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Notes from a Wandering Daydreamer Life as it should be...

my how you've grown!

LAOS | Saturday, 15 August 2009 | Views [880]

Long overdue but finally everything has combined to allow me to write another blog. - Internet time, things to write about and most importantly, I feel bothered to actually sit and write!

The day after the last blog was written we departed India with some sense of relief and excitement about the adventures ahead in South East Asia. However it seemed India was determined  to have the last laugh and had planned  one final act of revenge on us. Only hours after landing in Bangkok we were taking a walk when I started to feel unwell. The rest of the night was spent dashing back and forth to the bathroom and by the following night I was feeling able to eat solid food again. Just as Gary started to feel unwell. So another 24 hours later just as he was starting to recover, I started to feel a little unwell again and we knew that it was time to leave Bangkok. Despite doing very little (other than be sick or go and watch the new harry potter...) we knew a change of scenery would do us good so we headed out to Kanchanaburi, towards the Burmese border and site of the Bridge over the River Kwai.

It was a pretty interesting place and it was a bit bizzare to find so much australian and british war history and war graveyards in the middle of thailand. The change of scenery and fresh air rid us of any remaining sickness and we hired a scooter and took to the road to explore the area. We found some interesting caves where we later realised we had walked in the exit point, thus avoiding the ticket sellers, but they werent that interesting so we didnt feel too bad. later up the road we discovered a beautiful great big buddah, watching over the amazing view below him with a big smile on his face. below us the river (kwai) wound its way around jungle and a few paddy fields, surrounded by some jagged mountains. the sky was blue, the clouds fluffy and white, the jungle green and dense and the only sound you could hear......... a great big karaoke barge floating down the river below us, it's electronic thai pop tunes and bad singing blaring out all over the valey.
as it got closer we saw it was full of older women and there must have been a meeting of sorts going on - perhaps the thai branch of the CWA??
 
From there we headed north to Chaing Mai (via Bangkok. you cant go anywhere without going through bangkok it seems) where it was a challenge to contain ourselves at the sunday night markets. (quickly emptying wallets and a already full backpack are a hard thing to live with as a compulsive shopper!)
From there we followed all the reccomendations of everyone we had met and headed to Pai. It seemed to be a pretty nice place and in a beautiful spot, but after 2 days there it got a bit same same, but not different. Plus it was now time to head to Chaing Dao to visit the folks at Makhampom where the whole adventure began two years ago!
 
We arrived on the bus and my first observation of Chiang Dao's change was that the cafe we spent many a night and bhat in (creatively names cafe cafe) had since closed and is now a mobile phone shop. (richard told me later it closed not long after our departure. perhaps we gave damien an early retirement??)
 
Tom came and picked us up from the 7eleven and on the drive to makhampom it seemed that nothing had changed and the place was as beautiful as ever. When we arrived I was excited to see Pui and she could not believe that i had come back. The Makhampom area had now been finished off, with another lake, 2 more houses, playground and lots of finishing touches that weren't there when we arrived 2 years ago. Later, riding around the paddy fields just like i did on our first afternoon, it feel like time had stodd still and everything was just like it always had been. As much as you think things can change in 2 years, still things stay the same.
 
That night after dinner with Richard, Jon and a now much more grown un Luk Jon, we headed over to the theatre to "play" makhampom style. A school group from australia were coming the next day to do some workshops, and they needed a shadow puppet show as an example. So with Richard, Jon, Muoy(Yadda), Thom and Luk Jon we created a short piece involving 2 butterflies falling in love, one being eaten by a dragon before flying out when it sneezes before they reunite and go to the 7 eleven..... Who said it had to make sense?
 
The next day we got up early and went to explore the morning market (although we got there around 7ish so everything was being packed up. this market starts at 2am!) before jumping in the truck to head to the new - and improved - Pan Deng village.
Today was a big day. When we visited the village 2 years ago as part of the study tour, we were told of their situation. Burmese refugees living on government land since the 70's, but now facing the possibility of being forced off the land. While in the UK I had heard that they had indeed had to leave the land, but it had really been a blessing in disguse, as working with makhampom, they raised enough money to buy some land (owned in trust by makhampom as they are not able to own land) just up the road from the origional village. Over the past 12 months they have moved the entire village, house by house.
The new village is a vast improvement over the old. where houses were before squashed together like a make, each house now had a garden and plenty of room, there is a central road and everything is a lot more planned and ordered. there is space for a football pitch, more than one brick building and (our reason for being there that day) a community forest area.
Today was a big tree planting day and VIP guests had come from all over the area and some even from bangkok for the day. There were speeches in front of the entire village and guests, and the local football team played an exhibition game against a team made up of the local authorities. It could have been an intersting game as some of the guests invited were the police responsible for arresting the adults a few years ago, but it seems that the past has now been put behind them. Jon said to me later that for the first time they are happy. they know that they have a permenant place to live and the process to get them ID cards has already stared. something that would improve their lives dramatically.
 
