Rainy season – Green season

Almost in time with the official start of the European summer, the so-called rainy season reached Pakse in Southern Laos. This doesn’t sound like a big thing but still impressive what chain of changes this provokes.

The landscape receives a times greener outfit – plants and trees are lusher. The rice starts growing in what now are water paddies. And there is the mighty Mekong, the river presents his new colour (brown) and new size – sandbanks, small islands and beaches are swallowed by the masses of water.

The temperature has dropped by about ten degrees to acceptable 25-35 degrees. This also means a new quality of sleep – no more air con, no more fan – just opening the windows and letting in the fresh air and listening to the rain drops falling on neighbour’s corrugated iron roof. Even during the day, there is little need for fan or air con.

And, while I open the window in my bedroom, I look at the papaya tree that seems to have higher goals and may soon reach the window and, maybe, serve his fruits – with a few more rains…we shall see.

Impressions from Don Khong and Khone Pha Pheng – Southern Laos

Philippe, a French-Lao hotel manager on Don Khong, invited me to discover his island and the biggest waterfall in South East Asia – Khone Pha Pheng. Let me share some impressions with you:

On the way to the island

Walking and discovering the island

Colourful flowers on the way

Fishermen throwing their nets artistically

Local rice paper production (usually used for the fresh spring rolls or if further processes as noodles)

Different light on the island

By the waterfall Khone Pha Pheng

Adventure around Champasak – Don Daeng

For my little weekend adventure, I go to Miss Noy’s shop and rent a motorbike. Helmet on and off we go. The streets in town are almost empty, it is Sunday morning. I am heading out towards the south. First rains at the end of the dry season have started to convert the rice fields into small ponds mirroring trees and buffaloes. Farmers are back on their fields, tilling the soil to prepare the land for the rice planting season. The grass is greener, trees lusher. With only a few drops the landscape changed. It feels good to be on the road.

I approach my first destination for the day, Champasak village about 30km south of Pakse. It is a hot day – so an iced coconut shake will do while sitting on the riverside of the Mekong to relax and tune to the place. I enjoy a delicious veggie-curry-soup in that little restaurant called home-made. It’s a new place. The owner explains the concept in good English (I have not yet reached this conversation level in Lao Language). Then, I get a room in a hotel. After a little rest, I hop on a bicycle and head on the island Don Daeng just in front of Champasak. A boat “floats” me over to the island, it is a nice experience. With the low waters at the moment, I land on a broad sandy beach. Luckily I got the lighter vehicle as I have to push it through the sand.

The island is quite, I cycle form the northern tip to the south, through villages, along fields and temples. The sun is slowly coming down on the horizon, time to find a boat that takes me back. I follow a blue sign towards the Mekong. A few people come from below, so I should be on the right way. Going down the small hill, balancing on the two wood lanes over the sandy beach, I kind of strand on the riverside. No one’s there, boats but no people…mmhh. Time to take a few pictures and screen the horizon. I can recognise two fishermen about a kilometre north. A tough sand ride brings me to the friendly men who only say “late”…let’s see, suddenly, we both can recognise a boat with people heading further north of the beach. My hope. I continue the sand ride as far north I could and make signs – lucky me, the boat man gives me a countersign and only a few minutes later he comes to get me and my bicycle on the boat. Another nice cruise over Mekong in the evening light.

The next day is another motorcycle adventure with a friend who knows the place in an out, we follow the Mekong towards the south and gather some nice impressions – from boat building (incl. in miniature) to rice basket weavers, old temple incl. library to river life with friendly people and children ready to share a smile. The way is a dirt road, most of the time in good conditions – so lucky me, as it proves later on, I am not such a talented mud driver yet 😉 With a twisted foot toe from a slow-motion-fall into the mud, I soon board a boat that brings me to the other shore of the Mekong and I say good bye to my friend. Before I shall close the loop, I am challenged to balance the motorcycle over a two board wooden lane through the sands and to cross a temporary wooden bridge…almost two small for the two of us – the bike an my self – and made of unfixed wooden boards. I struggle…and decide that I need some help here. I shout a few times “Sabaidee” and “Kho Toot”. And as if he heard me, a man appears on the hill that leads to the beach and helps me to get over the bridge. Wonderful! “Khop Jai Lai Lai” – Thank you very much!

French connection

While meandering through the streets of Pakse, Vientiane or other places in Laos, you can discover the historical connection to France. C’etait l’Indochine – Indochina. From the French-style baguette, to street signs, old buildings, bridges and ‘la vache qui rit’ – laughing cow with Lao-style ear rings (BeerLao!)

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Even in the Lao language you can find a few words such as ‘mak phom’ (pomme in French) which though is slowly beeing replaced my ‘mak aepen’ for the English word apple. The historic French bridge in Pakse has recently been removed to make space to a new bridge currently under construction by Lao government.

Although things move slowly here, transformations do not stop. There was not only a French connection, there is a Russian and a Japanese bridge in Pakse and a Thai and Chinese further north and likely from other nations as well in other parts of the country. All signs of historical and more recent connections.

Happy weekend with a smile from the cow!

