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Laos – a nostalgic collection

So it’s been a year since I properly travelled Laos. Of course, it’s only appropriate that I now make a video compilation of a bunch of the footage from those two separate trips.

While in Laos with Melissa in January 2012, we visited Vang Vieng and I fell in love with the views, but not the cheesy tourists making a mess of the town. We trekked through the mountains and countryside, kayaked down rivers, and stayed overnight in a Khmu village in Luang Prabang.

I also returned later, in April 2012, on a more interesting method of transport, to float down the river on an inner tube, contributing to the whole mess that the town is currently in. I’m happy that I was able to tube the river while everything was still open, so that I could see just how dangerous it was and so that I could actively contribute to the conversation about what Vang Vieng did wrong in terms of tourism and how they can turn it around in the future. For more information into the drunken beating this town took, the government crackdown, and how they’re currently doing, check out this article from the Sydney Morning Herald. (Appropriate source, since most of the deaths / drunken idiots where more often than not 18 year old Aussie’s.)

Unfortunately my old camera didn’t take the best video quality. Which I’m really sad about. I also wasn’t really thinking about taking the best video footage at the time, but nonetheless I spent some time yesterday working with a crappy downloaded free program (that is so different from Final Cut that it actually made me cry inside a little bit) to make this for you, friends.

Enjoy.

Living, Eating and Walking like a Laos Khmu Villager

So we arrived in Luang Prabang the other day after the most beautiful drive through the mountains, and settled in to a hotel around 9, only to realize that everything closes at 11pm. So Laos culture (which we were NOT exposed to in Vang Vieng) follows pretty close to daylight hours. Because most Laos people are used to living in villages (80% of the population still lives in one) with limited electricity, and working in fields during the day, they are used to living and working between sunrise and sunset.

So despite being in a full-on city, there is nothing to eat and no shops open past 11pm. That’s lucky for us old ladies because by the time night fell we were too exhausted to stay out anyway and headed to our room to Facebook and sleep.

On our second day in town, we woke up early to join a couple other girls for a trek through the mountains and a few Hmong and Khmu villages by a guide who we later learned had been a monk for 11 years.

The trek, also known as the first time I ever experienced heat stroke, lasted about 7.5 hours. Most of it was uphill, all of it was beautiful.

Walking through the villages and seeing the children laughing and playing with each other was heartwarming. All the kids came out to smile at us and yell, “Sabaidee” (Hello) before running away shy.

By the time we got to our homestay in Hou Fai for the night everyone was thoroughly exhausted (me especially, Melisa has a video of my final words taken somewhere in the hills). We showered with a bucket (the cold water was seriously refreshing, but the first bucket caused every single girl to hit operatic notes), and wandered around the village before sitting down for a dinner of chicken stir fry and sticky rice.

Also in the village was the most adorable 5 month old monkey whose mother had been killed. The villagers had taken it in and fed it rice and bananas, but the only thing the poor thing wanted was to be held and cuddled. She would jump from one person to another, but once she found a warm, comfortable spot, you would have to pry her hands off of your clothing.

The next day, we sat around the fire for breakfast with the local people, men who would walk past and warm themselves for a minute by the fire as well as an old lady who tended the fire and won Melisa’s heart.

After breakfast, we headed back onto the trail for another hour to get to the Tad Sea waterfalls where we had intended on swimming. Once we got there, however, the water was so shallow that it wouldn’t make sense to even sit in the water, let alone swim. The falls were truly beautiful though, surrounded by huge trees that the sun was shining through. It was beautiful to sit and relax listening to the sound of the water flowing. (I forgot how relaxing that was! The Sanctuary in Thailand feels like ages ago.)

Off to the side, there were some elephants that were part of the elephant sanctuary where we started the trip. We bought some sugar cane and bananas and fed them, picking favourites and rubbing their trunks. I seriously love elephants, their sheer size and the way they turn their head to look you right in the eye kind of makes my heart skip a beat. We met a girl at the bus station in Chiang Mai who talked about the elephant sanctuary that she went to in Thailand where they played videos of how elephants are mistreated and their spirits broken in order to be a more obedient worker, and just hearing the story seriously broke my heart. If I had $20,000 I would buy a work elephant and donate it to one of these sanctuaries that actually takes care of them and loves them and lets them live relatively wild.

After the heartbreak of the chained elephants, The real fun began. I’m not sure why water sports are the most appealing to me, but anything in, on, or around water makes me happy. We kayaked down the Nham River, falling in only once when Melisa and I got out of hand with our coordinated paddling.

After another day back in Luang Prabang walking around the city, watching the sunset from the top of the temple on the hill, and eating another buffet dinner at the night market for 10,000 Kip ($1.25) we called it an early night. Mostly because we were quickly running out of Kip, partly because we were still exhausted from our trekking and kayaking the day before. It was a work-out with a view.