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Laos - Luang Nam Tha, Muang, Ngoi, Nong Khiaw, ...

New Year brings change to my travelling too. I have decided it is a time to cross to another country and so shortly after stepping into 2007 I have left China and crossed to Laos. There were not any major delays on the border and without even taking bags out of the bus I easily swapped the countries and continued all the way to Luang Nam Tha. The first bigger place after the border. It was not as far into the country, but the change is noticeable. Suddenly I found myself in the tropical country, with less advanced technology and no people. That is the biggest change from China. There are not many people and roads are almost traffic free. What a pleasure to cycle around. Also the local villages are much less developed then in China.

LUANG NAM THA - is nice and quite cheap place to hang out. People there are friendly and I really enjoy going through the surrounding villages. You can see much of the local life there and just easily walk or cycle in the countryside. Many rice fields on the foothills.

NONG KHIAW - Second place to where I moved from Luang Nam Tha. Living is relatively cheap and I have managed to find excellent room with a terrace overlooking a Nam Ou river and with the really friendly owners. One of a few people, who were nice in this place. Food in the restaurants is overpriced and there is no choice of any local cuisine. Shops are sometimes more expensive then restaurants for the same items. For me this place is a big rip off, where people are not used to the tourism yet and they see just easy money. Though they do not offer anything in return. They rather try to cheat you to maximalise their profits. So no bargain, no discount, but many ridiculous requests. It made me really angry to deal with some of them. And they all look so miserable, like they hate their life. That is a big difference from Luang Nam Tha. There people in the villages live normal life and they are happy. Although they are a bit reserved and also the language barrier, you can talk with them, laugh with them, ….. In Nong Khiaw it is not possible and when you manage to interact with someone, sooner or later they will try to make money from you. Well, that’s mine feeling about the place.

MUANG NGOI - much better choice, although it is very much a tourist village. People there are much friendlier and they still live their traditional lives. You can do some nice walks in the surrounding, explore the villages and the mountain scenery around is rather spectacular. As it is on the river and the access is only by a boat, you can do lots of other activities too. Like to hire a kayak or a local with the boat and go around for a ride or fishing, swimming, tubing. This place is an hour boat ride up the river from Nong Khiaw and it cost 18.000 Kip one way.

LUANG PRABANG - quite a big place on a Mekong river, reachable from Nong Khiaw by boat (7 hours - 100.000 kip) or by bus (4 hours - 32.000 kip). It is watched by Unesco for its unique colonial architecture and many “Wats” which is a Buddhist temple. It is incredibly touristy place, thanks to the airport and easy reach from Thailand or Vientiane. Many people also come by boat on the Mekong river, which is also great experience. Accommodation is much more expensive, but you have much bigger choice of food. Its night market with its barbeques and street dishes makes it cheap and tasty culinary experience.

...just one more beer...

VANG VIENG - more like a tourist town, where the local life goes on. Many restaurants have TV playing all day long the famous shows like Friends or Simpsons and some also show good films. But no need to move, it is easy to stay in hammock on the river or in front of your bungalow. Don’t worry, there are possibilities for an active life style too. The countryside has many hills and caves, which you can visit. It is simple to go for the river kayaking, rock climbing, tubing (one of the local tourist attraction - drink as many beers as you can stand, while tubing down the river), rent a bike or just walk through the jungle to the nearby villages. In the evening, you can watch a line of millions of bats twisting above the hills just after the sunset. It is an incredible natural phenomenon. The bats group and leave the cave together to hunt for a food at the same time. They create long line stretching over the horizon. You can see them every evening for a few minutes. It’s like a watching a show.

Absolutely perfect place to stay is in the bungalows “On the other side”, which you can find just after crossing the bamboo bridge over the river. You are so closed to the main street, but in a relaxing place completely isolated from civilisation by the river. You can enjoy many great views to the open countryside, on hills, jungle and rice fields and of course, the river life on the other side. There is nothing though, you would be deprived of. Two bungalow restaurants can cook you great food or make a fruit shake anytime of the day.

Rooster fights - old local tradition

Another think I was looking for and found is a rooster fight. It is something very typical for Laos and other countries in South East Asia. For me it is rather a perfect photo opportunity. It isn’t been made into a tourist attraction like a kickboxing. It still continues to be just a passion of the local people. And that is what the atmosphere was like.

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