Laos

Kob Chai Lai Lai

I am a bit disoriented.  Where am I?  Oh yes, Vientiane, Laos.  It is the capital and its largest city.  Sabaidee@Laos hotel (I promise to have a Review Page on all soon.) I had left the curtains open before I went to sleep and am rewarded with a pretty cool sunrise.  It is still dark.  I grab my camera from my bedside table and snap away as it gets lighter.   

I get up and notice that I have not unpacked yet.  I wonder why and go about doing so.  As I hum a song to myself and go into the shower I realize that I am feeling absolutely, completely well.  Was I really sick yesterday?  Was it a nightmare?  Did I imagine it all?  Definitely not!  My imagination is pretty developed but for good.  Never would have I imagined being so sick.  The main thing is that I am well and ready to go.  Later on I would consult with a doctor friend and he said it was most certainly a case of mild food poisoning, otherwise I would not have recovered in 24 hours.  I wouldn’t call it mild but it is now forgotten. Down to kow sao (breakfast  in Lao). I go with a smile on and a “goooooood morniiiiiing” to all.  It is so nice to find some of the group in the restaurant, remarking that it was good to see the old me come back.

We are taking a tour of the city.   Laos gained its independence from France in 1949.  Vientiane certainly has a “Frenchness” to it.   We pass by the Presidential Palace , which is not open to the public and only used for formal ceremonies, on our way to Ho Phra Keo “Hall of the Emerald Buddha”.  It was there that the Emerald Buddha, taken from Chiang Mai, had its home until King Rama I, repossessed it and took it back to Thailand.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t figure out whether to point my camera at the flowers…

Or at the Buddhas around the museum.   One in my favorite pose of “stop the war, make peace”   

Another in a pose –and attitude- I should adopt:  walking meditation  

In any position (or mudras as they are called) these Buddhas are beautiful.  This one is in the Bhumisparsha mudra symbolizing the enlightenment of the Buddha under the Bodhi tree. 

Or at the Nagas  (mythical serpents, protectors and guardians of treasures) flanking the steps going in. 

 We continue to Wat Sri Saket, home of 6,840 Buddhas.  Some in little niches.  Fascinating to see so many in one place.  

Really sad to see the storage room of the ones damaged in the war.  

But the surroundings are also worth exploring.  This is where I find a Smiling/Happy Buddha.  The story –according to our guide- goes that Buddha was so handsome that many where those he attracted while meditating.  To avoid interruptions he transformed himself into a plumper and less attractive version and therefore happily gained solitude for his meditation.  Looking it up it seems it may have other versions but the constant is that the parasol is for protection. 

Our trip leader finds a nest in a tree, of what is a delicacy in Thailand and Laos:  ants.  He points and pokes at it.      And the ants get angry.  

Then they are really, really mad.     So we leave them alone!

Next is That Luang stupa, said to contain remains of Lord Buddha.  It is impressive.  

The day is brutally hot, there is no shade at all and I can barely stand it, so head back to the bus.  Snapping photos on my way back.

It’s hot even for the monks! 

This building is a Monk’s Center.  The streetlights look very French to me. 

Off we go to Patuxai or Victory Gate.  It was built to commemorate those who fought in the independence from France.  At first sight it is a copy of L’Arc du Triomphe in France and when I ask our guide if he doesn’t find that fact ironic he doesn’t seem to believe so.  It is, however, decorated with mythological Buddhist half female, half bird figurines (kinnari) which makes it quite Laotian on inspection.     

Other details also make uniquely Laotian.    And as I climb steps up to the top on each level there is a mini shopping mall of Lao crafts and souvenirs as well as architectural details that continue reinforcing the Laotian side of this monument.       

The view from above.   

From there, the rest of the afternoon and night is on our own.  I decide to have a mani/pedi since it’s on our way to our hotel.  Will be my first in Southeast Asia.  Unfortunately, though the ambiance was unique the service was not the best.    My feet are happy campers anyway for the little TLC I have provided them.  Little do they know that in the afternoon I will join our guide and some of the group for a walk on Vientiane’s boardwalk and will make them work all over again.

The boardwalk is a surprise.  I am finding that in laid back Vientiane there is much more to see and do than I expected.  Again I wish that I knew how to ride a bike.  Though even as it gets darker the heat is quite oppressive.    
King Anouvong overlooks all this activity.      Giving his back to the “new” aerobics craze and the free class that is held in open air behind him.  
Which I decide to join… for less than a minute. 

I have a feeling he wouldn’t approve of this girl’s attire, an American flag printed on her shirt.  

Alongside freestanding exercise equipment stands this banyan tree, completely ignored by most.  I just stand in front of it awed by its intricacy (and dutifully avoiding –due to highly allergic reaction to exercise- even looking at the exercise machines in front of it 🙂 

At night I join part of the group to eat a pizza, of all things, at a French restaurant in Laos.  Kinda weird, huh?

We leave Vientane, and Laos, tomorrow morning.  I, once again, will be leaving part of my heart.  The Lao people have an acceptance of all things ingrained in them by their religion.  Acceptance… something I should add to my vocabulary and to my life.    Kob chai lai lai (thank you much) Laos for giving me a life lesson.

What will Vietnam (our next destination) teach me?

