Back in late February we spent 10 days in Laos, and our first destination was Luang Prabang, a historic city on the Mekong River. We had already visited the Mekong while in Cambodia two weeks earlier, both in Siem Reap and Pnomh Penh. This time we spend a day going up the river to see local village life as well as a visit to a famous set of caves in the region.
The first village we visited had a number of vegetable farms right next to the river at the bottom of the village. We then walked up to the village to see what they specialized in making.
There was a small temple in the middle of town and a number of young boys dressed in monk’s robes helping clean up the temple area and gardens.
Eventually we got to see the main item what was produced in the town. At first I thought they were solar panels.
The locals harvest the seaweed from the river, add onion, sesame seeds and other ingredients to them and press them together before letting them dry out in the sun.
This village didn’t feel done up for tourists at all. No one approached us or tried to sell us anything. The village was made up of farmers doing their daily work and it gave us a look at a lifestyle that hasn’t changed much in a long time.
On the way to the next village we passed under a huge bridge under construction. Apparently a Chinese company is building a high-speed rail system that was go from southern China through Laos and eventually down to Bangkok Thailand. There is a lot of fear over what will happen when the rail network is completed and the effect it will have on the local culture and economy:
A short time later we arrived at the next village. Although the name of the village was Baan Xang Hai which translates to “Pottery Village,” the theme of this village was a bit different as it apparently specialized in producing rice whiskey for the surrounding area.
They went right to the tasting as we were given samples of five different types, ranging from cloudy low alcohol samples all the way to clear ones with upwards of 50% alcohol in them.
You could see the process of how they made the whiskey as the still was right behind the counter, with giant barrels and steaming metal drums. While it didn’t look like the most hygienic setup, it seemed to do the trick as far as making whiskey was concerned. The samples were enough for me and we didn’t buy any.
This village was a bit more touristy than the first one, but was still very laid back with its presentation and they didn’t pressure us to buy anything. However, there wasn’t much else to see in this town. Back to the river.
Our next stop was the Pak Ou caves which have been popular with locals for hundred of years. Over the years locals have dropped off Buddha statues until the caves were full of them.
Finally we stopped at an elephant sanctuary for lunch and a visit with the elephants. It was amazing to see them in a place with few restrictions on where they can wander.
By late afternoon we were finished, and we rode in the back of an open pickup truck back to the town. It was a nice way to experience the Laotian countryside and see how people live there.