Sunday, 15 July 2012

Week five. new week, new country.

It's a very surreal feeling to go from one country to another merely by jumping on a train, going to sleep and when you wake up, going to a little window, sign your exit card, go to another window get a train ticket for the shortest train ride ever (a total of about 3.2 km) over a river and then sign your entry visa application, hand over a photo and $us30.... Bing bang boom welcome to Laos!

As easy as going from QLD to NSW! So on our shortest train ride we met a guy and his Thai wife who because of the visa he has has to leave Thailand, go to Laos every 90 days and reapply for his family visa! And I thought the train trip once was bad enough! Not such a nice train ride this time, there was a really creepy guy who kept staring at Lena. I slept with one eye open all night let me tell you!!! Lena thinks I am a little paranoid but she will thank me one day.

The train pulled into Vientiane, the capital city of Laos. I am initially shocked by this as the place looks like it has not been finished and was maybe a new country town that was being developed. My error was a result of comparing Thailand to Laos, big mistake seeing that Laos has really only been developing for a few years. The country has been either in political war or actual war, (have a read of Laos history if your bored, very interesting) thus it has not really had the time to develop. Our accommodation was well less than the bare minimum, the sheets looked like they had been slept on, hair on pillows, open water and so much mould I am sure to develop some new form of lung disease! No point complaining either they barely spoke English and the room was already paid for on agoda! Oh well suck it up!

So sleep deprived I insist on trying to find a map, stupid idea! We make our way to a little bakery cafe and have the best burger I think I have ever had (most likely due to a lack of western style food up to this point, but it was well done) and big creamy ice coffee thing like Starbucks! We then make our way to the tourist info centre only to find they have maps but in Japanese, Lena kind of had an idea but I was lost. We kept looking and wandered down the road only to have the heavens open up without a moments notice. Ha just like Thailand we think, over in a second..... Or not!

The rainfall here is a little different and the afternoon monsoon is what the name says! After a quick dash to the nearest "shopping centre" I find a guy with maps that look strangely like the free ones you might see at the tourist info centre, only he wants 15000 kip!!! I gave in much to Lena's disgust.
The shopping centre looks as if it has been there for a while but is more like it is still under construction. The food court and kids play area are right next to space with bare concrete and exposed metal and wires (parents we had little palpitations too).

Shopping centre, open and ready for business.

We decide to head back as I was severely over tired and heading for a melt down (this did occur on the way home over directions, Lena was right and I gave myself a time out on the bus seats. A 2hr nanna nap and off we go to find some dinner, night markets here we come! We found a food called laap, ground meat with mint, onion, chilli and garlic.... Very nice! Food here is great, like Thailand but different. Cold beer for me and out like a light!
Oh I forgot to mention that we had been trying to arrange a minibus to vang veing for the next day to add to our stress out, but managed to get it sorted.

Up nice and early to our breakfast included (soggy toast and two fried eggs, in theme with the whole hotel really) and we head next door to the minibus stop. There was about 10 of us, mostly guys on their way to go tubing down the river. A nice drive and some tips on eating and drinking obtained! We were dropped off on the outskirts of town and when we asked if anyone knew the guest house we had booked everyone said 'no' you stay here'!? We eventually found it and were pleasantly surprised. Clean, cheap and with all the things you would need (hot shower, fan, clean linen and Internet). After a shower and tidy up we go to the restaurant attached, order a great lunch/dinner and do our first proper blog ( we are able to put photos on now). The owners have a little 3yr old girl "Sonia" is how it was said, she was a terror! We played with her and her cousin while doing our blog well into the night only to be told by her parents that she stays up till about midnight, well not us!!!!! Off to bed for us leaving sonia to her parents care!!!

Guess the terror? She is three, her cousin is 5!

Bec's new hairdo.

Kids everywhere know angry birds!! What is this world coming to?

Today is our first official day in Vang Veing and Lena wants to ride a bike out to blue lagoon, about a 6km ride. The ride was beautiful but the bike was evil!!!

I am to short in the arms and can't reach the bars to well so despite the beautiful views am very much distracted by my physical state. I felt bad for Lena who was quite happy riding along as she had to often wait while I walked my bike up the dirt roads, much to the amusement of the locals. I get the feeling that lots of tourists come out this way, the kids keep running out to us. I initially thought wow how cool, only to realize very quickly they are coming out to beg. It is hard to say no to a kid knowing the life they have but begging is looked poorly upon and giving lollies or cash to the kids is discouraged. The signs all say that you are best giving to village elders or a non profit organization so that the contribution goes to the whole community not just one family. It's very sad to see a child barely able to walk rub his finger and thumb together in the sign of "money" as you go by.

