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Trip Report Laos as it happens

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I am a late 50 something woman travelling alone. My husband broke his foot so did not join me on this trip. I usually travel middle of the road, not five star but not one either.

I am spending the first two weeks volunteering with 'Travel to teach' and the next 10 days travelling southern Laos.

Here are some exerpts of my blog. Please keep in mind that these are my observations and may not be those of others who have been here.

When I was getting into the taxi in Bangkok I twisted my ankle (ironically as that is why my husband did not come) so the reference to my foot is this incident.

I flew from Bangkok to Luang Prabang on Bangkok Air.

Upon arrival in Luang Prabang I was met by two fellows with a wheelchair and they assisted me with getting my visa and going though immigration, retrieved my two huge bags and off we went. I was met by Ken, from the volunteer organization, and he really didn’t seem to even notice that I was hobbling along and it didn’t seem to matter. I thought he would be horrified.

He put me into a taxi, which is a three wheeled motorcycle with benches in the cab behind. In Thailand they call them Tuk Tuks. I notice immediately how much quieter, less traffic and cooler it is here. The terrain is very lush and green.

We arrive at a guesthouse ( which I wont name as none of you would stay there, I wouldnt even stay here) which will be my new home for the next two weeks. I felt so badly because the cleaner and Ken each took one of my 50 lb bags and had to drag them up the long flight of stairs.

My room. Let me describe it to you. Well it is about 15 x 15 , white walls, three windows that look out onto the alley and tin roofs of other homes. I have a king size bed with a mattress that is a little softer than a piece of plywood and a wooden headboard. There is a small desk, a wardrobe to hang my things in and a tv and small fridge. I did pay an extra $2 a day for my own bathroom. It is quite large as well with a sink and western toilet, a mirror that allows me to see anything above my eyebrows and a shower of sorts. It is a hand held shower in the middle of the room so when you shower you also wash the bathroom floor.

The best part of my room has to be the canopy over the bed. It is mint green with pink ruffles and a mint green mosquito net that goes over my bed at night. I do have a ceiling fan too which is great. No frills accommodation but it is clean. I am glad I splurged out on a nice hotel in Bangkok for two nights. They had a party going on when I arrived that went on until around 11PM. It was one of the sons 31st birthday and they had lots of food, Beer Lao and karaoke. Oh and it was really bad karaoke. Half of the house is lived in by a large family and the other half is a guesthouse.

I unpacked a bit and then made my way down to talk to Ken who went over what my job will be for the next two weeks. Ken is a young man of around 20 I imagine. He spent five years as a monk so that he could get an education. He is now going to university and also working for Travel to teach. He has another project that he is involved with too which I shall tell you about later.

I don’t start work until Monday so have the weekend to myself which is nice. I will work in the library from 8AM to 10 or 11AM then teach English at 5 –7 PM and then another hour and a half back in the library. I think I will be with a Lao teacher and helping out
.
Here are some of the words I need to learn in Lao
Sit Down
Be Quiet
Get out
Don’t waste time.
And on and on it goes. I am not allowed to be too casual, no touching of any kind to the students.
I must wear a long skirt and blouse with sleeves. I can not sit on the desk. I must leave the class when it is over without saying goodbye before the students can leave.
Very communist. On Sunday I will have some Lao language lessons. I am very excited but nervous as well.

I went back up to my room at around 6PM and just kept my foot up and read for a bit. There is no swelling which is strange but a lot of pain. Maybe tomorrow it will be all better……

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    Saturday Jan 8th. 6 AM and I was wide awake so decided to get an early start on the day. After a hot shower, (yeah!) I went downstairs and realized my foot was still giving me a lot of pain. Well I was dammed if I was going to sit in my dingy room all day! I decided that renting a bike would be a good idea as I could just favor the good foot. I got a half a block and realized that I always favor my right foot and that is the one I hurt. I took it back and decided to walk. Before I left a woman came by on her scooter with baskets hanging off the front and both sides full of raw meat. She had a little butcher block stool and my landlady (Mama) ordered some beef so the woman started chopping away at the bones and beef and handed a bag full to Mama. The other guesthouse owners came out and bought some as well. The butcher comes to you here. It was quite entertaining. Gross but entertaining. I am a vegetarian.

    I hobbled up to the end of the road and then hailed a taxi to downtown Luang Prabang, which would have only been a 10 minute walk but I wanted to save my foot. I stumbled upon a morning market. This is where the locals come in the morning to buy their vegetables, fruit, live chickens, dried bat (yes dried bat) and lots of other things that I wasn’t sure what they were. Most women in Asian countries shop daily as they don’t have refrigeration. It was just fascinating and went on for blocks.

    I made my way down to the Mekong River and walked along watching the boats crossing to the other side. The current is so strong that the boats are almost sideways with the engine full throttle. Breakfast was in order and I came upon this charming little place overlooking the river and had a small bite to eat and was able to rest my foot.

    Luang Prabang is just wonderful. Peaceful, lush with lots of flowers and greenery, the air is clean and the people are quiet and so friendly. Quite a change from Bangkok. The main area is not that big really and you can walk around quite easily. A lot of foreigners ride bicycles and there are a number of motorbikes and tuk tuks (taxis) on the road but I would not hesitate to ride a bike here. There is hardly any traffic at all.

    You can still really see the French influence with beautiful wooden buildings with the blue shutters and Baguettes for sale everywhere. I walked and walked and walked. Very slowly mind you. After a while my foot didn’t hurt that much anymore. Maybe I was just getting used to the pain.

    There was a Wat (Temple) down the road that I went to visit for an hour . The rest of the afternoon was spent at another Wat, the Museum and walking the streets. I don’t know when I have walked so much. And my foot felt better!! Strange. I am not sure how it will feel tomorrow but it does not hurt as much now.

    The weather is perfect. Blue sky and almost no humidity with a comfortable temperature. It feels like a nice Spring day in B.C.. I could hear some wonderful music coming from this large building so I went to investigate and found that at 6PM the Lao National Ballet was performing. I purchased a ticket and sat with a couple from Australia. We watched some very beautiful and graceful Lao dancing for the next hour. I was happy that I came across it.

    On the way back I walked through the night market. Oh my Gosh it was incredible. It was overwhelming really. They close off the streets for blocks and the vendors set up on the ground with all their wares four stalls deep. The silks and fabrics are outstanding.

    I bought a couple of silk table runners but know that I will be back so didn’t go too crazy. The wonderful thing is that the Lao people are so gracious and kind and they ask you if you want to buy but don’t hassle or hound you.

    I grabbed a taxi back to my room and just relaxed for the rest of the night. I hope my foot is okay tomorrow as I want to get up early and head back into town.

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    Saturday Jan 8th. 6 AM and I was wide awake so decided to get an early start on the day. After a hot shower, (yeah!) I went downstairs and realized my foot was still giving me a lot of pain. Well I was dammed if I was going to sit in my dingy room all day! I decided that renting a bike would be a good idea as I could just favor the good foot. I got a half a block and realized that I always favor my right foot and that is the one I hurt. I took it back and decided to walk. Before I left a woman came by on her scooter with baskets hanging off the front and both sides full of raw meat. She had a little butcher block stool and my landlady (Mama) ordered some beef so the woman started chopping away at the bones and beef and handed a bag full to Mama. The other guesthouse owners came out and bought some as well. The butcher comes to you here. It was quite entertaining. Gross but entertaining. I am a vegetarian.

    I hobbled up to the end of the road and then hailed a taxi to downtown Luang Prabang, which would have only been a 10 minute walk but I wanted to save my foot. I stumbled upon a morning market. This is where the locals come in the morning to buy their vegetables, fruit, live chickens, dried bat (yes dried bat) and lots of other things that I wasn’t sure what they were. Most women in Asian countries shop daily as they don’t have refrigeration. It was just fascinating and went on for blocks.

    I made my way down to the Mekong River and walked along watching the boats crossing to the other side. The current is so strong that the boats are almost sideways with the engine full throttle. Breakfast was in order and I came upon this charming little place overlooking the river and had a small bite to eat and was able to rest my foot.

    Luang Prabang is just wonderful. Peaceful, lush with lots of flowers and greenery, the air is clean and the people are quiet and so friendly. Quite a change from Bangkok. The main area is not that big really and you can walk around quite easily. A lot of foreigners ride bicycles and there are a number of motorbikes and tuk tuks (taxis) on the road but I would not hesitate to ride a bike here. There is hardly any traffic at all.

    You can still really see the French influence with beautiful wooden buildings with the blue shutters and Baguettes for sale everywhere. I walked and walked and walked. Very slowly mind you. After a while my foot didn’t hurt that much anymore. Maybe I was just getting used to the pain.

    There was a Wat (Temple) down the road that I went to visit for an hour . The rest of the afternoon was spent at another Wat, the Museum and walking the streets. I don’t know when I have walked so much. And my foot felt better!! Strange. I am not sure how it will feel tomorrow but it does not hurt as much now.

    The weather is perfect. Blue sky and almost no humidity with a comfortable temperature. It feels like a nice Spring day in B.C.. I could hear some wonderful music coming from this large building so I went to investigate and found that at 6PM the Lao National Ballet was performing. I purchased a ticket and sat with a couple from Australia. We watched some very beautiful and graceful Lao dancing for the next hour. I was happy that I came across it.

    On the way back I walked through the night market. Oh my Gosh it was incredible. It was overwhelming really. They close off the streets for blocks and the vendors set up on the ground with all their wares four stalls deep. The silks and fabrics are outstanding.