 

 

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Categories: BLT+ (Burma) Myanmar, Laos, Uncategorized, Vientiane | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Unexpectedness

I have been waking up earlier than usual on all our stops.  When I don’t think I am going to be up on my own, I ask to be woken up at least 1 hour before the rest of the group.  The group is woken up 1½ before any departure.  I wake up 2½ hours before.  I unpack everything when I arrive to the hotel room, even when we are somewhere for just one night. The extra time allows me to pack calmly and a lot of times enjoy a sunrise with a cup of coffee in my hand.  Tonight is different.  I’m too exhausted to unpack and since we are leaving at 7:00 am, wake-up call is at 5:30; I ask for a 4:30 am call –or a 4:30 am knock on the door since the hotel is quite basic and has no phone.

I plunk onto bed almost hurting myself ‘cause it’s so hard.  Regardless, I fall asleep immediately.

And I wake up just as suddenly, earlier -way earlier- than my wake-up call and at an hour that is quite indecent to be awake.   My eyes shoot open so violently they almost hurt my upper lid.  My stomach is in knots.  My head feels like it’s burning –I touch my forehead and it is- and feels like it is going to burst open at any moment.  My legs are shaky and I am sweating.  Then I feel a dry heave. Now I know I am very ill.  I don’t throw up, ever.  If I even feel like doing so, it means I am violently, horribly sick.  Fortunately I am organized and fumble towards the Azitrhomycin/ Loperamide combination the Healthy Traveler’s Clinic gave me.  I’m going to take it even if I don’t have, you know, diarrhea… yet. The instructions are blurry and move side to side defying me to grasp them, but I decipher them and with the pills in my hand I crawl to the bathroom where usually a bottle of drinking water has awaited.  Not now, not in this hotel, and not when I need it the most.  I drag myself to the open-air restaurant (fortunately next to my room) where I intend to raid the refrigerator.  There it is.  I plaster myself against it searching for the handle so as to open it but find around it a big old lock preventing me from doing so. I go back to my room, actually bathroom, where the next 3 hours are spent being grateful that I wrote my will while alternately bent over and on the toilet.  Hoping I won’t inconvenience the tour.  Don’t think I have ever thrown up for that many hours.  I hear noises out in the restaurant.  It’s 5:00 am and they haven’t come to my door.  I ask for water, feeling like I’m in the desert and after traveling hours under a midday sun, encounter a nomadic tribe that will give me some life liquid.  I take my pills, open my door, close my suitcase, look outside and see it is light.  I have missed the sunrise and my morning coffee, but I am alive and am as relieved as I am surprised.

The group passes by my front door.  I rise (it really feels like from the dead) and join them.  The doctors say I look very pale.  I tell them I’m sick, though I can safely be away from the bathroom from now on.  The prospect of many hours on the bus, on the death road, bopping up and down, is almost making me sick all over again though.  Another one in the group is also sick.  Misery likes company they say.  I just want to recover.

We are headed to Vientiane, Laos.  It is the capital and largest city in Laos though as of 2012 its population is still less than a million. On the way we will stop at Tham Jang Cave then continue to an organic farm where the group will have lunch.

The group is concerned about my wellbeing and check on me periodically.  I feel cared for and well-liked.  When they stop at the cave they ask if I can make it.  There is a suspension bridge leading to it.  Am feeling better but extremely weak so don’t want to chance it.  Our trip leader, Otto, and others in the group offer to take photos for me.  I hand Otto the camera and this is what I didn’t want you to miss, though I did:

Beautiful!

I think he took this photo just to make me feel less bummed about not having gotten off the bus.  

  Wouldn’t have made it up these steps.

Or down this tunnel.    

I’m bummed anyway.  They seem beautiful.  

They are back, so onward we go to Vang Vieng Organic Farm.  

I am still weak so will not join the group with the owner of the farm, Mr. Tim, on the walk around the farm.    I ensconce myself under a thatched roof, able to enjoy the slight breeze by slathering myself in bug repellent. I still seem to be a magnet for mosquitoes.   

Up from a snooze I feel well enough to slowly walk around.

The farm is really involved with the community.   

Found a jack fruit tree.  Strangest fruit.  The taste is really sweet.  Orange in color.  Texture sort of like an oyster.   I can relate this not from tasting it then, but on another day.      

The only thing I am tasting today is my mulberry tea. 

And a little bite from this fried leaf which actually was tasty.  However, the oiliness prevented me from having more than a tiny bite.  

I take a photo of the group and they all cheer as they say: “Lidia is feeling better; she is taking photos, wonderful!!”  Their reaction made me feel even better.

I did not have dinner, however, when we got to Vientiane.  Needed to get more rest.

The city surprised me.  Will tell you why on the next post.

PS:  As you may have surmised, I am behind in my posts.  Just didn’t want you guys to worry about my health so rest assured… I am fully recovered!

Categories: Laos, Ramblings, Vang Vieng | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

P.D.R.

I do not want to leave Luang Prabang and am seriously considering letting my inner child take over and let her stomp her feet, throw herself on the floor, little fists in a ball, face streaked with tears and yelling: “I don’t want to gooooo!”  But the adult in me knows that it won’t go well with the rest of the group and primarily, that it will do me no good.  So my bag is packed and out the door.  I delight myself in some local flora and pretend I’m here to stay.  

Laos P.D.R. is the full name of the country.   P.D.R. stands for People’s Democratic Republic though it is also an acronym for the country’s way of life:  “Please Don’t Rush”  I don’t want to rush in its discovery.

