Star Date:  January 2008
Southern Laos & Thailand


Hello Dear Family & Friends!

"Bo Peng Yang"!

(No Worries - Laotian)



"First and most important step towards success is the feeling that we can succeed."

(Nelson Boswell)


Elephants, golden temples with saffron robed monks, jungles reclaiming ancient ruins, remote villages in mountainous highlands, Irawaddy dolphins playing amongst the 4000 islands in the Mekong Delta.  Southern Laos is an unknown land, home to incredible places and quiet gentle people.  Their warmth and hospitality envelops you as you cross the border and get lost in this ancient kingdom.

Having explored northern Laos a year ago (click here for more on Laos) we crossed the border at the country’s capitol, Vientiane.  One fun thing about visiting a place for the second time is that you have already “seen the top sights’ and can concentrate on finding out of the way places and meeting the interesting people hanging out there, hoping you will say hello to them.  It is also amusing to return to favorite restaurants, market stalls or shops and have them surprised to see our faces again.  Funny that they remember 2 quiet little wallflowers like us.  We still get the deals of the day and maybe even our favorite table in the corner.  Such was the case with the “Vegetarian Restaurant” near the palace.  Big hugs by the whole family was the side dish accompanying their scrumptious vegan lunch buffet.  We told them that we planned the trip just so we could see them again and enjoy their mouth watering food, which honestly was a deciding factor in our ‘plans’ of where to cross the border.  In the last year the younger brother started his own place across from the museum and we had to try that too.  We talked for a several hours on their favorite subject – health.  They are hungry for information and books in Laos and usually Joseph would just give someone the whole file on health from his library.  They studied our health page (click for health page) and were fascinated and full of questions.  No computers around we decided to print out their favorite topics, put them in a folder to give as a gift.  When someone is that excited about learning it is easy to join their enthusiasm.  They kept offering to feed us for free but we wanted to support their new business, which is promoting better health and gathering a large following in the city.  Don’t miss either noon buffet and say hi to Phot and family from us.

We spent our time wandering through the large market and the many, many wats peppered through out the city.  All the saffron robed monks or novices welcomed us to their temples and practiced their English on us.  A lot of Laotian men learn their English skills while spending time as a monk.  Wats up?

Lao buses not only break down regularly but could barely navigate the bumpy dirt trail called a road.  Notice I wrote in past tense, as one month before we arrived they finished a new paved road south.  Smooth and straight they proclaimed to us that the bus ride to Savannakhet would now take half the time – 6 hours not 12.  Well the road may be better but it will take time to change the habits of the drivers and passengers.  Used to the old, slow, laborious trip they still stop at every conceivable widening in the road, chatting unendingly with buddies along the way, passengers stop to shop for the specialty items of each region and basically just when the bus gets humming along someone shouts and it’s time for another pit stop, while their bag from the top of the bus is excavated.  Steady as she goes still holds true.

Savannakhet lies along the meandering Mekong river.  This tree lined road is a great place to kick back with a fresh coconut, watching life unfold.  We visited wats, the large northern market and went to the quirky Dinosaur Museum, complete with rebar connecting leg bones to the thigh bones connecting to the … 

On to Pakse we had another slow but colorful bus ride.  Locals are always so thrilled that foreigners choose to travel on private buses instead of cramming together with other tourists in exclusive vans.  Pakse grows on you with it’s interesting market, colorful temples and bbq stalls along the slow moving Mekong.  We cooked our dinners nightly at a tiny noodle shop next to the vegetable market overflowing with fresh produce.  Yan was the talk of the town as we frequented her tiny one wok place.  It was in
this southern frontier town
that we welcomed our daughter Mariah and son in law Shane with open arms.  Having traveled for days to get here they opted for a slow walk along the river, a tasty Indian meal, then a good nights sleep to help overcome the jet lag.  The next morning we headed off for a look at the sights on the way up to the Bolaven Plateau.   We explored breathtaking Tad Fan and Niang Waterfalls set in lush forests and had a close up look into the lives, music, markets and handicrafts of the Alak, Katu, Lavan and Ta-oy peoples in their ethnic villages.  Coffee, rubber and banana plantations were started by the French and today this plateau, rising 1500m above the Mekong valley, is home of the flavorful Laos coffee.  Tadlo Falls and Seset River are the focal point in Tadlo village and the sound of rushing water lulls you to sleep at night.  The next afternoon we climbed up on 65 year old Song and 67 year old Moon for a peaceful, meandering elephant ride in the jungle; past waterfalls and through remote Katu and Alak villages.  What a way to see the area, reminiscent of explorers of old!  It was soon obvious that our drivers loved their elephants as they tickled them behind their ears with their toes, let them have a long drink of water in the river and prodded them along the path.  We made a special loop through Bud's home village as all the little bare naked kids ran alongside our elephants giggling and waving.  It was so much fun that we are thinking of trading our car in for a late model elephant; that is if we had a car!