    I bought a couple of silk table runners but know that I will be back so didn’t go too crazy. The wonderful thing is that the Lao people are so gracious and kind and they ask you if you want to buy but don’t hassle or hound you.

    I grabbed a taxi back to my room and just relaxed for the rest of the night. I hope my foot is okay tomorrow as I want to get up early and head back into town.

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    sorry, the last one posted twice. The internet is sketchy here.

    It’s 5:30AM and I make my way down the dark alley from the guesthouse to the main road. The air is a bit chilly and it has rained overnight so everything is fresh and clean. I am hoping to catch a taxi on the main road but it seems that only I and a few roosters are up and around. An occasional motorcycle passes but it is very dark and very quiet. I walk towards the centre of town in search for the morning monk procession at dawn.

    A few women come out and sweep the sidewalks in front of their homes keeping the city pristine and clean. Eventually I hear voices at the top of a small hill and head towards it. I really have no idea where I am going in the dark, I was hoping to just ask the taxi driver to take me there.

    I see an area where a few blocks have the sidewalks lined with bamboo mats and small baskets placed on them. I wander around a bit as I have read about this but still unsure as to how it all works. A woman asks if I would like to buy some food to give to the monks. I take off my shoes and kneel on the bamboo mat. I must have my feet facing away from the monks and must have my head below them.

    A young man around 20 from Australia sits beside me. His friends have all stayed in bed not seeing the sense in learning anything about the Laos culture and only partying every night. At his young age he just cant imagine that and is her to experience it all. We have a wonderful conversation for the next half hour waiting for the monks to arrive. We both purchase a basket of sticky rice and some sweets wrapped in palm leaves.

    Eventually we see a flash of orange down the dark sidewalk. The monks make their procession towards us. There are hundreds of young monks, some appear not much older than 8 years old. They come every morning for offerings of food from locals and now tourists as well. They are wearing their robes of saffron and orange and carry a basket over their shoulder which holds a metal pot with a lid. As they pass you hold up your offerings and if they want it they will open their lid and you place the item into the basket. There were two children sitting on the other side of me with large wicker baskets. Some of the monks would take things from their baskets if they were getting full and put them into the large baskets for the children. I found that most of it was the sticky rice and they kept alot of the sweets for themselves. These children were poor and the monks were paying it forward. This is a really great system if you think about it. The woman make money by selling the food, the monks get food, the poor get food and the tourists get a great photo op.

    When the procession is done I head off to find some breakfast and find a wonderful French Lao restaurant that serves muesli yogurt and fruit. I also indulged in croissant as I heard that they were incredible but certainly wont be making a steady diet of that as it was very rich.

    I head down to the river and buy a ticket on a long covered boat to take me down the Mekong to some caves with Buddha statues. The trip is two hours upstream and a very peaceful ride. The river has a very strong current with whirlpools every once and a while. The color is a muddy brown and there is a lot of small sand beaches at the edge of the river.

    There are little villages along the way with the steep slope having the gardens near the bottom, where I could recognize corn and potatoes and other vegetables. The woman would wash the clothes in the river and hang them to dry at the rivers edge. The men and boys were throwing their nets into the river to get their daily catch. At the top of the slope were the homes and living area and behind that rolling green hills. Everything was very green and tropical with palm trees and other jungle like vegetation.

    In one area we see some elephants being taken down to the river to get washed. Some boats similar to our pass by and you can see that the families live on them, this is their home. Perhaps our driver lives on this boat that we are on.

    One thing that stuck me is that there were no birds. Anywhere. Actually above the water there was no life at all except the humans. Very odd.

    Eventually we arrive at the caves and there are hundreds of stairs to the top cave. Someone had told me that the cave at the top was the best so off I went. I wish I could remember who that was because it certainly wasn’t true. I reach the top and quite frankly was very disappointed. It was a very dark cave with a couple of Buddha’s in it. Going down was actually harder than going up as there was not a handrail but eventually I made it to the bottom and then climbed the other stairs to the lower cave. Much more impressive. People from many areas have come here to place buddhas in this cave and come to worship. The best part of the trip was definitely the getting there.

    Tonight we get to meet the volunteers who are already here and ones who are just starting like myself. I met Cynthia who is 34 and from Holland. She is a corporate lawyer and taking time off to stay in Asia for a couple of months. Her husband is a foreign correspondent and going to meet up with her in a month. She and I are very similar. We are both very organized, control freaks of a sort and work with a schedule when we are given one. This is going to be a great exercise in letting all that go for both of us we have discovered.

    Ken walks us to the school/library which takes around ten minutes from our guest house. We meet Eddy from Australia, a 21 year old Finance student at a university and another from the US who is around 30 something and a Biologist but going back to get his masters in Development as he wants to do NGO work in developing countries. There were five Lao volunteers, four girls around 19 and one boy the same age. They are going to university but volunteer at the library as well.

    A very sad library. The room is the size of a classroom with maybe two hundred books in total all in a state of disrepair. There are 4000 students at the school and the children from outlying areas as well as the University students come here. There were boxes of books under the desk of English text books likes the ones I had planned to bring. They will never get used and the person who took the trouble to get them there will never know. They can not read English novels as they really only need very basic readers.

    There is a party planned as one of the volunteers is leaving tomorrow after a month of volunteer work and Cynthia and I are starting. Eddy has two more weeks. There are about 20 students who are the brightest in the country, the top students in this school and most of the other three high schools as well.


    There is a ceremony for us. A large bowl is put in the middle of the room with flowers and a lit candle in the middle and sticks with lots of string on them hanging off the sides. There are many sweets and chips in the bowl. We have to remove our shoes and sit cross legged on the floor around the bowl. There are prayers in Lao and we all touch the bowl and blessings are said for the four volunteers. Then the string is taken off and each student ties a string on each of our wrist and says a blessing for our good luck and health. This took quite some time as there were four volunteers and 20 students. It was very sweet. Then we tied some string on their wrists and bless them.

    We hold out our hands and the students put the sweets and chips into our hands. Like the monk ceremony this morning we are told to take what we want and give the rest to the students. They were thrilled.

    We sat in front of a feast of food and some of the students did some Lao dancing for us. We were then invited up to learn some dancing ourselves. I must have looked pretty funny as the students were giggling and pointing a lot. A lot of the dance is hand movement so hopefully I wasn’t saying anything rude with my hands. Then the food and Beer Lao flowed.

    We can’t teach at the high school this week as they are in the middle of exams so we need to go to a small school about 10 K out of town. I had chosen to teach at 7PM to 9PM. Ken said that I can ride my bike there and back.

    I looked at him and said “That’s not going to happen”
    He stared blankly at me.
    “ I am not riding my bike 10 K in the dark at 9PM by myself “
    He just couldn’t understand why not.

    We agreed that Cynthia and I will both teach at the same school at 8AM and that we will help in the library at 1-3P and again at 5-7PM
    We staggered home at midnight and are very nervous and excited about our day tomorrow

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    Teachers are held in the highest regard here, at the top of the food chain so to speak. Unfortunately they only get paid a salary of around $1,000 a year. Even in Laos that is a terrible salary. But so many of the kids we are meeting want to be teachers for the respect that it brings. So sometimes the teachers just don’t show up for class because they have to have another job, mostly farming. If they need to tend to their fields they just don’t come to class.

    At 8 AM we travel 10K by taxi to our school on the outskirts of town. I keep thinking about riding my bike out here…..ha. No one is on a bike. What happened to my quiet clean air of Luang Prabang? The weekend was great but Monday brings on a whole new scenario. So much traffic! So much exhaust !

    We arrive at a little three room school house that is very cute and well kept. I meet the teacher that I am working with. It is his first day too! They have just started a new semester. I have seven students, two girls and five boys all around 19. They go to University but need to come back to school for a couple of hours during the day as they need to brush up on some things.

    They are painfully shy. I write my name on the board and introduce myself. The teacher asks each student to stand and say their name and where they are from and what they are studying. It was painful.

    Then the teacher hands me a text book and says ‘this is what we are learning’ and walks off.

    It is past present and future sense of the word make.
    What a stupid book. I didn’t even understand some of the sentences in there. And three of the students don’t have the text book because they cant afford it.

    I write the questions on the board and drew a lot of pictures. They could read and say the sentences but I figured out pretty quickly that they really had no idea what they were saying. Two hours later and we did two small pages. I really am not sure if we were any further ahead at the end of it all but I gave it my best shot. Eddy says if we just show up we are still doing better than a lot of their regular teachers….

    I said to the teacher that I would be back tomorrow at 8AM.
    “Will we be doing the next lesson in this book?”
    (I was just getting the hang of it.)
    No, tomorrow we do a different text book.
    “What will that be?”
    “ I don’t know”
    Okay then. See you tomorrow at 8AM.

    The library was a lot better. We hang around and talk to the students, help them read and speak English and help with their homework. We spoke with two girls who live in the dormitory and go to University. A great percentage of these kids are from outlying towns and villages so have to live here and only see their families around once a year. The dorms for the girls have 23 beds per room and one bathroom per dorm room. Can you imagine? They said it is very noisy in the room at night with all the girls chatting all at once. There are three floors and a kitchen on each floor. 18 rooms with 23 beds each.

    The boys are in different dorms but the same situation
    I go back again tonight and will hopefully have a chance to talk to the co-ordinator about the books and cameras that I have brought with me. Things move slowly in Laos. Cynthia and I are learning to slow down with it.

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    So now I am up to date. It is Friday, and this is what we have done so far:

    Cynthia and I have a routine down of sorts. It may and possible will change next week, but for this week we have been doing the following:

    At 8AM we get picked up at our guesthouse either by a tuk tuk or an SUV driven by the wife of the director of the school. We make the long drive out to the school in heavy rush hour smoggy traffic, so we really prefer the SUV. It has also been really cold so another reason to prefer the comfort of the SUV.

