This is the first of a series of blogs about trips a few years back. They’re mainly meant as a personal record, but, if you find them interesting, have a read.
Every time I arrive in the Lao PDR, or Laos to its friends, I’m amazed by how rapidly things change in this truly developing nation. This is probably most apparent here in the capital Vientiane, with roads being sealed, traffic lights installed, and thousands and thousands of locals lashing out to purchase that ever popular form of family transport, the 100cc motorbike. These little bikes are everywhere, and carry anything from a family of five through to beds and furniture.
So, why am I here in Vientiane? Well, it’s not to just tick off another visit to a country that will never appear on the five star luxury tour itineraries. I’m actually here to follow through on my dream of helping make a difference in the lives of people who, through no fault of their own, have fewer opportunities than most westerners. Part one has been attending an international forum on water and food where experts from around the globe got together to share ideas on increasing food security through better management of our water resources. Part two is a bit more practical.
It’s morning. I’m staying in one of the “deluxe” rooms at the Mali Namphu Guest House, so I’ve had the benefit of a small air conditioning unit to take the edge off my night’s rest on the rock-hard Asian mattress. Definitely worth the extra $2US per night for the upgrade! Breakfast is fairly basic, but hey, at $20US for bed and breakfast, who’s complaining? And, I can always duck into the little shop around the corner and get fresh squeezed fruit juice for another buck.
Time to walk the three blocks to the office of the NGO (non-government organisation) that my Aussie friend Rob works for, providing a variety of assistance programs to villages in some of the poorest regions of the country. It’s already hot, but I dress in long trousers out of respect for local customs. Rob works in another province, but I’m taking the opportunity today to meet with the NGO’s country manager to discuss some observations from my last visit, before I head down south myself to the regional office.
I enjoy the walk, listening to people talking in a language that sounds like, but isn’t, Thai. Past the street stalls selling baguettes. Past the gangs of men building a new shopping centre with bamboo scaffolding and wheelbarrows of concrete. Past the group of ladies waiting to give their food offerings to the monks, who may be sons or brothers, but can’t touch them directly. Past all the odd little places that sell things I don’t quite understand, to keep food on the table for the families that live in the little rooms at the back.
At last, I arrive at the office and, as is the local custom, take off my dusty sandals and head inside barefoot to join the local team.
– coming next – Vientiane to Salavan by overnight bus