Rickshaws, buses, sawngthaews (open back trucks) and a double flat river canoe brought us to the quiet riverside village of Champasak.  Behind this lazy one road town lie the impressive hillside ruins of Wat Phu Champasak, once the capitol of the Laos Kingdom.  Commanding sweeping views of the Mekong Valley below; these ruins were fun to poke around, trying to uncover the former Shiva Lingam temple, the crocodile and elephant stones, and the ever present Naga or dragon stairway.  Walking amongst the carvings and stone ruins we imagined what life in this ancient Khmer Kingdom must have been like.  There are even remnants of an ancient road, hundreds of miles long, connecting Wat Phu Champasak with the Cambodian Kingdom of Angkor Wat to the south.

Following the newly paved road south we caught a boat over to Don Khong, the largest island in Si Phan Don, where the mighty Mekong fans out displaying an intricate network of 4000 islands.  One of nature's marvels, the islands are alive with fishermen, longtail boats, coconut palms, water buffalo, temples and squealing children bathing or washing clothes in the river.  At night crickets keep the tempo with the flashing of fireflies and the flickering lights of the night fishermen.  After exploring the meager temples and quiet streets of the island we found Mr. Pon (Peter?) and booked a 2 hour boat trip south through the islands.  This exhilarating boat ride ended at the sleepy islands of Don Khon & Don Det.  Connected by an old railway bridge, these islands are home to Khone Phapheng waterfalls (largest volume of water in S. E. Asia), shady tree lined paths amongst rice fields perfect for bicycling, and the rare Irrawaddy freshwater dolphins frolicking in the waters between Don Khon and Cambodia.  We took an early morning boat out in search of these elusive beauties and were blessed with 10-20 dolphins rolling and surfacing off the longtail's bow.  The rest of the day was spent biking through the rice fields, stopping by temples, gazing out at Don Khon's roaring waterfall, sipping fresh coconuts in the shade, following our noses to the delicious funky, riverside bakery on Don Det, playing with a friendly pet monkey, and ending with a mutual treat by mother & daughter of a massage.  Setting aside regrets from the past, or worries about the future, traveling forces us to live in the NOW and experience what life offers today.  And what a day this was!

Thanksgiving Laotian style.  Thanks to my Mom sending a few spices and ingredients like dried cranberries, we had a 4 course vegan Thanksgiving meal cooked over 3 fires.  Shane & Mariah knew the routine after cooking a similar meal in our '76 Volkswagen van in Tasmania for Christmas 04.  We all pitched in peeling the potatoes & pumpkin, and helped create stove top (or fire top) stuffing, mushrooms in gravy and mandarin cranberries.  The turkey somehow got away but as we rubbed our full bellies we were all very thankful for the chance to spend time together in this distant land.  Tasmania, Laos; where will our orbits collide next?

After spending some serious hammock time, watching life on the river float by and laughing it up with Johnny from New Zealand, we watched as Mariah and Shane blended into the mighty Mekong, on their way south to explore the mystifying Cambodian ruins of Angkor Wat.  As they flew between cities and luxuriated in deluxe hotels in Siem Reap and Bangkok, they finished their short but sweet 10 day Asian Honeymoon, ala Mom & Joseph, in style.  I wonder what they found to do without "the folks" around??

Hanging in hammocks along the river we started discussing the fact that the borders of Myanmar had just reopened.  A new adventure was about to unfold.  We lingered for a couple of days then retraced our steps up to Pakse.   As we had discovered in northern Laos, there are very few useable roads in Laos, especially in the vicinity of the southern end of the infamous Ho Chi Min Trail.  The heaviest bombing of an area in history and the nightmare of 250,000 unexploded U.S. landmines and bombs has rendered great portions of this country unusable.  These gentle people were in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The legacy continues. 