    We have been teaching in the same class which is great. She will do ten minutes and then I will do ten minutes. There will be anywhere from six to 10 students each day. We write the question on the board and then get them to find the right answer. It is very very painful. They have no comprehension at all. They are great at repeating and reading but if we ask them questions they just look blankly at us. Part of that is because they are so shy but you can tell they really don’t understand much English. It is a very long two hours. Today however we spent the last half hour playing ‘hangman ‘with the words that we learned and they really enjoyed that and were quite excited. We are breaking all the rules and being very casual and silly and having fun. They told the teacher that they can tell that we really like teaching and are starting to open up to us and relax a bit. The teacher we have now is a young girl who has only been teaching for a year and much more relaxed than the fellow I had on Monday.

    At 10 AM we are driven back to our guesthouse and we head to our favorite little French/Lao restaurant for some muesli , yogurt and fruit for breakfast. Sometimes I have a Lao coffee or tea as well. We chat and enjoy our breakfast for about an hour. We then start to make our way back to the other end of the city and look at some stalls, maybe check our emails and end up at the high school library at 1PM.

    This is our favorite volunteer time. Cynthia tutors a girl of around 18 and I pull out some games that I have brought. Two of the favorite are both Bingo games where I call out a number in English that they match up or I will call out a word such as fish, cat, dog etc. and they must find the picture of what I am saying. This is mostly the young ones that do this. Yesterday I have 20 of them and they are sooooo enthusiastic. They want to play over and over again. They get very excited when they get Bingo but not too worried if they are first or last they just want to complete their own card. They range in age from around eight to twelve and some of them have a very good comprehension while others basically none but they all help each other.

    Yesterday after they found their number I would get them to repeat it in Lao so that I can learn Lao as well. I want to be able to go to the market and bargain in Lao.

    At three PM we head back to town and go to a restaurant by the river and have a snack. Sometimes a fruit shake or a banana pancake and just relax by the river for an hour and talk. We then walk back to the library slowly poking around some shops or just sight seeing along the way. We are back in the library from 7 to 8PM but it is usually very quiet because the students have exams next week and are in the dorms studying. Eddy Cynthia and I will usually play scrabble with a couple of the kids.

    At eight PM or there abouts we walk back into town, (it takes us about 20-30 minutes each way to walk to and from the school from town) the three of us go for dinner and have great discussions and talk about our life in our respective countries. We have had some fantastic meals. Indian, Thai and Lao so far and we try a different restaurant every night. We usually wander through the night market on the way home.

    I am averaging around $15 a day although last night was quite expensive. I had a Lao vegetarian curry with rice, Lao beer, two Lao Lao drinks which are like margaritas and finished off with a Pina Colada. The total bill came to $100,000 Kip which is $12.50 Canadian.

    If you include the cost of accommodation I am living on an average of $25 a day and living quite well. Although I would upgrade my room a couple of dollars if I was choosing one myself so maybe $30 a day.

    We have been eating some of the street food which is very good and also can have ice in our drinks for some reason which is nice. It seems that all the tourists are able to eat the street food here and not get sick.

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    The air in Luang Prabang is not as clean as I first thought it to be. I guess after Bangkok it seemed great and the first day I spent down by the river which is so much cleaner and quieter. On the main roads it is very smoggy with all the car and motorcycle exhaust. People wear masks here and we cover our nose and mouth as well. My poor lungs are sore and I am starting to cough. Sigh. I am hoping that down south will be better. I did buy a mask today, which is like a surgical mask that hooks on your ears and covers you mouth and nose and made from a flannel material.

    There are a lot of tourists here from all over the world and of every age and budget. You hear so many different languages when you walk down the street. The Lao people I find very honest and friendly. If I give a $50,000 bill instead of a $5,000 bill they will give it back and say that I made a mistake. If you look at an item and ask how much it costs they won’t hound you for the next ten minutes to buy it because you showed some interest. I really like it here a lot. If I try to speak Lao they are really impressed that I know more than hello and thank you and try to help me with my pronunciation. Lao is not an easy language. I can understand why they have a problem speaking English as we use different vowels.

    After the library today Cynthia and I grabbed a taxi (tuk tuk) and headed to the weaving factory which was about 20 minutes out of town. There were no tourists there and I think most of the women were on a break because it was very quiet. One of the women took us out back and showed us how the silk worms make silk and how they turn it all into silk thread. I had seen this before in Chaing Mai but Cynthia had not. She then showed us how she did some weaving and spinning of the thread. Then of course we went in to see the items that she had made and wanted us to buy. It takes so long to make each item you hated to try to get it for a low price which is what they are hoping for.

    She showed us the different quality and grades of silk and which were silk blends etc. I had bought a couple at the night market but the quality was no where near as good as it was here. We ended up buying a few items and I know I paid too much because she gave me a free gift afterwards. It was still a good bargain for me though so I was happy.

    The library was very quiet tonight. The students all have exams next week so they are studying. I have been bringing the items I brought with me slowly to the library over the week. The games were a huge hit as I said. I also brought Scrabble, Battleship, some other word and basic math games. I also brought a bunch of basic English Reading books, a light up beach ball globe which was a big success as well and four digital cameras which were donated by friends and colleagues. The library manager was thrilled. He will lend the cameras out to students to take pictures and then they can come back and download them to the computer. Someone donated photoshop so they can play around with that.

    I gave about 50 blank exercise books to Kenny the volunteer coordinator to take to his village as the students here all use books that have graph paper. So now I am down to one suitcase. Yeah! I will give this away quickly before I fill it up with the amazing goods I see in the market!

    I got all the information of what to bring from the website
    The Language Project in Laos which helps all the librarys in Luang Prabang and does amazing work.

    We played scrabble and then went into town for Indian food . A quiet night tonight staying up until 2AM working on my blog and this fodors blog as well.

    I am looking forward now to two days of rest. No school or library for the weekend . I will get a massage and pedicure for sure and spend time taking pictures . As I said it has been really cold the last few days, (well for here) but today was nice and warm and I heard that warmer weather is in the forcast. I think we have walked every inch of Luang Prabang center at least a few times and feel I know it very well now.

    Will write more later….

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    "Sit Down
    Be Quiet
    Get out
    Don’t waste time.
    And on and on it goes. I am not allowed to be too casual, no touching of any kind to the students.
    I must wear a long skirt and blouse with sleeves. I can not sit on the desk. I must leave the class when it is over without saying goodbye before the students can leave.
    Very communist."

    No this has NOTHING to do with communism whatsoever as you will soon learn. This is part of Lao culture and has been for centuries. The no touching is primarily on the head which Buddhists regard as sacred. Not saying goodbye is nonsense. I always say goodbye to my students as they do to me. All the Lao teachers do likewise.

    The ceremony in which you took part is called a Barsi. Theravada Buddhists believe the soul is divided into 23 parts. The Barsi is meant to bring the fractured parts together as a whole.

    Enjoy your time there. Lao are wonderful people.

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    Thanks Everyone. Yes Vientienne boy I think that the information I recieved the first day was a little over the top as the second teacher is certainly not like that at all.

    I find that all the Lao people are very warm and friendly and see that the men and women both are so loving and caring for thier young children. It is not just the women.

    I will post more in a few days. Really looking forward to some warm sunshine today.

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    What a great opportunity you have found! Voluntourism can be a rewarding way to experience another culture.

    Recently I went to a presentation on volunteer placements - Africa , Iran and Laos were the featured countries. The one in Laos was most interesting and live42day, you have raised a point that came up during that session.

    The University of Calgary has had a partnership for many years with the hospital and medical school in Laos, though I got the impression it was Vientiane, not Luang Prabang. Maybe I am wrong on that? Anyway the goal is to help train medical students and fund various upgrades to the existing facilities.

    The presentation was focused on the pathology department , and the state of the pathology lab there was alarming. As you found boxes of books hidden below a desk in the library, books that were not useful for the community, the same was apparent in the laboratory. They showed slides of shelving units with unlabelled bottles of brightly colored reagents and chemicals, undated, likely expired and dried up. Well intentioned , yet useless donations, …unless training goes along with the donation. There were entire rooms filled with rusting and broken equipment. Expensive centrifuges and microscopes, with minor problems that rendered them unusable – unlike our own countries, there are no service people in Laos, just a phone call away. No spare parts either.

    The presenters pointed out that the Lao people are so very grateful for receiving gifts …books, machinery, chemicals….that it is impossible for them to discard these gifts, even if they will never be used. So things pile up and are stored indefinitely. As others have mentioned here, itseems critically important that people make good choices when considering what can be used by the community in Laos. Sometimes, the Wish Lists that organizations publish seem a bit vague.

    Anyway I am enjoying reading your candid remarks about your teaching in Laos and especially the day to day details.

    The group with the pathology lab accomplished a lot in a few months in Laos and they had some stories that made you just want to sign up.

    There was a young boy with a sore leg, just above his knee;a visible lesion on the xray….and to see changes on an xray there must be 50 % bone degeneration so that was a big worry. Having no other diagnostic options, besides the xray, a diagnosis would have been made as The Worst Case Scenario. Considering the age of the patient and the location of the abnormality, the doctors suspected osteogenic sarcoma…always treated aggressively by amputation. The basic pathology lab sponsored by the U of C , confirmed , in fact another condition. A virulent bacteria infection, completely treatable with antiobiotics. That lab saved the boy his leg.