But then comes a tuk tuk ride to the bus.  A daylong bus ride to Vang Vieng is ahead of us.  We are warned that most of it will be on a windy, bumpy road.  We are going to stop for bathroom breaks and to visit hill tribes along the way.  Noon will find us at a “pretty for pictures” mountain-high restaurant.  I mistakenly wrote I was on the “death road” yesterday.  Well my mind got things mixed up and it was today.   It is going to take us –on a good day- between 6 to 8 hours to get to our destination.

At the beginning, the road offers the usual scenery.  Fields along the way, houses, sky, mountains in the distance.  Then I doze off and awake to this…     

Suddenly the words “bumpy”, “windy”, “hill”, and “mountain-high”, connect!  I add “death-road”, “vertigo”, “ouch”, “Can I get off now?”  Later I would read that the road was “not recommended for nervous persons”.  There are few to no barriers separating the bus from a vast ravine.  Someone asks if I had fallen asleep because I was too quiet.  No, I say.  I’m just too queasy to talk!

No wonder my head hurts.  It’s been bouncing against the window.  Sort of like the head of those dogs they use for good fortune (the ones that their head bobs on any movement.) Fortunately, my palpitations will be reduced by a walk in the hill tribe village we stop at. 

We are the local entertainment.   

A protective older sister wraps her arm around her sibling and as I press my shutter gives me a look of  “don’t you mess with my sister”. 

We are invited by a local to visit his home.  In all the villages and homes we have visited there is a television and satellite alongside abject poverty.  But these people do not live in misery for they are content with who and where they are.

Kitchen at entrance.    

Our host lives in this home with his wife and 11 children.  He answers all our questions and I see in his eyes wonderment and disbelief in some of the things we are curious about.

There is a strange flickering noise in back of me that is a bit unsettling (Is something alive there?) but I don’t want to be rude, turn and potentially run out screaming if I find a strange animal resides in that corner.   

Other kids join us or come in.   

And we leave.  We are still the entertainment.     

Can you tell who will be the gang leader from this photo?  

After a few hours –many more than I like- we arrive at the restaurant for lunch.  Mr. Peng laughs as he sees my expression of horror as he parks the bus head first, facing the precipice.  Lucky me is in the front row.  Okay, you are close enough, please stop the bus, stop please, STOP, NOW!!!  

We go to “happy place” (local speak for bathroom) first.    

Then a little walk uphill towards the restaurant.  To my left a view of the road. 

To my right, a scene that could be labeled many ways.  My whole being quiets and settles.  

A view of where we came from.  We are at approximately 5,000 ft.  

Reaching the restaurant, a little figure, advertising god-knows-what, seems so out of place that we all gawk at it and name it “little happy laughing girl Buddha”.     

We eat.  Wash our hands.  Explore the surroundings a little more.  and back to the bus for another couple of hours till we stop at a mountain food market.  You aren’t tired already, are you?

We are instructed not to point our cameras at any of the dead animals that are offered (head and all).  Seems that these vendors are fully aware of Facebook and that a photo may go up that will force authorities to come in and fine or confiscate.  They sell some animals that are not supposed to be sold.  Fortunately I see none with a face to it.

There are a lot of “normal” selections of fruit and vegetables. 

Bamboo shoots.  

Banana blossom. 

Taro.  I would later have taro soup and then taro ice cream. 

And something that is nowhere near common or normal in my book.  Our guide points out what looks like a stalk of something and says that it is a delicacy in his country.  I am leery.  Delicacy = very odd, strange, gross, inedible, retching-induced!

Our vendor starts the process.

She peels.  

Almost done.  

And out comes the yuckiest of worms.  It has been cooked in the stalk but that doesn’t make it any more appetizing.   Our guide repeats it’s a delicacy and proceeds to eat it.  Amazingly, so did one of our group who told everyone it tasted like chicken.

Ohhh, the Americans ate the worm!  

Back on a bus that, at this point, nobody wants to be in.   Another hour and another stop at another happy place where, believe it or not, they sell Kit Kats and Snickers. I buy them and eat them both in a nano second!  I don’t even like chocolate but somehow it was appropriate and satisfying to do so. It didn’t stop me from trying the local taro ice cream, either.

A million years more of a bus ride (or so it seemed) and my sore bottom and me arrive in Vang Vieng.  The bus is too big for the city streets so we shall walk to the hotel.  Vang Vieng has the reputation of being a backpacker’s paradise and it lives up to the fame with advertising for tubing, zip-lining, trekking, parties, etc.  I get a kick out of one that is none of those.

Are you over seacall?  Busticker anyone?  

Sign with all the familiar breakfast (at least for the Brits) 

We had seen an ad for a balloon ride in the plane and wanted to do it but once we saw the balloon and how incredibly close he got to that building we change our minds.   

The ever-present temple along the way.  

As I look towards a street vendor, I capture her expression right before she gives me the thumbs up signal.  

Graffiti in Laos? 

Then a road that becomes indicative of the type of resort we are staying at. 

Though it hardly matters where we sleep for this is the view before us.       

We eat well.

Pumpkin soup.  

Remnant of my tilapia.   

After which I dive, literally dive onto my not so soft bed.  Lots of excitement to be had tomorrow!

Categories: BLT+ (Burma) Myanmar, Laos, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Day Sawng (Two) in Laos.

The day is only an hour or two past its midpoint and we have seen so much, felt so much.  I feel a bit spent, but adrenaline keeps me going.  Walking away from the village presents me with snippets of this village I doubt I could experience otherwise.  