Blue lagoon is so pretty and the locals know they are on a winner here. There is a 10,000 kip entry fee ( that's after the 6000kip bridge fee)......

The bridge.

The locals fishing under the bridge.

......And they have roped off the road so you got to pay to see it! There is also a cave there but head lamps are 10,000kip each and a guide will set you back another 50,000, of course you can't see a thing with out the lamp or guide! Laotians are very quickly learning how to capitalize on any possible way to make money and the tubing is one example of this.

After limping the bike back

we (well I actually) can not move so promptly sit down with my book and a cold beer! Our hosts invited us to share dinner with them and we have a Korean BBQ laos style, very nice! Tomorrow we are off to the organic farm, the main reason we came out to vang veing. Did I mention that the power goes off here during the day, line work or something but it means cold showers of a night!!!

Bags packed and our host refusing to let us pay for dinner last night we catch a tuk tuk out to the farm. It's a quiet place, almost deserted even. When we had left the other guest house the lady had said something about "oh noisy" and neither of us had really understood until one pm, tubing time!

Every day at one pm the tuk-tuks arrive from town with hoards of tourists with one thing in mind, get wasted and tube. I am a bit of a party girl and am up for most things but either I am getting older or this shit is really bad!!!! There are bars lining the river and the tubers cross a bamboo bridge to start drinking.

This bridge washed away two days after this photo...

The bars have offers of free food with buckets, free shots and "happy" drinks laced with mushies. The music is so loud that it's hard to hear yourself think and each bar is competing with the other to get the punters in so they throw ropes out into the river and pull them into their bars. Some bars have zip lines and diving platforms, the platforms are closed today as there was another body pulled from the river just last week. It is no surprise that people die here and lots of them!

There is no limit on how much you can drink and the bars encourage shots and massive amounts of booze!! Then just in case your feeling brave you can fly down the zip line only to be snapped off, flipping you backwards into murky water with jagged rocks literally feet away. OMG, if parents knew what their kids were doing!!!!!!!!!!!! The noise comment now makes a lot more sense, lucky it only goes until seven pm!!! The owner of the organic farm Mr 'T' was the one who inadvertently started this craze, with him bringing home tractor tubes for his workers to use cooling off after a hard days work, well that went very wrong somewhere!

The organic farm was started by Mr T in a hope to preserve traditional Laos farming techniques and traditions while giving the local people the opportunity to earn an income and get education. Mr T and his wife pay the workers but he also sponsor the kids schooling and even has multiple adopted family members from poor local tribes. One example is a girl who works in the restaurant, her older sister also works there and Mr T adopted her, put her through school and now has her younger sister living there too! On the info Lena and I had read there were meant to be silk worms out here and the silk that was harvested is split, some sold and the rest given to the community to make woven products that are sold through the farm. Sadly the noise and pollution means they won't grow here anymore so Mr T has abandoned this idea (for now). Just until he has finalized the purchases of his new farm!

The organic farm is a beautiful place, and would I'm sure have been much nicer prior to the tubing. But enough with the tubing. The farm is a fantastic place that is keeping local tradition alive, using all traditional methods to farm. Mulberry teas are their speciality, they make mulberry tea, tempura mulberry, mulberry pancakes, mulberry shakes, mulberry everything, whether they are using the leaves or the fruit. But everything is so tasty. The harvest curry is delicious and so wish that I knew the recipe. There was a lot of things that we wanted to do at the farm that we were not able to do... Not sure why but so many programs were not running.

We wondered around the farm for the first afternoon, not really finding much to do for the first little while so we headed down to the river to have a look at the way things work with the tubing, we actually found some nice places, completely destroyed by the noise. We wondered into a local rice farm.

Beautiful and traditional countryside, wish we could of stayed longer or walked a little further, but a polite lady that we asked if we could keep walkng, smiled and pointed us on the direction from which we had come, I think she thought we were lost and that we belonged to the tubing clan.

We wondered back to the farm, via a bar that was not operating (no generator), and took some pictures. I can't describe just how dangerous this place is the jagged rocks that are sticking up out of the water just meters from where people are being flung off zip lines. Argh, makes me cringe. We get back to the farm and find someone that wants help, but we can't figure out how to reach them so we head to the youth project up the road to have a look, we find the sewing club taking place and sit and watch for a little while, but feel a little intrusive so we buy some of their weaving, make a donation and head off. The faces on the girls is incredible to see when we make the donation, it is utter bewilderment, like they have never had anyone make even a small donation before. It was only about $13 that we gave them, for the sewing and the donation, but in Lao currency, it is 100,000kip. I guess a lot of money for them.

