A Travellerspoint blog

Day 9: Luang Prabang

Tak Bat and The Human Circus

Today I’m on my soap box. Never have I been so disgraced by seeing full frontal the stupidity of humanity. It’s more about being disrespectful of other people and their beliefs. But being disrespectful is stupid in my books. That is, you must be stupid to be so disrespectful. Ok, I’m not free from guilt. I wanted to take a few photos to show this inane lack of respect to place it on public display of what NOT to do when visiting a country. PLEASE respect other people’s culture and not treat it like a human circus.

OK – let me start from the beginning. One of the most famous sites in Luang Prabang is the daily alms collection by the resident monks – hundreds of them walk procession-like through the streets in the early morning, collection food offerings from local residents – there is literally a procession of monks from one end of town to the other – it is quite the spectacle. It is a long-standing practice in many Buddhist communities and you can see this throughout Laos, although Luang Prabang has become famous for this due to the sheer number of temples and resident monks and novices on this small peninsular.

Now imagine instead of tourists quietly observing this morning ritual, some are disruptive, disrespectful and offensive. A local tradition and cultural treasure is being sabotaged purely for tourists enjoyment. ‘I don’t know any better’ is not an acceptable excuse.

How would you like it, if you were going about your morning ritual to pick up food for yourself (and also to distribute to the poor) when, *FLASH*, *FLASH*, *FLASH* you have some strange foreigner sticking their camera over your shoulder or pretty close to your face to capture the ‘moment’. It’s like someone taking photos of you at a grocery store (it’s a little more important than that, but for the sake of a simple analogy). I almost vomited watching it happen.

20 minutes and it’s over. Luckily the monks are peaceful people. If it were certain more assertive or aggressive celebrity or some sports star, I’m sure one of the tourists would have some camera or personal damage done from being so disrespectful. What gives us the right as tourists to behave like the paparazzi to local customs and local people?

The traditional alms collecting procession, or tak-bat as it is known locally, is part of Luang Prabang’s cultural heritage and the monks and their temples are key parts of Luang Prabang’s appeal to tourists. It is still possible to enjoy and watch the ceremony but please do so respectfully!! Some tips: - Keep your distance – photos are a great souvenir and way to remember your holiday but be respectful when taking the photos and avoid sticking your camera into the faces of the people you wish to photograph. - Avoid flash photography - If you wish to participate in tak-bat and make offerings to the monks you are welcome to do so. However please remember this is a spiritual ritual and not a tourist attraction. It would be like tourists turning up to a Catholic church and ‘having a go’ at communion. - While there are local people selling food to make your offerings, this is generally of very poor quality. It is higher recommended you buy the food fresh from the market on the morning you would like to make the offering. - Remember this is their home as well as your holiday destination, treat it as such.

That’s enough for today. I think I need to meditate at the Kuangsi waterfalls! Check back tomorrow to see how I get on at Vanvisa at the Falls!

Alms Giving to the Monks of Luang Prabang, Laos

Alms Giving to the Monks of Luang Prabang, Laos

Posted by Teamworkz 19:03 Archived in Laos Tagged the of laos to monks prabang luang alms giving Comments (0)

Day 8: Elephant Riding and Zip-Lining in Luang Prabang

Elephant-riding, waterfalls, trekking and zip-lining - all in a day's activities when in Luang Prabang

Today was a slow start. Some confusion over the tour arrangements had me sitting around for a while, but soon enough it was sorted and we were off for a day of elephant riding and trekking!

First stop was a sustainable elephant camp, to take a ride on an elephant, saved from the fate of being worked to death logging trees. It was a very gentle ambling, ponderous pace rocking from side to side as our elephant took us out of the camp, into the river Nam Khan and up through the village back to camp. It was a good speed from which to contemplate and enjoy life. Next was a semi-hard trek to a Khmer village. The scenery was beautiful when you could look up - often had to watch the floor not to step into elephant droppings :) We stopped to have lunch there and watch the village activities. Today, they were all helping to thatch the roof on a house before the rains come.

