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Enjoy some pictures of the worldrecordtour, taken in Laos


Laos Map



Map of Southeast Asia

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A Farmer is herding the cattle
on a harvested rice field
Girls are carrying heavy
loads with a head band
The first mountain village after the Cau Treo
border crossing with its wooden stilt houses
The customs building at the Cau Treo border crossing into Laos is hidden nearly entirely by a thick wall of fog, when we arrive from Vinh/Vietnam in the early afternoon of January 24th, 2006, and make our way in the rain to the immigration. All the doors are open and a chilly wind blows through the inhospitable waiting hall. We sit shivering on a bench and wait for the responsible officer to appear behind his counter to issue our entry visa, which is obtainable directly at most of the Laotian borders at a cost of US$30. Not having to apply in advance makes it so easy, but the big disadvantage is that it is valid only for two weeks, which for us unfortunately showed to be too short. Contrary to all predictions, our passports and Carnet de Passages are stamped with any signs of corruption straight forward. And it is also pleasant that nobody wants to know what we carry along in our car.




Happy children in front of
a village grocery store
Woman cooking on her balcony
Most of the daily activities
take place outside
As soon as we are leaving the uncomfortable, chilly and moist offices, we dare to cast a first glimpse at the many dog cages piled up loosely in front of the customs building. What an immense relief to find out that they are all empty. Normally, they are stuffed with dogs of whatever race - collected in Laos - on their final trip to Vietnam. Often, they have to endure incredible heat, without any water and food for entire days and nights, and their barking and howling must be heartbreaking. The horror stories we heard later about the “killing, i.e. cooking” methods, we do not even want to mention – yes, it is incredible what happens to these intelligent and affectionate pets. We are really happy that we are spared from this emotional sight and that we may start our journey into Laos carefree.




Captured dogs in Laos on their final trip to Vietnam:
A new truckload is arriving …..
….. with the deplorable creatures –
without any water – in their cages …..
….. and reloading them at the Laotian
border for the transport to Vietnam
(Though shortly after, as we pull out beside the road for a long deserved snack consisting of a hot noodle soup to warm us up and a piece of Bologna sausage - I am luckily too busy with eating to see what Emil observes: A new truck load with Hundreds of captured dogs is on its way to the border). It is another culture, we know it, but still we will never manage to understand why animals are treated so terribly and insensibly in some parts of the world. We asked English fellow travelers Sandy Methven und Michael Groves (www.expeditionoverland.com) - who were able to shoot some pictures - for the permission to include them in our story, and they agreed. May be it helps if more and more people get to know about it, and may be somebody is able to take some steps against this cruelty.




Brickyards along the road
Hut with fenced in garden
along the Mekong River
A Buddhist temple in the jungle
A new country, a new culture, a new feeling! Our first impression of Laos is: “It looks very much like Nepal”! Just as we remember from the Himalayan nation, we see also here young boys carrying heavy loads with their head-band and girls buckling on their backs baskets full of wood and walking bent along the road. The highway, which we follow from the border is very new, paved just recently, but it remains deserted. After the crowded and polluted streets in Vietnam and the endless plains, the loneliness and the stunning view of the mountain scenery comes as a breath of fresh air. And suddenly also the fog is lifting and we spot a promising shimmer of clear sky on the horizon. Yes, and next, the sun we missed for such a long time so much, welcomes us. We feel like new-born.




At the confluence of the Mekong
and Nam Kading River in Pak Kading
Reeds and sandbanks in Pak Kading
View from Saga view point to the
karsts scenery on Route 8 West
The untouched nature and its emptiness – Laos has only 1/10 of Vietnam’s population – give us this wonderful feeling of space and freedom again. After the many weeks of practically “never-being-alone” we also nearly forgot, how relaxing and beautiful solitude can be. When we meet some of the weather-beaten faces of the mountain people, they look at us only shyly and from a distance, in sharp contrast to the Vietnamese, who are more curious and always ready for a friendly closeness. Being privacy loving Europeans, it is an appreciated change. And all at once, both of us feel a desire to camp out in the nature again – lovely wild camping spots are easy to find. But unfortunately, my broken leg from Cambodia does not allow it yet. Instead, we sleep the first night of our 153rd country (as also the following nights) forcibly again in a bed – in the Souriya Guesthouse in Lak Sao, the first small village after the border. The basement room is small and cold and the blanket thin, and only our own warm bedding bought in Amritsar/India allows us to spend the night warm enough. Slowly but steadily, we start to hate the “four impersonal walls”, on which we are depending since Cambodia and which start to give us a sense of claustrophobia.




