The Akha of Northern Laos

Akha woman in northern Laos

The first time I went to Thailand in 1990, I had the opportunity to trek through portions of the North to visit many of the hill tribes. At that time, traditional clothing and culture were still very intact. Yes, there were already too many tourists, but there was still much to be seen and experienced especially in the remote regions along the borders of Myanmar and Laos. The markets of the Golden Triangle were filled with a mix of exotic hill people donning colorful garb buying and selling goods in a dozen languages.

The obvious stars of the markets were the Akha, a group whose unique culture, blood-red betel nut stained teeth, and over-the-top headdresses made them one of the most recognizable tribal groups in the world. I had hoped to share this amazing culture with Thomas during our visit to less developed Laos in 2010, but that proved a bit more challenging than I had thought.


Lao Village Life – Reality Check

If you hope to go to the countryside for some quiet time, you might be in for a surprise. We passed by this traditional village between Luang Nam Tha and Muang Sing in Laos – and it definitely didn’t sound like our dream getaway! Watch this short clip about the acoustic reality of Lao village life.

Laos: What a Dollar Can Buy You

If you are planning your trip to Laos with the latest Lonely Planet guide book from 2007, you are in for a rude awakening. Rethink your budget! Prices have risen steeply in the last three years, and increases by 35 percent are not unusual – if you are lucky. Go to Luang Prabang’s historic temple district, and you may quickly run out of luck. Hotel prices there have doubled and often tripled. Go figure!

Beer Lao

More expensive than accommodation, however, was the cost of food. As in Cambodia, we spent about 40 percent of our monthly budget on food items, which translates to roughly $15 a day. Our lavish breakfasts with our friend Beverly probably had something to do with that. 😉 But not everything is bad news. You can still buy plenty of things for around a buck:

  • 1 ice-cold Beer Lao
  • 1 baguette sandwich with country-style pate, bacon and cheese
  • 1 entry stamp at the Lao border. No entry without a bribe.
  • 4 rolls of toilet paper
  • 2 mugs of brewed coffee or 2 bagels at the Scandinavian Bakery
  • 8 pictures of two different Akha women
  • 16 mid-sized bananas
  • 1 hour of Internet usage (1/2 hour in very touristy areas)
  • 3 liters (3/4 gal.) of water
  • 2 crossings over a foot bridge (I hate tourist tolls and the trolls that guard the bridges)

Lao Baguettes

Cave Collage

Laos Caves

Thomas and I have been crawling (and boating) our way through the caves of Laos, including: Kong Lor, Tham Phu Kham, Thom Pha Thok, Bank Cave, and Kao Rao. The country is full of caves. In fact, quite often while hiking through the forest, we’ve felt huge gusts of super-cooled air shooting out of the growth revealing yet another system of unexplored caverns. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of an organized spelunking infrastructure with experienced guides or caving classes. Too bad, because we would love to really get into this!

Up the Nam Ou

The Nam Ou River at Nong Khiaw

Our explorations of Laos have taken us into the largely roadless eastern Phongsali Province. The main artery into the region is the Nam Ou, a river that cuts through some dramatic karst scenery, stretches of jungle, and a series of river villages accessible only by boat. The region is quite beautiful, although the hideous, smoke-filled skies kill the thrill a bit.

Traveling here is time-consuming and tough, harkening back to the “good ol’ days” when the journey itself was the attraction. Gone are the tourist hordes, instead each turn reveals a riverscape recalling another age.

Our journey up the Nam Ou is taking place very late in the dry season and river travel will be coming to an end at any moment. Our boat pilots were extremely skilled and quite cautiously navigated Continue…

Troubling Visitors

Don't Strip Down

What’s up with the tourists here in Laos? The country is a magnet for drinkers and drug addicts. The party crowd plows their way across the country in a wave of destructive cluelessness. Why? Why come to Laos to party? Is there something I’m missing? Stick to Fort Lauderdale or Ibiza.

In response to this wave of numbskulls, Laos has begun to plead for better behavior. Here are some of the amusing/sad announcements we’ve seen in hotels and restaurants around the country. Continue…

Morning Alms in Luang Prabang

A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995, the town of Luang Prabang is not only known for its fusion of Lao and French colonial architecture but also for its many Buddhist temples. Most visitors come here to relax and soak up the atmosphere while enjoying a cold Lao beer and a warm French baguette. But the real attraction starts much earlier in the day.

As early as 6 AM, hundreds of Buddhist monks and novices leave their wats and pour into the streets of the historic temple district to collect their morning alms. The colorful procession only lasts for an hour. By 7 AM, when all the alms bowls are filled, the monks disappear as quickly as they appeared.

Homage to Beverly

Our six weeks together flew by at lightning speed. But, alas, Beverly left us in Luang Prabang as previous commitments called her away. We miss you Beverly!!! (The pictures above should be viewed while humming the theme song to “The Way we Were.”)

Like the corners of my mind,
Misty water-colored memories,
Of the way we were…

Tony is the Hero of Sweden


Some sneaky Swedish film maker friends of ours thought it would be funny to use Tony’s picture in a Swedish television commercial. Unfortunately, the video is no longer available.