After lunch we keep going through teak forests and rubber plantations before descending onto a natural path through lush green jungle. After a 1 hour hard slug up and down the narrow pathway, we were close to the promised waterfall. As we came closer, we were all surprised by the concrete slabs and red plastic chairs. We’d made it to the Tad Sae Waterfalls. There was a much easier way to get there, but our tour was a trek, so trek we did in the back way! No regrets, as the trek was very enjoyable, albeit hard work! We just expected more of a natural setting for the waterfall given the natural path we were on to get here.

The waterfall was a collection of pools cascading one into the other. The water was very, very refreshing (ie cold!). There was an additional activity of zip-lining (flying fox for Aussies) for 1km over 18 zip lines. After counting my pennies, I decided I could do it.

It was easily the best experience so far. Talk about adrenalin rushes! At first it was terrifying - the fear of hitting a tree trunk was very real! Then after a few lines, it was exhilarating and I was trying to find more ways to move about and do crazy things swinging through the jungle canopy. The local guides (one on either end) were fantastic and made sure everything was super safe while ensuring I had a brilliant time. It was sad when the last zip line came around. The sensation of flying through the jungle/trees was just wonderful (and very scary when you look down!)! The speed is very, very, very fast sometimes! It was quite a change from the earlier ambling of the elephant.

Back in town, there was just enough time to try to catch the sunset at Mount Phousi/Wat Chomsi. Unfortunately as it was really overcast, the view was a little hindered and the sunset non-existent, but still a great viewing point. Best part was watching a group of Monks doing as we were, taking photos and the touristy things. One had a nice camera and was taking photos of the other Monks; another was going around with his camera phone taking photos on that. It was very amusing.

To top of the day, I found a laneway of cheap food off the night market back in town. 10,000 KIP (about $1.25) to fill your plate with food (choice of 10 or so dishes). It is a very popular laneway full of 5 or 6 stalls of this description. I have no idea exactly what I was eating, but it was all good!

Elephant Trekking in Luang Prabang, Laos

Elephant Trekking in Luang Prabang, Laos

Posted by Teamworkz 18:58 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Day 7: Luang Prabang

The Long Bus Trip

After a long bus ride, I finally arrived in Luang Prabang.

I was advised to be at the pick-up area in Vang Vieng at 9:45 for the 10am VIP bus to Luang Prabang. About 35 minutes later, a bus did turn up and we boarded this bus (thank goodness not a mini-van), which we all thought was going to Luang Prabang. About 30 minutes later, it dropped us off at the bus terminal to board the real bus. There were others already waiting to depart and wondered why the 10am bus had still not departed. It was 11am before we took off on the long road to Luang Prabang – but hey, it is the Lao PDR – where PDR seems to mean Please Don’t Rush!

It was a lovely scenic ride out of Vang Vieng area, traveling along-side the karst peaks, then up into the mountains that show a different view of this dramatic landscape. With the low hanging clouds and with some of the peaks disappearing into them, it was reminiscent of Chinese water colour paintings. The road was windy (as in many curves, not as in strong gusts of air) and a few passengers suffered from it. It did not bother me, I think the bus ride up the Chiapas in Mexico or to Colca Canyon in Peru was far worse!

More interestingly was watching the countryside. It went a little something like this:

Wedding; many large bags of cucumber for sale along the road (‘tis the season for weddings and cucumbers!); remnants of a wedding; medium plots of lettuce and other green vegetable like products; wedding; batches of cut grass drying (for broom making); more plots of vegetables; rice paddies; cows; more batches of grass drying; wedding; pigs;

(then as we ascend into mountains)

Satellite dishes (attached to nearly every bamboo house); cow; dogs; pigs; more batches of grass drying; picturesque view of the peaks; satellite dishes; and so on and so forth – I think you get the idea!

7 hours later and well after the sun had set, we were all glad to have arrived at Luang Prabang Naluang bus station. Mount Phou Si was lit up and it was a beautiful welcoming sight. Time to explore the town!

Ola, my guide in Vang Vieng, had told me that the night market in Luang Prabang had so many beautiful handicrafts that it would be difficult not to buy anything. He was right! At first I saw cushion covers, elephant slippers (slippers with elephants on them not slippers for elephants), the famous Lao coffee, tea, tissue box holders, lantern covers – the vendors were not particularly pushy and they seemed like genuinely nice people it was hard not to buy just 1, tiny, little thing. Ok, so I bought about 7 things from different vendors. But you could actually see each one there making the products they were selling. One even said her children embroidered the hanging decoration. I’m not sure whether that is counted as child labour, or whether my purchase was freeing them from the work or keeping them employed!

