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Published: March 22nd 2007
Jo (right) and her housemate Maz (left)
Their house was absolutely gorgeous and so comfortable to weary travelers.
Following Angkor Wat we flew from Siem Reap to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. We were lucky enough stay with Jo, a friend of Celia's. Jo has been living in Laos for about two years now. She works as an occupational therapist in the prosthetics section of Laos’ National Rehabilitation Centre. However, like any health clinic in this area, Jo is often faced with numerous health care situations sometimes outside of her expertise. Recently Jo has been setting up programs, fund raisers and basically managing the health care for victims of the unexploded bomb ordinance (UXO) in Laos. Unfortunately Laos is the most bombed country in the world. During the American Vietnam war, the US spent 2 million per DAY on dropping bombs on Laos. Each shell case contained individual bomblets and it is estimated that about 30% of them failed to detonate. Many of these bomblest have sunk into farmer’s fields only to be accidentally found by the farmers themselves, children or buffalo. Another problem is that the price for scrap metal in Laos is so high that that people take their chances and attempt to lift and transport the bomb materials. Often this causes loss of a limbs,
deformity, or death. Jo has done some amazing work and we were so inspired that we donated a prosthetic leg to be made for someone in need.
From Vientiane we traveled to Vang Vieng. The road was extremely windy and traveled up, down and around all sorts of mountains. Just as we rounded a bend at the top of a mountain we heard and pop and a hissing sounds. NOT GOOD. "Luckily" this happened at the end of a small mountain village. When a man from the village walked over to us with a machine gun strapped to him, we started to re-think our luck. He stood by us the entire time as our driver changed the tire. At one point Celia gave him some crackers as a bit of a peace offering. After the driver had finished and jacked the car back down we heard him say "uh oh"...yep, the spare was also flat! And thus came the giggles. What do you do when you're stuck at the top of a mountain with machine gun man in your face? I'll tell you...we jump back into the van and drive down the mountain to the nearest repair shop. In
retrospect we decided machine gun man was probably there to protect us since he showed no signs of aggression...that's what we like to think anyways.
The major activity in Vang Vieng is tubing along the river. You get dropped off at the top of the river with a tube and then float down stopping along the way at several riverside bars with plenty of beer, pumping music and trapeze swings. As you float by they have a long pole that you can grab onto to either get a beer for the road or stop for a break. I'm not entirely sure how safe the whole river/drinking thing is but everything's do-able in Laos. The scene was somewhat like Daytona Beach on MTV's spring break special and besides the beautiful river; it really wasn't our kind of place. After one day and two nights we quickly moved onto Louang Prabang.
Louang Prabang is a charming city designated by UNESCO in 1995 as a world heritage site worthy of protection and development. It has of course become a sort of traveler’s mecca with lots of little amenities like modern coffee shops and used book stores showing nightly movies in their
My trapeze debut
Can you see me? It's like "Where's Waldo?"
cushiony loft. One of the best things about Louang Prabang is the night market. Every night between 4 and 10pm they close the street and vendors spread their sheets to display all sorts of handicrafts. Everything from beautifully quilted duvet covers, to silk scarves, to "ancient" painted opium pipes...at least I think that's what they were. It's a good thing my pack is full! Celia however, had a hay day and ended up being quite embarrassed by the amount she purchased. She was quite right to do so though because I know when I am searching for presents for people in the future I will wish I had a little Louang Prabang market of my own. When she went to mail everything though the man at the post office's jaw dropped. He looked at the number of quilted duvet covers she bought and exclaimed at the amount of money she must have spent. She said "well they were only $20 each, they would cost $150 in Canada". He replied, "I make $20 in one month”.
The other amazing thing we did in Louang Prabang was visit the Kouang Si waterfalls. There were several tiers of falls and many turquoise
pools to swim in. We also hiked to the very top where the water pooled before plunging over the cliff. From there we spied some young monks below, swimming, splashing and jumping from trees. That day was definitely a highlight.
After Louang Probang we took a two day boat ride along the Mekong to Houay Xai. This section of the Mekong has especially strong currents and can be quite dangerous depending on which boat option you chose. We were told that the fast boat has crashes and even fatalities on a monthly basis. Even the Lonely Planets says take it at your own risk. We had also heard rumors of over-weighted slow boats. Since neither of those options sounded appealing we opted for option number three, the expensive slow boat where we had very comfortable seats, the boat all to ourselves and 6 young Laos men serving us the whole way. It sounds more luxurious than it actually was, but we were quite comfortable.
So what was all this traveling to Houay Xai for??? Well, it's very exciting, possibly the highlight of SE Asia and you will have to wait to read about it in my next
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