We crossed into N. E. Thailand to explore the rarely visited corner of this popular tourist destination.  The improved infrastructure and higher standard of living was immediately apparent.  Nong Khai, a haven for expats is nestled along the Mekong.  This laid back place is worth checking out for a few days.  Harp and the friendly folks at Mut Mee Guesthouse, serving excellent food in their garden restaurant make your riverside stay memorable.  Like we have said many times, "They sure know how to make good Thai food in Thailand.  We got caught up in the frenzy of the legendary Naga Dragon Fireball Festival and although we didn't see the fireballs rise up from the Mekong we enjoyed the lighted floats, fireworks and frantic activities.  A walk through the eclectic sculpture park, Salakaewkoo, was a leisurely day's bike trip away. 

The promise of elephants drew us down to Surin.  We missed the annual Elephant Roundup of over 400 elephants by only 3 days so took a local bus out to the village of Ban Tha Klang.  There we saw many generations of elephant handlers working with over 50 of these large, majestic creatures practicing tricks or tethered in fields, munching away like cows.

Bangkok is a throbbing, modern yet exotic city just waiting to be experienced.  We met our friend Stan and his lovely lady for dinner a couple of times.  Another renegade from Hawaii living overseas.  After enjoying the fast pace for a week we spent 3 days in Kanchanaburi.  A rare once in a lifetime treat awaited us at the Tiger Temple or Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno Forest Monastery. Established by Abbot Kanthitharo in 1994, it all started with an injured jungle fowl given to the monk by villagers.  Peacocks were attracted by the call of the now resident fowl and when an injured wild boar stopped by he was cared for before being sent back to the forest.   This boar returned with 10 of his family group and they never left.  More animals arrived and soon buffalos, wild deer, horses, and wild goats were roaming freely. 

The first wild tiger cub arrived in 1999.  Her mother was killed by poachers and she was sold to a wealthy Bangkok resident who ordered her stuffed.  A local botched the job and the terrified cub was brought to recover at the monastery.   Although she died several months later 4 healthy but tiny male cubs were brought in.  Soon after border patrols brought in 4 intercepted female cubs, achieving "tiger harmony".   Although the Abbot had no experience in animal or Big Cat care he learned on the job.  He assigned each cub to a monk who ate and slept with their new friend.  As the cubs grew he built cement pits to keep the adolescents from killing the other temple's animals.  They were fed cooked food to avoid the hunger for blood and killing and they maintained a close relationships with their monk buddies.  As years went by they started to reproduce (18 cubs to date) and soon the Abbot knew he needed to make more space.  He opened the monastery up for tourists to observe feeding these beautiful animals and have their picture taken with them- for a donation.  After the tiger's daily feeding and bath they walk these massive creatures back into a steep canyon for their afternoon nap.  Unrestrained, except for a loose chain lying by their side, the scene is unbelievable.  Eight hundred pound tigers are lazing around and sleeping in the sun like docile house cats.  In an organized fashion you are allowed to have your photo taken with several of the big cats, while petting them.  It isn't until you are in the canyon, crouched down next to one of these massive cats, that the reality of the situation hits you.  These Indochinese tigers are huge and could take you out with one swipe of their enormous paws.  And here we are, petting them like little kitties.  The tigers love it and are indifferent to the people milling about, just so they can get on with their naps.  Adjacent to Burma and the Western Forest Complex, this area is believed to be the home to the largest surviving tiger population in the region.  When a poacher kills a mother tiger he gets about $6000 US, several years salary for a farmer.  They take the risk and many cubs are nabbed or left to fend for themselves.  This monastery, with an active volunteer program and a meditation school attracts foreigners and is earning the money it needs to build a larger "Tiger Island" enclosure and a plan for reintroducing some of the cats into the wild.  Where will this "by chance" project end?  Rumors fly in town that the cats are drugged and money is being improperly used, all of which seem to be false.  Filling a need, these simple monks are guilty of only drugging the tigers with massive doses of love and attention.  Drop by and help soothe the wild beasts.  "The monastery is not only for man, but for all animals who seek the peacefulness."  Peace is always within us and these tigers remind us that peace is possible for every animal on earth, even mankind. 


