Travel Journal

Wonderful Laos

(Monday 5 December 2011) by Karen O'Shea

What a fantastic find. The country is so beautiful. I didn’t know too much about the place before but boy am I glad I came here. It’s a real gem of place. The country itself is again like Cambodia in the fact that it so poor, but unlike Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, Laos is expensive as they import everything, (but not expensive from an Irish point of view).

We took a 16 hour overnight train from Bangkok, God I will never complain about the length of journeys at home, a ten hour journey is now a walk in the park.. Actually the train was quite cozy but after 16 hours I was beginning to suffer cabin fever, the guards on the train carry guns so it was a little unnerving at times…..a little different from the limerick to Dublin train.:-)

Our first port of call in Laos was the capital Vientiane. It is more a big town than a city; it made a nice change from the bedlam of Bangkok. We got to go see Buddha Park which was a park full of Buddha stone statues, years old, the detail on the statues was amazing when you consider the tools they would have worked with.

It took about 3 hours to get to and from the park on a tuc tuc. Only in the cities and towns are the roads anyway decent, once you hit the country they become very rough alright, (obviously no TD’s around these parts:-D…… So I’m sure we looked a sight on the back of the tuc tuc, seven girls being thrown about the place, I’m sure the locals that drove behind us had a right laugh…………one could certainly have done with a very supportive sports bra…………….:-D:-D:-D

Next stop was Van Vieng. this is a really great place. It is just so beautiful I don’t think any photo could do it justice. There are only three streets here. I went mountain biking twice here, god it was very hot alright, but the place was so beautiful it was the way to see it.

Again a sports bra wouldn’t have gone astray…. The land here is quite flat and then these mountains just appear from nowhere. Al l the locals here make their income from us tourists…even found an Irish bar here. (And boy was the mash and gravy lovely….not like yours mom but good enough…:-)

Then I went tubing this is what van vieng is famous for. Basically you sit on the water on a tube from a tyre and float down river. Sounds good eh…only difference is there are about 15 make shift platforms that act as bars, they rope you into the bar. When I say rope I mean it literally than throw you a rope and pull you in. This was just so much fun. I didn’t think I would do it as I can’t swim, but the guys I was with held onto some part of me all the time… It was hard to believe it was December 1st and here we were floating down a river, the sun beating down, the tunes pumping and the craic great….;-)

At the moment I’m on a bus to Luang Prabang. Now I tell you hand on heart this is some hairy bus journey. We are going over the mountains. If you could imagine cork screw hill times 1000 for six hours, with a little bit of the ice road truckers driving through India thrown in, you get the idea. The scenery is amazing, but in looking out the window I can also see the huge drops from the roadway,,, and would you believe they still overtake on it. Madness!! I’ve just pulled the curtain and won’t look out again till we arrive……whenever that will be. .

One thing I have learned from my few days in Laos is, there is normal time and then there is Laos time. Meaning the journey could take 5 hours or 9 hours, the Laos people are extremely laid back and don’t believe in rushing …..anywhere!!!!:-)

Update……. the bus took seven and a half hours in the end. I was glad to get off in one piece, think I inhaled half the road through the cracks on the bus….:-)

Luang Prabang is a real peaceful town. This town wasn’t accessible until the mid 90’s that gives you an idea of just how remote it is. Even though there are a lot of cars on the road and less scooters, the place goes to sleep before midnight.

Was reading some interesting facts about the place. The reason everything shuts at 11.30 is so everyone can be at their place of residence by midnight, it used to be a strict law but has eased off in recent years. The average yearly wage is $1000. Broken down that’s $2.73 a day!!!!!!
A big hello to PERSPECTIVE. I’m just thinking of myself and how much I waste money on silly things, buying new things when I really don’t need too. The locals don’t understand how we can’t live on one dollar a day and why we need so much………Do we really need so much??? NO quite simply.

They can live on a dollar a day by not eating much meat, fishing from the river, growing their own veg and rice, bathing in the river and cooking from an open fire. God we really have so much mod cons. We live in such different worlds, wonder who is the happiest?

There is a most amazing waterfall called Kuang Si waterfall outside the town. It is so pretty, will post some photos soon. Also on the grounds is a bear rescue centre. It is an enclosure for endangered Asiatic black bears that have been rescued from poachers. Apparently the bile from the bear’s gall bladder is used on the black market as a medicine. The poachers keep the bears caged in ungodly conditions and drain the bile from them. I know here the bears aren’t in their natural environment but at least they are better off from where they could have been.

During the war with the US and Vietnam, Laos was neutral. But the Americans took it upon themselves to build an airstrip here and use it as a base. While the US bombed the Ho Chi Minh trail in Vietnam (this is the route the North Vietnamese used to traffic all their ammunition etc down to the south), they (US) also bombed the hell out of Laos.

If I may quote the lonely planet, ”Between 1964 – 1973, the USA conducted one of the largest sustained aerial bombardments in history, flying 580,244 missions over Laos and dropping two million tons of bombs, costing US$2.2 million a day. Around 30% of the bombs , dropped on Laos failed to detonate, leaving the country littered with unexploded ordnance (UXO). Since the British mines advisory group began clearance work in 1994, only a tiny percentage of UXO have been removed. At the current rate of clearance it may take more than 100 years to make the country safe”. >:-(

You got to feel for these people, its difficult to write about these innocent folk and not get annoyed. They really can’t venture off the beaten track for fear of unexploded bombs, even the kids playing have to be so careful. Out of interest I would love to know how many of these bombs explode annually and what the consequences are. They are paying such a hefty price. They didn’t do anything wrong!!! They just happened to be neighbours of a country the US thought they could bully!!!! >:-(

I loved Laos so much when we were tubing i got “I love Laos” spray painted on my leg……it was the thing to do at the time, but an absolute curse to wash off…..:-D
Ps I have uploaded some photos…..

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