Destinations, Laos, Musings, Photography

Discovering Laos: On the River, Through the Streets, In the Moment

December 12, 2012

We entered Laos by water, crossing the Mekong River at Chiang Khong in Thailand and coming to the banks of Huay Xai, Laos for passport stamps and paper shuffling. Eyes open, minds curious, we toted our bags aboard a long boat and began our eight days in the country with a two-day drift down the Mekong toward the ancient city of Luang Prabang.

Time unfolded slowly, as it has along these banks for eons past…

Humbling to think these quiet forests and isolated village have watched the water flow for centuries. How out of place the e-readers and iPhones and name brand backpacks felt in comparison to stilted homes and thatched roofs and grazing livestock grazing. How quickly the children would run to greet us on shore in western clothes, offering fried river fish and traditional silk scarves in exchange for currency.

After overnighting in the little riverside village of Pakbeng, we again returned to the waterway, arriving late in the day on the banks of Luang Prabang.

The city sits at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers totters on its balance as a spinning top, resting in its place as romantic remnant of Laotian dynasties and French rule while wobbling toward a future as a veritable Southeast Asian theme park: Animal-exploiting tour operators. Party-loving backpackers seeking good deals. Market stalls selling sell-out crafts. Monks who must continue routines of morning alms to satisfy camera-wielding tourists, or risk being replaced by government employed actors.

And yet, the optimist in me knows the good and true still exists, and it was a pleasure to search for the best of the hidden gems and quiet moments in Luang Prabang.

During our time in Luang Prabang, we enjoyed the company of friends: Chris, who we’d journeyed alongside all the way from Chiang Mai; Brett, Susan, and Alex, three good natured kiwis happy to share their love of the world and their love of the real; and Robin and Olga, the cutest German/Portuguese couple who introduced us to the greatest spot for a scenic breakfast in Luang Prabang: Utopia.

We walked the streets, admired the silks, enjoyed the flavors and peered into the temples…and then we made our way south by bus to the cities of Vientiane and onward to Pakse for encounters with crops and cultures of the Bolaven Plateau.

I leave you with a stream of notes jotted down during a bus ride through the countryside…

Slow boats, speed boats, tuk-tuks, Toyotas.

Hazy sunsets, hazy dawn.

Rice paddies waving Oregon Duck green and yellow.

Kiddos tending tea plants.

Elephant ears like tattered butterfly wings.

Green onion gardens.

Child monks: cell phones and saffron robes.

Golden spires.

Falls of water.

Charcoal blaze, sizzling fat, buffalo strips and vegetable broth.

Roads to somewhere wind through nowhere.

French façades and blue-blooded-balustrades.

Empty bomb casings warning the world.

Stilted homes and woven walls.

Glazed-eyed mothers; opium escapes in bamboo pipes.

Half-naked toddlers and child brides; uglier truths of tradition.

Unmarked futures.

Dust masks, backwards jackets, umbrellas rain or shine.

Silk thread legacy, bartered down from value to the going rate.

I look forward to sharing more stories from Laos in the future… In the meantime, enjoy some of my favorite posts from this region of the world:

Chris Albritton – Truly, Nomadly, Deeply: Laos
Archana & Eamon – New York to Nomad: Laos
Torre DeRoche – An Adventure on Two Wheels in Laos

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this little landlocked country. What are your impressions?

You Might Also Like


  • Reply Andi of My Beautiful Adventures December 12, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!! These pics are truly magazine worthy!

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians December 29, 2012 at 6:45 pm

      You’re a sweetheart to say so, Andi. Thank you.

  • Reply Audrey | That Backpacker December 12, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    I loved the photos combined with your notes from the road. :) You have me looking forward to Laos next year!

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians December 29, 2012 at 6:48 pm

      When do you go, Audrey? Which areas will you be visiting? I’d really love to see your photos and read about your experiences. xx Bethany

  • Reply Caroline @ Traveling 9 to 5 December 13, 2012 at 6:44 am

    We took the same route on the Mekong to Luang Prabang and it is one of our favorite memories! Your photos are fantastic and the random notes jotted down are a great way to paint a picture of the trip.

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians December 29, 2012 at 6:53 pm

      Wasn’t it a great introduction to the country? I loved the slow revelations all along the way. No hurry on the boat… Plenty of time to read and think and absorb the experience. So cool to know you two were there, too!

  • Reply Marco Fiori December 13, 2012 at 10:03 am

    Some really beautiful photography for what looks like an amazing memory.

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians December 29, 2012 at 6:56 pm

      Marco, so kind of you! Thanks very much. I’m already wishing to set aside time and daydream my way back through more of the scenes and flavors and smells and exchanges with people we met along the journey. I wish we’d had even more time in Laos.

  • Reply Katy December 13, 2012 at 10:23 am

    Amazing photos! Thank you for posting – I’ve never been to Laos but now I feel like I’ve seen a peek.

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians December 29, 2012 at 7:03 pm

      Katy, that’s so wonderful to hear! It’s really my hope that by sharing photos and stories I will help make a way for people to catch beautiful and honest glimpses of the world. I know that’s the experience I love to have when I come across other people’s travel tales : )
      Thanks so much for visiting!

  • Reply Maria December 13, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    Great treatment on the photo montage – mixing color w/black and white. I scroll up and down and back and when I feel I found a favorite, I see another. Kudos!

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians December 29, 2012 at 7:07 pm

      I’m glad you liked it, Maria. Thank you for the compliment! I enjoyed experimenting a bit with the shots. Trying to share a lot without overwhelming; trying to highlight key emotions of my own and keep photos from getting completely lost in the jumble… I’m looking forward to sharing more photos from Laos later on down the road. Thanks for reading! xx B

  • Reply Amanda December 15, 2012 at 10:54 am

    Some truly amazing shots!

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians December 29, 2012 at 7:10 pm

      Thanks, Amanda! It’s going to be difficult when the time comes to choose which ones to print for books, framing, etc. Our walls will never be bare again. : )

  • Reply rafi shahriar December 29, 2012 at 6:22 am

    Hi guys! we met in Laos on our way to the waterfalls (in the hired car)

    you mentioned during the trip you went to Machu pichu, i just wanted to know what the name of the tour company was. it is in my bucket list.



    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians December 29, 2012 at 7:27 pm

      Hey Rafi!

      Awesome to hear from you. I’m so glad you kept our contact info and dropped us a line. We hiked the Inca Trail with Peru Treks, and we loved them, especially compared to other practices and amenities we spotted along the way. Peru Treks demonstrated a noticeably different (and better) treatment of their staff and porters, their camp gear was in good condition, and the food on the trail was exceptional. (See our Trip Advisor review here, for a few more details:

      Their site:
      And our photos and stories from the trip:

      I think it’s worth saying, too, that we paid full price for Peru Treks and felt it was worth absolutely every penny. Keep in touch! And definitely let us know when you decide to go – and if you decide to add Hwy 1 to your itinerary someday ; )

      • Reply Rafi January 2, 2013 at 4:28 pm

        Thank you so so very much for replying to me. I have been navigating your site and it is amazing what you have accomplished. It is a book mark on my Chrome, for light reading at work when i need a break.

        I will check out the website you have provided. Please let me know if you plan on visiting Toronto..


        • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians January 3, 2013 at 8:50 am

          That’s awesome, Rafi! I hope you enjoy the stories and photos. So many more to share, too… We’ll definitely look you up if we ever end up ready to explore Toronto. : )

    What say you?