Women are practicing a dance
at the Mekong River shore
Enjoying the Mekong River
Sunset at the Mekong River in Vientiane
Next morning, we are awakened by the lovely songs of birds and the sun is laughing from a blue sky. The grandiose feeling of space is back immediately again as we drive on a good tarmac road on Route 8 towards the Mekong River. There is still hardly any traffic and we enjoy the stunning karst scenery and the quaint villages clinging to the mountain slopes with huts made from palm leafs and wood, many on stilts. It is like traveling back in time. Pigs are crossing the street followed by their squeaking youngsters, chicken cackle nervously and children play joyfully on the road. Tiny, well cultivated vegetable gardens are attached to many dwellings, fenced in with bamboo against the roaming domestic animals. There is no garbage lying around. Every inch is swept clean with brooms made out of reed, which grows on almost every hill. It is cut and collected by half of the population – young and old, mostly females – and laid out along the road to dry. The seed is either pounded or rolled off. The drying process is not only taking place on a small scale. Occasionally we see it for miles along the road all over the country. We just wonder who is going to buy them all, as they are made by the thousands.




The ‚Patuxai’ in Vientiane,
the Laotian replica of the
French ‚Arc de Triomphe’ in Paris
View from ‚Patuxai’
(Victory Monument) in Vientiane
Children on their way to the market
We cross farmers herding their livestock on the harvested rice fields, as they have done it for decades. This rural live and untouched nature are so peaceful and we enjoy it so intensively, that - for my taste - we arrive much too soon in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, where we are re-surrounded by the noisy traffic. We enter the city through the impressive Patuxai, the Victory Monument – a replica of the ‘Arc de Triomphe’ in Paris – and head straight to the mighty Mekong, where the river front is lined with hotels and restaurants - so many, that there is not one gap where we can pull out with our car, except along the road. Apart from my depressing immobility, it could have been just this unexpected disillusionment that shortly afterwards - all of a sudden - I feel a deep anger and discontent, which I focus on Emil straight away. I start to complain strongly that I am fed up of all the big cities we recently had to visit and that I would rather prefer to be out in the nature. One word leads to another and a few minutes later, just when ‘Pha That Luang’ - Laos’ National Symbol and most important religious monument – also called the ‘Great Sacred Stupa’ – appears with its spires glistening like gold in the warm evening light, I already begin to regret my uncontrolled outburst. But it is unfortunately too late – the “fire is already burning in the roof”, as we are saying.




‚Phat That Luang’, called also ‚Great Sacred Stupa’ in Vientiane
….. is Laos’ National symbol and the
most important religious monument .….
..... and its impressive gate .....
..... and its breathtaking „golden“ appearance
Emil is so mad at me about my - according to him - unjustified fury that he remains stubbornly seated in the car and leaves me hopping away alone with my crutch and the camera to this breathtakingly beautiful sight (yes, occasionally this can happen also in our family!). I do not make it further than to the entrance, where I sit down exhausted on the stone steps to absorb the serenity of this “golden” picture. But it does not take long and Emil is on my side again. Sharing a moment of joy make fade away problems very soon. That is what happens also here and soon our arguing belongs to the past. Later in the evening, when we are sitting at a small table of a highly pregnant woman at the riverside, sipping an ice cold BeerLao, watching the Mekong pass by and the sunset inflaming the sky, full peace and harmony has returned to us.




Buddha image in one of the remaining
two of originally four temples
surrounding ‚Pha That Luang’
One of the two remaining
temples still surrounding ‚Pha
That Luang“; once there were four
A Buddhist monk in a temple garden
Two days of busy city life while I am more or less restrained to the car, is long enough. Towards noon, we are heading North to Vang Vieng – a village described in our guide book as “either you love it or you hate it”. Our feelings for this place are somewhere in between, surely also influenced by the fact that practically the whole village looks like one construction site. All the roads are dug up due to the improvement of the sewage system, what does not look very inspiring. What we like though is its beautiful setting, nestling between the Nam Song River and the stunningly beautiful limestone karst scenery; but also the many cozy restaurants, where sitting on soft cushions on low tables is wonderfully relaxing. Yes, everything sounds so exciting, if only the “IF” would not be.




