Quite early in the morning we got up off our dump beds. With plastic bags on our feet against the 10 inches high mud on the street we march in the pouring rain towards the boarder to Laos. Good bye China!
We have breakfast in Boten, the first village in Lao after we had to wake up the banker man to trade a few Yen into a big bundle of KIP, the local currency. One € used to be 10.000 KIP, where the biggest piece you can get is a 10.000 KIP note. The four of us share a big portion of fried vegetables with rice for about 5000 KIP. The bus which is supposed to bring us from Boten to Udom Xai doesn’t really follow a strict timetable as it seems. And he moves even more slow then the one in China, the street is more narrow and bumpy too. However, there is almost no traffic here, so why should one build up highways. =) We stop here and there in little villages to pick up a few locals. It is a colourful tribe up here in the bush, in the remote mountains of Laos. No electricity in the small villages of tiny wooden houses on stilts, the villagers sitting underneath them with their families. Wu Wei – the art of doing nothing. Smiles on their faces. Way less rice fields then in China, way less people working so it seems to me.
We reach Udom Xai in the afternoon, find a cheap hotel near the bus station and go out to discover town. The first traces of tourism, some English announcements on the bus terminal. A good meal, then a walk through the tiny rows of a market. Everything looks small somehow, except the golden Stupa on a hill in the middle of the town. Up there we fall down to the holy grass & relax in the mild sun of this evening.
The next morning - Jarik forgot to adjust his alarm clock to Laos time – we get up extremely early. =) So we catch the first bus to Luang Prabang, just after the monks had their daily ceremony on the bus station, blessing every small shop and getting some sticky rice in return.
Fog takes off the valleys of the primary forest as we creep along the serpentines of the mountains. Almost untouched the nature appears here and something in me screams “Stay still, you are in a fairytale” when we stop in the middle of nowhere for a pee. But the more we move southwards the more traffic we get. TV sets now in the small cottages and huge naked areas on the hills, where someone just burned all the primary forest away. We get back to Civilisation.
In Luang Prabang we even see regular tourist busses and menu cards priced in € and $ instead of KIP. But therefore everyone speaks some English again. We spend some time beside the river Mekong silently flowing here probably much longer then humans are on this earth. The river knows… A few of the more then a hundred Buddhist temples we visit as well. Similar to Mongolia, we can only spot very young monks here. Perhaps because of the Communists who just banned all that until a few years ago.
We just stay for one night and then head off torwards Vangvieng, a small town between Luang Prabang and Vientiane, the capital of Laos. There we stay for a few days for a real rest after all those kilometres. Well developed in terms of tourism you can get a lot of activities here – guided hiking tours in the hills and into the many caves, river rafting with tubes or kayaks. We just walk around by ourselves and visit one of those caves with torches and an old Laos who doesn’t carry a torch and doesn’t stop talking for a second either. Nice! I meet an Ex-Manager, victim of the strange business period. We chat happily on a bar beside the Mekong. For now, this is the end of hectic and stress. Really good Caipi Mekong drinks (Laos Whiskey, Lime, Sugar and ice) for some 80 Cents. Is this paradise? =)
In Vientiane we sort our Visa for Thailand. A two meter tall German monk in those orange clothes, perhaps about 35 or 40 years, is sitting behind us in the embassy, talking to a young Laos monk using some scattered English. Strange. We visit a few more temples or walk through the streets. A nice bar on the riverside. A big number of Lao doing some aerobic. Small motorbikes everywhere. Prices are quite high here, compared to what we used to pay in Vangvieng or Udom Xai. Very often prices are in Baht, the stronger Thai currency. Or Dollars.
We rent on of those motorbikes and go for a nice trip to a place they call “Buddha Park”, a collection of big Buddha and Shiva statues from former times, half rotten. There is a huge sphere-like building, maybe 6 metres high. It has an open mouth as entrance gate, contains three different levels you can climb up until you are on top of the sphere watching the huge sculpture of Shiva with her eight arms. Inside there is another sphere with the meaning of Heaven, Earth and Hell perhaps. Very impressive! The entrance fee is really low here. By lunchtime there are herds of tourists climbing on the statues...