Friday, March 19, 2010

Getting back into the culture of Laos

After almost 2 weeks of limited cultural exposure while in Vang Vieng, I have hit the road again and gone straight full-pelt into the cultural experience (as well as some new challenges associated with it). This blog entry will be a little bit different to my 'usual' (ie significantly condensed) as I am not feeling very well at the moment, have had poor sleep over the past few days and brain isnt functoning propery. So this is going to consist of partial highlights which I might try and fill in gaps later, and random usual banter of mine.

- wandered around tha khaek and decided to join up with the eco-treks conducted by the tourism department. Thankfully another person joined which halved the cost the trek would have been on my own. While there, I helped them out in the tourism department with english/lao translation/pronunciation of words that are useful for tourists such asbrief greetings, words for things like petrol station, flat tyre etc etc.
- kids all saying saibaidee!!

- day 1 of trek, walked about 15km I think, mostly flat but some up and down through the mountains. Visited about 4 caves and 3 water holes/rivers to swim in.
caves with stalactites and stalacmites - our guide was banging on them like drums. They actually make quite pretty music but inwardly I was cringing a bit thinking of what all the environmentalists would be saying - I know in Australia you aren't allowed to touch them as the oils in your hand damages them!! Then later on, they were encouraging us to graffit and write our names on the wall of a cave (in charcoal) to say we had been there (I declined).

I didn't actually swim on the first day even though I wanted to - I just didn't feel particularly comfortable wearing my normal swimmers and I discovered that I am 100% completely incapable of wearing a sarong let alone being able to swim in one.

the village we stayed at was small i think 229 people lived there. as part of our stay there we participated in a ba cai ceremony, which is used to welcome you nad give you blessings for your future. They tie white cords/bracelets around your wrists and have chants/sayings that they repeat, for example bad things go bad things go good things come, long life long life, lots of money in the bank, many boyfriends, good job etc etc etc. I think there is a spiritual link associated with it, but it wasn't particularly mentioned at the time. Everyone then drank lao-lao (rice whisky). There was a group of about 10-15 villagers present at the time, plus our 2 engish speaking guides.

- day 2 of trek
Up early to get a start before it got exceedingly hot - we walked i think 15-20km today. had to walk extra as the tractor that was going to give us a ride had broken down.
It was very hot and humid and in the afternoon I found myself starting to get grumpy and angry and then I felt guilty about it. Was praying for it to go away, trying to internalize it as there was no reason for me to be angry. I was a bit frustrated I think, needed a bit more personal space and I didn't feel like talking at the time or like being touched and helped (too independent for my own good...)

I did swim today twice - once in the blue lagoon (oh so blue think of the most vibrant brilliant sky blue and your probably 1/2 way there) and in another river. I swam fully clothed, partially because I couldnt be bothered to change clothes and I was all sweaty and gross anyways, and partially because of the cultural thing. I didn't feel all that comfortable stripping to my swimmers when there are 2 male local guides aged 23 and 25, who are trying to convince me (very unsuccessfully) that I should be their next girlfriend... I don't think so, sorry guys!

Last night I decided to catch the local bus from Tha Khaek to Pakse. I figured it should get at least 1 experience on local transport rather than just the 'tourist' buses normally caught. Good idea in theory but it resulted in me getting almost no sleep during the night as I left at 10pm and arrived at 4.30am. The bus stops probly every hour at least to turn lighs on and people hop off. It was a good experience though - whe i first arrived at the bus station i wondered what knd of ride it would end up being as they had the engine in pieces nad were doing mechanical work, but it left on time. then when i jumped on the bus, the entire floor including seats and the hall way had big 50kg sacks of sugar meaning that your feet were much higher and i kept bumping my head walking on the bus!

When I arrived at 4.30am at this random bus stop in the midde of no where (in the dark) I was thinking, right, now what. There as a lao lady and 3 little kids (non of whom spoke any english) with me. We all sat by the side of the road in the dark and I got my guitar out and played for about an hour or so until it started to get light and a man walked past who spoke english and informed me that I would need to catch a tuk tuk into town (pakse) nd that my sense of direction was wrong again (i forgot that we were on the opposite side of the road for driving). A tuk tuk came along, droped me off at a guest house in town. I wasnt actually plannng on staying hte night, but getting a bus further south nistead. however, they were advertising a 1 day tour to the Bolavan plateau so i decided to join up with that for the day. Unfortunately, I felt pretty crook all day though from the lack of sleep, heat and probably something I ate that didn't agree with me too well. on the tour we went to a tea plantation, a coffee plantation, a few waterfalls and visited a couple of minority villages as well. I donated some pencils and pens for the new school there. Its a very different lifestyle to home. one of the villages, traditionally they build (used to be wood but is now concrete) coffins for each member of the household long before they need them and store them in the rice sheds.

Now I am at Don Det at 4000 islands. Im going to stay here until I run out of money, or more accurately until i run out of kip as I have about 500,000 kip on me I need to use up (roughly $50) which could last about 3-5 days depending on what I do. I am staying in a bungalo on the sunrise side of the island for 30,000 kip per night ($3). Laos is alot cheaper compared to Vietnam in terms of accommodation (there it was $10-15 a night). There are some waterfalls and you can see the rare irrawaddi water dolphins here, so I might join up with a group to do some kayaking on the river and that sort of thing before heading int cambodia on monday/tuesday.

Sorry this is not more detailed but I cannot write anymre than this at the moment :(

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