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Laos (NOT in Malaysia, blogabond is retarded)

Luang Manis, Malaysia

We flew from Da Nang back to Hanoi, then over to Luang Prabang. When we arrived it was dark and cold, which completely sucked, as I was imagining it as really warm, even though it was at the same latitude as Hanoi. I think I made the mistake because I kind of grouped Laos together in my mind with Cambodia, which was really hot. I guess I thought, “Well it’s one of the poorest countries in the world, it has to be hot.” Yes, that was my logic.

The Laos Kip is the fourth different currency for me in Southeast Asia that I’ve had to convert in my head into dollars, and mom is just senile, so paying for the taxi was really confusing. The hotels are ridiculously expensive considering this is one of the poorest countries in the world. But we were happy with ours, as it was a French Colonial overlooking the Mekong.

The first night it was so cold I had to have mom read next to me so I could have her body warmth.

The people are the friendliest I have met, but we have found that still some will try to rip you off. I hate being so skeptical of people, but I get this bad feeling in my stomach and I can kind of tell when they’re full of shit. They confirm this for me when I find out they have lied, but I usually worry it’s just because of the language barrier. Mom doesn’t have that problem. If she doesn’t like someone, she’s like ok bye thanks for the ride see ya.

We met cool people our first day: a mother and daughter traveling from Ireland, and a couple around mom’s age from New York. We met the couple at a “restaurant” near the famous big waterfall. We walked through by many waterfalls, and although the water was absolutely freezing, in the main one I swung on a rope from a huge branch into the freezing cold water. But it was awesome.

The water was crystal clear, and magnificently blue.

We made sure to bring out Oreos for our miniature hike through the waterfalls:

On our way back down, a group of guys were shamelessly staring at me as I walked down the hill with 2 towels wrapped around me. I said “Take a picture, it’ll last longer,” but I don’t think they heard me. They looked kind of confused and sedated, alcohol may have had a role in this, and mom said “You want picture? $1!” mimicking the mothers who could care less if you have pictures of their adorable little kids, but they do want to make some money off of it. They were like $1? Hell yeah!

We went to a village later that the tour guide called the monk’s village. We didn’t see a single monk. We did however encounter a dozens of little girls and boys selling little bracelets, they were so adorable, we bought a gazillion of them. Souvenirs, anyone?

The kids were so poor and dirty, mom cleaned two of them with little wet napkins she had bought for our hands.

I suspect that one or two of the little girls had been molested or something, because they wore really trashy makeup that I can’t understand where they would’ve even gotten a hold of, nonetheless learned how to apply.

One of the two girls kind of played ringleader, telling me to buy from this girl or that one, pulling them close to her, and beckoning me with her eyes. I wanted to ask her if someone had touched her or something, but what could I possibly do? She probably wouldn’t have known what that even meant, or even told me the truth.

Most of the kids had a little cold, which they probably spread to each other because it’s not like they’re washing their hands after they go to the bathroom. They probably get a shower, and by shower I mean dip in the murky brown Mekong, every few weeks.
I couldn’t believe it but just of the main little pathway, a little girl no older than 3 was sitting with a big knife next to her bag, chopping away at a piece of bamboo or something. I signaled to him, is it ok that your daughter has a huge knife? And he signaled back yeah, she’s fine, she knows what she’s doing.

The Laos people are known for their friendliness and their laidback way of doing things.

They smile a lot, eat all the time, and are happy and laughing even though some live in complete and udder poverty. Consequentially, their lifespan is very short (50 is considered really old), and they don’t get a whole lot done, hence the whole poverty thing.

The next day, I woke up at 6am to give alms to the monks. Basically they get up really early and walk in a line down the street, and sweet little villagers scoop little bite-sized bits of their sticky rice into the monks’ bowls. I stood with one of the sweet little villagers and waited for the monks: PICTURE OF MONKS WALKING DOWN

They walked by at a very brisk pace, and I even missed some of the monks’ bowls. They slow for no one, I’ve learned. I was carrying a large basket full of rice in one hand: PICTURE OF BASKET

In the other I scooped bits of rice into their bowls. It’s not easy to get the sticky rice off of your fingers though. For the experienced guy next to me it was a breeze, but I could not for the life of me get down the technique. So I made up my own: when there was a break in the line of monks, I would roll little balls and put them between my fingers so I’d be ready when they walked by:

I wanted to talk to the monks but I didn’t know any of the rules. So as I walked back home, I saw some of the monks at their monastery (which I keep calling Monkage—it seems so much more logical). I ambled in and saw that some of the monk were still in their beds, and one upstairs was playing music! I didn’t know they could listen to music. One of the monk saw me from his bed and came out to ask me where I was from, etc. His family lives in the north of Laos, and they sent him here to get educated because the monks get a good education for free, or for less money, I couldn’t figure it out. The downside is that monks only eat 2 meals a day (no food from 12pm-12am), they wake up at 4am, they can’t touch girls, and they can’t dance. Even worse, they only see their parents once a year, right after finals. Can you imagine the stress?

