Tag Archives: Laos

Island Vibes

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Welcome to Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands), Mekong archipelago, Laos, land of the Lotus Eaters.

A place to mellow your days away, blissing out in hammocks, supping on fresh fish, straying no father than heat dictates. For amusement: a spot of ‘tubing’; an attempt at fishing; a leisurely bike ride.

The only thing you need tax your mind about is which side of the island to stay on – sunrise or sunset?

exodus, joining the hordes for the boat ride to Don Det

exodus, joining the hordes for the boat ride to Don Det

find a bamboo shack (or tepee) and settle in

find a bamboo shack (or tepee) and settle in

location, location, location (howz the serenity?)

location, location, location (howz the serenity?)

a delicious meal of 'laap', the nation dish of Laos

a delicious meal of ‘laap’, the national dish

Richie goes local

Richie goes local

remarkable mango tree, awaiting the rain to bud some fruit

remarkable mango tree, awaiting the rain to bud some fruit

cold noodle breakfast

cold noodle breakfast (Paul got the runs shortly after this one… me and Rich fared better)

bamboo fishing rigs designed  to ensnare a rainy season catch

bamboo fishing rig designed to ensnare a rainy season catch

cooling down with a watermelon shake. Easy on the sweetened condensed milk!

cooling down with a watermelon shake. Easy on the sweetened condensed milk!

Don Khon wat

Don Khon wat

Mekong rapids, Li Phi falls, Don Khon

Mekong rapids, Li Phi falls, Don Khon

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COPE: Legacies of War

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10am. Vientiane is on fire. Quench flames at local pool. En route, COPE Visitor Centre. Limbs hung from ceiling, cluster bombies reconfigured, given new life: makeshift rice cookers, canoes, raised garden beds, sculptures. Stories of horror. Sound of heaven torn asunder. Rice fields rupture, moonscape  craters – mum, dad, brothers, sisters… gone in a bloom of earth and shrapnel. A neat new crop sewn, round metal seeds lay in wait the tender touch of human flesh, the seeking fingertips of children at play. Living in a minefield… life to this day.

survivor artwork
survivor artwork

During the American War in Vietnam, Laos was subjected to American aerial bombardment, representing the heaviest US bombing campaign since World War II, and making Laos the most bombed country in history. The deadly legacy of this destruction continues, with the country still scattered with unexploded ordnance.”

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COPE is a not-for-profit organisation that works in partnership with the National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) to provide access to orthotic/prosthetic devices and rehabilitation services, including physiotherapy and occupational therapy.

There are a range of reasons why someone may need to use the services from COPE:

  • Unexploded Ordnance (UXO)
  • Children with Disabilities
  • Polio
  • Club Foot
  • Leprosy
  • Trauma

To learn more about COPE or to make a donation, visit their website. Alternately, if you find yourself in Vientiane on a hot sticky day dive into the COPE Visitor Centre and take refuge in the air conditioned exhibition rooms or cinema. Free of cost.

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Stealing Jackfruit in Luang Prabang

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If there’s one crime that suits my disposition better than others it’s stealing fruit. In England, harvesting fruit without permission is a sport fondly referred to as ‘scrumping’. It’s a right of passage. No stigma attached. Even the prime minister would be forgiven fruit-stealing proclivities so long as he atoned by lowering the tax on apple cider.

Here on the banks of the Mekong, in a country twice removed from the grassy orchards of Somerset, there’s every chance that scrumping is an offence punishable by more than just a slap on the wrists.

The fruit that has got me wondering whether it’s ever right to steal, is none other than the king of fruits, the mighty mighty jackfruit: big as an Ox and knobblier than granny’s crochet blankets. This one’s a beauty: the fruit is roughly wombat-size, irregular, oblong, kissed with black at its extremities, and anchored to the trunk by a stem as thick and sinuous as an umbilical chord. The tree has delivered one hell of a baby!

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Thai jackfruit for sale in the market in Jinghong, China

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River Life

“The river is everywhere.” 
– Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

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In Laos rivers are everywhere. They run like long legs down the length of the country, carrying life on their broad backs, travelling swiftly in places, and in others, slow. Life on the banks of the Nam Ou in Northern Laos is fluid and slow, vigorous and languid in turn, changing with the seasons. For children there’s ample time to play and for adults, time enough to discuss the minor calibrations of the day, which is configured around the rituals of washing and harvesting. For the water buffalo, there’s no work but swatting flies.

The appeal of river life draws travellers in large numbers to tiny Nong Khiaw and Mong Ngoi Neu, villages 100km upstream from the northern capital, Luang Prabang. In January and February, when the Nam Ou is at its lowest, tourist numbers peak, and when the waters swell in June, the number of tourists ebb. This is the time the river renews itself, absorbing into its stream the reams of water that uncoil from the mountainside, gathering like snakes among river rocks, fingering into the cliffs, boring caves deep enough to accommodate whole villages. The shores, where corn and beans grow during dry season, are inundated, and when the waters recedes, a shimmering shelf of silt is revealed, ready to coax the sap to rise in another season of crops.

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Life in the more remote villages of the Nam Ou has changed very little in the last century: boys are eligible to marry only after they have mastered the art of building, and the boat builder is one of the most important citizens in the village. As soon as boys are tall enough to hold their fathers’ fishing nets clear of the sand, they learn to cast, and even the smallest child, male or female, knows how to hold his or her head above water while diving with hands outstretched to grab thick tufts of vivid green river weed that their mothers transform into crisp savoury sun-dried snacks, encrusted with tamarind juice, sesame seeds, and slices of tomato and garlic.

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kae paen, river weed

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One Year of Faces: Part 2

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One Year of Faces: Part 1

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On the 23rd of this month Richie and I celebrated one year on the road! 365 remarkable days! If there’s one thing that has characterised the experience for us, it’s the people. As a tribute to the places we’ve been and the friends we’ve made, I offer a gallery of faces: each one beautiful and unforgettable in its own way.

These are people with whom we’ve couch surfed, Wwoofed, played, partied, wept, worked and dreamt. Thank you, each and every one of you, for the inspiration you’ve offered us; the chance to mingle our life journeys with yours.

Thank you… شكرا… спасибо… σας ευχαριστώ… gràcies… 谢谢… tak… merci… მადლობა გადაგიხადოთ… תודה… grazie… ຂໍຂອບໃຈທ່ານ… با تشکر از شما… mulțumesc… ¡gracias… teşekkür ederim… diolch i chi… Ake Issrebeh Moulana… tanemmirt…

To turn these images into a slideshow please click on any one of them!

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Jungle Fever

Warning: this blog contains gratuitous references to diarrhoea.

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Bumping through rapids in rubber kayaks is a sport that’s dear to me. It’s how Richie and I met 6 years ago, and coincidentally, how we chose to celebrate one year of life on the road together, in Laos. This time, it was brown water and not white water I feared. River kayaking is a dangerous activity at the best of times, but kayaking with diarrhoea is a sport that only the hardiest attempt!

There comes a time, whilst travelling in South East Asia, when the only thing to do is ‘man up’ and carry on with whatever activity you’ve planned for the day, in spite of cramps, nausea and the persistent need to relieve yourself.

In the lean hours of the morning, moments before sun-up on the first day of our 3-day trekking/kayaking adventure, I considered it might be prurient to give the experience a miss. Richie would be disappointed, and there was also the risk of losing our deposit to consider, but all in all, staying in and waiting for the deluge to pass seemed a wholly more attractive and sensible option. Continue reading

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