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    One of the best things to do I think is when you get here buy books that are in Lao and english. You can buy them at Big Brother Mouse both in LP and Vientenne and they are very inexpensive. I think that Vientenne is the best place to buy books as our librarian here is there is weekend with some money to buy books at various stores there as he says it is better.

    If you feel the need to give things to children when you come to countries such as this, books are a great alternative as they encourage reading and education instead of the candy and toys that I myself am guilty of doing in the past.

    I saw something disturbing to me today. I was sitting at a cafe and two young children came up to me on two different ocassions and asked if I wanted to buy some trinkets that they were selling.

    I said no thank you and they put on this pout and looked like they would cry and said 'for school'. It reminded me of Cambodia where the kids are so skilled at working the tourists with thier sweet little faces.

    I hope that the toursim here wont ruin this beautiful country.

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    Thanks for this great report. I love the feeling of walking around with you taking in the sights. Also interesting to see what life is like as a member of the community rather than a tourist.

    When I first arrived in LP I was offered some postcards for purchase. When I declined and the lady vendor said 'OK', I almost fell over! The lack of hassle and prssure to buy made shopping much more enjoyable. I love the geometric designs on fabric, very unique.

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    Big Brother Mouse is not the best place to buy books; they are a for profit organisation. Should you wish to buy books, the best place by far is the Morning Market in Vientiane, which has books written by Lao for Lao and also books written by expats who work and teach here.

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    From the Big Brother Mouse website (www.bigbrothermouse.com):
    Big Brother Mouse is not an NGO. It is a not-for-profit, Lao-owned project, with a Lao staff. Volunteers from abroad are helpful in many ways, but everyone shares the goal of helping young Laotions develop new skills

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    Their website clarifies things:
    <<Is Big Brother Mouse a business, or is it non-profit?
    We're something of both. Laos doesn't have just the same business and organizational structures as many western countries. Big Brother Mouse is a not-for-profit,, Lao-owned business, licensed by the government since 2006 with tax-exempt status because of our educational work. All of our paid staff if Lao, and they earn a living by working here; but there are no investors who draw a profit. Any profit is put into making more books and distributing them more widely.>>
    They also make it plain that except for reprints originally published elsewhere and commissioned works their books too are written and illustrated by and for Lao.

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    Well, I live here, I know the company and have known them for a long time. Believe me, them make a profit. They are NOT an ngo. There are better places to buy books which are more useful for Lao students - enough said!

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    Note that an NGO (non-governmental organization), and a non-for-profit are different things. The website offers a comprehensible summary of how they function that is in accord with the term "not for profit." They pay employes, may even make some money, but the money does not go to owners or shareholders but is, in some way redistributed to their "mission" which is put into making more books.

    Live42day, I'm really enjoying your report.

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    >>>>Vientianeboy on Oct 20, 10 at 2:53pm
    live42day: There is a daily overnight sleeper bus to Pakse. Apparently it is reasonably comfortable.

    Smeagol, if you want to do volunteer work I can suggest two places. Big Brother Mouse and also the school in Vang Vieng which is associated with the Mulberry Farm; they are always looking for volunteers, either short or long term.

    >>>>>live42day on Oct 20, 10 at 3:20pm
    Big brother mouse looks great! I will go there to buy some books for the library. Thanks

    -------------------------------

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    Not at all, but you did not read my op. The books you can get at the markets are better value, so you can buy more of them, more appropriate for the students than a glossy book that won't be read and the profits flow back to local authors.

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    This is such a lovely trip report, I'm sorry you seem so set on ruining it, VB.

    The OP followed your earlier recommendations and now you are telling her that's bad. You think children are less likely to read a glossy book? That certainly isn't my experience. If you mean by glossy one that is printed on heavier, glossier paper, that paper is much more durable and the book will last longer. And do you really object to Lao writers and illustrators being paid for their work?

    Your comments make me think that the books in the markets are the copied books one finds especially in VN and Cambodia... poor quality copies on poor quality paper, poor bindings, fall apart after one reading, and no royalties to authors or illustrators. I choose not to buy copied books. I want the authors (and illustrators and photographers and printers and binders) to be appropriately paid for their work. Stealing from those people is not my idea of "better value."

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    Yes..I have been following this thread carefully and have learnt much about responsible shopping on tour through the discussion about bbm....thanks to all..and particularly Vientianeboy......but let's move on. I hope live42day is still keen to share her experience. It is a wonderful story..

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    Live42day, this is one of the most interesting trip reports I have come across. It's not the usual touristic stuff--it's about a different aspect of travel to Laos. It's thoughtful, well-observed, and so well written. You bring back memories of Luang Prabang and make me wish that next time I'm there I do something like what you're doing.
    My 2 cents: I find that VB's comments are not highly relevant to the story you're telling here, and hope you don't get derailed. I'm waiting for more!

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    Kathie, you are way off base. IF you read my previous posts you would have realised that the books I am talking about are written by Lao, and published in this country. That is hardly "stolen " intellectual property, is it?

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    Hey..I opened a thread on books and literacy in Laos..Hope you will join me to discuss the issue...meanwhile can't wait to hear more from live42day when the internet revives.

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    If I misinterpreted your comments, VB, then I apologize. It is my understanding that Brother Mouse sells Lao books by Lao authors/illustrators/etc and the profits go to those people and the people who work in their store (via wages). In my mind, this is a good thing.

    Your comments about books in the market not being "glossy' led me to believe they are "knock offs" or "reprints" which do not pay royalties. If this is incorrect, please clarify. Certainly in VN I've seen books by VN authors that were reprints, so the copiers had no compunctions about ripping off their own authors.

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    Kathie I have already posted, I am talking about books published here in Laos and written by Lao authors, (and several western authors who live here). There are a number of authors from Dongdok, (Lao National University). who write and have English material published. Some of of it is good and some not so good. They are not glossy publications with many pictures, but published fairly cheaply. Sure there are many copies of books available at the markets, but I am not talking about these.

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    I'm enjoying your report too, liv42day. We're in Southeast Asia now on a two month trip. We'll be in LP within a couple weeks and are actually scheduled to stay at Souphaphone Guesthouse based on a rec from someone else on Fodors. I'm really interested in your teaching experiences too. I teach ESL to adults here in DC and interested in hearing how it goes in other locales. Great and interesting reports! Thanks.

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    Thanks to everyone for their positive comments.
    Thanks to Lcuy for the cut and paste
    I am not deterred at all. I shall continue on.

    It’s the weekend!

    Hard to think that you even know when it’s the weekend when you are on holidays but we really enjoyed the free time. Slept in both days and on Saturday I walked around the town with my cameras but never really saw much, it is so much quieter on the weekends.

    I had my nails done on my feet. I wont say it was a pedicure as all she did was my nails but it was only $4 so cant complain. Then I got a foot and leg massage and she also did my neck and shoulders as well. I was sitting by the river and took an hour. With tip it came to $6.

    Cynthia and I did a bit of shopping at the night market and then headed for a fashion show. It was at ‘Hive’ which looked pretty modern with the mirror ball and loud music playing. It is run by a French Canadian woman apparently and she does a great job. There is a runway and stage at the back with a screen and multimedia presentation with beautiful young women and men wearing some local dress from the various tribes finishing off with some modern silk outfits. It was really interesting.

    After the fashion show around six young men ranging in age from 12 to 21 came on stage to do some hip hop. They were amazing acrobats and had some outstanding moves. It was wonderful to see them having such a great time as well.
    This happens five nights a week.

    Cynthia went next door for some great Thai Curry again at Lao Lao Gardens and then walked home and had an early night

    I decided that I wanted to go to see Kuang si waterfall on Sunday, so after breakfast I bought a ticket on a mini van for $6. The drive took us an hour south of town through some beautiful countryside. The gardens on the hill are so lush and green. Acres of gorgeous lettuce and other vegetables and most likely all organic. Water buffalo grazing on the hill, rice paddies with women working in water in their gorgeous silk skirts.

    We make our way up the hill and eventually arrive at the entrance to the park. I pay my $2.50 entrance fee and walk up to the top of the hill taking in all the lush tropical vegetation. When I get to the pools I am awed. Living in B.C. it is hard to be impressed by waterfalls as we see them all the time, but these were gorgeous. Little falls that went into gorgeous blue pools that people were swimming in. There was a rope tied to a tree overhanging the water and the younger ones ( 25 year olds) would take turns jumping in. I did not go swimming but enjoyed watching everyone else.

    I climbed higher and there were more and more little waterfalls flowing into pools of baby blue water. At the end of the trail was a huge waterfall cascading into a large pool which even by B.C. standards was big. I enjoyed the view and quiet for a while and then wandered down to the bottom of the hill a different way. I came upon a compound that had bears in it. They were like our Canadian black bears only they had a white stripe on their chest. They were laying in hammocks and being very lazy. At first I was really upset as I hate to see animals in captivity but read that these are poached for their various parts so most likely here to protect them.

    On the drive back we stopped at a Hmong village. God it was awful. We pulled over to some basic hill tribe homes on the side of the road but these young children no more than six were selling bracelets and singing ‘ five thousand, five thousand’ which related to the price of the bracelets. There was a sidewalk that wound its way in a horseshoe through the village with stalls of goods on each side. It was like a really bad Disney like attraction. I walked up the hill and got a really bad energy and felt very sad. I had to get out of there. I did some trekking out of Chaing Mai a couple of years ago and stayed in some Hmong and Karen tribe villages and they were nothing like this. Is this is the shape of Laos to come?! I hope not.

    Back in Luang Prabang I did more shopping in the night market, ( I think I am done) and then went for Indian food again at Nazim on the main drag. Good food and reasonably priced.