And so it goes.........................................Next Mysterious Myanmar. (Burma) Until next month Keep smiling and remember that the first step to our success this year starts with believing in our hearts that we can succeed.  Thanks for keeping in touch.  We are glad you stopped by.     Take care.



Love, Light & Laughter, 
xoxoox  Nancy & Joseph


Travel notes:

$1.00US = 4000 Lao Kip or 34 Thai Baht


Southern Laos:

Chindamay Guesthouse, BanHaiSok Sihom Rd., phone #: 856-21 262 125  50,000 kip. One block to the river, near wats, ask for an outside room with a window, in the back. Try room #407 or similar.

Vegetarian Buffet I":  Phot and family serve excellent vegetarian food between 11-12:30pm.  Menu available at other times. Near Palace, Th Saysetha, see Lonely Planet for instructions.  Phone # 5666 488

Vegetarian Buffet II, looking at the front of the museum, it is hidden away at the back of a parking lot across the street to the right. Worth the search - all you can eat.  Tell them "hi" from us.

Saisouk Guesthouse, Phetsalad Rd.  phone # 856 41 21 2207, run by Souksavanh & Tadam, simple rooms, spotless, great service, including an electric fry pan to cook in, but hopefully by now it has burned out before someone gets electrocuted!   Try for the funky but enormous front room.  Walk down to the river from here.

Sabaidy 2 Guesthouse, Rd. No 24, Ban Thaluang, lovely wooden walls that unfortunately aren't thick enough to block out sneezes, and other various noises.  Ear plugs do the trick.  A good place to smooze with travelers in the garden.

Pakse to Bolaven Plateau:  we rented a van from Nazim Restaurant, home to more of the same wonderful Indian food.  We stopped at Tad Fan, Tad Niang, Tad Pasuam Cultural Village, Houay Houn Village and the colorful weaving market of Lao Nagam, ending at Tadlo to stay the night.  A comfortable van with total flexibility in schedule, for only $50 (which can be split amongst 6 people).

Nazim Indian Restaurant:  The best nan and vegetable curry around - the furthest south Nazims in Laos.  Don't try the Thai food - greasy - cooked by the friendly Thai wife of the owner.

Fairly straight forward border crossing into Thailand & Ubon Ratchathani.  Air Asia flies up here for next to nothing from Bangkok - one afternoon flight a day.

Tadlo:  Down the road from the funky Tim's Guesthouse, at the right side of the bridge, is Sipaseuth?? Guesthouse.  Located right on the river, these modern but basic rooms have balconies overlooking the river and a waterfront restaurant.  Tim's Guesthouse can arrange the fun elephant rides starting across the road at 10, 1 or 3pm.

Vong Phaseud Guesthouse, a basic place run by a very happy owner and his family.  "Mr. Happy" keeps everyone coming and going as he chuckles his way through every situation.   Spectacular river views and sunsets on the Mekong make this a relaxing place to hang out before or after visiting the ruins.

Don Khong (4000 islands):
Just check any of the guesthouses along the river near Pon's Guesthouse.

Don Khon:
Somphamith Guesthouse, phone # 856 020 5262 491, A view with a thatched bungalow.  Very basic rooms with wonderful covered lanais right next to the river - peaceful, a good place to chill for a few days. (40,000k/d/ w bath).  Turn left or upriver from the bridge and watch for the little cottages on the river side.  Not a lot of service but good people, you may have to track down someone to help you check in.

Take the dolphin tour.  You start out on bikes, get in the boat to see the dolphins, then can use the bike the rest of the day to stop at the waterfalls and cross the bridge to see Don Det.  It is several miles to the backpacker village on Don Det.  Don't miss the bakery on the right, run by a busy baker from Australia (been here 17 years).  People hang around for the bread to come out of the oven, like I used to do at home.  Worth the wait!!  


Nong Khai:
Mut Mee Garden Guesthouse:  Rooms of prices.  Quiet garden setting along the river.  Great place to meet other travelers.   1111/4 Kaeworawut Rd., phone # 66 042 460717.  Say hi to Harp from us.  He has the best smile and some of the most colorful outfits around.

Thai's wear yellow or white strings around their wrists to keep them safe when traveling.  The 'bai sli' acts as a leash for important guardian spirits and ensures safety.  Some believe it must wear off rather than be cut so strings come in all shapes and degrees of colors.

