Tag Archives: Laos

Ecotourism? My *rse

21 Jun

Zipwiring through the canopy of tropical forest, Laos.

Zipwiring. Great fun. But not exactly green.


Monday morning sees us in Chiang Mai, for centuries capital of an independent state, sometimes Siamese, other times Burmese, now the hub of northern Thailand. If you’re Thai, it’s a city of culture and spirituality, of wooden temples, medieval monasteries, crumbling chedi, universities…

If you’re a tourist it’s the regional centre of those outdoor activities so bewilderingly bundled together under the headings “ecotourism” and “trekking”. Zipwiring. Whitewater rafting.
Rockclimbing… Erm… ATVing… Paintballing…

Now, I see how whitewater rafting could loosely count as trekking and perhaps be branded eco-friendly. But since when has zipwiring been green? And as for churning up the highlands with diesel-spewing quadbikes… Continue reading

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Does the Tooth Fairy Take Lao Kip?

19 Jun

So junior’s molar, which has been threatening to drop for the last few weeks, finally did the deed today. He hasn’t, historically, had the best record with teeth.

Lost one in ice-cream. Swallowed another. And one, I think, fell out of a car window, in circumstances which are blurred, though the ensuing sorrow, of course, is not.

Now, I believe in keeping up traditions while travelling longterm.

On Marinduque, in the Philippines, we may have watched flagellants, crucifixions and centurions in honour of the Resurrection. But I also made damn sure to do the annual Easter Egg hunt, setting cryptic paper clues from one puddle of melting chocolate to the next, and crossing my fingers that the ever-present columns of sugar-loving ants didn’t give the game away completely.

So, naturally, the Tooth Fairy will be visiting us in Laos. And the usual pound will be replaced with…

… Err… Continue reading

Spirits of the Forest

18 Jun

Lichens form webs of green, pink and orange on the bark of a tropical tree. Nam Ha protected area, Luang Namtha, Northern Laos.

Tropical lichens spin their symbiotic web on a mature tree.

The sheer complexity of the ecosystem in protected, mature forest, from lichens spinning their symbiotic webs across old bark to the chaos wild pigs wreak on stands of giant bamboo, gives you a whole new perspective on the world and your infinitesimal place within it.

And when your guides are animists, who whole-heartedly believe in the spirits of the forest, the experience is deeper. When hiking in Europe you might lay a stone upon a cairn, as a good luck sign and mark of your travels. In the Nam Ha protected region of northern Laos you lay an offering of leaves at a sacred place. Continue reading

The Good Life?

18 Jun

Four year old Hmong girl holds a handbag, Luang Namtha province, Northern Laos.

The handbag is for pleasure. The bracelet for good health.

This is Sing’s eldest daughter, showing off her handbag outside the house her father built.

Her name means “Be Loved”. Be Loved’s younger sister is called “Be Happy” and the baby’s name means “General”. Appropriately since, like many youngest children, she isn’t shy about asserting her needs.

Sing chose his daughters’ names before he was married — late for Laos, at twenty-eight. His wife and he were working in business administration in Vientiane, the capital, when mutual friends set them up on a blind date. On their second date, five years ago, they married.

Their eldest is four and a bit. You do the maths. Continue reading

On Books

15 Jun

Back in Udomxay, the construction town in northern Laos where our two-day odyssey from Vietnam reached a natural close, we met a crazy Canadian chap with an Irish accent and a Beer Lao can seemingly stapled twixt thumb and forefinger. Not so much met as, perhaps, attracted.

Charming chap. Pushing 70. Thoroughly pickled 24-7. And found in me, yikes, a kindred spirit.

Having travelled extensively with his own nipper, when the boy (now my age) was eight (roughly junior’s age), he had uncharitable things to say about my backpack. Particularly, the size thereof.

Now, to a degree, I second that emotion. Although, in our defense, I will say that I have only one pack, which goes on my back, rather than the “pregnant” two-pack look (one front, one back) so popular among our Nordic friends. Continue reading

A Rainy Season Odyssey

14 Jun

clouds descend over mountain gorge with waterfall visible in distance. Sapa, Vietnam.

