28 February 2013

Champasak, Laos

The small village of Champasak is in the south of Laos, and people mainly stay to go and visit the nearby ancient temple comple of Wat Phu (or Wat Champasak).  I thought I had stopped off in a kind of ghost town when I arrived off a local pickup truck from the town of Pakse, but there is a nice few guesthouses sitting alongside the river.
This morning, trying to set off before it got too hot (it was boiling by the time I got to the temple), I jumped on a bicycle and set out for Wat Phu.  It was about 9km down a dusty road, passing through some tiny local villages, a good bike ride.
The templex complex is spread out running up into the hillside. Set on numerous levels, there is ponds at the bottom before 2 large temple buildings before a few sets of steps to the top of the hill, where the main temple is located next to a freshwater spring.
The locals leave little offerings at the temple, such as incense or these sets of flowers:
Finally here is the view back down the hill stretching to the river:

26 February 2013

Vientiane, Laos

Probably the least busy capital city I have visited, Vientiane was a stopping point for me coming from Luang Prabang, before heading to the south of Laos. It was easy to find the sights with a map and abit of walking around.
The national monument and symbol of Laos is Phat That Luang.  It was worth seeing the golden statue which names means 'world precious sacred stupa'.
Lots of other temples are dotted around the old downtown area, where restaurants run along the road that is parallel to the big Mekong River, with Thailand on the other side of it.  Here is some colourful temple art, depicting stories about buddha.
Then I found a rather overgrown aged looking stupa in the middle of a roundabout.  Called That Dam, apparently it was once covered in gold paint, different to the look it has now.
Finally here is the outside of Haw Pha Kaeo temple, it once held the famous emerald buddha, now it has odd bits of religious art and artefacts inside.  Quite an old temple it sharply contrasted to the shiny new looking presidential palace next door, but I wasn't allowed to go looking inside there for some reason.

21 February 2013

Kuang Si Waterfalls, Luang Prabang, Laos

Top of the list of sights around Luang Prabang are the Kuang Si waterfalls about 25 km out of town.  I finally got there today after sharing a pickup with some other backpackers, and saw the bright turquoise waters for myself.
It was as spectacular as reports suggested, not just the large falls near the top of the hill, but all the way up where the water really was the colour in my photos!  Had time to explore up to the top for a glance over the edge of the water, then went in the water myself but it was freezing as the sun was not out for very long today.  Overall had a great afternoon visiting and heres a few (out of the numerous) photos I took.

20 February 2013

Luang Prabang, Laos

I've stayed in Luang Prabang most of this week now, and whilst not being rushed off my feet there has been absolutely plenty of things to see and do.
Exploring the old city has resulted in me finding numerous french bakeries and coffee shops set in the colonial era buildings. At the roadside stalls set up to sell fresh baguettes for 10000 kip (80p) with any toppings you like, today I had chicken with salad, very tasty. Then the other evening in the night market I had a vegetarian feast, where stalls set up and for 10000 kip again you get to balance as much as you can on your plate, choosing from a range of noodles, rice, vegetables, tofu, spring rolls, fried bananas, not bad at all. I don't have a picture of this feast, but this pork noodle soup deserves a mention:
I climbed the hill that overlooks Luang Prabang to get a good view of the city, it was 324 steps up, with Wat Phou Si ontop, but the view was more impressive than the temple.
Walking down the other side were various Buddha statues, my photo shows golden statue worshippers that were arranged around a standing buddha.
Luang Prabang has a museum that is housed within the old royal palace, inside the detail was exquisite, the coronation room walls had been totally covered with a mosaic mural (photos weren't allowed inside sadly).  Round the back I enjoyed the old royal car collection the most, with huge old classic american cars such as 1950s and 60s Ford Lincolns and Continentals, that had been received as gifts.  Here is the temple in the museum grounds:

16 February 2013

Huay Xai (Thai - Lao Border), Laos

After a local bus chugging up across the countryside from Chiang Mai, it reached Chiang Khong on the Thai side of the border. I strolled down the jetty getting stamped out of Thailand, hopped onto a long tail boat and not minutes later I was in Laos (technically the People's Democratic Republic of Lao). I thought I'd mention my crossing as this had to be the most scenic and relaxed border i've had to cross, simply getting across the river! After that I hopped on a pickup and made the bus station for a night bus to Luang Prabang.

15 February 2013

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Had a good week in Chiang Mai, here is a round up of the temples I visited.
Starting with Wat Sri Suphan, found by accident when I was at the saturday market.  The market is located just south of the old city in the traditional silver making district, which makes up the outside and inside of the ubusot (ordination hall) of the temple.  I went back at night to capture it:

Wat Lok Moli is just north of the old city and it dates back over 600 years:
The Wat Chiang Man is proabably the most famous of Chiang Mai's temples, having once housed the emerald buddha (which is now located in Bangkok).  In the grounds was this Stupa:
Finally here is the Thapae Gate, the focal point of the old city and eastern gate, it is where the walking street market starts from on a sunday.

11 February 2013

Chiang Mai, Thailand

A quick update after having a busy January.  I am back to solo backpacking now, after having caught up with friends down south and visiting my Uncle.  My friend from Australia flew out just the other morning, after taking an extended holiday spending time with me and visiting Burma.  Getting organised this week as I plan for a month in Laos, i'll probably head off there at the end of the week.
Back to Chiang Mai, I visited on my first trip to Thailand nearly 5 years ago now, but I soon remembered the old city to find my way around.  I have been temple spotting around the old city where there is no lack of Buddhist Wats and Stupas.  On my afternoon walk today though I found this:
Which is best described as a lost garden of terra cotta statues, mosaics and creations.  Some of the stock seems to have hung around the garden for quite sometime, mosses and plants growing around and over them, an interesting find.

More later in the week once I finish photographing the temples.

4 February 2013

Pai, Thailand

After meeting up with my friend in Bangkok we ventured north on a sleeper train to Chiang Mai, but after arriving early we decided to jump straight on a minibus and head for the hills to a village called Pai.  Whilst it is rather like a little backpacker enclave; with lots of coffee shops and wide range of  restaurants about; it is surrounded by hills and mountains leading to brilliant views outside the village.  Here is the view across the river to our accomodation, basic huts but peaceful setting:
We set about a loop of the hills on a bike making several stops.  There was the site of a World War II bridge which had been rebuilt in the 70s, then we stopped at Pai canyon to get views out down to valleys over ridges of rock.  These photos are from the hillside Wat (buddhist temple) which was at least a straining 200 step climb.