Trip to Laos

Amazing Golden Stupa in Vientiane

Amazing Golden Stupa in Vientiane

Well Laos was interesting and not exactly what I expected. Being nominally communist I was expecting a fairly uptight nation and thought I would get hassled as soon as I got my camera out. I was very pleasantly surprised to find the police being fairly inconspicuous.

Having said this, our taxi was pulled over almost as soon as we left the capital. Passports were requested by some very stern looking gentlemen, while others went through the drivers paperwork. This was painless and we were soon on our way; that was pretty much all we saw of the police for the whole trip. We drove for about 2 and half hours before reaching the dam.

Nam Ngum 1 lake, Laos

Nam Ngum 1 lake, Laos

The Nam Ngum 1 was built back in the seventies and gave me some nice shots. It’s a local beauty spot so myself and my wife Noi didn’t look particularly out of place taking the boat trip around the lake. We found the second dam without to much trouble, although it was disappointingly small. The third proved inaccessible as we didn’t have a 4WD taxi.

It’s the time of year for the rocket festivals in this part of the world. Pretty much every village has a competition to see who’s is the best in town. Some are huge, 3 or 4 meters long. The taxi driver said the biggest were as much as 100kg in weight?? I can’t see this taking off in the UK as I think the airport authorities might not be very impressed… but it looks like fun!

Nan Ngum 1 dam

Nan Ngum 1 dam

Something else I thought would go down well in the UK is the way they deal with violent drunks at parties and festivals. Every community we went through had a small cage somewhere. I assumed they were for animals at first then I realised they were everywhere we went. The taxi driver explained that if anyone started a fight at an event they were put in the cage for the rest of the festival/party and had to watch everyone else having a good time. They were also very visible and so it would be extremely embarrassing. I reckon one of these outside every pub and club would be very popular back in the UK. Feel free to write to your local MP and suggest this cheap and effective method of reducing violence in your local town centre on a saturday night!

Vientiane's Golden Stupa

Vientiane's Golden Stupa

Laos was a lot like Cambodia, only without the people. Even in rush hour the streets were pretty much empty. As you’d expect of an Ex-French colony there are plenty of great restaurants around town. I noted seeing a couple of Humvees in town. It’s not as blatant here as the exhibitionism of the rich in Phnom Penh, but as Laos is still run by the communist party I thought it was heartening to see that some of the pigs were quite considerably more equal than others… I think it’s a tradition or an old charter or something.

We went up the Mekong for a few hours to collect footage of the river and local people. We also did a quick tour of town to get some b-roll. The giant golden Stupa is very photogenic, although I was less impressed with the concrete Arc du Triumph… Most surprisingly, there were no people rushing over to tell me not to film.

Pak Moon Dam, Thailand

Pak Moon Dam, Thailand

The other dams were a long way from the capital so we headed back to Khon Kaen in Thailand, just as it was getting messy in Bangkok. With a curfew in place it made traveling to the Pak Moon Dam rather tricky, but I had to go. This dam is a great example of everything wrong with dams. I am not anti-dam by the way, simply anti-dumb. This dam never had a proper Environmental Impact Assessment and failed in pretty much every regard. A fraction of the projected power output; 265 species of fish reduced to 95; many thousands of peoples livelihoods affected as well as numerous protests both locally and in Bangkok. It should work well as a warning to take care.

After 750km it was a very long day and in the end we managed to beat the curfew with just 5 minutes to spare.


About Allan Michaud

English Wildlife Photographer/Environmental Filmmaker based in Cambodia
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