Sabaidee, two beer lao please
Trip Start Dec 04, 2006
63Trip End Aug 05, 2007
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Nathan here: flew with Laos Airlines from Siem Reap to Vientiane (the capital and only city). Was initially frustrated upon arrival as our entrance visa was more than we had expected. In fact, Canadians pay more than any other country in the world: $42 U.S. per person. Even Americans pays less at $35, same for Afghanistan (???). Cuba, China and Vietnam make out like bandits though with a cool $20 per person. No surprise there but whatever.
Tara here. I guess this is how Americans usually feel when they are forced to pay more. Whatever, I guess we need to send Laos some more aid or something to bring down the cost of the visa - but since Vietnam was close to $80 CDN and they are not even flexible on the dates like Laos - I digress...
Laos is much smaller than anywhere else we have visited on our trip - only about 6 million people. We spent two days in Vientiane with our friend Ben, who we've known since high school, and his wife Alisa. We were fortunate to spend some time with Ryan, Ben's brother from home who I have not seen since 2000, who was visiting over the holidays. Visiting with them and experiencing Laos with people that speak the language and know where to go and what food to order was a highlight for sure. We had a great dinner on Ryan's and our last night in Vientiane overlooking the Mekong (and Thailand - which is right across the river).
We stayed at a guest house belonging to the NGO they work for and that was just great - and had cheese and toast and yogourt for breakfast. What's that? Cheese you say? Well, it is the one thing I have been craving and they can get it in Laos - imported from New Zealand - God bless those Kiwis!
I spoke a lot about the poverty in Cambodia in my last blog entry - and although Laos is very comparable (some would suggest even worse off) to Cambodia when it comes to development, poverty, etc., the poverty is definitely not as much in your face here by far. We only saw a few children on the street and, in general, people are smartly dressed. There are fewer push bikes and more motor bikes. We did not even see more than 3 people on a bike (whereas in Cambodia we saw 5 people crammed onto a scooter more than once). There are also not near the number of amputees that we saw in Cambodia. However, Ben and Alisa tell us that there are many poor people in Laos it is just not as prevalent in the city (Laos is a very rural country). Also, people from Laos are much more able to get food from the land or the forest. I guess most keep some animals and chickens and grow vegetables, even in the city. Very interesting.
After a few days of good eating, visiting and massages, we left Vientiane for a scenic town called Vang Vieng which is known as a real backpacker village. This is good because it offers cheap accomodation (we are paying $7 for our own bungalow with private bathroom at Riverside Bungalows), cheap food and cheap beer. However, it is not good because of all the backpackers here. You know what I mean, 18-22 year olds looking to pick up, etc.
However, the town is set in an especially scenic area, and the main attraction is the chance to go tubing down a river called the Nam Song. It's a hard life I tell you! We spent today exploring caves, wandering the coutryside and then riding lazily down a river back to town. All the way down the river are bars offering Lao's only beer (Beerlao) and loud music - so it is not exactly getting back to nature, but it is nice to hop off your tube and get a beer while listening to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers (very loud) and watching crazy 20-somethings jump off homemade, wooden swing-type contraptions from 50 feet up into the water (see photo album).
Tomorrow we are off to visit Louang Prabang, a world-heritage site and quote "the most charming city in Southeast Asia." We'll probably have a short entry from there before we're off to Vietnam.
By the way, having trouble uploading pics for this entry so you'll have to check back in a couple of days.
T & N.