The shield that comes up for protection when in an urban jungle is non-existent here.   There is no need of it in this village of hospitality, smiles and curiosity.  Somehow, a sudden hug or touch does not surprise me and I welcome and succumb to it.  Mostly, their sense of gratitude is shown with even-broader-than-usual smiles.  Not that they don’t try to sell and earn.  They do.  Lady pleeeease buy from me beautiful scarf.  Little kids add on the guilt thick with a sad look if you don’t.  But that doesn’t seem to cool the warmth they generate in me.  Wish you could see it in the photos, but I realize that when I point a camera the smile is modified.  

The town is dirt colored, peppered with burst of colors from unexpected sources.

Like a lime-green plastic rack with men’s boxers out to dry.  

Or corn on a cake-dried soil, out to dry for a purpose unknown to me.  

Or a cement house painted in a color that sharply contrasts with the straw used for most. 

But we must walk to the Hmong village.

Even as I go, this town calls me back in the guise of a confused, surprised, curious little boy that stares at us passing.

And then it happens.   That one moment I will cherish.  A little boy in the balcony of his hut,  as I pass by, joins his hands as if in prayer (the way they say hello and good-by) and I see the beginning of a smile.  He has given me his respect and his appreciation in that simple gesture and he did it with a shyness that is absolutely disarming. 

At the Hmong village we go into the home of the leader. His wife is already there.

He joins us once we are settled.  

Children and part of the village follow us to the door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music is important in Hmong life; we are joined by the village qeej player who plays for us.“A player must be trained; it takes years of practice to memorize the flowery language of the instrument. Its music contains the entire repertoire of Hmong knowledge and wisdom.” (Quote from Wikipedia)       

Villagers get a kick out of one of our tribe (aka: as the travel group) that gives it a try.

The village returns to daily life as we leave. 

We head down the hill where kids from our first village (Kia Luang Village) run along the waving good-bye.  I don’t think I have a heart left.  Been leaving a piece in almost every place I go!

Next is a cruise on the Mekong river “the mother of all rivers”.  The Pak Ou Caves, (which means Caves at the Mouth of the Ou River –Ou River is a tributary of the Mekong) is our destination.  But, as expected of this country, much to see before we board…

Another weaver and scarf vendor.  “Close your eyes!”  (That’s me talking to myself.)  I don’t need another scarf!  

An elderly woman looking at us pass.  Gosh, I am marveled by these faces.  

And the piece de resistance”: home made liquor stand.  I tried it.  The crystal clear one was my first taste and it burned my inside more than anything ever has!  Think it was 70% alcohol!  The cloudy one had a    slight sweetness to it and not as strong, but then anything would be mild after the first one!  The reddish one was actually not bad, much sweeter and passable.  And what can I say about the one with the snake?  No, I did not try it and don’t regret not doing so.  

Our captain and his boat.

  

There is a breeze that is refreshing.  The boat movements are just right, providing a “motion lullaby” that would put me immediately to sleep if it weren’t for the fact that I don’t want to miss the sights that the river offers me.

The Mekong glows.  The river is said to produce balls of light along its surface, which the locals attribute to the Phaya Naga, or Mekong Dragons.  I am starting to believe…    

Am I seeing orange?  Yes!  Monks bathing along the river.  

Are those cows?  No, water buffalos also enjoying the water!

  

And we arrive!  

Climbing.  Looking back.  Really just catching my breath.  Which the landscape takes away.

  

We head back. 

The Mekong shows its beauty. 

We arrive back to Luang Prabang.  Most of the group climbs on a tuk tuk to go to the hotel to freshen up before dinner.  I and other 4 head out with our guides to a local place to have a little appetizer and the local beer (of course) at a place where we will see no other white face but us and where they only serve duck in all its forms.  

The menu. (Not for the squirmish.) 20,000 Lao Kip to the dollar. 

The Westerners are brave enough only for the beer and the grilled duck –in that order.

  

Our tuk tuk driver, which has joined us, orders blood soup.  I try to look away.  Our local guide says he used to have it and like it but his cholesterol is high and was told not to order it any more.  Our Thai trip leader has never dared.  Two girls in the table next to us are merrily enjoying theirs.  Oh my!

We take a stroll along the riverside.  Luang Prabang is beyond quaint.  It is just a perfect combination of elements that produce a lovely peaceful “I want to live here” feel.

Riverside 

Side street 

Tuk tuk back.  Obviously there is no “hands-free” law here.  

Hotel pool looking mighty tempting now but no time.  Going to dinner with the group and then dragging myself to bed!

Tomorrow you must eat a hearty breakfast because we have a loooooooong ride ahead of us.

Ready?

Categories: Laos | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

I Get a Laotian Kid

I don’t usually start with an excuse but on this one I must.  Either this will be the longest post ever or I will have to do it in parts.  So much was done today, and I have so much to share, that as I write I am trying to figure out how I will do it.

Laos, as you know, has me prisoner.   Loatians or “Lao peoples”, as our guide so endearingly calls his countrymen, are gentle people.  There is no aggressiveness in their demeanor.  Even their smile is gentle: slowly, but steadily, corners of lips rise to remain in a smile for as long as you care to look.  Their eyes reflect the same.   I want to be awake as much as possible so I can soak up more of Lao.

Our tuk tuk driver has his headlight on.  It is pitch black outside but a convoy of 3 tuk tuks head out to the streets of Luang Prabang.

