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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. As one of the most attractive towns in Asia, I actually ended up staying here a month.
MEKONG RIVER The mighty Mekong River. I traveled from Huay Xai in the north to Luang Prabang on this river. The boat journey took two days (with an overnight in one of the river villages). Below notice the ethnic river villages, wild elephants, and strange temples dotting the landscapes. This was actually my second encounter with the Mekong. My first was in China, in Jinghong, which is bisected by the Mekong. Later I would cross the 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 This is where I boarded the boat for Luang Prabang. Huay Xai sits on the Mekong River which separates Thailand and Laos. I actually arrived here from China, though by bus. In fact, when I crossed the border from China, I was almost immediately confronted with a bridge that had been knocked sideways by flash flooding. We were given the option to return to China, or climb across the bridge and try to find a different bus on the other side. I decided to risk climbing across. As it turns out, this would become a theme in Laos. In my 45 days in the country, I encountered three bridges (and one washed-out road) that I had to climb across. Two of them you can see 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 in the north, before taking that Mekong River journey, I decided to take a two day hike through the Nam Ha Jungle, which you'll see later, but the overnight of that hike was spent here, in a Akha Hill Tribe village (the name of which I still don't know). I'm not sure the political situation here, between the Akha living inside the national park and the government (I had the impression, not exactly great). With the language barrier it was difficult to parse everything I was told. But of what I remember, 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, alone, 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 (on the second day it was only myself and the 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.
NAM OU RIVER When it was time to leave Laos, I decided to travel the Nam Ou River as far upriver to Vietnam 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 that by traveling via river I'd be safe from the constant mudslides and bridge wipe-outs that I had been encountering by bus. But the fact was, I was still delayed several days. Landslides were washing entire trees into the river, which were floating downstream, making boat travel too dangerous until they cleared. When I finally did cross the border into Vietnam, I had but a single day left on my visa. But 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 and I could tell from the fairy-tale jungle landscape that I was going to love traveling this river. 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 Muang Ngoi is one of the most picturesque ethnic villages located along the Nam Ou River (and one of the places I was stranded for a few days waiting for avalanched trees to stop rushing down the river -- though I have to admit, there are worse places to be stranded). The village was without power when I arrived and without cellular service (aka wi-fi) which perhaps added to the charm. 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 truly touching experience.
SOP CHEM Not far from Muang Ngoi is a small village simply called the Weaving Village, though after enough questioning I was told it's real name is 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 in Laos), 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