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Life in Laos (some ups and some downs)

LAOS | Tuesday, 2 April 2013 | Views [1027] | Comments [2]

One of the things that has occurrd many times in Asia that was hard to get used to was the amount of people who want to take photos with me. At first I usually assume they want me to take a photo OF them, but then they hand Jake their camera and wave me over to stand beside them and put their arms around me. I started to get Jake to also take photos with our camera as its quite funny.

To begin our trip in Laos, we took a slowboat from Chiang Khong to Luang Prabang; one of the most anticipated parts of our trip. Two days of slowly meandering down the Mekong river was more than I expected. Everywhere we looked were lush mountains and people living in bamboo huts. It was a perfect introduction to Laos and all the nature it has to offer. One prickly thorn in our peaceful Mekong experience was that the second day we happened to be travelling on St. Patrick's day, and because they sell beer on the boat, everyone drank to celebrate the occasion. So once again we had to listen to other people's shitty music on their shitty speakers and listen to them loudly sing along. Why does this always happen to us!? I feel like everywhere we go a gaggle of wannabe karaoke stars follows us along. Annoying! If I could give one piece of advice to other travellers: no one wants to listen to your music or your singing voice, especially on public transportation. (Also another piece of advice for travellers I read somewhere: "think more, wear more." I want to wear that on a sign around my neck!) Jake still managed to get some sleep though:

 

Anyway, we made it to Luang Prabang and it was just so relaxed compared to most of the places in Thailand we had visited.
 
There weren't  nearly as many people and it was cozied right between two rivers giving it a secluded feel. We went for a bike ride the first day, crossed a precarious bamboo bridge, and checked out the evening market right outside our guesthouse. 

 

The next day we went on a two day trek to the mountains. It was pretty intense! It was about a six hour hike, with a stop for lunch in a small village. The small village had a small dirty looking body of water just outside it (that the local people drink from) with picnic tables set up. During the day while their parents are tending the rice fields or doing whatever work they do, the children play in that area. When they hear tourists coming they quickly clean up the area and then run and get little things to sell us. They then set up these little things in the most particular and organized ways on the table and while the tourists eat, the children smile and pat the items, making it impossible for you not to buy something. We bought four homemade bracelets from the kids in exchange for a photo of them too. Here they are refusing to smile! You can see their perfectly laid out goods too! 
I then ran around with the kids, helped them ride a cow, and pondered why they all had runny noses and dirty clothes and why they weren't in school. Ill never forget their sweet little faces! 

 

After hiking up and down the sides of mountains, we made it to a home stay in a hmong village at the top of one of the hills. There was a nice guesthouse for us there and our tour guide showed us around the village and told us about their way of life. It was funny to see the 19 or 20 year old German tourist we were with so shocked at the living conditions, especially that some of the children don't go to school or had never seen a doctor.  

 

I liked staying in this village because we had a guesthouse and we weren't in the way or the focus. no one had to stop what they were doing because we arrived there. It was funny because my first instinct of a village this remote was one of serenity but they were having a big party that day and were blaring music and dancing the whole time we were there! And then when we went to bed (at 9 o'clock! Haha) someone in the hut beside us was  watching a horror movie at full volume. They really shot down the peaceful stereotype we had! 

 

 Seeing a big village like this definitely gave me a different perspective of poverty too. Probably from years of World Vision ads and learning about human right issues, I had an engrained vision that everyone in these living conditions were suffering all the time. Even though I know that's irrational, those were my underlying feelings. I feel like that comes from the perspective that if I were to live in those same conditions, it would be very hard and possibly fatal for me because of the way i grew up. But when i saw these people partying and the kids as happy as they can be, it is really eye opening.  After talking with jake about it, I deduced that living without government assistance at all is not suffering,  but they suffer whenever something drastic occurs. Like a sickness in the family, or a drought, and that is when they need more assistance from the government, and that is when their basic rights are not within their grasp. And that's what makes it hard to help the problems within these communities. They don't need help now, they need something to rely on when things happen that put their rights and their lives at jeopardy.

