Bug-hunting in Laos

On Monday I returned from a couple of weeks discovering Laos – a whole new country for me, although I had a fairly good idea of what to expect because I had been to Thailand and Cambodia a few years ago.

I travelled with a group of a dozen led by local guides. The tour began in Hanoi (yes, I know that’s in Vietnam) and took us quickly south to Vinh (still in Vietnam) before turning inland to cross the mountains via the Ho Chi Minh Trail into Laos. We were in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, by the end of our (long) second day’s travel. A couple of days later we took a bus to Vang Vieng, where we stayed a few days before continuing to Luang Prabang. Finally, a slow boat on the Mekong took us to the Thai border not far from Chiang Mai where the trip concluded.

The people were nice, the food was interestingly different, many of the temples were beautiful and much of the scenery was breathtaking but my interest here on Green Path is wildlife and the environment so this first post about the trip covers some of the bugs I managed to photograph along the way. All of these pictures are already on Flickr so I have linked  the small versions here to full-size versions there.

brown butterfly on purple flowers
Vientiane

The climate of Laos is not too different from that of Cairns (monsoonal, but wetter than Townsville) and the vegetation is very similar: I recognised most of the cultivated plants and a fair percentage of weeds and other wild plants. It is not surprising, then, that there is a lot of overlap in the insect life too.

Vientiane’s public parks and gardens tend to be neatly clipped, formal and (to my mind) rather sterile. I would have welcomed more shade trees, too, since it was very hot while we were there.  One temple garden provided most of my insect shots. The smallish brown butterfly at left is one I didn’t know, but in the same garden I also saw a flower wasp and a swallowtail butterfly which wouldn’t have surprised me at home.

brown butterfly on bamboo pole
Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng is a small town surrounded by rice paddies and towering limestone mountains which are covered in jungle where they are not too sheer. My best single day of insect photography was the day we went caving and tubing. We had to wait an hour or so in a  clearing between rice paddies and the mountain (limestone mountains = caves, right?) and in that time must have photographed a dozen species of butterfly (thumbnails here) and seen a dozen more including the Green-spotted Triangle and Blue Tiger we have here in Townsville. I have rarely seen such an abundance of butterflies anywhere, and I have never before seen such a profusion of species. Later in the day I caught another three or four species including this big dark swallowtail and these creamy-white Pieridae on the pebbled bank of a stream. Meanwhile, the irrigation ditches were home to a variety of dragonflies (thumbnails here). I would have been photographing smaller insects as well except that my SLR had, infuriatingly, died in Vientiane and I was reduced to a point-and-click camera.

butterfly on fern frond
Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is a bigger (and much prettier) town than Vang Vieng. Half-day trips from it took me to two waterfalls where I enjoyed insect photography as well as the scenery and splashing about in the clear waters.

My last two days in Laos were insectless because we were on a boat in the middle of one of the world’s great rivers. We reckon the Burdekin is a big river, and it is: the fourth largest in Australia by volume of water, in fact. But the Mekong is seven times as long and discharges an astonishing 40 times as much water. I will upload some landscapes when the images are sorted. Meanwhile, all my worthwhile bug photos from the trip are in three sets on Flickr: Laos wildlife, Vietnam wildlife (an astonishing two insect photos from Hanoi!) and the more recent section of Thailand insects and spiders (earlier images are from my 2009 trip).

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