Tuesday 2-Friday 5 December 2008 - Luang Prabang to Vientiane
The reason Andrew had been sorting out the car was because going up hills we'd heard a rattling noise when turning and we were really worried it was the suspension. Having spent a whole day and night in Udomxai where all the suspension bushs were changed we were pretty horrified to re-start driving and still hear the worrying sound.
We were really concerned that something major was wrong. After investigation we managed to get to the bottom of it ..the battery tray had broken up and the battery was rattling around ..so not a major this time thankfully! We need not have wasted the day but at least we can now be sure that every bush is renewed!
We began the drive to Luang Prabang LP - as ever on our trip we never seem to have enough time. We drove through beautiful mountain roads with stunning views round every corner.
On the way we passed some beautifully dressed boys and girls (well the girls were very dressed up ..the boys not so much ..as ever!) playing catch.
We had read of this in some of the information about ethnic minority groups it is a sort of Hmong courtship ritual, played on special occasions -like Hmong New Year which we subsequently found we had stumbled upon. A lot of Hmong couples meet this way ..apparently if a boy catches a girl's ball -or maybe vice versa -he cannot refuse her.
The 2 groups stand in parallel lines with boys one side girls the other and the balls are thrown back and forth We were invited to play ..not sure we understood all the nuances of the game but the girls looked lovely! The first ones we found were in the middle of nowhere but we later came to a small village where there were New Year festivities in full swing - a singer and band,refreshments laid out and a few lines of couple throwing ..not as dressed up as the ones out of town ..maybe the traditional garb is less popular here. It was a real privilege to witness.
As we reached the outskirts of LP it was beginning to get dark. We stopped and asked at a café and a lady who spoke a bit of English directed us to a village saying we might be able to camp there. We pulled up to the amazement of the villagers ..2 children were sent off and quickly returned with a young man who turned out to be the English teacher. They agreed we could camp there in the school grounds ..and he then asked if we'd like to come and meet his students. Feeling a bit travel weary and grubby we didn't really like to refuse, and expected to say hello to 2 or 3 students. Instead we were lead into a classroom full and asked to teach them! They were learning to tell the time in English, and I took over. It certainly wasn't the best lesson ever!
We later found out that these kids pay extra for English classes which was why the class was being held in the evening outside normal school hours. Word spread and we soon had a few gawkers at the window as well! The kids and their parents are very keen for them to learn English as it is seen as a good way into the lucrative tourist industry. The school had very few facilities ..I was trying to explain the concept of "20 minutes to 7" as in Laos apparently they don't express it like that and I have a digital watch. I looked around to borrow a conventional wrist watch for my demo and not one child (or the teacher) had one. Andrew used the atlas and did an impromptu geography lesson about Down Under and I struggled on with the clock but as I say it wasn't the best lesson ever! The kids are so eager to learn it is quite humbling.
Finally we escaped for a quick shower and dinner at a local restaurant before bed. The next morning we woke to crowds of school children on their way to lessons which start at 7.30am. We waved goodbye and headed on to LP.
LP is the former capital of Laos and is a very beautiful world heritage listed city which is perhaps the major centre for tourism in Laos.
We really felt we didn't have enough time in this lovely city but you never really have enough time to do everything! The City has beautiful examples of French architecture around every corner, and hundreds of wats.
In the day we had we took in a few - Wat Mai Suwannaphunaham- a beautiful golden wat with an emerald Buddha - and Wat Phu Si -where we saw a gold Buddha's footprint up to Wat That Chomsi - set on a hill overlooking the river- these 3 were Wat highlights in our whirlwind tour. We also took in the Royal Place (no pictures allowed) which was unchanged since the 1975 revolution and its accompanying former Royal Wat.
The Mekong was fairly low when we visited but its levels rise dramatically later..in our picture I am standing at the top of the river at the 19 metre mark which is apparently under water in a few months time.
We took in the day markets -selling cloth fruit vegetables handicrafts - and local snake wine -which we didn't bother trying!
The day markets eventually gave way to the Night Bazaar - and we saw a beautiful sunset over the river, so we packed a lot into our one day here.
We were on a mission and so we headed back to the school to camp. The reason being that we had been to Big Brother Mouse to stock up on books. This company was set up by a retired American publisher with the help of several locals.
The thinking is to produce fun interesting books for kids here to try and encourage an interest in reading. The vast majority of Laos people have never owned a book and reading is not seen as a fun activity, the library of the school we visited -a shed really - only had dry looking copies of books about the struggle of the revolution which weren't too enticing looking! Big Brother Mouse produce fun books the kids can relate to -the adventures of a little boy and his water buffalo, picture books about Laos animals- to encourage them to enjoy learning. If you want to find out more about this wonderful organization have a look at www.BigBrotherMouse.com We stocked up on some great books and camped out at the school again so we could hand them over the next morning. We really hope they help the children as they were all so keen to learn.
We were starting to run low on time now and we drove on for our last days in Laos camping one night back at the organic farm in Vang Vieng -where we picked up the skirt I'd had made and stocked up on goats cheese - and finally hit Vientiane.
As a last taste of Laos we enjoyed a lovely French meal (a bit of an expertise here and it'll be a while before we hit France!) at Le Cote D'Azur Restaurant - and very good it was too. So, with minutes to spare before the border closed at 5pm we drove once more across the Friendship Bridge between Laos and Thailand, catching our last Laos sunset setting over the Mekong on the way out. We loved Laos and would really recommend it as a destination. For now though ..time to explore the north of Thailand. I will add updates to my Thailand section…when I get around to it!