We woke early for we are giving alms.  Monks eat only twice a day.  They come out of their temples and collect their morning meal (around 5:30 am) from locals –and now tourists. Our guide has found a street away from most and in front of a temple.

There is a ritual that goes into our offering.  We put a scarf over our left shoulder, around our back, under our right arm and over our left shoulder again. We kneel.  We will offer sticky rice from a basket, still steaming hot, prepared by a local. They will not stop as they walk past us.  With our hands we will pick the rice and throw it into a basket they will open. We are ready.   We wait.

It’s light now and with it comes the river of flowing orange.        

I have finished my offering and concentrate on faces.  It is in observing that I see the children in some of them

the belief in their faces

and some generate in me cartoon-thought-blurbs, which change depending on their expressions.

I am not being irreverent or making light of it at all.  I was lucky to kneel next to a local giving alms and she gave me an insider’s look.  It has been special forming part of this daily ritual.     

Today we will have a “home-hosted” meal in a village in the mountains so, since we are up and in this daily ritual thing, we head to the morning market where Khamsouk gives us each a piece of paper with the name of the ingredient we have to buy for the meal.  

He also gives us the exact amount that we are allowed to pay.  Not that easy of an assignment when he refuses to tell us what we are looking for and where it might be sold in the market.   In Mission Impossible, weren’t they allowed to decline the assignment before the tape autodestructed?  Seems that’s not the case here.  Off we go!

The place offers such a wonderful array of colors, shapes, and textures, along with smells that could never attempt to be aromas, sounds of women bargaining, animals not yet silent, and odd noises –as that of a vendor keeping flies at bay by shaking a plastic bag at the end of a stick– all tangoing together in a not so graceful dance. 

 Yet this market is small and not quite as chaotic as others.

Am I buying carrots?  I say the name of what I want and the vendor shakes her head as she laughs and points further down the road.   Carrots are so big anyway I don’t think I’d have enough money.

Why does that bucket have a net?  Oh noooo, I’m not even asking if it’s frogs that I am buying.  Much less live ones!  So glad that Americans are known to be squirmish about such things and they wouldn’t expect us to buy them! 

Eggs, why can’t eggs be what I need to buy? 

I meet the others empty handed.  We go tuk tuking (freshly coined term) to the bus where our luggage awaits and a long ride, up a winding road to the village where the parent company of my tour supports a school.

The ride goes on for hours and the road is starting to look like the Death Road in Bolivia.  Thankfully, as I am starting to not like this much, we are directed to look to the right where our school children and their teacher are lined up with a little flower bouquet in greeting. 

One kid each.  

Each kid will give us a flower and take our hand and walk us to their classroom. 

We introduce ourselves writing our names on the board, then sit with them in class.  When I go to my kid he has written my name on his notebook and under it, his name in Lao.  I point at my name, then at myself.  He points at his, then at himself. 

They sing to us their anthem, we sing to them the Star Spangled Banner.  Then we sing “If You’re Happy and You Know It…”  They are having a blast.  We are too.  I look and at the window is a mother with her child observing us.  

He repeats everything I say and I thought he understood very little until we go to the library and he brings me a book “Do Kangaroos Have Mothers To?”  (Of Course they Do.  Just like me and you!)  It repeats, with the only variable being the animal.  At one point I take a breath after “Just like…” and he fills in –pointing at me-, “me”.  I say “and” and he says “you” pointing at himself.  I am smitten and want to take him home.

We say good-bye.  They go back to class as we head towards the meeting hall to be received by the village chief and the woman’s leader.  He will host lunch in his house for 8 and she will for the other 8.

On the way, these little girls captured whatever is left of my heart.  

The chief tells us about life here.  They support themselves by weaving.  I am fascinated.  Later I would buy a scarf at each of the vendors.    

For those interested in an authentic hand-woven scarf from Laos, just give me a ring.   Didn’t want any to feel left out.  Just tug at my heartstrings and I am putty in your hands.

Then off to lunch.   Our host is one of the warmest and joyful human beings I know. She is generous with her hugs and as solicitous as can be.

The meal is simple but really good!  Our main course is wrapped and cooked in banana leaves.

One more hug… 

And we say good-bye.  

We are headed a little up hill so that we can meet with the Hmong people in their village.  For that we must cross this village and go to the other.  You’ll see that tomorrow though, or this will never post!

Categories: Laos | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Sa bai dee, Lao!!

How do I begin to explain Laos and its effect on me?  Perhaps it is when you least expect something that you receive what you will treasure most.  I had no expectations about this country.  Almost considered it a bridge between Thailand and Vietnam.  How wrong I was to do so.

We leave the craziness of Bangkok.

Bye, bye Bangkok

In Lao Airlines.   We arrive to Luang Prabang, Laos; what lies beneath me seems like one more scenic landing.  I have no thought of much more.    A huge fun (aka: tacky) bus  is waiting and then a tuk tuk   ride since the bus is too big to enter the city.  We are told that a 40-passenger bus for all 16 of us will be more comfortable when we are on a bus in the incredibly winding and steep road we will take in a day or two, more on that on next post.   My, was he right!

I smile seeing the “traffic” which boils down to ladies on bikes holding umbrellas guarding themselves from the sun.  

Our driver Mr. Peng –who will turn out to be one of my heroes- is all smiles.

