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Lao, Not Laos

In another place & time

sunny 25 °C
View Forever Summer on chang2n's travel map.

My first rant is how did the 'S' come about for Lao? All its inhabitants speak it without pronouncing the letter 'S' and its written form such as Lao Airline is also without the extra letter. I'm adamant on boycotting the 'S'. Before I rave about the calm & serene beauty of Lao I'll wrap up Bangkok with a few words & pics. My friend Jenn flew into Bangkok and stayed 2 nights before we took off for Lao. During that time I dragged her to see the snake farm (what? I was fascinated and admission was fairly inexpensive) which I'm surprised she agreed to since she has quite a fear of snakes. I coaxed her into touching the python at one point. Jenn didn't quite embrace the humid heat of Bangkok so we spent an afternoon at Siam Ocean World. Boasted as the largest aquarium in SE Asia with a 270 degree tunnel for viewing the fish. It was very well kept and I marvelled for hours at strange water (and non water) creatures of all kinds. Here are some pictures of the visit:

I like how it appears to rest and possibly walk with his fins
Giant spider crabs, its main body was easily the size of a human head.
Poisonous frog. It appears to have assumed the attack position.
What a haughty look & pose.
I pretty much love everything about chameleons. Their funny mitten wearing paws (if that's what they're called), their rotating eyes and obviously their abilities to camouflage.
Tarantulas. I couldn't tell whether that hole extended all the way through. Imagine having a hole in your chest?
The position of this tarantula suggested that either it has a total of 16 legs, or all 8 were off of one side of its body. Neither made sense.
The 270 Degree tunnel. The experience kind of hurt my eyes. But still very impressive considering the amount of pressure from the water.
Don't know the name of this shark. I asked Jenn probably a good 5 times and I still can't remember.
And the slow dances of jelly fish...

I was giddy like a 5 year old especially during our final component of our day pass: a 5D movie. I can't remember the title, but it was something silly like "Floppy's". The basis of 5D included 3D movie plus movement in the seat and scent. The screening was only 20 minutes and the viewers ranged from toddlers to seniors. Were we eager to watch the clip? No. But it was part of the admission fee we paid and under that principle we forced ourselves to wait it out rather than feed our whining stomaches. I'd be lying if I blamed it on fatigue but I was probably the only adult that was squealing from joy during the 20 minute presentation. Toddlers were crying because they got scared, Jenn like the majority of the audience was certainly not impressed with the squirt of scented air or the rumbling of seats that complimented the animation. I must have regressed, just like my use of English but I left the building with a silly smile.
Lao wasn't even on my agenda until my friend Jenn incorporated the visit into our travels.
The 5 days we spent in Luang Prabang were from another world, just exquisite. People were laid back & kind, you weren't haggled incessantly but left to take in the beautiful community life. A buddhist country, this small town had over 300 monks and many of the local men spent a portion of their childhood as practicing monks.

The night market strip setting up for the tourists.

We climbed the highest peak in town to catch a sunset and with every step taken we fell deeper & deeper in love with the prestine landscape.
This was a country full of love, for its people and for its land. I did not see trash everywhere like the rest of SE Asia, and I saw an abundance of men handling, caring and playing with children which is mostly looked upon as the women's role everywhere else. And the 2 tours that we took were not only on time, but EARLY! Just completely backwards to its neighbouring countries. I think this magical land is truly "La vie en rose" (OMG, I'm so cheesy! But it was stunning and the pictures simply doesn't describe how it feels to be surrounded 360 degrees by this landscape. Also this picture unintentionally took on a beautiful rosey hue.)

Offerings outside the temple. Just look at the care and packing? Doesn't this speak volumes for the kind of people Laotians are? I believe sticky rice are contained inside.
I call these antler trees.
The climb down from another path gave us another view of the town. Some of the kids were playing and tubing.

A bridge to the other side of the river.
The main strip of town.

Everyday our guest house owner at 6am carried out his morning prayer at a nearby temple. He was happy to bring along any of the guests so that they understood a bit more of his buddhist practice.
There were many others just as dedicated.
And EVERYDAY the procession of the 300+ monks from the town strolled through many blocks to collect the charitable offerings from the town's people.
They seemed to mainly offer sticky rice, but some gave non-perishable goods.
Preparing the sticky rice into small portions.
This little boy lugged awkardly his loaded basket and ran alongside the monks to request for any overflow of food. Our guest house owner informed us that thanks to tourism this town never goes hungry as there is always more than enough to share with those less fortunate.
The boys look excited about their gatherings for the day. And the wonderful sharing cycle continues the next day and everyday. LG!

