Wednesday, 11 June 2008
Current Whereabouts: Northern Laos
Next stop Thailand, I need a rest!
Sawadee (Hello) one and all.
I'm currently slumming it in the Maly Hotel in Phonsovan, famed for it's 'Plain of Jars' sites which are basically big empty stone jars that are about 2000 years old, no one knows what they were for, best guess is funeral urns. I was a bit disappointed when I showed up as I thought it was going to be about beer. Needless to say I had a few jars of my own last night with me main man Phet Long, an engineer. His name means 'second diamond'.
Having spent a few days on the tourist trail I had to get out and find the real Laos, meet the real Laotians. As such I have hired a motorbike and am doing a DIY-tour of Northern Laos. I 'borrowed' the itinery from a Laos based enterprise, I'm 3/4 the way thru, having ridden in some very remote places and taken my time stopping longer than one night in some places (Vieng Xay the Hidden City for example). The village children are an absolute delight, without fail waving at me and shouting 'sawadee' as I cruise on through. I've been through hundreds of tiny little places, it's always a joy to see the children's beaming faces despite the poverty in which they live - most don't go to school, they help the family who invariably are subsistence farmers.
It has been an education for me, and as things have turned out I've been able to give a little bit back. In Sam Neua near the Vietnam border I gave English lessons to two students, and last night (Wed) I met the education adviser for Xieng Khouhang province who invited me to teach two classes of 25 children how to converse in English. It was very rewarding, and the least I can do for this amazing country and the incredible people who live here.
Today I'm riding south to either Pakxan, or, if the weather closes in, half way - to Thathom where there is no hot water or electricity, should be fun. Enroute I will visit Mouang Khoune, an ancient city with Buddhist relics that the Americans kindly bombed the life out of in the 'secret war' against Laos and the naughty Commies. Indeed there are bomb craters everywhere around here, Loas being the mosts bombed nation in the world. Did you know that for nine years solid the Americans dropped a plane load of bombs every eight minutes night and day onto Laos - more than all the bombs dropped in WWII? The sad thing is that half of them haven't gone off yet and so the place is littered with unexploded ordinance (UXOs). Whilst I was in Vieng Xay the UXO team blew up three UXOs, one of them was incredibly loud and sent a mushroom cloud of fall out into the sky. I also saw a crater 80m in diameter, the size of a football pitch, the result of a 6 tonne bomb. Nine years solid my friends, and the Laotians still won! My guest house has quite an array of shells, rockets, machine guns and so forth adorning the walls and gateposts and they have even made a flower display out of an empty rocket shell. The amazing thing is that Laotians welcome Americans with open arms despite the atrocities. They really are the most humble and forgiving people. I can't help but admire them.
Hope all is well wherever you are, see most of you in July. Apologies for lack of private emails, it's not easy getting electricity around here, nevermind the internet!