We weren't sure if we were going to make it to Laos, but the timing was right and our Vietnam visa was almost expired, so we flew from Hanoi to Luang Prabang on a little propeller plane with Lao airlines. It was actually quite nice and they served these funny little hot dogs on the plane. An hour later we touched down in Laos. Right away I noticed a big shift from chaos to calm and my heart rejoiced in it. On the way to our guesthouse from the airport, our taxi driver drove so nice and slow, there was little noise outside and the air seemed calm and clean. There were scant motorbikes on the road and hardly any lights. The first few days I was still sick in bed, but I emerged for meals enjoying the calm of the Mekong River, the less crowded streets, and the pretty architecture and wildlife.
At our guesthouse we had our first mosquito net over our bed and Brian took to being our mosquito hunter at night. They have this cool tennis like racket bug killer thing that you swing through the air and if the contraption zaps a bug it makes a loud sparkle sizzle noise! Brian rather enjoyed this...
Each night there was a cute and serene night market that sold all sorts of handmade goods and lots of good food. We stocked up on some gifts for our families because the haggling was actually quite pleasant and friendly. Like in most other parts of Southeast Asia, most sellers have little calculators that you punch in your price and you banter back and forth each changing your offer a bit until you agree.
We took a boat ride across the Mekong to 2 little temples. We waded through the Mekong and hiked up the hill to get there, it was a little adventure!
We walked through a little town on that side of the river and saw this kid carrying large jackfruit. He would walk a little way, and then sit down for about 10 minutes, walk a little more then sit down and relax. I liked his style, he knew how to take it easy!
We also hiked to see the top of Phu See Hill where there is a temple and some amazing views. The Lao teens seemed to like hanging out there and playing music on their cell phones too.
When we left Luang Prabang, we took a 7 hour minivan ride to Vang Vieng. This was an experience. We were basically hugging cliff sides for 6 hours and the entire trip was s curve after s curve up and down big mountains.
Along the ridge-line you would see these thatched roof huts on stilts right on the edge of the cliff. Families lived here and I don't know how! Young children walked and played precariously close to the edge of the cliff near their homes, and many homes seemed terribly isolated. What blew my mind though was that no matter how poor, how run down or bare a little home was, almost always it had a big satellite dish. ??? We are seeing this all over southeast Asia. Even the most poor seem to have cell phones and satellite dishes. This is incredible to me, and really shifts my concept of what lives are like for these populations in remote and impoverished areas.
Vang Vieng was interesting. It felt like this strange boom town catered to young westerners that wanted to get wasted and go tubing down the local river. At many of the local cafes the tables were like beds and large loud tv's played episodes of Friends and Family Guy over and over again. Many cafes offered "Happy shakes" and "Space Pizzas" and it seemed you could get just about any illegal substance your heart desired. I didn't like the vibe of this town. Maybe I am just getting too old, but I didn't like seeing wasted youth everywhere, particularly youth that were blatantly disrespecting the local culture. In big signs by the river tubes it says to please cover up and not walk around in bikinis because it is very disrespectful to the local community, it also says this throughout our Lonely Planet on Laos. But for some reason, all of these young Western women pranced around in nothing but skimpy bikinis and it made me so angry. Why? Did you not see the sign or read anything about this place you are visiting, or is it that you just don't care? Maybe I expect too much from young people as I get older, but I would like to think I wouldn't behave that way if I was 22. Who knows...
We moved on to Vientiane the next day and we like it here much better. On our first day we finally took the plunge and rented a motor bike. We both took turns driving and it was pretty empowering and exhilarating :)
We drove to a place called Buddha Park. This place was something else...
An enigmatic man named Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat created this beautiful but odd park of sculptures that blends Buddhist and Hindu iconography and history.
How do I say this, it felt sort of all over the place? I felt like I could see this man's imagination and creativity running wild out in the open, with nothing holding it back. He hired amateur artists to create all of these sculptures and up close there is this sort of slip shoddy feel to them. But I LOVED them. Why? I think because they are so playful, and expressive and undone. I loved seeing this person's vision become a reality and provide so many with so much wonder. In our guide book it says children love this park, and I can see why. It felt like possibly the way the White Witch's topiary must have been like after she froze so many of her subjects into stone in Narnia... Below was this sort of pumpkin you could hike up in concentric circles to the top and look out over the park.
This was the view.
So today is our last full day in Laos. Tomorrow we catch a night train to Bangkok and then we fly to Osaka on the 3rd. I can't believe it. This trip is winding down now. We have a month in Japan, and then we head back to the U.S. We stop in LA, Tucson, and Chicago before heading to New York for the summer before we move to Arizona.
I will be doing a 10 day Vipassana Meditation retreat here in Kyoto while I am in Japan. I am really excited about this and feel ready for the challenge. I am a little scared too, but I really want to be able to complete the experience and deal with the 4:30 wake up call, 2 small meals a day and almost 14 hours of meditation each day. I know it will be intense, but I think I am ready for it. I am so looking forward to seeing Brian's family in Kyoto and meeting many of his close friends that live there as well. It has been a little lonely with just the two of us for so long! But it also has brought us very close together. I love that husband of mine! I am one lucky lady :)