    I can count to 1000 now in Lao. Its really not as impressive as it sounds. If you can count to ten there are really only about five other words you need to learn to put them all together.

    I keep asking servers and shop keepers to help me with my pronunciation etc. I am trying to learn four new words a day.

    I was woken at 5AM this morning (Tuesday) to the sound of very load chanting non stop until 8AM. At first it was quite lovely but then I couldn’t go back to sleep so not so charming after a bit.

    Teaching again yesterday and today we notice that every day there are more and more students in our class. Today there were only two empty seats. The teacher said that the students are telling all of their friends to come to class because they really like us which is great.

    The woman who drives us in the morning invited us into the office before class and presented us with a Lao breakfast. I am not sure what anything was but it was all covered in coconut and very sweet. One was sticky rice for sure. It was very good and so nice of her.

    This made us a bit late for class, (but she’s the boss’ wife so okay I guess) and when we walked by the windows of the class to come in the students faces just lit up. It was great because they thought we weren’t coming so happy to see us.
    After our lesson today we played one of the games I brought (Bingo) which was great because they really have a hard time differentiating between words like Shirt, Shorts, Socks, and Shoes.
    They really enjoyed it.

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    Today I climbed up Phousi Mountain. I took the very steep steps in front of the Museum up. After climbing a lot of stairs I came to a ticket seller and purchased my $2.50 ticket to continue on. Someone had written on the bottom of the next set of stairs.
    Only 190 more stairs to go.

    The view at the top was great and allowed you to see all of Luang Prabang. There was a small Wat at the top and then the path went down towards the river side. On the way down there were many Buddhas representing the days of the week as well as a huge reclining Buddha all of them in gold. I think this is probably a must do in LP.

    Today and tomorrow is some sort of Buddhist holiday I was told but didn’t really understand what. There was a lot of singing and chanting from all the Wats around, more than usual.

    I went to a Wat on one of the side streets that I had been to when I first arrived where the novice monks beat a huge drum and others symbols and make this amazing beat of music. Because it is a full moon tomorrow they told me it would be again tonight at 4PM so I was there at 3:30 to be sure not to miss it. I wanted to record it on my video camera for the sound to add as background to some of my video. Two of the novice monks arrive and start up a conversation with me. They are 16 years old and want to practice their English. The others arrive and there were around 6 in total on this little platform ranging in age from 10 to 20.

    The bigger ones started banging the drum with all their might in a controlled rhythm while another hit a gong and the third dragged two symbols together. It made an amazing sound and I watched them for half an hour until it was over. They were having so much fun doing it and would take turns as it was very physical for the ones doing the drumming.

    We then went over to another Wat an hour later and listened to some monks singing some amazing chants which I captured on film as well.

    We went to visit my library which is run by ‘the language project’ who also oversee the library that we are volunteering at. http://www.thelanguageproject.org/

    The woman who heads these up, Carol, is from the US and an amazing woman. She showed us around and told us so much about her projects and how she gets donations and funding. It is all by donation. She is the person I got the information from about what to bring. There were pictures on the walls of some photos that some of the students have taken and they are really quite fantastic. We learned a lot about a lot from her.

    If anyone wants to bring things to Laos I would go to her website and take a look. They can use some more digital cameras and there are a list of games on their as well.

    It was time to go to our library and play scrabble so off we went.

    Some facts about Luang Prabang that may be of use:

    There are four ATMS on the main street that seem to work for Bank cards okay. I have the best luck with only one but no one seems to have a problem with getting money.

    There are money changers on the main street that give a fair price to exchange US and other currencies. I was given advice to bring travelers cheques which I didn’t need but cashed them today at one of the exchange places on the main drag. The first one I asked was going to charge me 4% but the second one only charged me 1%.

    They also will give you cash advances on your Visa or Mastercard.

    Very few places take credit cards and if they do charge 3 or 4% s/c

    Most vendors will accept US dollars but prefer KIP

    There are mosquitos at night. They seem to arrive around 4PM and stay until dark. Bring repellent.

    There are some good bakeries on the main tourist drag, Scandinavian is one that we have been to a few times. They have great Lao coffee, pizzas and bakery items. Yesterday I ordered a ‘cinnamon bun’ but instead of cinnamon they used cardamom. Quite funny but still good.

    We go quite often to Café Ban vat Sene. They have great fruit shakes, wonderful salads and muesli (which is really granola) with fruit and yogurt. It is a little pricier than some others but we really like it and the staff is great
    .
    Last night we went for a bottle of South African red wine which cost $18 so much more expensive than any other drink. Sometimes you just need a good bottle of wine though. We went to Ban Pack Luck on the main drag and sat in couches that looked onto the road. They have a hotel a couple of blocks away of the same name with really nice rooms for $45 a night.

    We have eaten on the river many times and never had a bad meal anywhere really. As mentioned we have also eaten some street food without incident as well.

    Cynthia at at Three Nagas and said that it was very overpriced for food that was not better than the other resaruants we have eaten at.

    We find the drivers here very courteous and cautious. They drive so much slower than they do in India that is for sure.

    A lot of hotels and guest houses have a midnight curfew. Most places are closed by then anyhow and the seedier side of LP comes out late at night it seems.

    I will write again in a couple of days.

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    Nice report! I remember having to go to 2 or 3 ATMs before finding one that works. Those steps by the road opposite the museum looked horrendous! Also, did you go up to the very top level at the falls?

    BTW, every full moon is a holy day, or "won phra". Try giving alms in the morning, very moving experience and merit making at the same time.

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    I guess we'll have to return to LP to climb Mt. Phousi. It was so friggin' hot when we were there that we did not bother. Enjoyed the Kuang Si Falls though - that $2.50 entrance fee must be new...

    Great report!

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    Haunaman, do you mean to the top of the tall waterfall? no i just stayed at the bottom.
    Craig it seems that most things charge a 20,000 kip fee. The caves, waterfall and mt. phousi.

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    Looking for information re train BKK-Ubon R. for onward travel to Laos, I stumbled on your Fodor blog. I didn't really want to read it all, since I'm finding that there is so much info on the net that I'm afraid I won't be able to experience anything myself. However, I did read it all and I enjoyed every word.

    We will be spending a couple of days in Luang prabang and I was wondering if you could give me more information about the weaving person you visited?

    And even though it's fun to discover everything on ones own, I've made a note of your recommended cafes in LP. Thanks.

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    b_b I think they prefer the speaking to reading and writing. I feel kind of sorry for them though because all the tourists and volunteers are from all over the world so they get a different prounciation of all the words. We have to follow a cirriculum however and do the grammer etc., the the teacher really needs us for the pronunciation as they are Lao and want a native English speaker to show them how it is said.

    Taha 1 , the weaving place is on the map and just out of town. We paid 30,000 Kip to get there by tuk tuk, ($4) and he asked if he should wait for us, which we thought there would be lots of traffic there when we left so only arranged one way. I am glad he asked as he did stay and charged us the same on the return. He could have charged double as there were not taxis around.
    Its called Panom handiraft village

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    More on Luang Prabang

    Our last few days have been busy. It was Cynthia’s 34th birthday yesterday so she got up early and bought a birthday cake to take to the school. When we arrived the woman who drives us once again prepared breakfast for us. She had bags of fresh fruit and went into the back, gave it to someone who prepared muesli yogurt and fruit for us. Again we were late for class. We did our lesson and then the class sang Happy birthday to Cynthia and while we ate cake played Hangman.

    The library is closed today because of exams so we didn’t go. The manager of the project is now in New Zealand so we talked to him on skype and he gave us lots of info which would have been really useful to have a week ago. Too bad. It is also a shame that the library is closed this week. Had a very lazy afternoon and then Cynthia and I walked up to a restaurant and shortly were joined by Eddie. We ordered Laos barbeque which was similar to Korean I think.

    The waiter takes out the middle tile of your table and inserts a hibatchi of sorts. Then he places a tin container on the top of that and you pour broth in the bottom. He gave us each a large basket of glass noodles and vegetables. I recognized carrots, lots of different kinds of mushrooms, cauliflower, and I think I had swamp cabbage and river weed too. He also gives you minced garlic, chilis and some chile sauce. You put the vegetables into the broth and let it cook, remove and eat. Cynthia and Eddie also got meat which they put in as well. They had pork, water buffalo and chicken. We really enjoyed it.

    We also decided to have some wine. And some more, and some more. We went through four bottles of wine in a couple of hours. We had so much fun. It is great that Eddie is only 21, Cynthia 34 and me 56 yet we all get along so well. We had some fantastic conversations. We laughed a lot and then at midnight had to leave. All the places close down at midnight and most of the guesthouses have a midnight curfew.

    And then that chanting again at 4AM. Even with my earplugs in I could still hear it, it sounded like there was a loudspeaker in my room.

    In the afternoon Kenny picked me up at 2PM to go to teach some monks as we weren’t going to the library.

    Ken and I walked towards the school and then went down a dirt road which got smaller and smaller until eventually it was a small trail which led up a hill. At the top was a small Wat (temple) with a few buildings around it. This is where Kenny studied to be a monk and he still has some friends here

    A young novice monk of 17 came out and we sat in the shade and talked for two hours. He wanted to practice his English so I asked him many questions about being a monk, life in Laos etc.


    His day starts at 3:30AM when he wakes and does prayer for an hour. They then walk about ½ hour to the place where they get Alms, which I mentioned I had gone to last Sunday. They then walk back to the Temple, have breakfast and then walk back into town and go to school from 8A to 1:30PM. He walks back to his temple, does some cleaning and sweeping, studies his Buddist books and school books, has dinner and then to bed by 9PM.