When we get back to the farm we see someone in a pit of mud, wonder over and ask if we can help. Before he can answer Becs shoes are off and she is mid calf high in mud. Mix the sand into the mud. We are apparently, with much charades, patching up the cracks in the mud house in front of us. Tong, as we discovered was this guys name, was laughing at us, I don't think he could believe we just jumped in the mud and started stomping. He gave us the non structural task of patching up the decorative wave around the back side of the cottage. More charades and we figure we have to slap the mud on, over the grassy bits. Bec understands the concept thanks to her mums obsession with all things green. And I get a quick lesson in mud brick construction.

I end up covered from toes to knees and fingers to elbows in mud.

We make a mess, me more so than Bec, but playing with the squishy mud is fun... How can you resist the temptation, the chance to be a kid and get as covered in mud as you like do not come up very often.

The funniest part is when Tong brings other people that work on the farm over and they start laughing at us. I think that we are the entertainment for the afternoon. Particularly given that we are doing 'men's work'. We finish our waves

and clean up the mess we have made, by this time if is 1830. We head for the shower to rinse off the best skin cleanse ever, only to discovered that there is no water....

The power has been out all day, and is not expected to return until later tonight, the pump that pumps the water up the hill has therefore not been running all day, and there is no water left in the tank, so we head to the source, down to the river we go. We scrub all the dirt off and head to the restaurant for dinner. Harvest curry... Yum! I could have some of that right now!! And chicken satay. We are in bed early. Ready for an early morning date with some goats.

We make our date, 0630 at the goat house.

We are greeted by a cheery Mr. T. a man of little words unless you ask the questions in which case he is more than happy to answer. He hands us brooms and tells us to head up to the pens and start cleaning. Up we go, we start furthest from the end, in the big pens, and start sweeping. Man, these goats make a mess. About 30 minutes later a guy called Tom walks in, he is a 22yo from Lithuania. An economics student, who thinks he knows the ways of the world, and believes that it is impossible to live without computers and the internet, he has been at the farm for 3 days and is having withdrawals from Facebook already.

The next person we meet is Pye. He is the Goat keeper. He travels 1km everyday to come and look after the goats, they are his little babies. He spends all day collecting grass from them. And completes all the chores involved with the goats on his own when there are no volunteers around to help out. He is a quiet little man, with a wicked laugh. He is very sweet. It's amazing how much can be said without words, through a touch, a hug, a smile or laugh.

The goats are fun, the cleaning does not seem like hard work because the goats are there to play with. The worst part was emptying out the old food and finding an ants nest. I got covered in ants. I hate ants. I was not a happy camper. There were little baby goats to, two small ones, two in between and one that's a little older. He is so the ring leader, such a cheeky trouble maker.

After the pens are cleaned, all of which is recycled and used, the excess feed is given to the chickens and pigs, the poop mostly falls through the cracks in the floor as you sweep and becomes fertilizer in the compost stacks beneath the pens. No waste farming. Than comes the fun part of the morning, milking the goats. Bec is straight in there.

Milking away. It doesn't take me long either, once I am going its easy. Tom thinks the only reason we are milking so well is because we are doing both 'goat nip nips' (Becs direct words) at the same time. I think it was just because he was rough and the goats didn't like his attitude. We got a total of 3.5L of milk this morning. Goat tending done we head down for some breakfast. And what a beautiful breakfast it was too. Mulberry pancake, goats cheese and baguette. YUM. The goats cheese is incredible, and all the better because I know the process that has gone into making it.

Breakfast is followed by a sleep on my behalf, I did not feel well and that is my excuse and I am sticking to it. Bec went to get more grass for the goats

with Pye and ended up with blisters galore, traditional grass harvesting is hard work apparently. The afternoon is full of a lot of tree moving. From one place to the other, they have been in the shade and require sun. And the others need to be moved down the hill to be planted tomorrow. We volunteer to help with planting tomorrow when one of the people ask if we will. And call it quits early for the afternoon. We visit the goats on the way back to our room, and have a long shower and feel clean for the first time in a few days. We head down to dinner

a little later than we had planned, and order some more delicious food, fresh spring rolls, noodle soup and some of that previously mentioned mulberry tempura. All of which is fantastic.

After dinner Bec manages to find a snake near the front ate and is disappointed that it slides off before she has a chance to investigate, I head to bed, dragging Bec by the ears... She is still snake hunting. And we settle for an early night.

