Saturday, December 19, 2009

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Two bus rides on windy roads out of the mountains and we reached Huay Xai on the Lao-Thai border where we spent our last night in Lao. The next morning we crossed the border by ferry and took a bus to Chiang Mai, Thailand. Chiang Mai is a major tourist destination and a big city, we only spent two days here, exploring the many temples and enjoying delicious food, the many bookstores and the huge night market. We saw our first Starbucks since Los Angeles (we didn't go in).

The wats (temples) here were a little different than we had seen elsewhere and very impressive. Several had beautiful painted doors and wall murals.

The remainder of the western wall and moat (below) that surounded the ancient city.

The remains of a gigantic stupa.

Northern Lao

From Vientiane we headed by minibus (3 hrs) and boat (1 hr) to a little riverside village with a few lodges and amazing scenery. We stayed two nights and took a beautiful walk to a few caves and through several farming villages. This picture is as we were leaving the road, we were in a little boat (12 passengers and the boatman) like the ones in this picture.
This is the village where we stayed.
Views from our hotel.
This is the first cave we reached on our hike.

Cheers Omar!

From the riverside village we took several minibuses to reach the Muang Sing valley and a little village in a national park and near the China border. The day we reached here we rented bikes and rode through several nearby villages.

The next day we moved to a different lodge a little ways outside of town and a few kilometers from the China border. We got a hand-drawn map of the surrounding villages with vague, but pretty good walking directions (we only got a little lost and had to back track once). We had a beautiful walk passing through several villages of different ethnic groups (or hill tribes are they frequently called).

After a long day walking we relaxed and watched a beautiful sunset from our balcony.

A chilly early morning tuk tuk ride to the bus station.

Luang Prabang

Our second stop in Lao was Luang Prabang, the old royal capital of Lao. It was a long windy bus ride, Luang Prabang is north of Vientiane and in a mountainous region. The city, along the Mekong River is another UNESCO world heritage city. One of the main 'tourist' streets, lined with restaurants, shops and tour agencies.Views of the city from a hilltop temple. We watched a beautiful sunset there.

We rented bikes (nice mountain bikes with gears this time) and rode out through beautiful countryside to a waterfall 25 kilometers outside of the town.

This was a lower pool where we could swim.
We were ready for a swim by the time we got there, though it was chilly water!
One of the many temples Luang Prabang is famous for--they were all beautifully and ornately deocrated inside and out.

A second wat (temple) on the same grounds.
The back of this temple had a beauiful 'Tree of Life' mosaic on the facade, smaller temples on the same site were also covered in mosaic stories.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Vientiane, Laos

We found Vientiane, the capital of Laos, to be blissfully quiet (no honking horns! no "lady want to buy something from me") and relaxing. We were pleasantly surprised to arrive at the airport and to have to ask three or four people to locate a taxi driver to take us to our hotel (as compared other places where you have to run away from the taxi, tuk-tuk, motorcyle and bicycle rickshaw drivers who want to transport you). We enjoyed strolling the wide streets & sidewalks (another treasure--sidewalks in other cities are often motorbike parking lots), visiting the impressive wats (temples) and eating by the river.

Llegamos a Vientiane, la capital de Laos. Esta es la ciudad de la tranquilidad donde no hay mas vendedores ambulantes persiguiendote todo el tiempo y en donde para tomar un taxi tienes que emplear algo de tiempo para encontrar a uno y que te lleven. Esta vez no hubo mas claxon y motocicletas andando por las banquetas.

Patuxai, a memorial to commemorate Lao who died in pre-revoluntionary wars. You can climb to the top for great views of the city.

Views of the city from the top of Patuxai.

Presidential Palace.

Wat Haw Pha Kaew

Buddha statue at Haw Pha Kaew.

Pha That Luange, the most important national monument in Laos (with monk passing).

Omar on the steps of Pha That Luang.

The night market on the riverside. Delicious and cheap barbeque and Beer Lao.