    He said that parents are usually happy when boys become novice monks because it means that they will be taken care of. They are mostly from poor families out of town.

    There was a bunch of rice on some boards lying in the sun. I asked what it was for and was told that it is left over from the Alms they received that day and so if they cant eat it all they leave it out for the poor. The area we were in had a lot of poor people.

    I decided that I needed to have my pedicure today. I had almost given up as no one would scrub my feet only do nails. We thought maybe it was a cultural thing where they coulnt clean your feet or something,

    Cynthia and I went for a snack and she saw a sign that said ‘foot scrub’. It was heavenly. A ½ hour foot scrub and believe me I needed it and then one hour of reflexology foot massage. I almost fell asleep. Total cost with tip was $19 for 90 minutes.

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    It is sad to leave.

    This morning we had our last class and really feel that we made some headway. The kids are so shy that when you ask a question they all shrink down and avoid eye contact……Please don’t look at me!!!!

    So today we asked each one to come to the front of the class one at a time and do Pictionary with the words we learned. All but one girl did it and we were so happy. Then we asked all of them to stand up and say their name, how many people were in their family and how old they were. Sounds like a really simple thing but they are so shy that it was terrifying for them, but they all did it. And with a smile. As soon as they did they could sit down so it was a big incentive.

    At the end it was sad to know we wont see them again and a little awkward. The woman who drives us presented us each with beautifully wrapped presents. We were not sure if it was polite to open them in front of her or to wait. I also had a gift for her of some Wild smoked salmon which she was quite happy to receive.

    We left by tuk tuk today so when we got in the tuk tuk we opened the presents and they were gorgeous silk scarves . Mine is bright purple and Cynthias’s bright green. She was outside so we thanked her profusely in the Lao way of our hands in prayer and bowing and saying thanks in Lao. She was beaming and waved until our tuk tuk was out of site. It was really quite moving.

    This afternoon I printed off some of the pictures I took of the monks who were drumming and dropped them by the Wat. I had said that I would give them a copy of the pictures when I took them. I went in and saw one young monk outside and showed him the pictures. He beamed a smile and called out a name and the young fellow I had been speaking to that day came out and saw the pictures. He was very shy and not sure about it all but I think he was really pleased. He called out the other monks that I had pictures of all well and they were all smiling when I left.

    Tonight we had a going away dinner with the three of us, the library manager and two of the Lao volunteers and Kenny. We had a great Lao dinner and SS the library manager said he really didn’t want to say goodbye to me. He was very emotional. At the end we all did the little bow with our hands in prayer but I really just wanted to give all of them, especially SS a big hug. Of course I couldn’t but it was so strange not to do that. We bowed and said goodbye for about 10 minutes. People at other tables were kind of looking at us like ‘get on with it already!’. We all wanted to cry when they left and SS had tears in his eyes.

    Cynthia and Eddie and I went across to the bar for one more drink and then said our goodbyes. Cynthia’s friend from Holland flew in today and they are hanging out in Luang Prabang for a couple of days and then we will meet up in VIentene for one night before they fly to Vietnam and I to Pakse.

    Eddie is flying to Cambodia in the morning to meet some friends for two weeks of vacation.

    The three of us have agreed to meet back here this time next year. We will see what happens.

    It is hard to leave.

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    What to bring to Luang Prabang if you want to help.

    If you want to help out you are better off not bringing anything from home really unless they are digital cameras with chargers for the batteries.

    If you go to Phousi Market which is a local market a 10 minute tuk tuk drive from town, there are stalls that sell school supplies. The library manager said that buying English Lao dictionaries (around $2.50 each) are great as well as blank exercise books and pens and pencils. The exercise books they use here are different from ours.

    If you take them to a school library, especially the large high school in LP, Santhipab, they will make sure that the students who cant afford these things will get them.
    Or probably any school.
    The dictionaries are especally helpful.

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    Thanks from me, too. I enjoyed your whole report, hopefully you'll tell us a bit about Pakse, too. Good to know re something useful that one can get for the libraries. It is def. on my to-do list in LP.

    You never told us about your foot, but assume it healed as you managed to get a scrub without too much pain.

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    Taha my foot is good as new thanks. I am really very lucky

    Rivet, the temperature has been chilly morning and evening. Sometimes I wear a light fleece but usually a light sweater.
    During the day it has been warm but rarely hot. In the two weeks we were there it warmed up a bit each day. It averages around 25 or so. I still wear short sleeves but after two weeks we dont have a tan.

    In Vang Vieng right now and it is much warmer, hot even. Tonight I still wanted to put on a light sweater

    Will do my report on VV tomorrow.

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    Vang Vieng

    I had arranged to go by mini bus to Vang Vieng Saturday morning at 8:30AM. Cost was $14 from the guesthouse. I was picked up in a van and then we sat outside another guest house for an hour and then were told to move into a small 20 passenger bus. There were myself and two younger girls and we struck up a conversation.

    Our quiet bus was then invaded by six 20 something boys and girls from Holland and Germany. I think that they were still drunk from the night before. Thankfully they were all asleep within a half hour of our bus leaving.

    The scenery was wonderful. The first part reminded me a lot of the road to Tofino, minus the palm trees and bamboo of course. It was a very twisty windy road through the mountains with drops to the valley below. I could also see in the distant mountains lots of bald spots where they have been clear cutting, just like B.C. in Canada.

    Through the mountain passes there were many villages along the way with the houses mere feet from the edge of the narrow road. Most were made of bamboo and the other side of the house was on stilts sitting on the edge of the ravine. I would have nightmares thinking that a truck or bus would miss a corner and come through my home while I was sleeping. There would be a central water collection area and women and children would be there to do laundry, dishes and fill buckets with water to take back to their homes. They would fill two buckets and put one on each end of a pole and then carry the pole on their shoulders, sloshing water as they walked. You wonder how much actually makes it home with them.

    Little children as young as four on the very edge of the road sorting and banging grasses. There is Pampas grass as far as the eye can see on the mountain and the women and children (some men too) cut it down, bang it on rocks and then lay it on the side of the road to dry. They use these to make small brooms

    After a few hours the scenery changed to craggy limestone mountains. They were beautiful. When we came down to the valley I saw many rice paddies and vegetable gardens, cattle, goats and chickens. This was now a farming area.
    I had my headset on listening to really good music and looking at this amazing scenery and thinking

    “I’m in Laos” wow.

    It was around a 6 hour bus ride to Vang Vieng and although the scenery was great the roads really weren’t with lots of huge pot holes, so I was happy to disembark at 3PM. I had booked the hotel on the internet the night before and decided that I deserved something nice after my basic accommodations in Luang Prabang.

    The Elephant Crossing hotel is right on the Nam Song (Song river) and my room has a view of the river and the limestone karst terrain. The price was $50 per night and includes a really nice full breakfast. The room has gorgeous wood floors and a balcony with chairs to take in the view.

    I immediately went down to the riverside bar and sat in the hot sun which was very welcome and ordered a beer and a snack for lunch. I was really enjoying the warmth, I felt like a cat. I spent some time talking to a man from Holland, (there are a lot of Dutch in Laos) and then decided to find out when the last bus to Vientiane is tomorrow.

    1:30P!

    That’s not very much time. I asked if I could book another night at the hotel but they were sold out. Well, that was enough lounging around for me I had better get in gear if I want to see anything. I had the front desk book a motor boat for me to go down the river.

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    Now I have two major fears. One of them is water. But the only way to see much of the town is by water, especially if you are short of time.

    The boat picked me up right at the hotel and I nervously climbed in. It was a long narrow boat that was about three inches above the water. The boatman had a long engine at the back.

    The water is the color of milk chocolate. It looks fairly clean, not a lot of garbage floating by or on the edge of the banks. Most people would think that the water was pretty calm, but to me there were rapids. Not big rapids, but rapids just the same. He was a very skilled boatman as he had to dodge many sharp rocks sticking out of the water all over the place. He also had to dodge all the other boats who were trying to dodge the rocks. And let’s not forget the tubers.

    Luang Prabang is a real party place. People rent large tractor inner tubes and float down the river stopping at bars all along the way and get very drunk. If I was going to be here longer and had someone to go with I would do it too, (but not get drunk of course .) There are many many bars along the river with kids jumping on trampolines, going down waterslides, dancing, jumping into the water from ropes. The water is quite warm as I found out when we got swamped from another boat. I was just worried about my cameras but they seemed to survive.

    I really enjoyed the boat ride , which lasted an hour and cost $12.50 for up to two people. It was a great way to see some amazing scenery.

    VV is quite different from Luang Prabang however. The Lao people who work in the tourist industry here are not as nice, probably because they are fed up with the drunken rude tourists. The town itself off the river I did not find very attractive. There were many very drunk and loud young men and women walking the streets.

    I went to Mulberry café for dinner and had a curry dish and a fruit shake which were both great. After dinner I just went back to my room and early to bed for my 5:45AM wake up call. I am really glad that I booked this hotel on the river, it felt like a sanctuary.

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    Now my second biggest fear is of heights.

    So at 6AM I was picked up to go on a hot air balloon ride over Vang Vieng. When I was sitting at the bar yesterday I saw two of them fly overhead and thought at first that it look terrifying. Then when I realized how little time I would have here I thought….why not? Cost was $70US per person.

    I am picked up in a van with seven others, six girls and one guy all around 30 years old. We are driven to a dry rice paddy field and see our balloon being inflated. Eventually we all get in this very small basket, I was last, and the fellow bungy cords the door closed.