Luang Prabang is a peaceful town. So I peacefully glided around the markets and toward the Mekong in search of food. I found a riverside restaurant that seemed to have a table of locals already feasting on food. I ordered what I thought was something special & local – the Stew of Luang Prabang! It sounded impressive. It was a salty broth with an interesting mix of pieces of chicken breast, dill, mint, whole chillis, pumpkin, beans, peas, onions, spring onions/eschallots, black dried fungus (mushrooms) and some other green stuff I couldn’t quite identify. Quite a mélange! Of course, it was served with the typical sticky rice in a bamboo holder. Lao people eat sticky rice with their fingers by pulling a bit off and rolling it a little into a ball. So I tried to do the same, and now I know where the term ‘sticky fingers’ comes from! To accompany the meal I tried Mak Toum tea (tea from dried fruit of a quince tree). Fragrant and not too strong, a nice hot light beverage to have on a winter’s night! Still wearing a t-shirt here, sometimes a light jacket is needed for Lao’s cold winter nights!

When I got back to my hotel, I had a long chat to the nice young man at reception, who’d never heard of the Stew of Luang Prabang, but he recommended other tasty dishes that I will endeavour to seek out tomorrow!

Luang Prabang Night Market, Laos

Luang Prabang Night Market, Laos

Posted by Teamworkz 04:08 Archived in Laos Tagged night market laos prabang luang Comments (0)

Day 6: Kayaking and Trekking in Vang Vieng

The glittering crystal in the Uneven Cave and Snail Cave were mesmerizing

Today was an even tougher day than yesterday. Somehow, last night’s dinner didn’t agree with me, so I didn’t get much sleep last night and was feeling sore from yesterday’s rock-climbing and from being up all night in the bathroom. I wasn’t looking forward to trekking and kayaking all day.

The other person who’d signed up for the tour was an older, frail gentleman who had bandages on his knee and hand from a motorbike accident 2 weeks earlier. So the trip was at a nice slow pace - the unfortunate part was because as I still felt ill, it was difficult going at his pace when all I wanted was to run for the nearest toilet!

We visited 4 caves today: Elephant Cave, Tham Loup (Uneven Cave), Tham Noi (Snail Cave) & Water Cave. The glittering crystal in the Uneven Cave and Snail Cave were both mesmerizing and it was fun going into a completely dark cave. No ropes/fence or lights in the cave, just a head torch – so watch your step! The water cave was quite the experience. Place yourself on an inner tube and feel the icy cold water from this limestone cave (source is somewhere up in the mountains). Refreshing is one thing, and this water is something else.

All the guides had a good technique to prevent them from touching the icy cold water. Kneeling on the inner tube, but that requires a lot of balance!

When I had stopped squealing, I grabbed onto the guide rope like everyone else and pulled myself along and under the low hanging cave opening. With only a waterproof head torch, there is nothing else to light the way. Just sit back, look up and don’t let go of the rope unless your paddling skills are very good. With my bum in the water, there was a slightly disturbing moment when I felt something brush up against it. I hope it was just some underwater plants that were growing in the dark……

After that unique experience, it was onto kayaking down the Nam Song River. We followed the well-travelled route of the inner tubing bar circuit for 4km back to town. The limestone peaks never fail to create a magnificent backdrop set of beasutifully by the tranquil, deep green colour of the river. It was a beautiful trip down the river, punctuated by lots of partying on the river banks along the way. One had to watch out for revelers jumping off the 10 metre swings in abundance across the bars and banks. It was Interesting watching the life of Lao people, from children bathing themselves in the river to parents working hard by the river, cutting up food or wood for cooking.

Thanks to our excellent guide Ola, I learnt a lot about Lao culture today. Unfortunately, his father was one of the many that while looking for scrap metal from unexploded bombs (UXO), was killed. Ola was only 2 at the time. We passed two Lao weddings on the way, which were interesting to see. A great day with a great finish of a much appreciated steaming hot shower (the river water was cold!!).

Kayaking and Trekking in Vang Vieng, Laos

Kayaking and Trekking in Vang Vieng, Laos

Posted by Teamworkz 04:04 Archived in Laos Tagged and in trekking laos kayaking vang vieng Comments (0)

Day 5: Rock Climbing in Vang Vieng

Rock On!!

