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// MY NAME IS DANIELAnd after years of dreaming I've sold everything I own and set off on the open road. I've made this site as a sort of photo journal of my travels. The map shows where I've been (red), where I've stayed a month or more (yellow), and where I plan to go (white). And so, armed with little more than a backpack, a camera, and a dream, I now take the road less traveled by. So it goes.


LUANG PRABANG I crossed into Laos from China, unsure what to expect. What I found was one of my favorite countries in Asia, a land of breathtaking landscapes, of mysterious jungles, beautiful temples, of remote villages, kind people, and rivers. Lots and lots of rivers. Luang Prabang sits at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers. The city was once the capital of a Tai Kingdom (the Lao language is closely related to Thai). It was heavily influenced by the French when Laos later became a French colony. After independence it was the capital of the Kingdom of Laos, which lasted until 1975 when the Communist Pathet Lao took over the country. Today because of its centuries old Buddhist temples, well preserved French colonial architecture, and cultural heritage it is a UN World Heritage Site.
MEKONG RIVER The mighty Mekong River. My first encounter with this river was in China. Now I traveled down it by boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang, a two journey with an overnight in one of the river villages. Below notice the ethnic river villages, wild elephants, and strange temples dotting the landscapes. Later I would cross this river again in Cambodia. As the twelfth longest river in the world, it passes from the Tibetan Plateau, through China, across Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia, before finally reaching the sea in Vietnam.
HUAY XAI Huay Xai sits on the Mekong River at the point where it separates Thailand and Laos. Most travelers arrive here from Thailand but I arrived by bus from China, though the roads were knocked out by floods and rain, so I was forced to climb across them and find buses on the otherside. You can see some of the bridges in the final two photos (in total, during my 45 days in Laos, I had to cross 3 bridges this way). In the photos below you'll also notice the small 'spirit houses' which are ubiquitous in Laos. These are little houses where spirits can hang out, avoid the rain, eat some nice fruits (or in Thailand drink Fanta), and hopefully bring fortune to home or shop they're next to.
AKHA VILLAGE While still in the north I took a two day hike through the Nam Ha Jungle, which you'll see later, but the overnight was spent here, in a Akha Hill Tribe village (the name of which I still don't know). With the language barrier it was difficult to parse everything I was told. But of what I could tell, boys at age 12 or 13 have to sleep in tiny huts on raised stilts on the side of the mountain (you can see one below) until they are married. Pregnant women have to give birth outside the village, in the jungle. Until recently, twins were killed at birth. There is also a 'spirit gate' at the entrance of the village, which marks the boundary between the world of Man (the village) and the realm of the Spirits (the jungle). You can see the series of gates in one of the final photos below. In Akha religion, it is very important which activities can take place on which side of the gate.
NAM HA JUNGLE This was the two day jungle hike to and from the Akha hill village. It rained much of the day, which added to the mystique, I suppose. A French couple canceled, so the hike was only myself, an Italian girl, and our guide. Things to note below: this was a serious hike through a dense, wet, leech-infested jungle. We carried our food in leaf wrappings. I passed through several rubber plantations (the trees are cut, which causes the rubber to bleed over many days into bowls). And I'd love to say he was wild, but the sun bear was in a sanctuary. Apparently his liver bile is worth more than gold to the Chinese so he had to be protected.
NAM OU RIVER On my way to Vietnam I traveled the Nam Ou River as far as I could. The journey took several days, and along the way I stayed in some truly magical river villages, which you'll see later. I thought by traveling the rivers I could avoid the roads which were being washed out by the rains, but the river wasn't much better. Landslides were washing trees into the river making boat travel too dangerous, which delayed me several times. Of all the rivers I've ever traveled, this was easily one of the most beautiful.
NONG KHIAW Nong Khiaw was the first town I encountered on the Nam Ou River was surrounded by a fairy-tale jungle landscape. I've been many places in the world, but few as beautiful, awe-inspiring, and lush as this. And more was yet to come.
MUANG NGOI I was trapped here several days waiting for the rivers to clear of debris. Fortunately it is perhaps the most picturesque ethnic village in the country. One thing to note is the giving-of-the-alms ceremony which occurs in towns and villages all over Laos every morning, when Buddhist monks from the local temples walk the main streets at the crack of dawn and receive gifts of boiled rice from the lay Buddhists. A touching experience.
SOP CHEM Not far from Muang Ngoi is a small weaving village called Sop Chem. Home to only a handful of families, nearly all of them are weavers, from the grandparents down to the little grandchildren. They spend much of the day producing hand woven goods on hand made looms that are then sold in the markets of the larger towns.
MUANG KHUA Somehow, despite the rains, the washed out bridges, the turbulent rivers, and the leeches (so many leeches), I made it to Muang Khua, the end of the river journey. From here I stayed a night, saw the giving-of-the-alms the following morning, and caught a bus to my next adventure.... Vietnam