 

This view of it however, does not include schooling which I believe every child should have access to. But it's more than just learning their ABC's, it's about choice as to whether they want to stay in the village, or go to the city. Which makes education seem very valuable, but when we saw the three roomed school with one teacher, you wonder if the children really have access to those choices in life. And what it means to them to have those choices.   

 

I could go on forever about this, so ill stop and think about it some more and continue about our journey through Laos. Not before sharing a peaceful photo of Jake swimming at the base of a waterfall:

 

After the trek I got a bad case of travellers sickness, which was pretty wicked but with the help of antibiotics, went away in a day. We're pretty lucky that that was the only time either of us has gotten sick. Fingers crossed it doesn't happen again! It's funny when you're travelling because evey time you have a cramp or feel kind of gross, you think you're going to die or be in bed for ten days. It's usually nothing but you hear so many horror stories you can't help but think about it all the time. It helps that we are taking malaria pills though so I don't think i have malaria every time I sneeze.

 

When I recovered we got on a bus to Vientiane, the capital. The bus ride was one of those death buses you hear about from other travellers all the time. it took us 10 hours to travel 300km, even going as fast as the driver could go, because it was up and down the side of mountains the whole time, on a one lane highway. Despite what seemed like unfavourable odds, we still made it in safely.

 

Vientiane had a decent backpacker scene but was pretty empty and our water in the hotel was giving us electrical shocks! So we left the next day for the south. Not before having fun in the Mekong river though! During dry season it's super fun to go rafting:

 

and even more fun to go swimming:
 
The bus we took to the 4000 islands was a sleeper bus, too unsafe for Canada, but perfect for an overnight drive. It's equipped with beds, but luckily jake and I are pretty close friends, so we were fine sharing a bed. Sign up by yourself and you may be sleeping in a single bed with a weirdo! Hhaha! 

 

We slept like babies as we were no longer driving up the side of a mountain. After a short bus and boat ride, we arrived on Don Kong, a quiet island in the Mekong with not too many other tourists. We went for a bike ride which was great as all the little children came running  out of their houses waving and screaming "sabadee!" (Hello) to us. Then they would giggle or chase after us, and it was just the best thing ever. It's small experiences like that that make me so happy to be on this trip. 

 

After relaxing in serenity for a couple days we moved to Don Det where all the other tourists flock to. It was fun as we ran into Suzie, a German who we met on the trek, so we we went out with her one night. We also watched movies at a movie bar and saw a disappointing waterfall. Unfortunately being a child of Ontario and many trips to Niagara Falls as a kid, I will never be impressed by a another "big" waterfall. Nothing will ever compare to the pride and joy of Ontario. 

 

Up next: One of the countries we have both been looking forward to the most, Cambodia! 

 

Tags: 4000 islands, bus trips, hmong people, mekong river, slow boat, trekking

Comments

1

Pretty awesome, Nikkie!

I like what you said about the village subsisting on its own without any government interference. Sometimes I wonder whether (aside from calamities you mentioned) those villages are better off than we are here with our overbearing rules and regulations. It seems you can't do anything around here without someone watching you or that you can't make your own decisions because you're presumed guilty of something you're "going to do" (AKA: you can't talk on the phone when you drive because you are going to get in an accident - frankly, I find that ideology offensive. What's next? You can't have a radio, you can't have passengers, you can't drive a car because you could possibly crash?). I guess lack of freedom is the price we pay for living in a society that has things like internet and memory foam mattresses and all our other comforts, but sometimes I wonder whether it's better to live in a small village! I guess with the size of our population it's inevitable that stupid laws and constraints exist. Ugh.

Have fun in Cambodia!

  Tina Apr 3, 2013 11:16 PM

2

Hi Nikkie and Jake
What a gift to open the email and link through to your travel diary of Laos. The stories and photos took me away from my cozy Victoria home to your Asian adventure.

Spring is in full bloom in Victoria with daffodils aplenty a few early tulips and the pink blossom trees lining many streets.

Safe travels
Love
Lynne

  Lynne Young Apr 4, 2013 1:58 AM

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