Despite the prevalence of free wi-fi signs everywhere, actual connectivity has been tenuous at best so far in Vang Vieng. Breakfast this morning was no different. Apparently, there was wi-fi, but the internet did not seem to be working. Fortunately, breakfast was facing the karst peaks right by the riverside. Listening to the water running and admiring the view while eating my breakfast was a great start to the day. In the distance a big hot air balloon wafted about the valley. Even with all this tranquility, I was excited.

I’ve ended the day, tired, exhausted, sore muscles and cuts all over my hands and forearms BUT with a big smile on my face. I’m ready to sleep, but it’s been an extraordinary day. I was excited this morning as it’s been about 8 years since I last went rock-climbing. Today I had the opportunity to climb at the base of these majestic peaks.

I was with 2 other experienced climbers and our magnificent guide Kong. Between the 3 of them, they made me nervous about climbing in front of them! Kong was an excellent guide, showed me the basics again and gave excellent advice whenever I needed it about where to place my hands and feet.

We were situated in a secret haven with the climbing terrain all to ourselves. We did four different climbs in the morning and it felt good to be climbing again! Then it was time for lunch!

Our excellent guide Kong, turned into a masterchef by barbequing meat skewers over charcoal for our tasty lunch, with fried rice and a small baguette to boot. After lunch, we all felt sleepy, so Kong had some easy climbs planned for us. They were great and interesting climbs, but I kept forgetting how sharp the limestone could be and hence have ended up with many scrapes from gripping the limestone a little too tight from my messy moves.

The second last climb had a real challenge 2/3 of the way up. I’d seen a beginner attempt it and get stuck. I was determined to attempt it clean. But at that point where we all struggled, my arms suddenly gave way and I was swinging on the rope. I quickly got back on the face and did what the beginner did, take a rest on a conveniently locate tree root that was in the middle of the climb. Kong was patiently giving many instructions as to how to climb up. After much exasperation, pulling, pushing and a lot of supportive noises and advice from my fellow climbers, I made it over the difficult part and to the top – exasperated!

As a last farewell, we decided to attempt a very difficult overhang. It looked hard and the moves Kong made to climb it were so impressive, there was no way I thought that I could replicate it. And I couldn’t. But it was a good attempt and I was happy to have tried! It has been a great day, full of adrenalin and beautiful scenery. I don’t know how well I’m going to kayak and trek tomorrow to the caves!

Rock Climbing in Vang Vieng, Laos

Rock Climbing in Vang Vieng, Laos

Posted by Teamworkz 03:57 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Day 4: Vang Vieng

Hot Air Ballooning over the Karst Limestone Peaks of Vang Vieng

The trip between Vientiane and Vang Vieng on the bus was a little long to be sitting shoulder to shoulder with 23 other foreigners. I think we were all a little surprised that all of us fit in there to begin with. I feel sorry for the 4 tall Scandinavians squished along the middle aisle with fold out chairs. 4 hours later, we arrived and I was quite happy to pop out and start booking my activities for the next two days.

Special mention to Aoy at Green Discovery Laos, he was a superb and very friendly agent. He wisely advised that mosquito repellent is a definite must in this town!

Within 1.5 hours of arrival, I had been shuttled off to a small patch of gravel by the Nam Song River about to board an inflating hot air balloon with 3 medium sized South Africans, 1 regular Australian, a very tall Australian and short Australian, like myself! As we bundled into the basket, not only was I dwarfed by the size of the balloon but also by my fellow passengers.

The take-off was light and sudden. We had only just got used to being in the basket with the crew surrounding us holding down the basket; and then they let go and we gently wafted away from them waving goodbye excitedly.

Apart from the semi -constant ‘booooooooosssh’ noise from the gas cylinders firing hot air into the balloon, the ride was very peaceful floating above the rest of the world.

There was a beautiful spiritual moment where the sun streaked through a gap in the karsk limestone peaks and you could see the rays shining on the valley below. Then there were amusing moments where we thought we were about to land early as we came close to the ground. Our pilot was undoubtedly very talented, had things under control between his hot air gas firing skills and a device that told him the wind velocity - among other things I’m sure!