„Our“ pregnant mother with her
street stall at the Mekong River
Encounter in Vientiane with Taff
(Yamazaki Tatsuya), a Japanese
world traveler, who visited already
98 countries in a 1986 Toyota Carina
Hand cart vendor in Vientiane
The huge popularity of Vang Vieng is unfortunately not only originating from its wonderful setting and the possibilities of exploring limestone caves, kayaking and tubing on the river on tractor inner tubes. Where “happy meals” are served, i.e. pizzas, milkshakes etc. enriched with “stuff”, it does not need much fantasy to find out what the “genuine” specialty is what attracts hundreds of “hangers”. In this unmistaken drug scene we definitely are at the wrong place. At least we find a lovely spot on the river shore, where we spend the evening hours relaxing, watching the people floating down the river and the sun disappear on the other side. Then, we return to our quiet room in the Chaleun Vieng Phone Guesthouse. For only US$4 a room, there is besides air-conditioning even hot water and in the morning fresh coffee.




Cultivated fields in a valley
The blue band of a river
winding through the plains
Vegetable garden and a boat
along the river shore
Next morning, the waking up call is already very early. Our plan is to reach Luang Prabang, 220 kilometers to the North at the confluence of the Mekong and the Nam Khan River, for which we count with a 7-hours drive through the mountains. The village life is just slowly awakening, when we leave behind us the karsts valley of Vang Vieng. The first attraction is not far away. Already at the next river crossing, we are rewarded for our early start with a wonderful view: Bizarre mountain peaks and some lonely houses are reflecting in the motionless dark surface of the river. With anticipated joy, we continue towards the magnificent mountain scenery luring in the distance, only to be disappointed shortly afterwards when all of a sudden, we are surrounded by dense fog which conceals all the mountains beauties. Even down in the valley mist is moving in patches over the harvested rice fields.




View over rice fields and mountains
between Vang Vieng and Vientiane
Water lily reflecting in
the motionless water
Still 181 miles to go to Luang Prabang
While the sun reappears, the road starts to climb higher and higher, twisting up and down, until we reach the top at 4’000 ft. Now and then, we cross small villages snuggling amongst green mountain ridges, where naked or half-naked children are running to the side of the road as we pass. They are smiling brightly and screaming joyfully “sabaai-dii”, which means “Hallo”. Women are washing clothes and scrubbing their children in a river. Their husbands mostly sit lazily in front of the simple huts, chatting and smoking whatever grass. After a sharp bend, we are surprised to see a group of very young soldiers with guns sitting on a shady spot on the pavement. What are they doing here? Why are they here? We are not so sure what we should think about them. Automatically, we recall what we just recently read in our guide book: That exactly on this remote mountain stretch, until 2004 Hhmong rebels were still active and killed eight people of a passing local bus, including two Western cyclists who just happened to come along.




Working elephant and
mahout cooling down
Laundry in the river
Water buffalos having
fun wallowing in the mud
But there are no incidences and mid afternoon, we arrive safely in Luang Prabang, where we are greeted by the mighty Mekong River again. With its many wide-branched trees and high coconut palms skirting the narrow alleys, it is so green that we can hardly believe we are in a city. This greenery, combined with its many beautiful temples, adds to the unique charm of quietness and loveliness surrounding this UNESCO world heritage site. But soon we discover also the seamy side - the significant flow of tourists overrunning the place. In the main street and along the Mekong promenade there is an endless flow of foreigners, and it is inevitable to run into each other again and again. We cannot count with how many traveling enthusiasts we have spoken. Mostly we are approached as soon as we park. But in sharp contrast to the drug related “hangers” in Vang Vieng, these are common tourists, interested in what is happening around them.




The wonderful karsts
scenery in Vang Vieng
The sun sets across the
Nam Song River in Vang Vieng
Mountains and houses reflecting wonderfully
on the river crossing after Vang Vieng
One party follows the other and it happens a couple of times, that we are still answering patiently questions at dusk, realizing too late that we missed again another of the always spectacular sunsets. But, of course, we enjoy also talking to so many different people, some of them really remarkable travelers too: One of them is the Frenchman Robert Teissier from the island of La Réunion in the Indian Ocean, who invites us spontaneously to his island. Then the Chinese, who firmly insists that in China also a foreign car is allowed to travel around freely and absolutely does not want to accept the contrary. Then the 68 years old German, who complains how difficult it is nowadays in Europe to find a partner of the opposite sex sharing the same desire to travel the world and who is also very well informed that two hours of sex cost here around US$ 25-30.