Mr. Peng

We drop our bags in the Muang Thong Hotel, which is as lovely as can be.  All teak (a big thing in Laos) corridors  and a balcony I plan to write from later on.  Of course it’s time to eat again.  Oh Lord I am going to just roll back to LA!  By now they expect everyone is tired of Asian food and take us to Joma a café that would feel right at home in my hometown.  As cosmopolitan as it comes.   For my Mexican contingency there’s burrito on the menu!   I sneak out before we head to our next stop and walk down a street to the river.  I pass by a reflexology place and realize that I have yet to have a massage.  

Then I pass a bike rental place that makes me regret that I never learned how to ride a bike.  I have a balance inadequacy that hindered my learning along with a tad of “I don’t want to get hurt-itis.”

I reach the river.  This town can’t be quainter if it tried.

I run back before they leave me.  Another tuk tuk and we arrive at the Luang Prabang National Museum They don’t allow photos but the museum is truly fascinating.   Some beautiful glass mosaic walls.  A throne room.  Bedroom quarters of royalty.   The outside is beautiful too. Next is Vat Xieng Thong. It is one of the most important monasteries in Laos.  One of the structures holds the royal funerary carriage.   Buddhas line its wall.   Some in my favorite position of “stop the war, make peace”. The main temple’s roof is being repaired due to weather fluctuations.  If this country has not taken me hostage before, it certainly has me now.

Flowers are all over the place.

Some live Some dried

We walk to the main temple whose roof is being repaired.   What a sight.

Our guide, Kamsouk, was a monk for 6 years so he prays with us for a safe journey.  I would much need that prayer in a few days.

We go outside to another building,    

where turning the corner a young monk awaits to tell us about his life.  He lives with 30 others.  3 full-fledged monks and 27 novices            

As he talks I glance around the corner and catch this moment when a monk wraps himself in his robe.

           

Next is Mount Phousi, pronounced by our guides in a way that may make it really hard to say in America. J I climb around 350 steps to the top.

Almost there!

The temple on top I am fascinated by doors and windows… aaaand the view from the top        

As I go down I can see the night-market where I will buy souvenirs I didn’t think I’d buy.  

Along the way I stop to snap this photos of two little girls that are more fascinated with their game than worried about selling their wares.

A beer in town (BeerLao –the local beer) then dinner at Ak Houay Mixay Restaurant (try saying that fast)

A staple in SE Asia's diet: Sticky rice!

Chicken Curry

Then “Did I really do all this in a day and not felt hurried or tired???”

Good night my friends.  Tomorrow we wake up early and leave Luang Prabang while every inch of me is refusing to leave.

Destination a surprise.

Categories: Laos | 23 Comments

8 Days to Departure. But, Who Is Counting? Oh, I am!

It is 12:30 am and I am awake. Calmly… well, maybe not so calmly but meticulously… yes, carefully making arrangements to… oh gosh no, I will not paint a picture that is not! I sit in front of my trusted Mac with my eyes tired of reading through countless blogs/forums/mails/photos that the wonderful Internet provides me with just a few clicks. I am on information overload and I am seriously considering just going back to my old procrastinating self. After all, how bad can it be to get to my Thailand portion of the trip and have all my hotel reservations done but no flights to get to the wonderful places I will go within the country? Probably really bad! I punch in my dates again. A scheduling nightmare ensues. Why was I so confident that there were going to be flights every 15 minutes?

  My passport has returned. That is a story all in itself, but I will choose to tell it later. I am just relieved that it has come back to safe harbor. It was a thrill to leaf through it and see the colorful visa stamps. For what all this process cost me I would have expected a lot more vibrancy to those colors though! Though Laos has one with a hologram that’s pretty cool.

My rambunctious inner child is still jumping up and down and going “Yay!” (I think she is eventually going to take over and will have me smiling, skipping, and dancing throughout BLT+.)

It was worth every penny, however, not to have to trek to every embassy or to have to FedEx it to one and then to another or keep track of where it was or make sure all the info was right, or… well, you get the idea. No doubt it would not have had a good outcome. When I sent my passport in December my heart was still hurting and my mind was not into details. Now I have absolutely no excuse for not getting all the pieces of this puzzle together.

I don’t usually worry too much about itineraries –I have a backpacker mentality with a gentrified execution to travel- but being it the first time that I am alone on a trip this long I am not leaving too much to chance. Or at least I’m trying not to.

I go back to booking my flights and am sort of soothed by the fact that I am making reservations towards the latter part of March. That’s really far away. The first flight on Asia Air from Bangkok to Chiang Mai seemed really cheap until it directed me to the extra charge for my bag and then more for my seat (yes, really) and then to the meal –I’m not eating- and then to insurance –no again- and then to a place where it tells me that should I not use their internet check in, at the airport they will charge me extra. Once I added an additional $55 in fees I click again and I have at least one round-trip ticket taken care of. Fortunately, Asia Air doesn’t charge you for oxygen since I am hyperventilating and using a lot of it now. Then I have to find a way that when I return to Bangkok I can just go ahead and jump on my next flight to Koh Samui. This island better be worth it ‘cause there are no cheap flights and I proceed to pay what I was not expecting. $320 dollars later I am booked on a barely 1-hour Bangkok Airlines flight.

I have a false notion that I have all the time in the world till departure until I look at my February calendar. Eight days. Only a week-and-a-day before I leave? I still have to stock my antique stores/booths in Orange, CA. My will and my health directive have to be done. I have to meet with friends. Will I manage to do it all?

