A Day on the Mekong River in Northern Laos

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.

Enjoying the ride
Approaching the village

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.

Entrance to the village

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.

Boys training to be monks doing daily chores

Eventually we got to see the main item what was produced in the town. At first I thought they were solar panels.

On closer inspection they are racks of pressed seaweed drying in the sun

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.

We were told the water they used in the buckets was river water
This rooster made it to the other side

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:


Arriving at the second village called “Whiskey Village”

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.

Showing how its made

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.

Pouring the samples
The cobras are optional

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.

How its made

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.

Passing elephants as we went upriver

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.

The entrance to the cave
So many statues
Sign inside the cave
Inside the second cave further up the hill from the first one
Curious wall carvings in the second cave

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.

This little guy was standing just off of the trail as we walked up from the boat
View from the top of the sanctuary property
The dog wasn’t too bothered by the elephant walking by

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.

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