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Ruth's Travel Blog

Hammocks on the Mekong, night busses, and COPE in the capital

LAOS | Monday, 11 November 2013 | Views [2241]

From the border of Laos I travelled by minivan to a small riverside village on the Mekong River called Ban Makasang, which is the port to Si Phan Don, or 4000 islands. I took a small boat out to the nearest island, Don Det.
I stayed in a bungalow on stilts on the river, with a hammock on the porch, for about £2.50 a night.

I spent two days doing more or less nothing. One day I hired a bicycle and cycled round the island, but it took no more than an hour so I spent the rest of the morning and the afternoon reading and sleeping in my hammock drinking pineapple shakes!!

From Don Det, I went on to Pakse. I had high hopes for Pakse. It is the former indochinese capital. Well... Indochina must have been boring, because this place was about as delightful as Surin (where I was living in Thailand)... I had three nights pencilled in to stay there. I arrived in the afternoon, had a very boring wonder about and decided to book the night bus for the next day!
However, Pakse is not too far away from a very fertile area called Bolaven plateau! which I did a day tour of, before getting the night bus. This included visiting three waterfalls (including Laos Highest waterfall which is 120m), two villages and a school, and tea and coffee plantations. It was actually a very good day...

The night bus was an experience, which I think I will avoid in future (but I have bought some Valium just incase I have to go on one again!).
So, a sleeper bus is full of beds. That makes sense. However, the bed is the same size as two chairs on a normal bus, so basically, you are sharing a single bed with a complete stranger. No thank you. LUCKILY I didn't have a bed buddy, and after 10 bumpy hours I arrived slightly dishevelled in Vientiane, the capital city.

Most people I have met haven't had anything good to say about Vientiane, and the rest of them have travelled straight past it. I decided I wanted make my own mind up.
People were right, it's not very exciting. Apart from yet more temples, loads of cafés and a night market, there isn't much there.

One thing, I did find however, is the most amazing charity called COPE.

During the Vietnam War, the Americans dropped something like 250million bombs on Laos... They didn't know who or what they were hitting, but there was no rule about dropping bombs here, as Laos wasn't part of the war. Out of that huge number, only 30% actually exploded.
There are over 80 million bombs lying across Laos and each year hundreds of people are seriously hurt or killed from them. Kids pick them up thinking its a toy/ fruit. Adults may light a fire and the bomb is in the ground under the fire wiki them knowing, the ground heats up and the bombs goes off. Another's story was he saw a bomb and thought if he picked it up and threw it into the lake it would kill the fish... The bomb went off as he picked it up.
This is a constant job for bomb disposal teams, but only 40km2 is cleared a year of the 87,000km2 affected (more then one third of Laos). It takes ten days for them to clear one hectare, or longer depending on the landscape.
Laos people can make a lot of money by selling the metal as scrap... Which causes many casualties. All over Laos you can buy bracelets, bottle openers and key rings made from recycled bombs metal, I thought this was really cool until I heard about the risk involved!

This is where COPE comes in. COPE stands for Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise. They make high tech prosthetics at a low cost for victims of the cluster bombs left from the Secret War. They provide occupational therapy, physiotherapy, and replace the prosthesis if it is too small, or needs changed in any way.
Not only do they help victims of the cluster bombs, but they help people effected from accidents or who have deformity from birth. They can treat babies and children with talipies (club foot) up to the age of thirteen and will even try and fix it after then by surgery.
This is one of the best charities I have come across and really opened my eyes to what country people in Laos have to deal with.

Please have a look at the website and tell people you know...

http://www.copelaos.org

Tags: bolaven, charity, mekong, nightbus, plantation, vientiane, waterfalls

 

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