Wednesday, 4 August 2004

Laos pt 1

I'm back, but have been too busy to write properly. Hopefully I'll do some more catching up today, but for the time being here is what I wrote about my holiday yesterday... (it ends quite suddenly)


It's back to work then, in a rather subdued school as many of the kindergarten are still on holiday. My Rainbow class only had 3 of 11 today, so we just watched a video. I expect the rest of my day to not quite be so easy, although as with yesterday I expect class numbers to be slightly depleted.

I arrived back in Daegu at 11pm on Sunday, after about 36 hours of continuous travel and little useful sleep, and was at work less than 12 hours later. Surprisingly not too tired, though I slept well last night. Although just a week's holiday, it seemed like a lot more and so I'm having to re-adjust to being back to work and stable life as if I'd been away a month.

I last wrote over a week ago, I believe, in the Lao capital Vientiane. The next day I took a 10.30am bus with Emily and Rosie to Laos's second largest (but far less visited) city, Savanakhet, population 120,000.

The bus journey took most of the day, stuffed in a busy bus that stumbled along crumbling roads, past numerous wooden houses on stilts. Actually, the road was in reasonable condition because it is one of Laos' main roads and so wasn't punctured by potholes or covered in gravel as I believe many roads are. Still, it wasn't exactly UK motorway quality, possibly more comparable to a little winding road somewhere in the Highlands. Fortunately, as the main traffic was little motorbikes there wasn't a big problem with traffic congestion. It wasn't a bad journey though: despite bumping around perpetually, the scenery was interesting. Mostly flat, with a few hills later, but it was the numerous little wooden houses and occasional house/shop hybrid that were interesting. Most were on stilits, to avoid flooding during the wet season (which is now), although the open area made by the stilts was effectlively used as a room by the extended family of each house. In many of these houses, electrictity and running water weren't exactly built-in - little concession had been made to the events of the last few hundred years of modernisation. Still, it looked naively idyllic, as families lay around in the heat, which chickens and dogs running around with the children. Everyone looked quite happy, much moreso than the average dour Aberdonian face or rushing Daegu resident. However, as Laos has an almost 1% infant mortality rate and is one of the poorest countries on Earth, I would guess that the idyllic scene portrayed as my bus struggled by was not a lifetime of nirvana for those living it daily.

Our 9 hour, £2.25 bus journey arrived some time after 7pm, with darkness recently fallen. The bus station was on the outskirts of town so we needed to get a tuk-tuk (a motorbike front with covered seats for up to four Westerners/200 natives on the back) to our accommodation of choice, the Mekong Hotel. Rosie and Emily, being filthy travellers, always wanted to get the cheapest accommodation but as I was on holiday I wanted a little more luxury. Therefore I was quite happy to subsidise them in the slightly swankier setting of the Mekong Hotel, costing a whopping £6 a night for a spacious three bedroom room with bath and shower (admittedly cold and flaccid).

We ate some food and then went in search of some nightlife. The Lonely Planet's suggestion of a nearby cafe was found to be wanting as while the cafe existed, and while it was open, and while it served alcohol, it was entirely void of people or atmosphere. And so all the streets seemed to be. Savanakhet was very quiet.

Then we stumbled upon a few local youth outside a cafe or shop, sitting at a table, and Rosie's impressive communication skills came to the rescue. Despite only knowing a few words of Lao, she managed to get across the idea that we were looking for somewhere to go drinking and the youths were more than happy to help. They jumped up and told us to get on their motorbikes, and motored down a series of dirty mud roads spotted with puddles and to some red neon bar crammed with young Savanakhetters drinking and merrymaking. And singing karaoke, a very popular past-time in most Asian countries it would seem.

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