We wake early again to help with the goats, knowing what we have to do this morning makes it a little easier. However it appears that I do not learn... I end up with the ants nest again, not a happy little camper. We clean and feed quickly so that we can get in and do some milking.

The milking is fun, we manage to get over 5 litres of milk out of the little goats. The funniest part was when Pye went to pour it in bottles, he didn't have enough, so stole our water bottle, emptied it and filled it with milk. We still didn't have enough so he put some in a container in the fridge and the milk that was left in the bottom of the bucket he gave to us to drink. Yum! Real fresh milk. Not UHT. W e went to clean the bucket, there was still milk left... I couldn't waste it so I tipped the bucket up and ended up with a handle bonking me in the head and milk all down my front... Oh well. Was worth it!

We headed to breakfast, proud little vegemites with our milk in toe

for the girls in the kitchen to do as they do with it. We were joined at breakfast by a tour group that had stopped in to have morning tea, we had seen them around the place, turns out Mr. T's farm is on the route of some of the up market tourist buses, great for him. So we ordered breakfast and sat down and talked with the tourist group, a bunch of older Americans, they were nice, and keen to learn about the workings of the farm. Breakfast was meant to just be mulberry pancake, goats cheese and mulberry leaf omelette, turns out they cooked to much mulberry leaf tempura for the tour bus, so we ended up with some of that too. We also got to try some mature goats cheese. 5 months old it was. Delicious. Not soft like the three day and it's ready cheese, but hard, really hard, but great.

With full tummies we head out of the restaurant towards the trees. Up to mud house four which is where we had dropped all the trees off yesterday. Turns out there had been some little busy bees working already this morning and all the plants that we had taken there yesterday were already planted, or at least down the hill, we went down the hill to help... Wait let me explain the hill, more like a drop off really, and with the rain it had become more of a mud slide, the deal was, attempt to find the steps, and when you got towards the bottom that was even steeper, take a run of faith and hope that you don't slide down on your bum. At the bottom, successful landing might I point out, we were meet by the busy little bees, two young boys that had been clearly planting all day, we could see all the baby mulberry trees in their new homes. We asked what we could do to help, but English for them was not great, and laotian for us is terrible, so we head back up the mud slide to get a wheelbarrow and head back to collect more trees.

It was mid morning by this time, and Bec and I both decided that we didn't feel so crash hot and that it would be a good idea to call it quits early this arvo. We loaded up our barrow and were meet by the older of the two boys, he had brought a third barrow over and started to load up. It put our barrow to shame. Is was so much fuller than ours, and we thought we had ours full... Guess not. With wheelbarrows packed to exploding, we head back up the path to mudbrick house four to unload. With a conveyer style system down the hill the trees are down in no time. And we all head down the hill to start planting. We assume find and empty hole, plant the tree. Turns out not so simple. The empty hole has to be prepared first... White and brown additions had to be made... Than plant the tree. And not to the graft site, fill the hole until the ground is leave with the rest. Off we went.

At 11 break time was called for the locals. We kept planting, on strict instructions to only go to the holes that had been prepared. When all the holes were full we headed for more trees. We moved and sorted to our little hearts content. Tom was helping... I think thats what it was. And was polite enough to allow us to cover him in dirt when we decided it was a good idea to throw the trees down the hill rather than walk them. (although I get covered later when Bec decides I am a better catcher than she is and puts me at the bottom of the hill to catch the next batch of trees, she copes it when the boys see us and she is placed in the middle of a line to help them do the same thing...

Mrs T saw them and i don't think she was happy, but they continued carefully of course). Was right, it was much easier. We worked through break time and by 1330 the locals were back with us and Tom had left, he had to go into town to use Internet... Poor guy!

Back down the hill for more planting. Turns out that with four people planting and only two people digging the holes are not able to be dug fast enough, and before we know we are taking another break. There are so many people down in this field helping with the process, all with individual roles, grass cutters, hole diggers, hole preparer and planter. Bec grabs a shovel to help with the digging

and soon ends up with more blisters, the shovel is past to me... If any one knows me in the garden they will know that I can't use a shovel, and that I have the brownest thumb in the world, I can kill a cactus. And they are trusting me with a shovel. It is a family that we are helping today, mother, daughter and two sons, the mother is marking out the holes to be dug, to make sure they are all in a pretty line (achieved by setting a line to a point and digging along it). I am given instruction twice on hole digging and away I go. Re-instructed later on when one of my holes do not past the mark, deeper. 'same same' the girl says to me. 'same same but different' I respond. I think she has dug a few hundred more holes than me, given the amount of trees already in the field. By four in the arvo I am fading, but keep digging, feeling bad to stop when everyone else is still going. By five I am zapped, and the rain has started. There are to many trees left, and more holes than trees so I help with the planting. At 1730 the family final calls for home time. Thank god I think, I don't think that I could of done anymore, so much for an easy day. If you ever hear kids complaining about school, send them over here to spend a day doing what these kids do.