    The heat from the burner is intense as he tries to fill it with enough hot air to rise. We all squat down in the basket to avoid the heat. There are 8 guys holding the basket from the outside and helping to get us off the ground. One of the girls says

    “ I was told these only hold six people, but there are eight of us”

    I came this close to jumping off! The young woman beside me could see how terrified I was and put her arm around me and said
    ‘it will be fine, don’t worry”

    Just like that we were airborne. It went up so fast. My fears disappeared and I was awed by the view. The sun was just rising behind the mountain and there was a low mist over the fields. We followed the river up past my hotel and soared for around an hour. He would drop it down to about 20 feet off the ground sometimes and we could see the early morning goings on of the farmers and the animals below.
    Then he would go higher again for a while.

    It was fantastic. Then we started to descend and wondering what kind of a landing we would have……should we all sit on the floor of the basket? Thankfully the day had no wind at all, however on our way down the captain or what ever you call him miss judged a bit and we went into a small tree but came out of it alright.

    We see eight or ten guys below us running around trying to judge where we will land. We are in another dried rice paddy. When we were about four feet off the ground they all grabbed the sides and walked us to another area. I guess he landed in the wrong spot.

    We were still four feet off the ground and a couple of times we would get hung up on the rise of the rice paddys and would be afraid we would tip over. Meanwhile this burner is going the entire time. I was worried about the young guy with us as he was over six feet tall and I was afraid he would singe his hair or pull a Michael Jackson.

    They took us to an area that had less sticks and things that could poke the balloon and we got off. They put down a huge tarp before they deflate the balloon so as not to get any tears, which is a good thing.

    We are all so pumped on adrenaline. It was really a highlight for me and so glad I didn’t get off when I really wanted to.

    There wasn’t much time for much else as all the major caves and exploring areas are out of town a bit. I should have rented a bike but didn’t think about it until 11AM. I walked a lot, visited some caves but it was extremely hot to walk around. I got a bit of a sunburn today. First color in over two weeks here.

    I would have liked to have spent another day here, but now on to Vientiane. I think if you like the outdoors and want to see some caves or do water sports like kayaking etc you really need two nights otherwise you don’t get a full day in.

    The VIP bus left at 1:30P and was full to the brim. I think it may have been a VIP bus about 15 years ago but not so much now. The bus is dented, scratched, a number of windows have cracks or spider cracks in them. The interior is dated and the air con is almost non existent and it is hot.

    About ½ hour out of town the driver pulled over and got out a screwdriver, hammer and a wrench because the main door was not closing. He had to do this a number of times on the journey. Half way there we stopped for a toilet break and he picked up a spare tire and put it on the bus. We didn’t have one up until that point I guess.

    The ride to Vientiane was less spectacular than yesterday so I fell asleep a few times. I would nod off and bang my head on the window and wake myself up. After six or eight times of doing this I was developing quite a headache. Cost of the VIP bus from VV to Vientiane was 50,000 Kip or $6.50

    We arrived in Vientiane bus depot around 4PM and I take a taxi to my guest house, Souphaphone which is very nice and quite new. ( thank you V. boy) A large room is $22 for either one or two people. Vientiane is huge. I was very surprised when I arrived.

    I went out for a wonderful dinner at Le Central restaurant which is right around the corner. The menu is quite extensive and it is an upscale restaurant. I ordered a yam burrito as I eat them at home all the time. It was under ‘Mexican’ food, but when it came it was curried yams in a wrap with a wonderful green salad on the side. It was really delicious and I would recommend it. With a beer Lao it came to 70,000 kip or $8.75 which is pricy for here, but worth it.

    I will rest up for a day of sightseeing tomorrow.

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    WillJame, quite by accident. I listen to CBC so maybe I did it without thinking....

    CORRECTION
    The restaurant I went to last night was not Le Central but next door, called Cinnamon Lounge. It was nothing like a lounge

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    VIENTIANE

    A lazy morning today for sure. Never left the room until 11AM. Talked to my husband on Skype and friends on facebook so it was good to catch up.

    I went to Joma Café for breakfast and they have Nanaimo bars for sale. I took a picture and tried to tell the young girl there that I lived in Nanaimo but I don’t think she really got it. Nanaimo Bars were invented in my town of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island B.C..

    Walked around Vientiane to the Patuxi which is the Lao version of the Arc de Triumph. Climbed to the top to get a good view of this massive city. I am glad I am only here for a day, it really isn’t doing much for me. I am sorry, a lot of folks would disagree but everyone has their own tastes. I really am not a big city person except for Paris, London or New York. I prefer the smaller towns.

    It was really hot today. I am finally getting some color and trying to keep it from being a red color but rather a nice golden brown if possible.

    I walked to the Museum and there were a few old artifacts on the first floor but the second floor was dedicated to the history of the last hundred years in Laos. A history in pictures. It is so horrendous what these people have endured over the past years. I cant believe how forgiving they are.
    .
    I found out from my husband that our good friend finally lost his battle with cancer this morning. I was feeling quite sad all day. He had been following my blog and pictures up until yesterday and was really interested in my trip. I went into a Wat and lit some incense for him and said a few prayers that I hope he is finding some peace. I felt that he was there with me in a funny way.

    I then went down to the river to have a beer in his honor. I know that it is a real stretch for me to have a beer, but this really was in his honor.

    I am now waiting for Cynthia to arrive and we will head out for dinner.

    I am sure that many folks love Vientiane and I really did only see a very small portion of it I know, but I am looking forward to being on the smaller islands down south right now.

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    Pakse and the 4000 islands.

    I had to be at the airport at 5 for my 7AM flight which got me to Pakse at 8:15AM. Cost on Lao airlines was $133 USD. I did not know where I was going to go, which for me is very unusual.
    I knew I wanted to go to an island but unsure which one. There is a group of islands called the ‘4,000 islands’ on the Mekong river with Cambodia on the other side. There really isn’t 4,000 islands, a lot of them are just little shrubs sticking out of the water and I am not sure that anyone ever really counted them.

    Lonley plant advised to make your way to the southern bus station (there are five bus stations in Pakse) and there was an English girl at information so I asked her if she was heading that way which she was. She was going to Don Det, which is the party island. The other two main choices were Don Khon and Don Khong. Those were the two I had finally narrowed it down to.

    We arrived at what was very obviously a local bus station. There were people yelling at us as we arrived calling out destinations which we couldn’t understand. She said Don Det so they grabbed our bags and put them on top of a large tuk tuk that was crammed full of people. I said……no I am going to Don Khong.

    Yes yes, Don Khon
    No, Don Khong
    Yes yes, Don Khon (which is the same pier as Don Det). I thought that the tuk tuk looked far too full so perhaps I would be better off going to Don Khong

    Silly me.

    Finally one of the guys asked to see my book. Lonely Planet is very smart and puts the names written in Laos below the English name so he sees that I want KHONG. He takes my bag down and a woman carries it across the parking lot to an actual small bus. Yes!! And there are only four people in it. YEAH!

    I was still a little unsure I was on the right bus so asked a few more people who said yes I was. Then I saw a piece of cardboard on the back of the bus with some writing on it and I compared it to the drawings of the name in my book and it looked like a match. Laos is a different alphabet, similar to Thai.

    She shows me where to sit which is a single seat by the open window. The people inside are smoking and eating highly aromatic food so when I find out the bus is not leaving for another hour I decide to get off and wait. Big Mistake.
    When I came back the bus was full….so I thought. There were no seats. The woman who previously helped me kicks someone out of my seat and puts me there again, and now I will stay here. I am the only tourist on the bus and she was taking care of me. I really appreciated it too. The older monk gets out and has a cigarette and does stuff on his I phone. Strange.

    By the time we left at 11AM our 18 seater bus had 42 people in it. Another woman got on and pretty much sat in my lap. We then stopped to pick up a few more along the way and we start our three hour drive to the ferry terminal.

    There are two reasons not to sit by the open window on a bus in Laos. One is the inevitable and very unbecoming wind hair that you get. The other is that we stopped ½ way in a little village and twenty or so women converged on each side of the bus and stuck food on sticks in through the windows for people to purchase. Roasted Corn on a stick was okay, but the rest was meat. I had ‘roasted bat ‘ mere centimeters from my face, fish, and flattened bird. I knew it was a bird because the feet were still on it. All of this was waved literally in my face and I thought that I was going to lose an eye cos they are all on sharp sticks. I just started to laugh. They didn’t know why I was laughing so they laughed too.

    We finally ended up at the water’s edge. I was really surprised to see how blue the Mekong was. It looked like a lake rather than a river. There is a medium size barge waiting to take the bus across. I watch as some smaller barges go back and forth taking motorcycles to and from the island. Finally it is our turn and three vehicles get on and make the 10 minute crossing.

    The island is very close. We drive about 10 minutes and then stop and she says the word ‘Falang’ and seeing as how I am the only tourist on the bus I figure this must be my stop. It was all blind faith because I wasn’t even really sure which island I was on at this point. I walked about 200 meters and found the first hotel and decided to check it out. It is very very hot outside.

    The hotel is Done Khong Hotel. A young man showed me a room on the second floor, there is a huge communal balcony overlooking the scenic river and the room is clean and decent with a good fan. The price with private bath is $10 per night. I am too hot and tired to look further so this will certainly do. I go out to the restaurant on the river’s edge and realize that this is probably the sleepiest place I have ever been in. Time to really slow down for a couple of days.

