Southeast Asia Thoughts: Laos

Flying from Chiang Mai, Thailand to Luang Prabang, Laos on a ATR-72 (70 passenger plane) is a bit different than the typical American domestic flight.While the aircraft was modern and airworthy, trying to understand the announcements (even the English version) was a challenge.  

On a positive note, the unidentifiable baloney-like sandwich with mayo (I think) was delicious.  At least I thought so.

Driving from the airport, built by the Chinese to accommodate their workers building a railway bridge over the Mekong river,  one is thrust into a different albeit similar culture to Thailand.  Laos is less developed, having suffered greatly during the American War in Vietnam, not to mention previous and subsequent wars with neighboring countries. The primary source of income is agriculture, rice and corn, and fishing the Mekong for the giant catfish (200 kilos.)

The resort we stayed at was lovely.  Laos has not yet fully embraced tourism, but the signs are there. Our resort was a pleasant change from the crowds and noise of Chiang Mai. One of the highlights for me was the scalding cold shower. After spending sufficient time, you leaned the rhythm to the water temperature. Pleasantly warm, scalding, freezing, scalding, and back to pleasant, repeated at various intervals.  I pictured two frazzled Lao workers on the roof fervently pouring alternating barrels of hot and cold water into pipe as someone called up the number of people taking showers.

But if that is the worst of what we dealt with in Laos, it is better than what most Lao people bear in their life.

Laos is a communist country, now officially known as LPDR the Lao Peoples Democratic Republic, run by an “elected” government from the single party, coincidently known as the LPDR. Formerly a monarchy, the Lao heir to the throne of the disposed King disappeared into one of the Communist re-education camps along the Mekong, known as the Lao Hanoi Hilton after the infamous original in Hanoi during the war. Until not that long ago, it still was a camp. Now it is a sign of better things to come as it serves as a tourist attraction.

The locals, while acknowledging the official name of the country and ruling party, say it stands for  Lao People Don’t Rush. 

And indeed they do not. Not only do they not rush, they seem oblivious to things like oncoming traffic or pedestrians. 

The roads are crowded with scooters and motorcycles often ridden by two, three, or more people. It is not uncommon to see what is likely an entire family, including infants, riding a single 50 cc scooter.  They dodge in and out of traffic, mostly ignored by the car and truck drivers.   

One of the highlights was a side trip we organized to Kuang Si Park.  In the park there is the most beautiful waterfall and a sanctuary center for the moon bear; an endangered species hunted and imprisoned for of all things, bear bile. One consistent thing among endangered species is they are usually endangered to satisfy the self-centered aphrodisiac fantasies and failings of the human male.  For this I wish to offer my apologies on behalf of the rational males of my species.

Like the Thai, the Lao are a friendly, smiling people. Curious but polite, their Buddhist heritage ingrained in their deference to others. 

Without further adieu, I give you Laos.

Lao Mountains

 

Snake whiskey still

 

Water buffalo on the Mekong

 

Notice the contrast of old and new. A Chanting Buddhist Monk next to a scannable code for information

 

Another Journey…

We have stayed in one place for almost a month, so it’s time to head out again. Starting early Tuesday (1:50 a.m.) we board a plane from Boston to Hong Kong and on to Bangkok, Thailand.

Cathay PacificWe’ll spend the next 27 days touring four very unfamiliar cultures in some exotic landscapes of some countries with familiar names; Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

While I am looking forward to all four, it is Vietnam that intrigues me the most. Growing up in the sixties, Vietnam was a significant part of the nightly news. Images of helicopters, women and children fleeing the fighting, and the dead and the wounded flooded the screens. But they did not convey the reality. It was America’s first TV war.

Some of the Vietnamese were the enemy, some were allies, and some were trapped between the two. Our innocence and naiveté a cushion to the reality of war and our reasons for being there. As we grew older from 1965 to 1973, that innocence was shattered.

By the fortunes of birth this is my first trip to Vietnam. Had I arrived just three or four years earlier, my anticipation of traveling there might be different.

It will be another opportunity to experience an entirely different culture that, given all I’ve read about the people of Southeast Asia, will also reaffirm my belief we are all the same.

I shall endeavor to write about our adventures, post pictures, and let you come with us as we travel around.