We head to the showers, covered from head to toe in dirt, mud, sweat and who knows what else,

after a long shower my new tan has been washed down the drain, and as tired as I am my stomach wins and we head to the restaurant for dinner. Harvest curry is a good hearty option. Warming. Filling. And eggplant dip on the side to top it off. Yum! Full of food and good conversation we head to bed. Absolutely exhausted.

Before bed there is a story that happens... I am in the toilet and all I hear from Bec is 'don't move'm you expect something bad, so I stop dead in my tracks, only to discover that the reason I have been told to not move is that there is a gecko that she is trying to catch... A big green and red one... She succeeds (with only one bite, this is why she got the rabies vaccination)...

I did think that she was going to explode with excitement....

With plans to move on this morning and head to Luang Prabang. We get up early because we don't want to miss the goats for the last time. We know we don't have long with them so we clean with hast and begin to milk. It is not until Pye walks in with a bottle and starts feeding some of the baby goats that we realize at two kids were born overnight. Both boys.

They are so cute and fluffy. Were very happy that I got to see them. We only milk for a really short amount of time than head back for a shower and some breakfast before getting to the bus station. Didn't feel like stinking out the bus with goat smell.

Bags packed we make the hike to the restaurant. And have the privilege of joining Mr. T and his family for breakfast, traditional Lao style. Sticky rice... Oh man, sticky rice, you have never had sticky rice until you have had it in Lao, it is the best form of rice ever. Eggs, beans, spicy fish, goats milk, spicy dip. Was fantastic to have a chance to sit and talk to mr.t about the plans he has for the farm and his new farm. About what he does for the community and the people he has working for him. The work he does truly is amazing, you can see that he loves his country and the traditional ways of life.

Mr. T kindly takes us to the bus station so that we are able to catch a local bus. Luang Prabang is 300km maximum from Vang Veing. The bus left at 0930. What time would you expect to arrive. Knowing that the roads in Lao are bad give some leeway.... Answer to follow. The bus was full, bot locals and tourists. It was meant to be air-conditioned, however this was not the case, so sitting in the back we were sweltering. The driver thought it a good idea to drive with the window down. By the end of the trip we had decided that this was probably a way of keeping himself awake as he looked on the verge of falling asleep the entire trip. On winding roads, cliff edges right next to the road, tired driver who I swear was having micro sleeps, not a good combination and made for the most anxious, hair raising, stressful, fear provoking journey of the trip so far. And it just kept going on and on. Finally we arrived in Luang Prabang at 1730, white knuckled, stressed, tired and so happy to be out of the mini bus. Eight hours for just 300km, the roads are past bad, pot holes everywhere when there is sealed sections, dirt both grated and not grated. More pot holes. Towns/villages that live on the edge of the road, and therefore use the road as a walkway and to go about daily business using the middle of the road. Cars driving down the wrong side of the road. I don't think that I can describe just how bad they are.

Luang Prabang is a UNESCO world heritage listed town. It is full of French colonial buildings, temples, little winding alleyways and history. We didn't see the new section of the town as we stayed in the old city. It is a beautiful place. The old city itself is nestled between two rivers, the Mekong river one side and the nam song river on the other. Lao is a land locked country and the Mekong is the easiest way to transport goods through. It is the lifeline of Lao PDR.

The pace of life is so much slower here in Luang Prabang than everywhere else we have come across. It is described as an early to bed, early to rise town. It really is, by 2200 every night everything is closing up shop, people are bunked down in their homes, it is quiet. Nice. Friendly. A great place to come, sit, relax and just stop for a week or two. But enough for now... more on Luang Prabang and the remainder of our time in Lao PDR next week.

Wander Which Way Girls

Location:Malindi Rd,Zanzibar Town,Tanzania


  1. Love the gecko, love the goats, love the rubber duck but mostly love that you braved the bicycle! Keep on rolling girls :)

  2. Hey, Bec & Lena, cannot wait to tell ya this news... When ya come back to Sydney, ya'll become aunty Bec & Aunty Lena...Your Cindy is 13 weeks gest now...;)