A small mountain village along the road
Heading for Luang Prabang’s market
Remote mountain road from
Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang
One day, we are also approached by a Swiss couple from Berne, touring Thailand and Laos by bicycle in seven weeks. At some point, we start also to talk about my “Christmas gift” from Cambodia - my broken leg. When they look at my second cast from Hanoi, I am really shocked to hear the wife saying to her husband worriedly: “The cast is put on in a wrong angle, isn’t it?” When I look at them in disbelieve, she quickly explains: “Well, we are both doctors”. “What does that mean specifically for me”, I dare to ask. “The Achilles tendon might have shrunk what means that the leg’s back might be slightly shorter now”. Probably I looked so dismayed that the husband hurries to add: “Don’t worry – it will heal again, it just might take a bit longer and can also cause some pain. And may be at the beginning you will have to walk with a shoe with a high heel” Luckily by then I did not know how right they were!




A few 'lost' houses on a mountain
ridge on 4’000 ft. altitude
White wild flowering bushes
A tiny village in its bizarre surrounding
Beautiful exotic temples are everywhere in Luang Prabang – apparently more than 30. Despite that our initial enthusiasm for them has faded a little bit away, having seen so many recently, we at least want to visit the ‚Wat Xieng Thong’, said to be the most magnificent one. As I hop with my crutch slowly towards the monk to pay my entry fee of US$1, which is applicable almost to every major temple of Luang Prabang, he looks at me compassionately and does not want to accept any money. It is the first positive sign of my accident! We are really impressed by all the elaborate mosaic tiles decorating the walls, depicting the tree of life and scenes of every days life – something, we have not seen before. While Emil is exploring the area more closely, taking many pictures, I enjoy simply sitting on a stone bench under a shady tree, appreciating the peaceful oases – a feeling I have had so far in every temple garden.




A fisherman at sunset at the
Mekong River in Luang Prabang
Well tended gardens along the river
One of the many magnificent sunsets
at the Mekong River in Luang Prabang
The golden Stupa on a hill, visible practically from every part of the city, looks too tempting to miss it. It is ‘That Chomsi” on ‘Phu Si’ hill, reachable through 330 steep steps – again something for Emil only. When he returns drenched in sweat, but with a cheerful face, I know that it was worth it. Looking at the exotic pictures, I am annoyed once more for what I just missed again. The temple itself is not as beautiful; but the view over the town and especially also over the night market, which is built up every single day at the same time from the same vendors and with the same patience. It is packed with silks, handicrafts, jewellery and clothing and looks very colorful. Especially the woven blankets are attractive. Emil argues tough that most probably the stuff comes from China and is not (anymore) produced locally. I am not so sure about it. All good things being three, we visit also ‘Wat Pa Pon Phao’, lying on a hill about 2 miles outside of the town and reachable by car. Especially lovely is the view of the just opposite lying ‘That Chomsi’. A monk novice and a nun, who chews endlessly ‘Betelnut”, showing her red teeth when laughing, keep us company. But as it has been also in many other places, it unfortunately remains a superficial encounter due to language barriers.




Souvenir sellers in Luang Prabang
The colorful night market in
Luang Prabang viewed from ‚Phu Si’ hill
Making new embroidery for tourists
at Luan Prabang’s market
In the Suan Phao Guesthouse (near the Le Parasol Blanc Hotel) we rent a small bungalow with a balcony in a lovely garden for US$7. We feel so happy in our peaceful oasis which lies on a small river, that we postpone our return to Vientiane day by day. It is so relaxing to be surrounded by high coconut palms, exotic trees and flowering bushes. Very often we sit on our tiny veranda – for breakfast, for lunch, with our laptop, with a book, talking or simply enjoying the songs of the birds and the bright butterflies fluttering from flower to flower. Time flies and soon from one day become two, then four, then eight. But then, we have definitely to say good bye for visa reasons. On our departure morning, we set our alarm clock at 5am, not only because of the 7 hours drive back to Vang Vieng, but especially also, because we would like to experience at least once, when at dawn the Buddhist monks in their shiny saffron robes are on their alms-round with a bowl in their hand.