My new camera lies next to my bed. I swear it stares back and says in a very snooty way “You better get to know me. I’m not that simple you know.” If we don’t get acquainted really fast I will not be able to take all those amazing photos that I promised you I’d post. Time is running out.

Will keep you posted. It’s now 2:30 am and I am going to bed. Sleep is next.
Hypnos, Somnus?

Categories: BLT+ (Burma) Myanmar, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Laos, Myanmar - Burma, Ramblings, Uncategorized, Vietnam, Visas | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Reflections on Consumerism and Feeling Naked…

Reflections: “a calm, lengthy, intent consideration”. Can’t quite define my consideration as calm, but lengthy it is, and I am most definitely putting consideration to Consumerism with a capital C.

I am not a shopper. When I travel I rarely buy things. Only a select few may get an “I remembered you” gift that will undoubtedly be small. I don’t even shop for myself. And when I am at home, my attention span for shopping is practically nonexistent, unless I am at an estate sale or thrift shop where I can pretty much be all day and buy a heck of a lot more than I expected. There is nothing like the thrill of a bargain and of discovery. Perhaps that is why I love traveling. I mean for the latter, the discovery. The bargain part just doesn’t qualify my trip any longer.

BLT+* started as a much needed escape from daily life, a way to mend a broken heart, to understand myself better, to overcome fears, and to discover and assimilate more cultures, people and landscapes. Then, well into the process of healing, it started to mushroom unexpectedly. With the infamous “When am I going to be back to this part of the world?” I started to consider staying a tad longer in the area. So I called the tour company and meekly asked: “How much more would it be to change my air portion to remain a bit longer in Thailand and well, maybe Hong Kong too?” I was hoping they would come back with a huge sum so I would discard the option completely but no, the response came back at: “$100 Ms. P.” How could I pass that up? And since I have no middle ground, I added 8 days in Thailand. Surely I could find something to do. And 5 days in Hong Kong -until I saw how much the hotel would cost- then whittled it down to 3, also due in part to people telling me that would be enough. My travel company had a post-trip to Chiang Mai in Thailand but was fully booked so I could not take it. Why not go on my own? I decided to fly to Chiang Mai where I plan to be one with the elephants and tigers. What to do with the next 4 days? My dream had been to go to Phuket -only a flight away. But friends and forum contributors convinced me that Koh Samui (Thailand) was less developed and just as wonderful. So Koh Samui it is. After all, I would need some mental and physical R&R after traipsing all over Southeast Asia. Then I chose the area of Kowloon to stay in Hong Kong. Then, I made no other move. Period. No move at all.

This is where consumerism comes in. 31 days to blast off (I wrote this blog a few days ago) and I have made no reservations. Purchased nothing. Planned nada. OMG! Just do it! Nike: any possibility of a commission? I’m repeating your slogan an awful lot.

I start off making reservations for a hotel in Chiang Mai, then a hotel in Koh Samui, then reservation in Hong Kong (almost), and since I’ll be alone in Hong Kong why not hire a local guide for a day? I call her; I book her after a PayPal invoice arrives. I want to go to Dialogue in the Dark but the website says they have no room. I call and ask for an English guide. I get one, along with a reservation. Skype, I am publicly declaring my love for you! I need to have a safe backpack that safeguards me from pickpockets so I go on the PacSafe site and select one. My Kindle Touch has already arrived ‘cause I can’t carry as many real books as I would like. Bought my first book for it, The Holly Brown Chronicles, some days back so now I buy some more. Haven’t booked the internal flights in Thailand yet and I’m already broke! Checked with PVS International on the status of my visas and only Laos in missing. Am asked if I want to know the running total so far and I say no, just tell me after Laos is done. Ah, the power of denial. Need to book or find out about airport transport in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Koh Samui and Hong Kong. Some temples require people to remove their shoes and socks. Need to find one that is easy to slip on and off and very comfortable. Found. Bought. Clark’s, I may start loving you too if you turn out to have a product that does not give me blisters. Did a lot of research on a camera with a power zoom. I speak with a friend that refers me to a camera shop in NY he’s dealt with a lot and that can give me a good discount. I call. They don’t have the one I wanted in stock but suggest another they say is better. I buy. They ship. This non-shopper (even less so through the internet) has just redeemed herself in a grand way!!!! I am drained physically (my fingers are moving hyperactively), financially, and mentally. My head is spinning. Is it absolutely unconscionable that I sport a huge smile on my face, regardless? Ay, ay, ay!! (Don’t forget to infuse a bit of “Latinoess” into that expression.)     Do you think Myanmar -where I am going to first- a land predominantly Buddhist, of quiet semblance and controlled emotions is ready for me, a bundle of strong emotions and powerful voice? Will have to channel my mom, who was so subdued and quiet, to be able to blend in!

Was going to delve into the feeling naked part of my blog but this one has already run too long so I will be leaving it for the next blog which will come in rapid succession to this one…

* Please refer to previous blogs for a full explanation on BLT+

Categories: Laos, Myanmar - Burma, Ramblings, Thailand, Visas | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Immunization = $$ = Needles = :(

I am good at procrastinating.  If it were a class and I were in school, I’d be getting an “A” with no effort at all.   But they say change is good and this is a facet in me that I must make an effort to abolish.  Well, maybe modify.  Perhaps just alleviate?  You see how good I am at procrastinating?  Because I feel uninspired, I am using words to stall (at times I  equate stalling to procrastination) and not communicate what I have come to say.   But, no more.  Here goes.

