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.