Saturday, February 16, 2008

Laid back Laos


After five days of exploring the ruins of Angkor Wat I decided to head back into the south of Laos. The route out of Cambodia was punctuated by billboards showing several sets of skinny, veined arms passing pistols, automatic rifles, and hand grenades over to a set of smooth, plump arms. After paying an unofficial 1$ 'fee' for immigration to stamp my passport, I was back in gentle, honest Laos.

I immediately went to Don Det Island, where I spent 5 days viewing the inside of a hammock outside of my private bungalow. Hammock swinging is something of a ritual on Don Det island. When the falang (foreigners) do manage to peal themselves from their hammocks it is to ride around the island on gearless, brakeless bikes singing out "sabadee" (hello) to each other. Alternatively you can jump into the Mekong for a refreshing swim. After getting out of the river one day, I saw a water snake gliding along in the water!

After this I went to Tat Lo village, stopping at several minority villages on the way. The people of these villages worship the spirits of their dead ancestors, and the rules regarding the proper way to behave so as not to offend the spirits are interesting. Women are not supposed to sit or sleep with their feet pointing at any man. Clapping hands is forbidden, as this could disturb the spirits. If these or other rules are violated, even by a tourist, an atonement sacrifice must be made to appease the spirits. The type of animal sacrificed depends on the gravity of the offense, and could be as large and expensive of an animal as a buffalo. You have to be carefull visiting these villages! At Tat Lo, I stayed in a bungalow right next to a large waterfall and went for another elephant ride. After this, sadly, my time in Laos was up, and I headed back to Bangkok for my flight to New Zealand.

In Laos, big, communal meals are an important part of the culture, and I was invited to eat at several of these while I was there. Often, the table is first spread with banana leaves. Food is then set in the center of the table in dishes or piled directly on the leaves and everyone digs in with their fingers, setting aside the bones and any other discarded pieces. By the end of the meal the table looks as if a hand grenade went off in the middle of it. No problem! The leaves are cleared away into the jungle for the animals to pick clean.

Lao people also love to dance and listen to loud music. Lao dancing is very clean, with the men and women dancing next to each other but not touching as they sashay around in a large circle and make graceful, twirling hand motions. Overall, the Lao culture is very laid back, soft spoken, and having fun is extremely important. It's about as far as you can get from our hurried American pace!

A Cambodian market

Arachnophobia, anyone?

People from the villages I visited:

Everyone in this village, young, old, women, and men, smokes tobacco in these long pipes.

Grinding grains

After grandmother checks to see that the coffee beans are dry, a boy gathers the sundried beans into a basket.

An American souvenir. The villagers make good use of the bombs we inundated Laos with during the Vietnam war, using them as planters and containers of various types. We dropped two million dollars worth of bombs per day-about 1300 lbs per person, destroying many villages and fields and terrorizing the people here who depend on the land to survive. Some of these bombs did not explode on impact and still kill and maim today.

Most of Laos is hilly, with thick green vegetation

These trucks are the most common form of transport in Laos. They have benches down the sides, but not everyone gets a seat. They often don't leave until they are so full that not another person could possibly hang off the back or fit inside.

After casting the net, he will jump into the river to bring out any fish caught

These wooden boats are quite common along the Mekong river

Working in the garden on Don Det

My bungalow on Don Det Island

Here I am on another elephant ride. I crossed a large river, went through the jungle, and into an off-road village on this elephant ride.

No comments: