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Published: December 3rd 2017
Another beautiful place to call home for a week. The reason I headed there to begin with was to teach English as a foreign language voluntarily. It was possibly one of the best things I have ever done! I organised it through HelpX, which is a volunteer programme. The volunteer works for a couple hours a day in exchange for accommodation, food, WiFi... I didn’t get food included but I wasn’t too bothered, I mean, it was about $1 a meal!
As the story goes... I got to Luang Prabang airport with no preparation for a visa, no cash, nothing. Luckily I was speaking to a lovely Australian guy called Matt, on the shuttle that goes to and from the airplane. He paid for my visa which I will be forever grateful for! On arrival, I told Matt to jump into my taxi into the city.
I decided to work for a guy called Kone, at the MK English Center. He volunteers his time at this English centre around teaching technology at the local school, so he would literally work 7am-8.15pm!
Weekdays I would be teaching between 5-8pm with the weekend off. When I arrived I had no idea
I was teaching that same day.
As soon as I walked into the IQ Inn guesthouse, I made friends with a woman called Sara from Ethiopia, she works from her laptop so can live anywhere she wants! And a guy named John from the USA, he is 75 years old and is writing a book, every day we would listen to his very random stories about his life. He is adamant he isn’t stepping foot into the States whilst Trump is in office. Hilarious guy.
I wandered around Luang Prabang village for a while, and met up with Matt (visa guy) and chatted for a while. It was time to head back to the guest house.
Kone picked me up at 430pm and he showed me what to do for the first class then I was pretty much alone for the other two classes. I had to write up a conversation on the board labelled A and B person. I read through it once to the class, slowly, then again but after every line the class repeats. If I can hear even one person not saying it right, we would all repeat until perfect. After that
is completed, I would pick on people to say a line each by themselves, this way I can hear if they are saying it correctly. After that, Kone would come in and reel off names and they say the lines as a pair as a conversation. I would listen and say yes or no, whether it was passable or not!
The kids developed their language skills very quickly with me. It was especially rewarding when a child couldn’t pronounce the letter ‘L’ and would pronounce it as an ‘R’, for example, college as correge. I felt so happy when they got it! After my first class, I was starving so I asked Kone to drop me off at the night market and eventually found the food street. I found a vegan stall, to fill a bowl of food up, it was just 15,000Kip which is dirt cheap! I sat opposite a guy from California, we chatted for a while until he asked me if I wanted some weed or magic mushrooms. I kindly declined and tried to find my way back to the guest house at 10pm...with no data or working phone!
The following day, I headed on
a hike. Possibly the worst day for it as it was about 35°c and extremely humid. I decided to take a walk to the viewpoint which is on top of Mount Phousi. Mount Phousi has a large temple at the top too and it has 360° panoramic views. I bumped into the guy I sat next to on the plane from Hanoi to Luang Prabang. He was from Mexico, about 55 years old and a salsa and tango teacher. We had a great old chat on the plane so was nice to bump into him at the top of the mountain. After we said our goodbyes, I fell down an unsteady step and rolled my ankle pretty badly. I pretended it was okay, but it did hurt! I had to make my way back down the mountain afterwards.. When I eventually made it to the bottom, the Royal Palace and museum were opposite me. So I took a wander around the grounds and it was very pretty. Lots of gold colours and history. I walked around the dance theatre entrance... I tried to get into a room but I got told off. I walked more and enjoyed the sun on
At 3pm, I got ready for teaching, I had to prepare my own lessons this day, I was teaching tenses, mainly future tense. I had great classes, the teenagers try so hard and want to please all the time. I can tell they really want to excel! My first two classes are beginners, they know all of the basics. My third class is an improver class and I can have a conversation with each one. It’s so fun!
The following day, I caught up with Matt and treated him to breakfast in return for the visa help. He was heading south to Vang Vieng so had to say goodbye too!
I returned to the guest house, got my lesson plans out of the way. I also met a Californian guy, Justin where I was living. What a fantastic guy. We headed to Utopia for lunch, which is a restaurant along the Mekong River on stilts, all of the chairs are pillows and beds on the floor, such a hippie vibe. Totally my type of place! We chatted for a couple of hours about anything and everything. Time went way too fast and it’s possibly the
most relaxed I have been in a very long time.
After Utopia, I chilled and chatted to Sara and John for a while until class. In the evening, Sara, Justin and I headed to the night market for some food... I had phat Thai (pad Thai) it tasted gorgeous! The following day, Justin and I decided to go to the Alms ceremony early in the morning.
My alarm went off at 5.15am. We headed to the main street in Luang Prabang and waited for the Alms ceremony. This ceremony is for the novices and monks. Every day they walk barefoot near their temple and the townspeople provide them with food. It can be anything along the lines of sticky rice, fresh fruit, sweet snacks. This food they receive is their breakfast which they take back to the temple and eat. It was interesting to see, Justin and I blurry eyed because it was so early. It was a shame though because this has become to touristy and more of a shame that there is tour groups that go and those people take photos with the flash on, in the monks faces. It’s so much nicer to step
back and watch this peaceful exchange.
After getting back to the guesthouse, I had to say goodbye to Justin as he was off to Vietnam! I headed back to bed for a nap. When I woke up, I had breakfast at Utopia, I then walked to the UXO museum. This museum was pretty tiny but it had all the information you needed. A UXO is an unexploded ordinance which still have the potential to explode and harm or kill whoever touches or is near it. Unfortunately, all over Laos there are these UXO’s from when the Americans tried to bomb a road to stop transportation of stock and food. They tried oil on the road first to cause accidents, but that didn’t work, so they went on to bomb. The museum provided a short film about how they detain these bombs, how they explode them when found, first hand stories from kids that have lost limbs/been blinded/lost family members and friends through these UXO’s – 40 years after the war finished.
After the UXO museum, I walked around a Monument of a former president, and I walked around a temple. I then went to work and afterwards headed to
have some street food on a corner near the main night market.
The next day, I went to do an hour yoga session at Utopia at 730am. It killed me but I felt amazing afterwards! I had breakfast at Books & Tea, this place had become one of my favourite places in Luang Prabang. Kone and his family took me to Kuang Si Waterfalls. These waterfalls are extremely blue, they have a lot of tiers, which are flat and unbelievably pretty. I could have stayed there all day. The water was freezing but people still swam! I put my feet in... That was enough for me! We had a picnic lunch, consisting of street food – chicken and a big fish on a stick, some extremely spicy stir fry, and also sticky rice. It tasted amazing and I was so full afterwards but they still made me eat a weird fruit. I thought it was grapefruit, but apparently it was something called a pomelo. It was nice but it’s huge, bigger than my hand! After our food settled, Kone and I hiked to the top of the falls (I was wearing thongs/flip-flops, not the best idea). It was
a fun little hike but I kept slipping everywhere! The view was stunning from the top! I felt bad because Kones family were waiting at the bottom and I wanted to take hundreds of photos! I would like to admit that this waterfall is the best I’ve ever seen in my life!
After the falls, I headed to the market to buy souvenirs and to haggle! I bought some lovely things, finally got something to remember Laos by! Laos people are so lovely and happy all the time, I felt bad haggling as that’s their life income!
Sunday, another day off work! I had breakfast at the Aussie Sports Bar. I booked a half day tour for Novice Kham and I to head to the Pak Ou Caves. It was a long/slow boat journey for an hour up the Mekong River. It was freezing!!! The river was pretty and saw lots of different things along the way. We saw cows, families working on their veggie patches along the river side. Kham was one of my students and he had been living in Luang Prabang for one year and never gone to the caves! It didn’t cost much so I treated him to this trip! Inside the caves, it was almost like a temple.
There was an upper cave and a lower cave. Upper cave had some golden Buddhas and it was pitch black! Kham explained how a temple works. He even allowed me to pick out a stick with a number on... Apparently he said if I pick a 5, 5 is really good. I picked 5 without even looking! We picked up the slip of paper that goes with the number (there is about 60 numbers altogether) and he looked at me and said “oh no, bad karma is coming your way”. Oh fantastic!!! The lower cave is home of the 4,000 Buddhas. That’s how many statues are in this part! I’ve never seen so many in my life. Very dusty but still a wonderful thing to see!
On our way back, we froze and I used the seat covers as a blanket!
Monday, the next day, I wasn’t feeling great. I still dragged myself to Utopia for brunch. When I got back to the guesthouse I felt awful and my stomach had bloated a bit. Albeit being a bit ill, I didn’t want to waste my last full day in Laos!! I headed to the Xiang Thong Temple which was a 20 minute walk from the guesthouse. When I got there I was extremely sick. I looked pregnant and people kept giving way to me as if I was!! Highly embarrassing, and it didn’t help that I was kind of waddling around. I tried to take in the beauty of the temple, it was extremely gold. Gold everywhere. A lot of history in this temple and the surroundings. I had to leave though, way too much pain. I waddled back to the guesthouse and John asked if I had suddenly became pregnant! He wanted me to go to the doctors but I think I may have accidentally eaten or drank some dairy at Utopia. I was tempted to say to Kone I wasn’t going to teach but I hate letting people down so I still went. Sara made sure that after my lessons I would have ginger tea, so the hostel womans’ husband came to drop off fresh ginger from home.. How lovely!
My lessons were good still though, I was fairly sad because it was my last day!! Luckily Kone had another volunteer to replace me so I did most of the first lesson and she took over afterwards with me giving her pointers and helping her out. At the end of each class I got class photos and a lot of ‘thankyous’. I am so proud of myself for just jumping in, teaching English as a foreign/second language, winging the classes. I am so glad I did it. It was a different side of travelling and a way of giving back which I love doing. When I arrived back at the guesthouse, Sara had ginger tea ready for me to drink straight away, she made me drink 3 mugs of the stuff! It was very strong and not very nice...
The next day, I wanted to send off a letter. A letter to Novice Khams’ family – just a message saying how well he is doing in English class as well as everyone else and that it was a pleasure to teach him. I headed to the post office to send to his village. I told Kham what I was doing but I’d written on the envelope the wrong address! So he had to go to the post office and edit it... Whoops!
Afterwards, I said goodbye to the lovely people at my hostel, a bit emotional.
Sara waved me off as I set off in the back of a tuk tuk. I had tears in my eyes but I know deep down I helped people and connected with people on a different level whilst living there. It opened my eyes to new things and new thoughts and that’s the best thing ever!
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