Sabaidee from Laos! Part 2

Saturday, March 13, 2004
We may not have even stopped in Pakse, except that there were some ancient ruins on the Pakse’s outskirts and Rob’s aunt was in town! It was a coincidence that she was going to be in Laos at the same time as us, but not a coincidence that we would find her in Pakse, we planned to meet her and her friend there. We organized to meet at a restaurant for dinner, but given that there were only a handful of foreigners in town anyway, it really shouldn’t have been a surprise that we bumped into them at the afternoon market. We went out for a few drinks and she took us out for a great dinner. Thanks, Pam! The Angkor era temple was interesting as well, but even more memorable was the rice paddy irrigation ditch we stopped at on the way back. It was so hot on that day that when we saw the water pouring out of the large pipe and lots of kids splashing around in the “pool”, we couldn’t resist. They couldn’t believe it when Rob hopped off the motorbike and jumped straight into the water. They were even more surprised when I jumped in! Bathing suits are considered really improper (especially on women), so we went in fully clothed like everyone else. It was great to ride the 30 kilometers back on the bike soaking wet!

In Vientiane, the capital of Laos, we went to a Buddha Park. Sounds boring enough, but it was great! Usually Buddha statues are really old and venerated, but these ones were concrete and built in the 1950’s… so no one cared if you climbed on the sturdy ones and posed like them all. So we did! And it was fun! I think we were allowed to do it at our own expense though, people generally stare a lot, but we became the afternoon’s entertainment for everyone else in the park! And, if you are ever in Laos, make sure you go to a BBQ restaurant. It’s like fondue, but it’s your whole meal!

Another place we stopped in at was called Veng Vieng. Since Laos is a landlocked country, we were eager to go somewhere that had water you could go in (other the the irrigation ditch). Veng Vieng is known for river tubing! You rent a tire and then they drop you four kilometers away from town along the river’s edge. You hop in on your tube and float along the river… all the while gazing at the large karst formations (which are kind of like big rocky hills) until you get thirsty. When you get thirsty, you just let someone from one of the many riverside “bars” pull you in with their long bamboo stick and you can get a beer! Only beer, that’s all they have. By the time you about ready to finish, you have arrived into town! It’s a fantastically lazy, non-culture activity that I highly recommend.

We went to Phonsavanh to check out the Plain of Jars and to see what the local people have done with all the stuff leftover from the war. Laos has the distinction of being the most bombed country on earth. This province is known for being extremely resourceful in using all the leftover parts from the war. Even 30 years later they are gathering up metal for scrap. One night we were sitting having dinner on the main road when a rice paddy tractor full of cluster bomb shells came down the road! Soon after we saw a water buffalo whisked by going god knows where. We have seen war paraphernalia used as benches, fences, lights, barbeques, and general building material. Plus, someone decided to make spoons out of old aircraft aluminium; everyone uses them. Some of the bombs have not yet detonated and we actually saw the Lao UXO (UnExploded Ordinance) team in action. A group of people were fanning out over a field using metal detectors. And, in the short while we were visiting the Jars, they detonated two bombs… just off the side of the road from where we were. Needless to say, we heeded the warnings to stay on clearly marked paths.

Anyway, about these Jars. No one knows exactly what they are or where they came from but there are these gigantic stone jars strewn about the province. Some of them weigh six tons! Some have lids, some are broken, and some are fully intact. Most of the little ones have “disappeared”. One is even placed on a giant pedestal in front of a construction company on the main road. All they really seemed to have figured out about these jars is that they are probably 2000 years old and probably had something to do with death. Maybe they buried people or their ashes inside these sarcophagus sized jars. Maybe we will never know! All I know is that we spent 7 hours on the mountain’s edge getting there, and seven hours getting to our next destination. It might be the most random trip I’ve ever taken… except spending 50 hours on a bus getting to a swamp.

You'll hear from me again soon!

Love, Alison


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