I have a strong aversion to needles and side effects so I have… yes, you guessed it: procrastinated in going onto the Center for Disease Control website to find out what immunizations (ie: needles) I will need to go to Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Hong Kong.  I promise I will find a pseudo-acronym for this trip.  I got it!  BLT+ (B for Burma –actually Myanmar- but for this purpose it will be Burma; L for Laos and T for Thailand and the “+” for Cambodia, Vietnam, and Hong Kong.)  Phew, no more repetitive typing!

As I have lunch at The Black Cow in Montrose I pull out my trusty computer and get on-line.  Victor, the best server ever, knows exactly what I order so he greets me with a hug and asks “The usual?”  This feels like home.  So I am on the site.  Lazy me can’t believe that she has to go to each country one by one.  No cheat sheet.  I find a link to a Global Travel Clinic Directory that “know all about traveler’s immunization needs.”   So here I am.  I call the first one in Glendale and they are closed.  I leave a message.  I call the next one in Pasadena.  Also closed.  I leave a message.  I try another.  Ditto.  So now I have nothing left to do but wait.  And enjoy my steak salad.

My cell rings and I am told that this is the Medical Clinic for Immunization returning my call.  So she gives me the laundry list of immunizations that are recommended.  This is not sounding good.  Well the Hepatitis A and B (a series of 3 shots) is $170, then the Rabies shot is another $100.  I become restless.  “Could you give me an approximate figure of how many and how much?”  “Well around six of them would be around $800 but that’s without the two most important ones which are the typhoid one and the….” I stop registering anything until she says:  “Those two are $1,600.”  And this is without the malaria pills.  I’m not that great at math but I immediately add it up to $2,400.  I calmly thank her for the information, hang up, and panic!  Are you kidding me?

I get on-line and e-mail, Facebook, go to the OAT Travel site and message everyone if this is even remotely in the ballpark of what others have paid.  Two of my friends whom I know well and have traveled to BLT+ say: “Noooooo, no need for any of that.  Just go and enjoy!”  I have yet to hear from the travel company’s previous clients.

In the process of checking for responses I find a post from a traveler that says that the CDC has just posted a health warning for travelers going to Vietnam due to an outbreak of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease, though it seems to primarily affect children.  What the heck?

My cell rings.  I’m starting to feel real important.  My phone is ringing a lot.  This is the Healthy Traveler Clinic in Pasadena.  Me:  “Well, you are calling at a time when I am still almost speechless.  Just got a call from another clinic saying that all the vaccines I need are going to cost me roughly a third of my trip so far.”   On the other side I hear a compassionate voice saying that she understands and she hears that a lot.  She wants me to see the doctor who will go over the priorities, if any, on the shots and pills and that I am at liberty to decline or even go to another clinic to get them.  Things are looking better.   I have an appointment tomorrow morning.  But before I go to the doctor, I must fill out 9 pages of forms. Will be reporting back.

Categories: Cambodia, China, Immunizations, Laos, Myanmar - Burma, Ramblings, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The Beginning!

Paris, France

I chose this photo I took of a sign in Paris to accompany this post because I certainly feel an affinity to it.  It reads:  “Please do not park.  Car exit.”  and since I have never been one to park my mind or my body in one place for too long, it just felt appropriate.  Besides, my little Baby Blue (aka: my Prius) has been the means by which I have done so much of my traveling lately.  Barely 3-years-old and it already has almost 98,000 miles on it!

However, my preferred form of travel has always been by plane. And it is on one of those that I will be, in barely 2 months time, on my way to Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Vietnam, Loas, Cambodia and China. A trip that will keep me away from home for over 35 days.  A trip I want to take each one of you on and have you delight -or not- in experiencing, touching, smelling, seeing, feeling and hopefully understanding and loving cultures that are so different from ours.

So, setting up the blog is the very first step in taking you with me on this journey.  Of course, considering I am absolutely technologically impaired, it may not be as easy as I had wished.  So I call my friend Carolina Groppa and merely yell (softly): HELP!!  She used to have a celebrity gossip blog and is adept in the blog world.  So here she is with the arduous task of initiating me in this blogging thingy.  We sit side by side, computers in front of us, in The Hollywood Corner while she tries not to be exasperated by my inadequacy in grasping even the basics.  I valiantly say that I think I can do this and we part with Happy Holidays wishes and my inner me thinking “Oh my gosh.  I’ll never be able to do this.” while I am sure hers is going “Can’t help her too much more on this… don’t think she can do it.”

Next frame is me writing my first post and being very proud of how poetic and funny my prose was, and pressing/clicking… the wrong button to publish it!   So my masterpiece is lost in cyberspace and I don’t seem to be able to recover it.   So I laugh at myself and rewrite, though this time in not so brilliant a manner.    If it takes me this long to post things on my trip I will be missing most of the sites due to the need to be indoors trying to get it right!

So I am left with promising you that you will see some pretty decent photos (I love photography and am sort of really good at it).  I promise you that you will read mostly my gut reactions to places and peoples and that I will write mostly from my heart rather than my brain, so I ask you to please disregard grammar, punctuation, and spelling oversights that may occur – something I am usually a stickler for.  Among my many talents 🙂 is that of editing scripts, proposals, treatments, etc.

Wish me luck… I am clicking on another button!

 

 

Categories: Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar - Burma, Ramblings, Vietnam | 6 Comments

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