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Beyond Our Conestoga

Too Much To Tell

LAOS | Friday, 26 February 2010 | Views [510] | Comments [1]

A week ago I wrote a long blog entry. Near the end of my typing, one employee of the internet cafe, shut down to leave. Instead of 'shutting down' she apparently just flipped her power extension cord. Of which, the computer I was on was connected to. Bam. Just like that. My thoughts gone. Wasted thoughts put down, never to be had the same again. And they were so good! I had answered some of your questions. No we did this, we did that, but some observations and thoughts from the trip. Argh. I was so frustrated. I asked the woman. She only said, 'oh, no problem, no problem' and flipped my station back on. No problem for the computer but maybe a problem for me. Fussed enough to not have to pay for the time I just spent.

Ah, so at a new internet cafe I tried again, if the keyboard would just type cleanly! Takes me twice as long to type it feels. All the experience Leisa, All the experience.
I loaded a few photos, but takes so long I didn't load anymore.

Internet in Laos has been few and far between. Partly because we have been off the beaten track for a while now. We are in the capitol currently, but will only be here for a day. TOmorrow we head off to central Laos and do a little caving, then on to the south and down into Cambodia in about 2 weeks.

ok, third times the charm and 1 1/2 weeks later...


The one phrase every tourist in Laos seems to know. And unfortunately, the only phrase many tourists seem to know. Say it to the locals (hello) and you get a kind response. Say it correctly and get a big smile. Throw a Good morning in Lao at the end of the phrase and automatically, they are taken aback. What's that? A westerner that speaks Lao? How is that possible? Do they really exist? And my answer I am learning, is nope, they really are that rare.

In Singapore, English everywhere. Everyone speaks fluently. In Malaysia little less than SIngapore, but still English widely spoken. Only little issues came when you get off the tourist track a bit and even then, it really was no problem. Such modern and educated countries, hearing English spoken didn't feel obtrusive.

Attempts at Malay were kindly taken and appreciated though. Taman Nagara there was a little less English, but any of the tourist related functions had fluent employees. Go to the corner stand to buy a snack on the otherhand, they will probably call their neighbor to come help communicate. THey just assume you don't know any of their language and so they won't try with you. So unfortunate. This is a continueing trend. Too many tourists are not diving into these cultures and learning them. Rather they are interjecting themselves and their own cultural habits and etiquettes and expecting the locals to adapt. So sad.

In Thailand this is so apparent that you really don't need Thai in any of the many Tourists Main Track. Takes away from the unique experience of it all. Isn't part of traveling in a foreign country supposed to involve the struggle of the language? OUr time in Thailand was short, we didn't have time to 'get away' persay, so maybe this is why, but everywhere we went all the tourists speaking English, forcing the locals to adapt. Not even attempting the language. Let people laugh. It's ok. THe locals I am sure, as I have experienced, appreciate any attempt at their language.

In Laos, a lot less tourists ridden than Thailand. They say that Laos is what tourism was like in THailand 30 years ago. THe people are so kind here. Big smiles on their faces. Friendly. The cost of things cheap. The culture kind and unique. The infrastructure and government growing, struggling to not be left behind. Here I have been learning Laos. Being here for a month and not as many tourists having paved a way, means knowing the language to a bit more vital. I have actually quit taken to it. I drilled our guide while trekking for three days. I at least got my numbers down which helps tremendously in buying (and bargaining). Each day I have been adding more and more to my vocabulary. Eric has now put me in charge of all transactions here. The only problem now, is the few other tourists.

Others again, are not picking up the language, not even trying. I at least can walk into a guesthouse and ask for a room for two people and bargain a price. Big bad habit here is the locals over charging the 'falongs' (tourists) because they can and we don't know any better right? Well, I have finally mustered enough Laos that three days ago a tuk-tuk driver charged us a price for our ride. I had asked one of the locals what she paid. Half of what this guy was charging Eric and I per person. I questioned the driver. His friend says (in Laos mind you) 'She is speaking Laos, give her the local price.' Sweet!! Now the downfall to this was that the 5 other tourists in the tuk-tuk didn't speak a lick and now became dependant on me. Oh shit. We went to a guesthouse and they all followed me like lost puppies, crowded around me pushing asking me what the lady was saying the prices were and such. Upset at the high price and pushing me to get more info for them. I got so frustrated. I worked a lower price and left. They all asked, are you staying here? Now they weren't just depending on me for the language, they all of a sudden needed me to make their decision on where to stay. Come on! Why are you even traveling? Eric and I wondered off leaving them to their vices. We ended finding another guesthouse for 1/2 the price and much quieter in this small town. Ahh. Very vindicating.

Now, finding other travelers who you enjoy and can help each other is quit nice. We have befriended a German solo traveler we traveled simulatensously for about a week. She also spoke little to no Laos. But hung back, let me do my work and then interjected her own opinions. We 3 worked well as a team. Eric and I discussed the difference between her and the other group. The difference. She was independant. Let Eric and I do what we needed and then just asked what we were doing. Not force us to do the work for her. She said how nice it was to travel a little stress free for a while. Traveling solo  you are always fending for yourself. Rare, she said, to find someone you could trust. She loved that she could trust us and our info gathering and decisions and that it was nice not to have to do the hard work for once. We hope to run into her again, maybe in Cambodia.

We have been absolutely loving Laos, even though it may have provided some of the worst days yet. It is still our favorite place so far. Imagine a night of two people sick. One with diarhea all night long, the other puking. Each having to run down the hall to the two communal bathrooms. One of which the light didn't work. THe other, the water didn't run consistently. Add in creaky wooden everything (walls, floors, doors) and a door that stuck so bad to the floor when you opened it that opening quietely didn't exist. No toilet paper and no using the tap water (you did get) in your mouth at all. The next morning, an early one because we had to catch a boat. Now, we laugh and say that at least there was more than one bathroom! And the boat had a bathroom (thank god, for the 8 hour ride).

We have also experienced our true Lao style tuk-tuk ride day. First a small tuk-tuk to the 'bus station' No problem, just chilly in the early am. The bus station? What buses? Those pick-ups? When do we leave? WHen your full? How many people? 15!! Small pickup for even American standards. 10 of us in the back. Open Air and all our luggage. An old woman kept shoving Eric's legs, not realizing I think that he wasn't hogging space, his legs really were that long and couldn't go anywhere. The road...nothing but clay sand...and no rain for weeks...makes for a VERY dusty ride. The guy next to me blowing smoke and hacking in my face...nice. Super bumpy and dirty. We arrive 3 hours later to only switch to another 5 hour ride in another. Face masks galore. Even the locals were puking off the side. What a ride it was. 8 hours+ of blinding, hacking dirt squished hip to hip with a Lao guy falling asleep on me. The dirt? Completely stained our clothes. We could draw on our skin after the ride! I think took a few years off our life. The cream of the crop, we get to this little town (the whole reason we came this way was not where the toursits normally go) and discover the Mekong is too low and there are no boats leaving. Our only option, another 8 hour bus ride south again! We decide to stay another day. Our bums need a rest.



chuckling at "like lost puppies." it's sad sometimes, in some beaches in thailand, so many menus are in german and there's so much western food, and in angkor wat, cambodia, i've never seen that many korean restaurants...but i must admit, i'd chicken away from 8 hour "bus" ride...kudos for picking up the language!!

"The only downer is, everyones got the same idea. We all travel thousands of miles just to watch TV and check in to somewhere with all the comforts of home, and you gotta ask yourself, what is the point of that?"

  Youna Mar 13, 2010 9:23 PM

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