Ubon Ratchathani
Fairly straight forward border crossing into Thailand & Ubon Ratchathani. Air Asia flies up here for next to nothing from Bangkok - one afternoon flight a day.
Sugar Cane 1 Guesthouse, simple thatched bungalows, cheap, basic ($5) but clean.  Many room options to choose from.  Floating on the water seems ideal but watch for noise on the weekends from rivaling locals on floating karaoke barges!  Along the River Kwai, 22 Soi Pakistan Meanam Kwai Rd.

The Light and Sound show at the "Bridge Over the River Kwai" portrays the historical events of the Japanese occupation during WWII.  Driven to build a 450 km. railway to transport supplies; by the time the Allies gained control of this bridge, (made famous in the Hollywood movie), 20 % (12,400) of the 60,000 Allied POWS, and approximately 80,000 civilian laborers had died under horrific conditions.  A large cemetery and museum honor these unfortunate workers.  If you aren't a war buff skip the show, but for sure just buy a 100 bhat ticket on the left side, not the fancy expensive reserved ones.

Tiger Temple:
Grab a tour from Kanchanaburi for only 120 bhat.  We went in the morning, via public bus, walked 2 km to the monastery from the highway and although it was quiet, the grounds are hot and dry & the highlight is when the tigers are brought out at noon and walked to the canyon.  Petting the tigers, while they snap your photo with your camera, is amazing. 

We were fascinated by the idea of an Elephant Round-up so we jumped off the train in Surin.  We missed the big festival by 3 days, a big annual extravaganza with over 400 elephants from around the province. 

Roof Garden (Sun) Guesthouse, 62 Soi Rambutri,
Phra-Athit Rd., phone #: 02-6290626, email:  Get a room in the new section in the back, (521? or 421? at the top of the stairs), these rooms have an extra side window with good air and light.  Spacious rooms, newly done, at 400b a night (360b weekly rate paid up front) these are a good deal and a real step up from many of the dingy rooms for backpackers.  Soi Rambutri alley has all the amenities for travelers and is like Khao San Road 20 years ago.  Yawn is an older room cleaner here working from 8-6, then goes across the alley to cook in a food stall from 6-midnight.  Now that's working hard.  Her curries and pad thai are inexpensive and delicious.  We slipped her a really big tip the last night.  The management of the hotel are a bit indifferent but Nee at the internet/travel agency on the ground floor, is really helpful (# 081 8477682)

Don't miss going to see the 'circus' at night along Khao San Rd. and the lights along Chao Fa Blvd are spectacular, especially around the time of the King or Queen's birthdays.  The Grand Palace and a ride up the Klongs are not to be missed.  The list of sights in Bangkok is endless.

Stan's Guesthouse:
Our friend Stan, who is crazy like us, moved overseas 2 years ago.  Happily settled into his new life in Asia he would like to invite anyone who passes through Bangkok to come stay with him - free.  Just kidding Stan.  Sure was great to see you!

Ethos Vegetarian & Organic Restaurant.  Left at Burger King on the end of Khao San Rd, right down alley, left into lane.  Tasty food, juices and deserts.

Siam Paragon, Gourmet Grocery: Longing for a great salad bar or anything else familiar overseas?  You can find it here!

Tamarind Vegetarian Restaurant:
Next door at the international food court on the 5th floor of MBK Plaza.  Great, fresh cooked to order dishes.  Choose your veggies and have them cooked to taste.

Pantip Plaza:  Computer heaven in Bangkok.  If they don't have it, it doesn't exist.  Bus #15 or 47 from near Khao San.



A Buddhist novice being initiated into a monk at a Wat or Temple.


Mariah & Shane exploring the Laotian jungle by elephant.


Mom & Joseph exploring a waterfall on the Bolaven Plateau,
 with Mariah & Shane.


This cutie took time out from playing with our balloon to pose

Ta-oy elder playing a handmade stringed instrument.


Bamboo flutes echo through the remote mountain villages.


Would you like to buy a hand woven cloth?


Wow!   Is that red balloon for us?


Heading home from the fields with greens for dinner.


We bought red sticky rice and coconut from this warm hearted
woman at the market.  Could you resist this smile?

Relaxing along the Mekong in 4000 Islands.


Sleeping beauties at the Tiger Temple.


Take my photo, just don't disturb my nap!


Like mother, like son!  This little guy was a real livewire.











Back to Homepage