More and more monks came around and I realized I was probably the only white girl that had ever come into their living quarters and sat there and chatted with them. They were loving it! It was so cute.

They were about 16 years old, so it was like ooooh older woman, which was kind of weird because I thought monks didn’t have feelings like that, but they sure did. I told them I’d bring them candy and books. I have yet to see a book store though.

Later, we took a speedboat (haha speedboat—it was a raft with a motor) to the famous cave, which was sort of disappointing.

It was…a cave. It had a lot of old Buddha statues in it…but they are all around town too. The ride up there, however, was beautiful, if not a little uncomfortable as our driver told me to lay my head on his knee and started to pet my neck...eek!

On my way back home, I picked up 3 boxes of Oreos for the monks. It was 11pm and I was walking by a monastery (there are tons) and I heard a monk say “hi,” I couldn’t believe they were up. They have to wake up at 4am! (I later learned the next morning that overall, the monks in this town are becoming very lazy and turning to vices like alcohol and sex, and wearing their robes differently than they are supposed to. I can understand this as they are sent to live in this town where they are away from their families, and they probably have normal teenage urges. But it is too bad that they are sort of losing that sacred purity).

Anyway, as soon as I got a glimpse of the burnt sienna robe, I handed the cookies over the fence. They were very thankful, and invited me in. They were all just sitting around the fire, and I sat and chatted with them for a while. I told them about how Bush was an idiot and how we were getting a new government. They asked how bush was an idiot, and I had a hard time explaining it, but I came up with “Well, he started a war,” and they like “Oh noooooo.” When explaining how we pick a new government, I used the word “candidate” and I think they understood what it meant in the context, but one monk asked me to spell it and put it into his phone, or the phone of his non-monk friend, I couldn’t figure it out. They are very eager to learn English.

They had never seen snow, and really wanted to, just like I was before I had seen snow. They asked me to bring some back with me the next time I came, and we all laughed at the idea of bringing snow water in a plastic bag across the world. When it was time to leave, I wanted to get their e-mail, so I was fumbling for a pen in my bag and I went, “uh oh,” because I realized I’d given my pens to some little kids in a village in Vietnam.
One of the monks asked, “What does ‘uh oh’ mean?” which reminded me of when I asked my mom when I was really young, “Mommy what does oh mean?” I laughed and explained it to them. Then I must have said “Oh my God” or something because they said, “You say that, we say ‘oh my Budda,’” and we all laughed again. I gave him an old eye-liner I had floating around in my bag to write with. When he was done he wanted to know what it was, so I explained to him, then showed him mascara and a cover-up stick. He was like, that’s why you look pretty! It’s all a show…isn’t it?

On a completely different note, I don’t understand what gets into people’s heads that tells them it’s ok to dress in native textiles, just because they are in a different country. They look really silly, as not even the natives are wearing them. And I can just imagine them breaking out one of those outfits on a Sunday or something back home, strolling around blissfully thinking “These are from Laos…oh Laos…pretty Laos…” Meanwhile everyone who sees them thinks they’ve lost their minds. Fine, wear the clothes in the particular country, even though nobody else is wearing them because you’re in the friggin city. But for the love of God, or Buddha I guess, don’t bring them out in Western society and not expect to get funny stares.

The last day, I took some New Yorkers, extra tissue packs, hotel sewing kits and razors, and my Southeast Asia Lonely Planet to the monastery right near our house. On the way I bought more cookies and a papaya, and gave them all to the monks. They were really grateful, and one monk said he could take the Lonely Planet to the other monastery I went to the night before, and give it to the monks there. We will send them more grammar books, their favorites, especially the ones with the exercises, when we get home.

When it was time to leave, the manager of the hotel had characteristically ordered us a tuk tuk even though mom had asked for a taxi, and said with a dishonest innocence, “This is a Laos taxi.” Mom was not happy. But like most things in Southeast Asia that don’t turn out as you were promised, we didn’t have a choice. Our stuff was loaded onto the tuk tuk when we climbed on though, which was awesome. The driver turned around to me and asked, “Are you ok?” and I said I was fine, thanks. Mom, looking haggard, said sarcastically, “Yeah I’m fine too,” as it wasn’t clear if he had directed the question at both of us.

Overall, we loved Laos. We wanted to stay there forever, and even discussed buying a house there. Apparently the New York Times named Luang Prabang or Laos the #1 place to go this year, so it’s kind of now or never to make an investment. In the end, it just didn’t make sense though, but we know we will come back really soon.

permalink written by  jezra on January 8, 2008 from Luang Manis, Malaysia
from the travel blog: Jillian Does Southeast Asia
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Indeed. Our city database comes up with some wierd spellings sometimes. Try this:

Luang Prabang, Laos

Have a great time in Lao. Your photos bring back some good memories. Be sure to stop by Vang Vieng for a day or two, if only to witness the spectacle of "backpacker's paradise!" Good river tubing, cave exploring, motorbike madness, and everybody asking if you've tried opium yet (as though it's a certainty that you will at some point).


permalink written by  Jason Kester on January 12, 2008

super..!! i like it.

permalink written by  pandipopitan on June 4, 2012

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