Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Vientiane, Laos


Vientiane is the capital of Laos and it was our last stop in this country. While there are several impressive Buddhist temples here and some other neat sights (like the above pictured Arc de Triomphe replica), this will not stand out as my favorite part of Laos. When I think back on Laos, I will remember the natural beauty and humble people found in its small towns in the North, the humility and simplicity of the majority of its citizens. Vientiane seemed to spurn a lot of conversations between Bradford and I on the role of communism and it's efficacy in building a developed economy and country. The conclusion we came to? It is not very effective in developing a sustainable economy with happy citizens. 

Nevertheless, this city has some beautiful sights. Here are some pictures from our time in Vientiane. 

{We were treated to a gorgeous sunset on our first night. This temple provided the perfect foreground.}

{Pha That Luang (or 'great stupa') is regarded as Laos's national symbol.}



{There are several reclining buddhas in Southeast Asia, including the famous Wat Pho in Bangkok, but this one in Vientiane was my favorite.}



{In front of 'Patuxai', Vientiane's version of Arc de Triomphe}


{View of the city from the top of Patuxai}



{Wat Si Saket, the oldest standing temple in Vientiane}






{A view of Thailand from across the Mekong River}


{Presidential Palace with the national flag waving in front}


{That Dam, or 'black stupa'}






{We stumbled upon this Buddhist celebration at one of the temples visited -- kind of refreshing to see a temple actually filled with worshippers, for once.}


{A cool shot of the full moon on our last night there}

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Kuang Si Waterfall, Luang Prabang, Laos


On one of our last days in Luang Prabang, we booked a half-day tour to Kuang Si Waterfalls. I was excited to get back to the natural beauty of Laos after spending a few days in the busier city of Luang Prabang.



As we hiked to the main fall, we passed by some smaller pools with some people choosing to take a tip and cool off in them. I was a little underwhelmed until I saw the big kahuna--the main waterfall, which is massive, strong, powerful, and beautiful. Standing on the bridge about 50 yards away from the falls for more than 10 minutes will undoubtedly leave you mostly soaked from the spray blowing from the falls. 





After admiring the falls from the bridge we (well, Brad really) decided it would be cool to hike up to the top of the waterfall. We started up and soon realized we would need to hike up a fairly steep and significantly muddy trail. Of course, I was in flip flops, which always seems to be the case when we find ourselves on a physically demanding adventure. 

Here's a view of what the terrain looked like. Brad snapped this picture from above. He said he purposely stayed well ahead of me because he thought I would convince him to turn back if he remained within earshot. He was right. 



We finally made it to the top which consisted of a series of small pools (with slippery rocks) and a low fence indicating the danger zone where the large waterfall started to form. After the strenuous hike up, I wanted nothing to do with the edge, but Brad was a little braver and more curious than me and he took a peak over the fence, and snapped these pictures. 



{Scary!}


{Crossing the small pools at the top, barefoot}


Much to my relief, it soon started sprinkling so we decided we should probably head back down. This time, we took a different route with a more carved path, including this awesome stairway which was literally built right on the waterfall. 



Aside from a quick slip and fall on my bottom, we made it safely down and spent another 15 minutes or so basking in the beauty of this marvelous waterfall. 






Thursday, November 6, 2014

Luang Prabang, Laos



After a couple weeks exploring the calm, quiet, humble Northern part of Laos, it was time to head to Luang Prabang, Laos' most popular tourist destination and former capital. While much bigger than any of our previously visited cities in Laos, Luang Prabang still had a small, quiet feel. 

We spent a good amount of time exploring the many wats in town and also partaking in some treats that aren't as widely available in the rest of Laos, like chocolate croissants, crepes, and baguette sandwiches (hello, French influence!). 



{Haw Pha Bang}


{Haw Kham Royal Palace Museum}


{On our first night there, we discovered these vegetarian buffets, where you can fill a large bowl with anything from the buffet for $1.25. While it's a great bang for your buck, after day two of eating this for dinner, we decided the queasy after-effect wasn't worth the attractive price.}


{Fruit shakes are common here. Of course, they're delicious. There's this section of the market where you'll find about 10-15 different tables set up selling fruit shakes. They're all literally selling the same thing for the same price and when you walk by, the ladies behind the counter wave their menus at you, begging you to buy from their shop. If you don't choose them, they say, "Okay, tomorrow you buy from me."}




{View of the Buddha inside one of the many temples.}


{A common sight outside the temples}\

The best view of the city is seen on the top of Phousi hill, a 328-step journey from the middle of town. There is a small temple on top, but the real jewel of the hill is the views. While we were on top, a quick monsoon hit, forcing us to take shelter in the temple and then offering some gorgeous, stormy views of the hilltops and Mekong River.


{Wat Tham Phousi}


{The sun barely peaking through the stormy clouds}





{We found another rickety bridge to walk across... I was less than thrilled about crossing, but there were some great views from the middle.}