The scenes that unfolded below us varied from waving at excited children playing in their backyard, while their parents worked the fields, to watching the revelries of people inner tubing and braving the 10meter swing. Although we were quite high, the children’s voices reached us as did the music from the bars.

Best of all was the landing. We were all looking at a small patch where we were supposedly landing. The crew was already there ready to receive us, but we were all in disbelief. Coming closer, the conductor simply tossed a rope over and the crew caught it and reined us in. We touched down softly with a little tumbling against each other on impact but all in good humour. None of could believe where and how we landed. It was truly incredible, as was the entire trip - gently drifting in the air watching the world go by below us.

Hot Air Ballooning over Vang Vieng

Hot Air Ballooning over Vang Vieng

Posted by Teamworkz 03:49 Archived in Laos Tagged air hot over ballooning vang vieng Comments (0)

Day 3: Vientiane

Buddha Park and Great Food

So I was giggling about the hotel staff wearing ‘winter clothes’ when it’s 20+ degrees celcius outside yesterday, but I forgot to mention that I also saw a monk donning a beanie (head warmer) while riding pillion (passenger) on a motorcycle. That was amusing! As was seeing a local man casually reclining in between two suspended metal chains, the border around the main fountain, as if it were a hammock!

Today, I was wearing a summer scarf to perturb the hot summer rays as unfortunately, even with sunblock, I got sunburnt yesterday. I think I need to take up the monks’ great idea of using umbrellas as sun visors. Almost every monk I’ve seen around town has an umbrella in hand or has one already opened up providing shelter from the sun. They truly are wise men.

Today’s main event was Buddha Park. It’s a fair way out of town and the best & cheapest way to get there is by taking the public bus from the main bus terminal behind Talat Sao (the morning market). This is a great experience being bundled up with the locals or Thai people (going to the Friendship Bridge). It’s entertaining to see how many packages and people they try to cram into these mini-buses and watch the interactions between the passengers. Noticeably, it’d be 3 to a seat for women, but men wouldn’t squish up to let their fellow man sit. Also noticeable is that women and men sat separately. Monks sat with the men too. The majority alight at the friendship bridge, so here after you have your breathing space back, the road soon gets bumpy. The road is currently under construction so it makes for an interesting last leg of the 1 hour trip there.

Buddha Park is a weird place. The statues are eccentric and strange. Not as many Buddha’s as I was expecting! More inventions of Vishna and other Indian deities were dotted about the park. The pinnacle is a spherical sculpture that you can climb to the top for a view of the park. The interior of the sphere on each level (bar the top) is filled with statues in the core (you walk around the perimeter). Only on one floor there is a door to see them more closely. Going through this park was like attending a contemporary art exhibition. I didn’t get it. There were very few explanations as to what the statues were or represented. However, they were impressive in size and in the details. Also, there were more tourists there than I had seen at other sites in previous days. Worth noting is the restaurant at the back making fresh food and has a free toilet!

Over the last few days, I’ve been hunting down sustainable practices or tourism locations. I have to say that I feel like I spent more time looking for them than finding them. Some have move or have inaccurate location descriptions and some I probably should have looked online first for their most recent location.

Good news is that there is a lot of sustainable practices going on here. I’ve been impressed. What I haven’t been impressed with is the price tag they’ve been putting on these sustainable products. I’m undecided as to whether it’s worth it. Does the real cost of labour and materials validate prices, which supports a decent living for Laotians, higher than what I would pay for the same product in developed countries? It’s hard to know how much of your money spent at this sustainable/fair trade places is going back to the producer – no matter what the shop purports, it’s hard to know the truth and believe that the price is right. As much as I want to support sustainable practices, I need to rethink on a few shops before I pull my purse out.

My favourite positive examples so far are:

1. Solar powered hot water at the hotel, with electricity only switching on when the key is inserted (ie so only when you’re in the room). So simple, why don’t more places do it?!
2. MAG – who employ & train local people to identify UXO (unexploded ordinance) and remove the UXO from harm.

I think Vientiane would be a great place to live; it’s abundant in great places to eat and relax (from interesting cafes to parks). For an active tourist who wants to see a great many historical sites or museums, I’m not sure this would be the place. There’s certainly plenty to see and absorb, but there are no Met museums or National Galleries here that can rival those of the West. Vientiane has much more to offer culturally by seeing, breathing and living the life here – even if it is just for a few days.