Field trip to North/North-East Cambodia

After two months in Laos, I have the opportunity to go for a work field trip to Cambodia. I fly from Pakse to Siem Reap where I meet my colleagues and then head into the first meeting. Before I jump into the next meeting, a driver takes me to Angkor Wat, just to get a glimpse from the outside and to get an idea of the sheer size of the area. Wonderful, Angkor Wat receives me with a rainbow 🙂  It feels like a special place – sure, everybody knows it is one of the most visited cultural heritage sites of the world – but still, the evening light is beautiful, no, it’s mystical, shining into the forest along big and beautiful trees. Something that I miss later on while driving on major roads from province to province. Much of forests have been cleared, some areas have been converted to mono-agriculture others remain abandoned.

The field trip takes us to less visited tourist spots mainly located in the North/North-East of Cambodia (Provinces of Preah Vihear, Stung Treng and Kratie). I see local tourist spots – mainly allowing for family and friends reunions in nature spots, with a setting for eating, sitting, chatting and relaxing. I discover less developed cultural heritage sites such as Koh Ker and Preah Vihear. In the latter spot, I especially like the photographer, a microentrepreneur – in a photo bag he carries a little printer, ink, stapler, a big battery, small plastic bags, photo paper and his camera. It goes quick quick, for about 1 dollar, you get a picture in a minute! And that all happens up on a mountain. Handicraft centres are also on my list and the river life along the Mekong, including a Cantor’s Giant Softshell turtle conservation centre.

With a wonderfully refreshing fruit shake watching the sunset over the Mekong in Kratie, an intense week is almost over. One more day in meetings, wrap-up and then travelling back to Pakse. This time by minivan. According to google maps it’s only 352km. Given the road conditions though, it is estimated to take me about 7 hours. But, my adventure is not over, it shall take me 13 hours incl. the last two hours in a semi-open “sawngthaew” through rain and thunderstorms. Despite everything, safe and healthy back in Laos with one more interesting experience in my back pack 🙂

Last but not least – a big THANK YOU – to my strong guides Lisa and Sophea!

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Sabaidee Pi Mai 2558 – Happy New Year 2558!

Back into the future!? Laos and other Buddhist countries in South east Asia have just welcomed the New Year with a three-day-celebration. On the road this meant to get completely wet by flying water bombs, pots of water thrown over or by water sprinkled out of pipes. It also meant days with loud music – let’s call it outdoor discotheques and outdoor karaoke – accompanied by thousands of litres of Beer Lao, the local beer. The more traditional and original rituals though took place in the temples. During the first day, the Buddha figures were moved from their original shrines to a little chapel where they were washed and sprinkled with water by the people during day two. On day three, the Buddhas were brought back to their original place. Reborn.

Being mainly on the road, exploring the Bolaven on motorcycle, I got blessed by water many times. I definitely enjoyed more the water from the waterfalls than from the people on the road…still, it was an experience. Find some pictures of the motorcycle trip in the Bolaven, the highlands of Southern Laos.

Southern Laos – 4000 Islands (Si Phan Don)

My first field trip brings me to Si Phan Don (aka 4000 Islands), the southernmost spot of Laos. It is a fascinating area – the name reveals – thousands of islands. Some are inhabited all year round, others only exist in the dry season and disappear in the floods of the rainy season. Quite a few are simply too small to live on while others serve as fertile gardens. In Ban Nakasang, I hop on a tourist boat and glide over the Mekong river to Don Khon Island. The engine is loud but the water buffaloes on the way do not show any signs of disturbance and continue their bath to cool down from the warm temperature.

I get off on “my” island and slow down. The pace is different, it is peaceful. Everything has it’s time. Including the siesta during the warmest hours of the day 😉 The late afternoon hours are perfect for a bicycle tour to explore parts of the island and to catch the evening light and the sunset reflecting on the water and colouring the heaven. One evening, by chance, I make it to a dolphin watching boat ride into the sunset – magical!

The more I explore, the more I can only guess how big the area actually is. More water, more islands. I also appreciate the river life; man fishing or fixing their fishing net, women preparing food or making rice baskets. Children going to school by boat. Monks forming a sculpture to decorate a headstone. The traditional way of life is complemented by the more tourist-oriented life. Along the river side – over a stretch of about one kilometre – hotels, bungalows, guest houses and restaurants are next to each other. It still seems to be on an acceptable scale. May it remain balanced.

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First impressions from Pakse – Southern Laos

Since a week I am in Pakse, a small town in Southern Laos. It’s a warm place. The thermometer reaches 35°. It’s summer, dry season. In the morning and evenings a wonderful wind blows some refreshing air over the roofs of the town. It’s located between the Mekong and the Sedone river. Green hills decorate the background of the landscape. A golden Buddha watches over the town. I’ve seen water buffaloes and cows walking on and crossing streets.

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Saturday morning in Vientiane, Laos

From winter into summer or in other words, from Switzerland to Laos. Changing the warm porridge for breakfast for a plate of tropical fruits. Stepping into the ballerinas instead of the warm boots. Leaving the woollen pullover for linen and cotton cloth. Putting the sunglasses on and ready for a stroll through the streets of Vientiane, the capital of Laos. It’s colourful and peaceful. Enjoy some impressions from my morning walk.

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