Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Laos--Room to Read Adventures---Fall 2005

I arrived by bus from Bangkok to Nong Khai and then onward to the Laos border crossing on a tuk-tuk over the Friendship Bridge on November 24th.  After stamping out of the Thai immigration office, we easily went through the Laos immigration and customs office by paying $30 for a visa on arrival.  It was then on to a jumbo bus to downtown Vientiane, Laos where the driver dropped me off at my hotel for $1.

Pha That Luang Temple



It turned out that the Saysana Hotel was kind of a dump, but for $5 I got a room with a fan and cold water shower. After settling in, I headed to the Riverside area for some food and entertainment.  On the way I saw the beautiful golden Pha That Luang Temple and the arches of Patuxai---a bit of French influence here.



I met this monk who gave me a tour of the Sisaket Monastery in Vientiane.

















I had planned to visit the Room to Read offices--www.roomtoread.org--- here in Vientiane while I was in Laos.  I met Ms Samphet who gave me a great introduction to her key staff and the the program here in Laos.  One of their priorities was to train the teachers on how best to use the Room to Read libraries.










On November 26th, after a short moto taxi ride to the bus station, I boarded a bus to Luang Prabang.  A passenger across from me was an Australian anthropologist who was studying the Akha tribe in Northern Laos-Thailand.  One of the things she told me is that women average about 10 children and if twins are born it was considered bad and they were usually killed at birth.  Yikes!

Since I was last in Luang Prabang, many of the single large homes had been converted to hotels.  I ended up at the Nittaya Guest House that was in the center of town by the Mekong River with hot showers.  After checking in, I found a local sandwich shop with the best sandwiches---Khao jee: pate, cucumbers, green onions, shredded carrots, and spices on a baguette--- thanks to the French culinary influences in SE Asia.



 No need for alarm clocks as I woke up early on the 27th from the sound of roosters crowing.  As I walked along the streets looking for an open breakfast spot, I saw many groups of monks on their morning alms promenade through town.  The hotel staff gave me some of their rice to hand out.







This continues to be a daily event primarily for the locals.  The monks receive rice and other gifts and foodstuffs and in return the locals receive the monks blessings.  Shop keepers are some of the bigger donors to these monks.  A few shopkeepers even sold leaf covered rice to tourists to in turn give to the monks.

You can find street vendors setting up their goods and foods to sell throughout the day.  They close the  main street for the night Market as the sun sets.  This is the food section of the street market.



This vendor is drying out rice patties to sell at the night market.




 Wat Mai Temple is located next to the Royal Palace and you can see that some vendors are beginning to set up for the night market when this street closes.












View from Mt. Phousi that overlooks Luang Prabang.



After checking out the sights, I decided that I would enjoy the two day $8.50 ferryboat ride up the Mekong River.  We would stop for an overnight stay at Pak Beng, and then continue on to the border crossing at  Huay Xai, Laos---Chiang Khong. Thailand.

Again an early rise thanks to the roosters followed by watching the monks, and a big breakfast before boarding the ferry at 9am.  


We passed by the Pak Ou caves where tourists stop to see the 1,000 Buddha statutes.  This was also a refuge for locals during the Vietnam War bombings in the area.  About 2 million tons of ordnance were dropped on Laos between 1964 and 1973. This amounts to a planeload every eight minutes 24 hours per day for nine years.  This amounts to 270 million cluster bombs with 80 million of them which did not detonate and are still buried in farmland. It is the most heavily bombed country per capita in the history of mankind.  They estimate that over 20,000 people have been killed or injured by unexploded ordnance in Laos since the war ended and 40% are children.  Even today, over 50 casualties are reported per year---source: Legacies of War.



Some of these bomb craters are used to raise fish.



Once on the ferry boat, filled with mostly locals, we stopped at numerous villages to pick up or drop off passengers who lived there.  At one stop, they had a working elephant that was helping to pull the engine out of a big ferryboat they had moored along the river.  Quite a sight. 






Local vendor trying to make some sales to the boat passengers.



Most of the villages were pretty primitive including Pak Beng, our village for the overnight stay.  I found the Bangthorn Guest House for just $5 for the night.  It had a cold shower, a light and fan, but the electricity went out at around 9pm for an early to bed.



This is my boat moored at Pak Beng for the night.








For those that want a faster way to travel up the Mekong, you can ride on these speedboats.  The Government now requires tourists to wear helmets and life jackets because these boats tend to splinter when they hit floating logs along the way throwing everyone out.



On the 29th we spent our last day going up the Mekong with more village stops.  Here are some villagers bathing and just having fun along the river.






At one stop four guys got on carrying AK-47s with bandoleers of ammunition, but then got off at the next village stop.  Some of the locals indicated that they were village militia men who were protecting the surrounding villages from insurgents.


We arrived at Huay Xai, Laos which was the end of our ferryboat trip around 6 pm.  Since the river border crossing was closed until morning, I and some other Westerners stayed at the Thornburnsok Guest House for $6 which included hot showers.  Some of us went to Pops Restaurant next door for one of the favorite Laotian dishes:  Larp which was minced fish and mint washed down with Lao Beer.



After stamping out of the Laos immigration office on November 30th, we made our way to the river edge where we took a very small long tail boat across the Mekong River for 50 cents to the Thai immigration offices.  After getting the Thai visa on arrival I made my way to the bus station for a bus to Chiang Mai thus ending my Laos---Room to Read Adventures.




Trip Cost
The total Laos trip cost was $149 for a daily cost of $30. The travel and tour costs were $54, lodging costs were $38 for daily average of $8 per night, and the food cost were $57  or $11 per day.






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