Walking around town, I noticed that the ratio of vehicles & motorcycles to pedestrians was far in favour of the machines than people. To cross some roads you have to be pretty careful when you step out to cross the street!

In the morning, you can see women roaming the streets wearing the old-fashioned conical bamboo hats, carrying weighty produce strung in bamboo baskets from a bamboo cane, which is purposefully sitting on their shoulder. Many people I pass will offer a Sa-bai-dee (hello) and/or a smile. Here, at the Indochina Antiques café, I’ve been sitting here undisturbed for an hour, when all I ordered is one drink. This place is very cool for anyone that likes interesting cafes with fascinating décor and cabinets full of trinkets and artefacts lining the walls. On that note, it’s time for more good food – there are just too many restaurants and not enough meals for me to try them all!

Buddha Park, Vientiane, Laos

Buddha Park, Vientiane, Laos

Posted by Teamworkz 03:19 Archived in Laos Tagged park laos vientiane buddha Comments (0)

Day 2: Vientiane

That Luang, Wat Sisaket and the Tragedies of UXO

Lao’s iconic national monument, That Luang, is serenely situated on a slight gradient to the east of the city. While Vientiane is a walkable town, That Luang is a good 4 kilometres out of the city. Walking is good only if you go early in the morning before 9am (when the sun starts really warming up). Tuk Tuk or bicycle rental are the usual or recommended transport means. Getting there earlier meant that the place was practically deserted. This was a wonderful experience as I watched a large group of monks stream out of the temple as I arrived. The gold painted monument does seem quite small and unimpressive on approach to it (perhaps because I’d seen too many pictures). The much larger temples that flanked either side of That Luang seemed to dwarf it.

However, walking around the perimeter of That Luang and then climbing the steps to walk around the I 1st level made for quite a serene experience, especially as the only thing I could hear was birds chirping and there was no one else around. On the 1st level a beautiful colourful butterfly flitted past me; it was of the same type that had flitted past me near Patuxai about an hour earlier. I’ve not seen any in between or since! It was a bit of a spiritual moment for me – perhaps it was Buddha’s doing, giving me that moment of calm and peace. It would be a great place for meditation or for just reading a book! Worth noting is that the closest toilet is in the Chinese temple to the right of That Luang when you exit, just go through the temple gates and keep going left.

Next, via a communal tuk tuk that I caught with two locals (didn’t really help me get a cheaper rate), I entered the old world of Wat Si Saket. Compared to the gold glint of That Luang (reconstructed by the French, thank goodness the French appreciate history, art and aesthetics to restore That Luang), Wat Si Saket is a lovely wooden temple filled to the hilt of Buddhas. I thought I was visiting the Buddha Park tomorrow, I can’t imagine it having more than Wat Si Saket. Inside the Sim, the peeling wall paintings are still visible to be admired, as is the high ceiling with its decorative panelling and lighting. The temple has a very quaint and calming feel to it with its dilapidated wooden structure that is in what you’d expect as a typical Eastern styled temple (Bangkok style actually).

Although, it was constructed in the first quarter of the 1800s, it has a distinctly older feel. This is probably on account for what the sign outside the main entrance says “the foreigners had aggression”. I think the foreigners still have aggression.

Just opposite Wat Saket (where it’s tempting to just sit in the forecourt and relax, read a book (or the newspaper, as the security man was doing)), is equally entrancing Haw Pha Kaeo. With high ceilings and pristinely manicured gardens surrounding it, the outside I found more interesting than the inside. The main attraction is the museum’s (inside the temple) collection of Buddha statues and relics. Most interesting is the Khmer Stele at the back of the museum. Just fascinating to see the inscriptions even if I can’t read them! Curiously, it’s the only museum I’ve seen with coins placed on the artefacts/objects on display. Many of the Buddha’s had coins placed in Buddha’s lap or even in his back (of a wooden splintered statue) – wherever there was space, there was money offered to Buddha! I’m sure the coins were not part of the display!

Now comes the sad part. I have been keen to visit MAG – Mines Advisory Group, since I’d seen their office, especially as it was so close to my hotel. While I had read and am slight familiar with Laos’ recent history, to go from visiting old beautiful monuments to be drawn into the stark modern history of Laos was heartbreaking.