The very next day we started our motorbike adventure. First thing that went wrong was that there were no automatic bikes. But after some further inquiries, there was no way that we'd be able to see the villages in the itinerary unless we go on manual bikes as the hills were much too steep. But because Lao is so amazing & beautiful... "I forgive you Lao". Jenn wasn't willing to risk her life trying to figure out how to ride a manual bike for the first time in her life so she rode with our guide Ton. I was less concerned with my own welfare & jerked along while attempting to switch gears, follow the guide, watch the traffic and in general stay alive. Yes I've driven a motorbike before in HCM taught by my friend Johnny, but I'm not sure 10 minutes of riding an automatic bike on paved road in a quiet part of town really qualified me for what I was about to embark on.
This is pretty much all the pictures I have of our trek, which doesn't at all translate the actual trek that we endured. My hands were sore & arthritic the next day because of how hard I gripped the handles, hanging on for dear life. Jenn & I were both too busy trying to stay alive than attempting to take pictures. The road was either intensely steep, I didn't think it was feasible to climb a sandy & rocky 90 degree angled slope, but we did it. Nor did I think it was safe to go down a tumultuous tiny path that I wouldn't even venture on foot, but I pushed on only to discover a rickety bridge at the base that swayed widely from side to side under the weight of the bike. If it wasn't steep it was soft sand that was impossible to ride through or you were forced to ride along the edge of a cliff drop off. Safety precautions of even the minute kind do not exist in Asia. Oh wait, scratch that, I had a helmet.

We stopped for lunch, and the village didn't have any vegetables for Ton to purchase so we had to settle with the following:
They compensated the lack of veggies with 15 eggs! Did I mention this meal was meant for 3? Not normal to ingest 5 eggs per person. It was surprisingly tasty. But then again anything tastes bloody fantastic when you realize you're still alive. I was surprised to learn that in Lao you generally eat with your hands, so I dug right in.
This small village was initially vacant. But then you started seeing locals pop their heads from behind huts and trees when they heard word of the blond foreigner that I was traveling with (Blond Devil was probably what they called her). I generally blend in enough with the locals especially now that I wear a more bronzed look (I know my friend Jenn is reading this aghast and shouting "LIES!" She was under the impression that the locals fawned over me like a prestine white lily... alas, I am doomed to be pestered by short local men born from 1970 and earlier)
The kids were then let to roam about freely when they realized that Blond Devil was in fact harmless. And got nice & relaxed in their own element.
Remember what I said about satellite dishes? Even places that have never seen tourists have them.
Before continuing our trek I taught Jenn to pee in a squatting toilet. It was comical for the 2 of us to be squeezed in here with my pants down demonstrating step by step what to do. I was proud of her accomplishments that day. Staying alive, eating with her hands and using the squatter!
Here are pics from some more villages that we stopped at:
This little boy's catch of the day for the family to eat. His young little feet were tough & calloused as if he were in his 60's.
Ton informed us that Hmong huts has 2 doors, the entrance and the back door for snatching brides. Something about how up until a generation ago, if you asked a Hmong woman to marry you and she refuses, you can steal & kidnap her from the secret back door. Imprison her until she accepts your hand in marriage. And if you were the parents of the woman, and notice the disappearance of your girl, you generally assumed she's being coaxed into a marriage. Both Jenn & I were like "then why build the back door at all?"
Cutest little grand mama! When we crossed paths, she beamed me a toothless smile from her weather beaten face. I nodded & smiled back at her and reached out to pat her on the shoulder. She continued her laboured trek.
A cotton bud plant.
The most fragrant flower! From a grapefruit tree.... wasn't expecting that.
An ant mound, that was dug up to feed the chickens the larvae.
More satellite dishes.
An indicator that a baby was born but you wait 3 weeks before a name is given, this white sign is put up during that period.
An outdoor squatter with no door, there's no way that I could coaxed Jenn into doing that. Not that I would either...
Beautiful Hmong village kids playing around.
Oh Lao! Don't ever change.

Posted by chang2n 02:59 Archived in Laos

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Oh the travels! Love this blog of Loa. I really need to get there some day soon. I can just picture the 2 of you guys on manual bikes through the hills, in the village, Jenn using a squatter! Classic.

by Donna

Ahh memories! Lao was so fun and beautiful. It's too bad the pictures don't really do it justice. Let's be real, I was more like a celeb than the Blonde Devil! I still don't know how my lotus flower was mistaken for a local but it sure happened a lot! I'm glad my newfound "skills" have made the blog (cough). Oh blue eyed Vong, little piglets, crazy waterfall hikes, treacherous motorbike rides, my adorable puppy, the best Khmu resto, and the list goes on. Miss it all!

by Jake

Giggling at the bathroom party u had! Too funny Jake I am impressed

by juliet

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