of the bombs dropped on Europe during the entirety of WWII, and give Laos the unfortunate distinction of being the most heavily bombed country in history.

Over 30 percent of the bombs dropped failed to detonate, which now leaves almost 80 million unexploded bombs littering rice fields, villages, school grounds, roads and other populated areas, massively hindering development and poverty reduction.  Frighteningly, to date less than 1 percent of the affected land has been cleared.  There continues to be 100 new casualties per year and many more injuries, almost half being children, as a result of the remaining UXOs.  According to the non-profit organisation “Legacy of War”, the US spent over US$13 million per day for nine years bombing Laos, but during the last 20 years, has spent on average just US$3 million per year helping with UXO clearance.

The COPE Centre has an incredibly informative visitor centre detailing the last 50 years in Laos, the victims of the past, the repercussions for the future, and the initiatives making a difference for the people affected by UXOs today.  Thoroughly touching, mostly heart breaking, often infuriating, it tells the stories of the otherwise unheard victims whose lives have been irrevocably changed.  All this too, in a country that remained neutral during the Vietnam War.  Who exactly pays the highest price for liberty and freedom?

Following our Christmas festivities in Vientiane we got back onto the Route 13 and continued south (December 26th – 30th).  The next five days were flat, flat and flatter, the countryside consisted of dry forests, grasslands and harvested rice fields, and occasionally the road brought us near enough that we could see the mighty Mekong meandering its way south.  Despite the headwind, we made good ground and averaged over 100km per day, without raising too much of a sweat or having to sit too long in the saddle each day.  Although the route was a little monotonous, endless children greeting us from the roadside with smiles from ear to ear that were enough to melt one’s heart and waving with all their might, meant that we enjoyed our time immensely.  Every village was adorned with a shimmering golden temple and freshly brewed thick, strong Lao coffee reenergised us at every break.  With a somewhat synchronised cycling routine as us, we found ourselves most evenings in the company of Pete and Isabella (an Aussie-German couple) also heading south, enjoying a beer and dinner, and swapping notes from another day of cycling.

After almost 500km along the Mekong we reached Savannakhet (December 30th), the second largest city in Laos with a population of 120,000.  Although today it seems little more than a sleepy village, scattered throughout the town are numerous buildings dating from the French colonial period, evidence of its past as an important trading port on the Mekong.

A chance encounter with a young Lao student working in a bar, once again reminded us of how fortunate we are to be able to go on a year long bike ride, and how where you’re born has so much bearing on what opportunities are afforded to you in life.  He approached us just wanting to practise his English, and seemed happy to sit with us and chat a while.  He’d moved the 800km south to Savannakhet from a small village near to Luang Prabang three years earlier to live with relatives, so that he could study journalism.  With the 15 hour bus ride back home costing around US$20, at no stage since he’d moved, had he been able to afford this expense, despite working part-time, and as such hadn’t seen his family in three years!

We had a day of rest and relaxation (December 31st), lunch for the last time with Pete and Isabella before heading our separate ways, then finally, struggling to stay awake after almost a year of early mornings and early nights, just managed to see the arrival of the New Year.

Entrance to Wat Phou Champasak

Entrance to Wat Phou Champasak

Wat Phou Champasak

Wat Phou Champasak

Wat Phou Champasak

Wat Phou Champasak

Our first day of 2014 (January 1st) began like many others from the previous year, up early, breakfast, then on to the bikes and off pedalling. Along the way it became apparent that the Lao people hadn’t stopped celebrating from the night before.  Passing through otherwise quiet villages, we were bombarded with ear-splitting music pulsating from man-sized speakers, accosted on the street by dancing locals offering us food, beer, lao lao (a local whisky), and occasionally almost physically dragged into the roadside festivities.  Every second household seemed to possess a karaoke system, and there seemed no end in sight of participants willing to impress with their vocal skills.  Such a festive atmosphere surrounded us the whole day, making riding a pleasure.

Another three days of riding along the Mekong saw us arrive in Pakse around lunchtime (January 3rd), for what was to be our last town in Laos.  The next day (January 4th) we rented a motorbike and made the 80km round trip to visit Wat Phou Champasak, a ruined Khmer temple complex listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001.  Crumbling ruins climbing up the side of a hill only hint at the former glory of the site.

Although offering little in the way of tourism itself, Pakse is the starting point for many forays further east and south into Laos.  To the east, lay the fertile lands of the Bolaven Plateau with its numerous waterfalls, untouched forests and coffee plantations and further south Si Phan Don (The 4000 Islands), a riverine archipelago in the Mekong River.  Unfortunately our visa was quickly running out, as such meaning it was time to leave Laos and add these places to the ever-expanding list of “places we want to go”.  All that was left to be done (January 5th) was to take the road the last 40km west towards the Thai border, say goodbye Laos, and head into a new unknown.

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4 thoughts on “Christmas cheer, New Year and Buddhas

  1. Guess what you two! I’ve been following your trip with a burning heart; you’re living a dream. Maybe it’s you two that inspired me to do this; I quit my job and will do a similar trip, but I might be travelling by busses and trains..and I’ll go around the whole world, if possible. Anyhow I hope the rest of your trip will be beautiful and you two enjoy it and every moment 🙂 Maybe we’ll meet somewhere in the world, or before I leave in Munich or Switzerland. Take good care and please keep on updating the blog 🙂

    Maaria

    • Hey Maaria, good to see you’ve taken affirmative action. When are you planning on setting off on your trip? Make sure you swing by Switzerland durin your travels some time. All the best, Paul and Annina

  2. Hello from not that far behind you. I’m bumbling my way through northern Laos now, flippin’ eck it’s steep! And it looks as though Daniel and Stephane are about to catch me up any minute now (literally). Thanks for the blog, very useful as I plan future roads. Happy travels.

    • Steep it is – plenty of ups and downs too. We’re relaxing in Phuket at the minute (staying with my uncle) and keep moving south on the weekend. Gotta be in Singapore at the end of the month. Happy trails

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