Friday, 30th November

We set off at 8.00 on the journey which was to take us to Luang Prebang, until the 16th century, the capital of Laos.

For the first hour our route was reasonably flat as we worked our way across the valley to the mountains beyond. Our mini bus was much more comfortable and was for our private use, so we had a bit more space and the road was surfaced.

We stopped when we came to a bridge in a small town. The scenery was spectacular.

And there were a lot of large carp below us. These are considered sacred here and it is thought particularly lucky for you if you feed them first thing in the morning. Outcome – some very large fish swimming handily under the bridge!

I am afraid my limited lens does not do them justice….. take it from me there were a lot and they were big!

We had a funny incident here. The Korean ladies – I think they might have been the same ones who were at the waterfall the day before – appeared on the bridge just as we were leaving and one of them was taking a photograph of the group. Being my usual helpful self, I offered to take over the photography😁. It was not until I had taken the first shot that I realised they were taking it the wrong way! I had my back to the beautiful scenery and the backdrop to their photograph was a very fresh building site! Maybe it is a Korean thing 😳. In any event, I was not having that and soon ushered them over to the correct side of the bridge and they had the beautiful view in the background. Little Miss Helpful as always!!

We set off again. We began to climb and the road began to deteriorate although the effect was far less in our healthily sprung vehicle. The road also started to zig zag dramatically to accommodate the steepness of the incline. It went on and on and the views became better and better. A feature of the day were the houses along the roadside, often almost suspended over the edge of the cliff it seemed – but they had amazing views!! Not much help though if there was a subsidence I thought!

We again came across major earth works. The Chinese and their railway again. It is to be an express route between the major cities. I could not help but feel that the village communities that we were passing would have no real benefit from it, even when it was built. It would not be stopping at the sleepy hollows but would loudly rush past taking people to and from a world that these rural folk can only imagine.

There are two main groups of people living up here. The Hmong and the Kmhmu. The Hmong tend to live on the top of the mountain and descend a bit to do their farming. They are lighter of face and more Chinese looking. The Kmhmu live lower down the mountainside and go up to do their farming. They tend to be slightly darker skinned. Both communities seem to co exist happily and both have their own cultures. There are no temples here. The people believe in spirits and turn for support in times of crisis and ill health on their shaman.

The morning wore on as we dozed and watched the scenery unfold in turns. Often we were caught in a line behind lorries and tankers as they made the laborious climb, gears crunching. There is only one road and everything travelling between Vientiane and Luang Prebang has to use it. Overtaking is a dangerous business. A sheer limestone wall on one side and a sheer drop on the other.

We eventually stopped for an early lunch at a restaurant near a community at the top of a particularly arduous ascent. We had seen the red roof of the restaurant in the distance for some time. We were so lucky that it was a glorious day. We were surrounded by mountains and green hills. Even the loo had a view!

The scene from the top was quite breathtaking!

It got better of course with us in it!

We set off again. Although there were still some ‘up’s’, we were in reality beginning our long descent into Luang Prebang. And it was to be a long one. A very long one. After travelling for about half an hour, we came to a road closed sign and lots of big diggers in our path. They were repairing a land slip that had occurred during the big rains. Best estimate of the time before we could pass was an hour and a half. In the event it was nearer two.

There was nothing for it but to wait. There was a small village a few hundred yards back, so we wandered back up the road to see what we could see. The village was a small ribbon community, rehoused from the top of the mountain to bring the people nearer to the facilities available in the area – there was a school, a tap and access to medical help. I always wonder at the element of choice in these moves. I fear there was none. There were very few people about. Despite the steepness of the terrain, the people Farm these remote locations and everyone was out working. Unbelievably hard work it must be too. Apparently peanuts are a major crop and there were some drying….

That is a very small pig walking through them!

We also saw tobacco drying on the top of a healthy looking wood store

The housing was a mix of breeze block buildings and bamboo and straw. The outlook was amazing.

It was all very photogenic, but I fear it is a hard life.

A banana flower

Aubergine drying for seed……

……. the herb garden

This was clinging to the side of the road!

After our sightseeing interlude, we wandered back to the bus, which had been joined by a long line of frustrated travellers, all approaching the hold up in their own way.

Eventually we set off again, this time in a caravan of vehicles. One or two death defying overtaking later and we were bowling along again.

Our final stop of the day was at a Hmong village, obviously used to foreign visitors. The children soon gathered, but no one begs and all are willing to be photographed. Some older girls were working on their needlework. This is a key issue in their marriage process. Apparently you start the needlework very young and it seems girls are chosen to be wives not only on their looks but also for their prowess with the needle. I would have been single for an even longer time had this been a prerequisite in England methinks!!!

Then there were the children……..

Most were very happy to have their photo taken, particularly if you showed them their picture afterwards!

Others were a bit shy……

One was having a haircut…..

The street where they lived……

The school…….

The view from the village.

We got back on the bus to continue our journey.

We just managed a post sunset shot en route –

And then it was all steam ahead for Luang Prubang which we reached around 7.00. pm. Our hotel is a little way outside of the city centre, so it was a bowl of soup in the hotel and then bed after a bit of recovery time. We start a city tour at 9.00 am. tomorrow. This tour is not for the faint hearts!!

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