View from ‚Phu Si’ hill over:
..... a temple area .....
..... a Stupa .....
..... and green Luang Prabang
We never have encountered the western fascination for the eastern way of life in such a disturbing way as on this morning in the streets of Luang Prabang. A concentration of Western tourists, fully equipped with cameras, has gathered to witness curiously this daily practiced devotion, for which we have in a way full understanding, because we have the same fascination for a foreign culture. But what we find extremely upsetting is that in their attempt to capture this colorful scene from as close as possible, they often forget the rules of politeness and behavior, and therefore hurt the feelings of the monks. We would not have been surprised at all, if some of them had even stumbled over the monks. How very useful are in such cases the tele lenses!




‚Wat Xieng Thong’ is the most
magnificent temple of Luang Prabang
..... its golden Buddhas .....
..... and its intricate mosaic tiles
adorning the walls
The daily morning market with its richly displayed variety of vegetables, fruits and meat is already in full swing when we leave Luang Prabang behind us with a supply of delicious chocolate cake and two fresh crispy baguettes, which are sold at many corners. We follow the same mountainous and windy road towards Vientiane, with the same potholes and the same terrible bumps, but also with the same magnificent mountain scenery. This time, the villages we pass are surprisingly nearly lifeless – we miss the hearty laughs of the people gathering outside their huts and the children greeting us joyfully. Today is a Sunday - may be that this is the reason?




The main street of Luang Prabang
shows provincial character
Morning market in Luang Prabang
Put on a rack to dry
Everything is just running smoothly under a blue sky; our LandCruiser takes easily the steepest parts in the second gear and we enjoy for the second time this most beautiful mountain ride we did in Indochina. Even an elephant, which cools down with its mahout in a waterhole, delights us along the road. The only thing we miss again is a suitable spot to pull out for a relaxing lunch break. At some point, when our stomach is rumbling precariously, we decide to park right on the side of the road, the traffic being weak anyway. It is not a bad idea at all: A mountain peak offers us the most appreciated shadow along a nice creek. Passing many cabbage fields, which are still watered the old fashioned way with cans, we finally reach Vang Vieng mid afternoon and the next day we are back in Vientiane. Coming back for the second time to the same place is always a bit like returning home. Everything is so familiar: The supermarket, where we stock up again with expensive cheese, ham and butter; “our” pregnant mama, who serves a few tables along the river with food and beverages from her street kitchen and looks really happy to see us again; the Mekong, where the sand banks became bigger und the water less in the meantime; and last but not least, the unforgettable sunsets.




View from ‚Phu Si’ hill over
‚Sala Pha Bang’ of the Royal Palace
Buddhist monks collecting alms at
dawn in the streets of Luang Prabang
The golden ‚That Chomsi’ Stupa on
‚Phu Si’ hill is visible from almost everywhere
A soft evening breeze is cooling wonderfully on the eve of our departure. We sit again at the romantic Mekong River – of course sipping a BeerLao - and are already melancholic that our journey in Laos will come to an end tomorrow. By chance we get interesting company from Jacqueline and Ivo from Winterthur in Switzerland. They are touring the world since nine months with a motorbike. As around 9pm we return to our LandCruiser, we find a short note under the wind screen from Taff – a Japanese with the name of Yamazaki Tatsuya, on the road since July 1994 with a Toyota Carina, year 1986. He has already visited 98 countries. We have hardly finished reading his message, when he shows up. It is only the second time in our 21 years of travels that we meet a Japanese guy traveling alone; the first time was in South America. Of course, there is a lot of common ground to talk about. What we are particularly interested in is Myanmar, which country he already accomplished with his car while we are still working on it. And he is especially eager to get more information about Vietnam, his next goal, where we have already been successful. (Unfortunately, he did not get a permit because his Japanese car is right hand driven).




Temple glistening like pure gold in the
dry surroundings of Luang Prabang
A monk novice and a nun keep
us company at ‚Wat Pa Phon Phao’
‚Wat Pa Phon Phao’ lies around
two miles outside Luang Prabang
Before we return „home“ to our guesthouse, we take a last look at the mighty Mekong River. There have always been these little “wonders” giving us so much enjoyment in our journey around the world – a sunset, which in its beauty is hard to describe – an elephant trotting unexpectedly along the road – a performance of birds waking us up in the morning or a reed covered hill, glistening like silver. With all these precious memories, we leave Laos next day over the friendship bridge into Thailand.




Farewell from the mighty Mekong River and from beautiful Laos