With only about 9 panels of an exhibition, it was small, but very succinct. The amount of bombs that were released over Laos is horrifying. Much worse is that 30% of them (from known data), did not detonated, but are still live (referred to as UXO – Unexploded Ordnance). UXO are still lying across the country causing many problems as a result.

Their locations are not known as they are so many spread in the countryside and are not necessarily visible. Unsuspecting farmers and villagers can be severely handicapped if not killed as a result of the bombs detonating on touch. On the other hand, the metal from these bombs provide scrap metal and hence a source of income for the villagers. According to MAG, as the countryside is unsafe for agriculture due to the UXO, villagers have reduced resources available, so selling scrap metal from unexploded bombs is all too common, which in itself increases fatalities and injuries. Their plight is incredible. MAG teams are working to clear land for use by villagers and to make public spaces safer.

Walking around Vientiane, I feel far removed from this harsh reality facing the majority of Laotians.

Happily, there is one funny story I can share. I’m finding the Laos dry season quite hot. It’s 21 degrees Celsius before 9am. Passing by the hotel reception, one staff member was wearing a tartan scarf hugged around his neck and another was wearing a turtleneck under his business shirt. It’s cold for the locals, this is winter! I have to giggle a bit at this.

That Luang Temple in Vientiane, Laos

That Luang Temple in Vientiane, Laos

Posted by Teamworkz 03:11 Archived in Laos Tagged travel laos vientiane blogs Comments (0)

Day 1: Arriving in Vientiane

Vientiane - First Impressions and Patuxai

After reading a few uninspiring reports on Vientiane, I was pleasantly surprised by the capital of Laos PDR. The heat of the day, plus having taken the overnight train from Bangkok and followed by eating a lot of tasty Laotian food made me feel sluggish in the afternoon.

Given that most tourist sites close up at 4:30pm, I decided I could only see one and picked Patuxay. It was built in 1962 and is unanimously referred to as the Lao version of the Arc de Triomphe. This is because their names share the same meaning and they both are in the shape of a big monumental arch. It’s not very attractive from afar, but becomes more interesting up close. Humorously, the plaque on the arch says the reverse. It even goes as far to say that is so unbecoming up close that it looks ‘like a monster of concrete’. I think that’s being a little unfair. The detail in the façade of the arch is quite impressive. As is the rather large wasps nest that has been growing for quite some time (clear from its size) on the street facing side of the 4 sides.

The plaque goes on to say that although the monument that was never completed due to turbulent past of Vientiane (it actually says this!), the silver lining is the excellent views of the city it affords. Not knowing what time sunset was, I thought it might be well timed with when it closes. Unfortunately not, so most of my views of the city were slightly impinged by the brightness of the sun that had not yet gone to rest.

I can’t say it was particularly impressive, but what did surprise me was the number of souvenir stores that were crammed into 2 levels inside the arch. The view of the fountain and Patuxay Park on the other side of the Arch was lovely to see.

Walking into the park area, I was surprised to see that the camera touts with their portable photo printers were mostly getting business from Lao people wanting their picture taken by the water fountain. Not many tourists were around here. Up until this point, I felt like I’d seen more tourists than I had Laotian people walking through the town up to the Arch. It was around 5pm and there were plenty of locals about relaxing in the park, playing badminton (no net) and enjoying the soft, but still terrible to my ears, music that was blasted out across the park.

On my way back into the town centre and a few more times today, I passed small groups formed around 2 men playing, what seemed to be, checkers with old bottle caps. I also noticed a few of the tuk-tuk’s, who weren’t being hired, with hammocks strung up in the passenger area with their driver quietly relaxing. I also passed a small group of women drinking Beer Lao with a straw sticking out of the glass beer bottle. I think that’s the first time I’ve seen anyone drink beer with a straw!

The night market along the waterfront (Fa Ngum) with the waterside restaurants make for a nice stroll to admire the standard tourist stock that each vendor seems to have ample supply of. It would be hard to imagine that all these goods were made in Lao, however I did see one woman painting several copies of the same print and some of the lanterns being sold.

Patuxai.jpg

Posted by Teamworkz 02:58 Archived in Laos Tagged travel laos vientiane blogs Comments (0)

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