Thailand & Laos
Founded in 1262, Chiang Rai city is the capital and name sake of Thailand's most northern province and often known as the "gateway to the Golden Triangle". Most travellers use Chiang Rai as a base for trekking in the northern mountain range towards Burma where many of Chiang Rai's old Chinese and Hilltribe villages can be found. The tribes that can be found in the mountains and by the Kok River include the Akha, Yao, Blue and White Maeo, Karen, Hmong, Lisu, Lahu Shi and Skaw. In town the Hilltribe Museum and Education Centre has a slide show describing the 8 main tribes, their customs, style of dress and animist belief system.
The city has some lovely Wats dating back hundreds of years, surrounded by tranquil gardens to relax in.
Only 60km from Chiang Rai, and close to the Golden Triangle, Chaing Saen is one of Thailand's oldest towns which since its inception has been influenced by Buddhism. Situated on the banks of the Mekong, this was once a powerful fortified city that dominated the surrounding lands. Today it is known not only for its fascinating history which can be seen reflected in its ancient buildings, but also for its beautiful mountainous scenery.
There are many interesting temples and ruins of archaeological interest which are well worth a visit as well as a branch of the National Museum. On a hilltop overlooking the town is Wat Phra Thart Jom Kitti from where you can enjoy panoramic views of the Mekong River and surrounding lands.
This is a stunningly beautiful little city, its architecture a combination of ancient traditional Lao monasteries dating back over 500 hundred years and French colonial style from the 19th and 20th centuries. Nestled in the mountains at the confluence of the Nam Khan and the mighty Mekong rivers, the setting could not be more perfect. With over 32 ancient temples within easy walking distance Luang Prabang was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995, in order to preserve the temples and ensure that new development is limited and in keeping with this magical city.
Wat Xieng Thong is undoubtedly one of Luang Prabang's finest temples. It was constructed in 1559 by King Say Setthathirath and is a beautiful monastery featuring typical Lao art. The old Royal Palace, now a National Museum houses many religious and royal treasures, not to mention the King's collection of old American 50's and 60's automobiles.
With its many delicious restaurants, stunning views, great markets, shops and a relaxed atmosphere, Luang Prabang is definitely Lao's hidden treasure.
The mighty Mekong is one of the longest rivers in the world and one of the least spoilt. It is the heart and soul of South East Asia with more that 50 million people depending on it and its tributaries for food, water, transport and other important aspects of daily life. Its floodplains are bursting with food crops during the dry season and the river supports one of the world's most diverse fisheries.
Travelling down the Mekong through Laos/Thailand its importance in obvious as you observe its significance to the people who live on its edge. It is their only means of transport as around them lies mountains and thick jungle. It is a rich supply of fish and crops are planted up its banks. Everyone washes in it, plays in it, swims in it and generally their lives revolve around it. A trip along the Mekong with its rapids is relaxing, exhilarating, and fascinating. It provides an opportunity to glimpse into another way of life.
Ban Faen village is home to our guide Khen Phetxayphone, most of the villagers are farmers who work in the surrounding rice fields, it has no running water or electricity, a generator provides 2 hours electricity a night. When redspokes started to work with Khen in 2001, we talked to the Headman and Elders to determine what support the village needed and where our support would have the greatest effect. After some discussion, it was agreed that the 2 main issues facing the village was access to clean drinking water and the school. we decided to start by helping the school. This decision was not unanimous, as there were mixed opinions about the value of education, particularly for girls. Nonetheless, our first donation went towards concreting the school floor.
In 2003 redspokes and supporters started a charity LVCF. Shortly after we ran our first project building a school in Ban Faen. This school is now complete, we have went on to build a secound (basic) school in one of the rural hmong villages we visit.
The LVCT decided in 2006 to look at issue of clean water and the issue of land mines, a major issue in this poor country.