After the game (from memory the authorities just won) everyone was presented with a gift (scarves for us but brightly coloured shoulder bags for the army reps there) and many group photos were taken, including a few of the entire village. There were people from the police, army, makhampom along with other authorities and organisations, but it seemed gary and I were the only farang (foreigners) Then began the big walk up the hill where 3000+ small trees were waiting to be planted. Luckily soldiers had been the week before to dif the holes for the trees, although some required a bit of scooping out by hand. There were so many people the work was very quick. It seemed more time was spent clambering back up the hill to find some more trees and then catching up to the front to find some empty holes to put them in. Within 30min or so the supply or trees and holes ran out and we were shown down the hill to the big new community area for lunch.
On our last visit to pan deng we were warned of the meagre fod supplies and not to eat too much as our hosts would eat what was left over after we were done. But the ammount of food dished up that day was amazing. Still though we made sure to leave plenty as it would be feeding the village for the next few days!
 
After lunch, despite more trees needed to be planted, we headed back to makhampom to perform our puppet masterpiece. So in the room we slept in during the study tour, we performed our show to some rather spoiled australian school girls, with gary making his makhampom debut as the dragon's eye.
 
It was interesting to see the two different groups of kids in the one day. All the girls of the same age in Pan Deng village had been dressed in their traditional dress, walking round with great trays of glasses of water for all the guests in the village, then helping to serve and clean up at lunchtime, always smiling while they did it.
Here were some rather spoiled girls, who rather than appreciate the experiences they could possibly be having and the fact they they were on a trip to thailand and spending time at makhampom, were more worried about their ego as I later heard....
 
The next day we headed off, with the hope that I will return next year for makhampom's 30th anniversary celebrations. Again we had to head south in order to head north, going back to chiang mai to head north to nong khai and the lao border.
 
 after crossing the border into lao and we spent 2 days floating down the mekong on a slow boat to luang prabang. from there we kept heading south to vientiene with a quick stop in vang vieng to go tubing again. it seems that it has become a lot more popular - a fact that has not escaped the locals. the cost to hire a tube has now at least doubled, including the loss of $2 of your deposit if you return the tube after 6pm - which is everybody....
woke up the following morning covered in scratched and a head full of mud. a few hazy memories of sliding down a slide into a mud pit, mud volleyball in the pouring rain, loosing my thongs somehow, trekking through a thorn field (barefot) and drinking unknown moonshine out of a bottle with bees floating in it. i gues it was fun...??

from vientiene we kept pushing south until we finally got to don det island, a sleepy little island in the middle of the mekong river where we spent a very lazy 5 days recharging our batteries (me for the final 3 week push before going home!) and trying to conserve the quickly dwindling money supplies.. i have been rather shocked at how expencive and developed laos has become in the past 2 years. where as last time there were only 2 ATMs in Vientiene, now they are everywhere you look, and in every other town we visited. there is a massive construction boom and a flock of a new style of visitors i never really noticed before. those people who normally would have stayed in thailand and seen laos as a bit of a unknown quanity. and because of this it has sadly lost a lot of its charm and appeal i feel...

but it seemed all that frugal money saving was in vain as when we fianlly left don det to cross into cambodia just down the road we were hit with what we knew was coming. "Administration fees"............................

$2 each "stamping fee" to get stamped out of lao. after crossing the border, under a small tent was a man wearing a mask and holding an ear thermometer demanding a $1 fee for "health inspection" (taking our temperature) but we refused to pay him more than $1 for both of us. Then we had to get our cambodian visa on arrival. Despite the official price being $20, we were told the price was infact $23 (there happened to be 3 people sitting behind the desk. coincidence? i think not..) however if you asked for a reciept the fee suddenly rose to $25....??
The final insult was to have to hand over yet another $1 just to get your visa stamped and be fianally let into the country. I know it may only seem like a few dollars, but after living on the cheap, dropping $27 in a few minutes all for nothing is a bit too much to take, esp when there is nothing you can do about it....

Finally though, here we are in Phnom Penh. This time in 3 weeks I will be sitting in sydney, and another 12 hours later i will be back in old wagga wagga. and how exciting it will be... for a day or 2 i guess. as much as im now looking forward to getting home i know it will only be a matter of time before i cant wait to leave again.

but until then, 3 more weeks of adventures, and hopefully a blog or 2 in the meantime. i started this blog in vientiene a week ago.....it seems the SE Asia lifestyle is starting to get to me!

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