View from a bus window #1. Mist, mountains and waterfalls, near Sapa, Vietnam.

The start of the monsoon season in Vietnam’s northern highlands is a beautiful thing.

The rivers turn turbid and golden, rapids smearing the surface like toffee coming to the boil; young rice seedlings and their older siblings stipple paddy terraces in varying greens; waterfalls appear everywhere you look.

Old women from the hill tribes carry leaves for making hats, sporting bright wellies over their leggings. Fireflies switch on their mating lights at night. Dramatic storms with sheet lightning pass over, sky darkening like a giant’s hand cast over the sun and after the rain, the earth has a rich, deep scent of settled soil and teeming life.

The nine-year-old was looking forward to our first proper rainy season journey. As he put it, “We might as well stay up all night. I’ve always wanted to stay up all night, and I’ve never done it. The bus the next day leaves so early we might as well… Plus, we’ll save sooo much money on the hotel room…” Continue reading

The Magic of Travel

27 Mar

Z on back of sawngthaew, Four Thousand Islands, Laos

The big adventure!

One of the great things about travelling with Z is the pleasure he takes in the different means of going from A to B. From the night train to Bangkok to trekking through the Cambodian jungle to swan boats in Hue, Vietnam.

But for me, this snap of him riding tailgate on a sawngthaew (South-East Asian pickup-taxi-bus), ahead of our big adventure down the Mekong in Four Thousand Islands, Laos, sums up his excitement.

So I’ve submitted it to Photo Fridays at Delicious Baby.

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Bangkok (Not Very) Dangerous

27 Mar

Z in driving seat of train, Thanaleng, Laos

No hands. The engine was running...

Honestly. Why take the bus when you can take the train?!

Even in second class, the night train from Nong Khai to Bangkok is a real joy, particularly after our Lao bus experience the night before. Fold out, curtained bunks with clean sheets which are prepared for you at bedtime, allowing you a seat before. Decent food delivered, with table, from the buffet car. Woken by hot coffee vendors in the morning…

So we are in Bangkok, and rested. Despite the alarums in the international press, this is clearly not a city in the grips of civil strife. In fact, the Red Shirt rallies provide the chance to earn a few hundred baht. Five hundred, to be precise. Continue reading

The Best-Laid Plans…

26 Mar

<a Cake display, Scandinavian Bakery, Vientiane, Laos

Not, actually, a piece of cake, after all

We have hot-footed it — well, night-bused it — back from Luang Prabang to Vientiane, with a sleeper train to Bangkok ahead of us tonight, in quest of the elusive Myanmar visa.

Whether because of Z’s performance in the embassy last time around (unlikely) or a verifiable and undeclared, though undistinguished and utterly apolitical, track record in UK journalism (likely), politically undesirable Facebook friends (possible), trigger-happy blogging (unlikely, but you never know), or the latest junta-unfriendly act of our own dear government (highly likely) our visa applications have been kicked upstairs. Or, rather, back home. Continue reading

The Fear Factor

26 Mar

Z on canopy zipwire, Tad Sae Waterfall, Luang Prabang, Laos

Loving every minute of it!

Can intensive, sweaty, pulse-pounding vertigo count towards one’s recommended 30 minutes cardio? If so, I need no more exercise for at least a week…

I blame my son. There we are, last day in Luang Prabang, beautiful World Heritage town, all geared up to mooch around and finally visit the oldest temple in Laos, when we get talking to someone who insists we should go to a waterfall. There are rare Malaysian sunbears, elephants, and, the kicker for the young master, a zipwire.

Envisaging this as a sort of one-off flying fox over a waterfall, which Z can undertake while I watch admiringly from the side, I agree. And off we set. Z clad practically in jeans, shirt and sandals. I clad rather less appropriately in a shortish frock and flipflops. Continue reading