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    I actually had a nap for a bit after my early morning and then rented a bicycle. It was a very old and rickety bike with no brakes but the island is flat and there is only the odd motorcycle to contend with. Of course you must watch for the many chickens goats and cattle walking out in front of you. I rode for a couple of hours until my butt was too sore to go on. The seat was not great. I walked down for a small dinner on the edge of the river and decided that perhaps it was just a little too laid back for me here.

    I arranged a boat to Don Khon at 830AM. Cost was $7. It was a really nice boat ride that took around one and ½ hours through many little uninhabited islands. I sat with an English girl who was just going for a day trip and then back to Don Khong tonight. I hoped that I was making the right decision by moving on.

    As soon as we arrived I just felt that this was the place for me and I belonged here. It was a little more lively but still incredibly laid back. I dragged my poor suitcase up and down the dirt road looking for a place to live for the next few days. A woman about my age said I would probably like the places better at the other end, so I turned around and walked the other way. I came to the end of the hotels and checked there. I really lucked out.

    Seng ahloune guest house is newer, there are around 10 duplex cabins on the waters edge and they are very clean with a little balcony and hammocks. It is right beside the bridge to Don Det. They were really nice but rather pricey (for here) of $35 a night including breakfast but I decided to take it. After a bite to eat for breakfast I came back to my hammock and fell asleep for a couple of hours. Wow I am getting lazy, its great.

    There is no privacy on these balconys as they are all right beside each other but everyone sits in their hammocks facing the same way so not uncomfortable.

    If you stay here I would suggest a cabin as far away from the restaurant as possible. It is not a quiet place. There is a huge extended family that work here and they are all very nice and helpful but the young children can be noisy as young children can. It didn’t bother me at all but may bother some folks. I would stay here again.

    The restaurant is host to large tour groups from Thailand every day at lunch time so don’t go there at noon. Plan lunch at 11 or 1P if possible.

    Most of the hotels on Don Khon are on the one side close to the bridge as are the restaurants two internet cafes and the couple of small stores. There are a few little restaurants at each of the attractions, (dolphin boats, waterfalls etc.). Not a lot of places to buy souvenirs etc and no ATMs. Some hotels will change money but the rate isn’t that great.

    I rented a bike and this one was perfect, newer, everything worked and it was a mountain bike without gears which you don’t need here. $1.25 a day. I rode for hours all over the place. I really feel that this is where I needed to be, its great. You will see the odd gravel truck as they are building some roads but very rarely. More often you may see an occasional motorcycle and other bicycles. You can ride for an hour and not see another person. I did have to stop at one point to let a family of Water Buffalo cross the road in front of me. I thought it best to let then go first. They are huge!

    The roads are all dirt and quite primitive in some areas so glad for the good tires. I went to a waterfall area that was really beautiful and sat down to drink a cold coconut.

    I rode on for a couple more hours and ended up at a beach and a fellow asked me if I wanted to take a boat to see the dolphins. There were two young German guys and they suggested the three of us go together. . The boatman again is very skilled maneuvering around the many jagged rocks and trees sticking out of the water. He is also bailing out all the water in the boat at the same time. Multi tasking. I had a very wet butt at the end.

    In a half hour we come to this group of rocks sticking out of the water and are told to get out and climb to the top. I guess I am getting old. All the young people are helping me all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate it, it is just a real reality check. “we’d better help the old broad’

    We sat for a half hour and watched for the illusive dolphins. There are only about 100 left and they are endangered. They chose to live here but can be in the ocean as well. The Lao people believe that they are the reincarnated dead.

    A few hundred meters away is Cambodia so we can not go any further. Every once in a while we see a flash of a dorsal fin but nothing too spectacular. It was a very enjoyable boat ride and the captain was really funny. . Our boat decided to go to Cambodia without us and we see it drifting away. Our boatman is laughing and yelling but thankfully another boatman was coming by and rescued the boat, and us.

    I rode my bike for another hour or so and decided to call it a day. I hope my butt is okay to ride again tomorrow. It has been a while.

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    Day 25.
    I stayed in may hammock until 1PM again today just reading, listening to music and watching the kayaks and boats go by. There are a number of companies who offer kayak tours and it looks like they have very good equipment including helmets and two guides per tour. I am not brave enough myself.

    Later I rode my bike around the other island, Don Det, which is connected by a bridge. You need to pay $2 to cross the bridge per day. I stopped for lunch at the other end and an English girl was sitting on her own as well so she joined me and we talked for an hour. There are a lot of women travelling alone I have noticed and of all ages. I am glad I am not staying on Don Det. It is definitely a younger persons destination and there are a lot more stores and guesthouses. . I found that the locals were not as friendly there either. Funny that is it so close and yet so different. It seemed pretty tame during the day however as everyone was just laying in hammocks or beds sleeping and reading. What a life…

    I spent the next day once again in my hammock reading till 1 and then riding around Don Khon the other way this time. You will go through little villages but then not see anyone for ages. There seems to be enough shade here and there so you don’t get too scorched. I came upon another waterfall .

    My observation is that most of the sights are on Don Khon, most of the people on Don Det come over to cycle around Khon. Don Det is also very small in comparison.

    My last day in Laos. I read in my hammock until 11AM and then was taken by motorcycle to a boat which took me to a tourist bus which arrived in Pakse 3 ½ hours later. This was quite a different journey from when I first arrived here on the islands. I am really glad that I had the experience of the local bus though. I wouldn’t have traded that for anything.

    I met up with the English girl again that was on the bus from the Pakse airport with me. It amazes me how we all keep running into each other.

    Pakse is a rather unremarkable small city in my humble opinion. A jumping off point to see Wat Phu or the Bolevan plateau, neither of which I have time for becuase I spent an extra day on Don Khon. I didn’t really look around Pakse much though to be fair.

    I checked into my hotel, which I was thankful that I booked last night as most hotels here are sold out. I tried the Champasak Grand first who were sold out and then got the last room at the Pakse hotel. All they had left was a ‘family room’ which was huge with two queen beds. It was nice, clean but no window, unless you count the one that goes into the hall way. The cost was $39 per night including a breakfast buffet. It is very busy here right now with huge tour groups.

    I did some last minute shopping, Lao coffee for DH and I had been thinking of buying a ‘gong’ ever since I was in Luang Prabang but didn’t want to pack it around with me. Found one here that I liked

    I had dinner at the rooftop restaurant at the Pakse hotel and saw the sunset. It is a great view. The food is okay, nothing spectacular. I ordered a curried yam dish which didn’t have any yams in it which was disappointing. It is quite pricey as well.

    I went across the street for a one and ½ hour full body herbal massage. OMG. I wish I would have had one at least once a week while I was here. $15 with a tip.

    I met an English girl who was a massage therapist and here studying massage. She told me that she had one and it was so amazing that she was going to study how to do it.
    He starts off by full body aromatherapy oil massage and then presses little pockets of very hot herbs into your muscles. It was absolutely amazing. I felt like jello,. A perfect way to spend my last day in Laos.

    Flew to Bangkok via Vientiane with Laos airlines. There were no direct flights unfortunately.

    My hotel in Bangkok is the Cottege Suvarnabhumi near the airport booked on Expedia for $43. They have a free pick up and drop at the airport and around an 8 minute drive. The restaurant downstairs does not have a very extensive menu and it is not in an area of many restaurants or shops. The hotel looks very new, clean and quite nice. For just an over night connection I would recommend it.

    My Cathay Pacific flight is at 930A tomorrow and I get into Vancouver two hours later…..(I wish! )

    I really enjoyed Laos and was glad I did the south as well at the middle. Maybe next time I will explore the north.

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    I LOVED your report and would love to do a similar trip at some point (although probably not until I retire and have more than 2 weeks of time). Your teaching experience in Luang Prabang sounds fantastic - LP was a highlight for me on my first (only, so far) trip to southeast Asia. But it was the southern Laos portion of your travels that fascinated me the most. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and providing such colorful details.

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    I've enjoyed reading about your travels in Laos so much. Thank you for your posting. Our trip is planned for the end of February and the itinerary isn't quite the same but of course I'm curious how our experiences will compare with yours. Strange that despite Lonely Planet and all the pre-research one does for any trip - it's the unplanned and serendipity experiences that are most treasured. And those were parts in your report that I read with the most interest and am looking forward to experiencing in our travels. Bon voyage to future trips!
    Sally

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    Thanks from me, too, for your great report. Enjoyed it all, the teaching, the balloon ride, and you other adventures. We're in Vientiane now (on the 3 rd floor, ha ha' of Souphaphone, but hey you only gotta drag those bags up the steps once. . . Looking forward to Luang Prabang.

    What a great trip you had and what great stories to share with your husband. Happy homecoming.

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    Thanks everyone.
    If you want to see any pictures I did a coffee table book through blurb and if you click on this link and then on the bottom right you can go to full screen to see it larger.
    The text is pretty much a cut and paste from my report.

    http://www.blurb.com/books/1972447

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    Your pictures look amazing and I am looking forward to seeing them in full screen. So far, I am unable to enlarge them even when clicking on the bottom right. Have you got any other suggestions?

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    I guess it doesn't get really full screen, just bigger. There is this little icon with four arrows to the right and if you put the mouse over it, it says 'full screen'
    Thanks very much Rivet.

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    Your pictures are stunning! What wonderful memories you must have from this adventure. I am planning a visit for later this year and will be adding more time in LP...

    Thank you for sharing all.

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    Yes, WOW, your book is awesome! Great pictures and really nice job of putting it together. Now that I've seen some other books, I think I'll be able to make my next one better! Thanks for sharing. I really enjoyed your report, and I've been eager to see pictures. They're fantastic. They make me want to return to Laos - and visit the south as you did. Thanks again!

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