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Cambodia/Laos Trip Blog

twisting by the pool

well, in our dreams… actually sitting in the OldTown white coffee café, KL airport terminal one…. all checked in and waiting another 3 hours before we can board.

Today has been lovely and the fight from Vientiane to here very smooth… the Leuxay hotel opened their kitchen an hour early for us and presented individual eggs and bacon… very 4 star in service… and then took us in their mini bus to the international terminal (it was an hour before check in opened but at least we weren’t going to miss it).

KL airport is huge and we caught a train from one to the other to link up for our final flight… the smog is still thick and a health warning has been issued… we’ve hung out in the café for the past 2 hours sharing memories and highlights (checkout the favourite city/site/moment chart photo)…

in all, it has been a pleasure to spend time with such a strong group of young people and all have grown significantly from the experience…

thanks for reading & see you soon

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our last hurrah

one of the best ways to enjoy a final day before you spend a day traveling is to go out and do something and as tempting as it was to simply pack, swim in the pool, eat, watch movies, swim in the pool and generally hang out at the Leuxay, that’s exactly what we did.

It may not seem like much but a trip to the day market gave as a new perspective on the tourist oriented night market. This collection of stalls and malls had higher quality goods and was more in line with what we expect. This wasn’t a shopping venture but an experience (but we did buy a few things). A real indicator is the fact that we missed the Wat for the 2nd day running… ‘bop en yang’.

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Not a lot of the mall here but it was there. After an hour or so we wandered down past the royal palace to an outdoor restaurant on the Mekong… here it was roast chicken & fish that were the feature but some of the milkshakes in the mall were so filling that some skipped lunch.

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another tuk tuk ride to our hotel gave as a chance for more packing and a swim before we headed out again for a final dinner. At the Homemade restaurant we all enjoyed a great last meal with some of the team’s favourite, spaghetti, featuring.

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and of course, with our 5000 kip each for our final tuk tuk ride ‘home’ safely stored in our pockets, we ventured one last time through the night market to see if there was anything we could still afford that we had forgotten.

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so it is farewell to our brief taste of the Lao capital… tomorrow morning it is bags downstairs at 6 am for a light breakfast before a 6.30 departure for the airport. Lots to be happy about and hopefully we’ll be able to do one more highlights blog during our 10 hr layover in Malaysia’s KL airport..

the Twisters signing off:)

 

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Vientiane time

goodbye to the heritage city of Luang Prabang and the Philayack Villa; thank you to UNESCO for recognising the importance of preserving this glorious location.

Up early (5am!) with our tuk tuk ready and waiting it was a 10USD ride to the airport before our 7.45am departure. The Air Lao T172 was a new model and smooth as could be, cruising at 550 kmph at 27000 ft max altitude (not for very long mind you… barely at height before we started our descent but what do you expect on a 50 min flight). To land with light precipitation was a bit of a reminder to just how good the weather has been but it didn’t last long.

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Prices to travel from an airport are always inflated and here we had to pay for a taxi and a mini-van to take us to the Leuxay Hotel (which is sorta close, certainly not in the city centre but in a neighbouring suburbs 3 kms away… to compensate for the isolation they do provide a one way shuttle to the centre twice daily – 10 am & 5 pm but you have to find your own way back… this has been 40000 kip or 5000 each today).

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The hotel itself is a step or two up from our guest house and while they prepared our rooms we had time to use their complementary shuttle to explore a little of Vientiane. For 120,000 kip we hired a tuk tuk driver to show us a few sites and first on the list was the amazing Pha That Luang, touted as the most important national monument in Laos. Inside the golden stupa is reportedly, a piece of Budda’s breast bone placed there in 3 BC! It really is a stunning place and evidently a favourite setting for wedding photos (we came across some newly weds having a photo shoot in traditional dress… also stunning).

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Many buildings make up this monument complex and another palatial one housed a golden budda with a roof of  mesmerising design and a wall frieze of budda in action; a great place for meditation.

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Our driver was a patient man (you only pay once your ‘tour’ has been completed and always agree on a price before you get in) and our ‘quick visit’ soon extended to a lao-time visit (no rush). He still had two stops to go and next on the list was the Patuxai, Vientiane’s version of the Arc de Triomphe (was made from cement donated by the Americans in the early 60’s to build a new airport… whoops… locals call it the vertical runway..). A recent addition is the Peace Gong which we hope will be run with gusto very very soon. Apart from the curiosity value, the ride there is fun and shows a side of life that you might otherwise miss.

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and before you get carried away, it is the Buddhist symbol for peace and love (created 2500 years ago) that the Nazi’s distorted for their own purposes… feel free to give advice on some of the others on the gong though as there are a few we’re not too sure of.

Our final stop was Wat Si Saket, a wat full of unique features and with a reputation to appease the most overdosed… it is also the oldest temple of Vientiane… turns out it is going to have to wait though as it was closed for lunch when we arrived. Oh well, maybe tomorrow before we do our final pack for home.

till then, the Twisters (just mixing it up in the name game)

 

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goodnight market

the Luang Prabang night market has been a regular feature of our time here and even though tonight it was only for an after dinner crepe snack, it will be missed. Spanning several blocks on what is a major thoroughfare during the day past the royal palace and one street back from the Mekong, this collection of textiles, spices, jewellery, clothing, journals, coffee/tea, recycled paper products, bags, pencil cases, religious items, paintings, arts and crafts has a life of its own. Fringed by crepe, sandwich, meat, soup & smoothie houses, street food is accessible and delectable.

Prices range from 1000 kip for a woven bracelet through to hundreds of thousands for silk wall hangings, exotic necklaces or begging urns. The food is anything from 5000 – 25000 kip. Money burns a hole in your pocket here and you can easily end up with items simply for the sake of haggling for it…. something with a starting price of 200000 can end up being sold for 50000 (or less). The key thing is to conduct the process with respect and when a deal is done, your $ is slapped against the remaining items for good luck.

This is no Siem Reap while some of the same items can be recognised and we’ll be able to compare to the Vientiane version over the next few days… for now, it is time to pack and rest before our early start tomorrow.

Lou (LFHS’s team name for now)

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last day in Luang Prabang

Today is our first real leisure day and we spend it seeking the calm and the cool. A great way to start is to get up at 5am to give alms to the monks and aided by Souk (our guide from yesterday who also studies law &English) we bought sticky rice and biscuits for distribution. The concept is simple, a gong chimes to call the monks to the street where locals and tourists wait to drop offerings into their bowl as they pass; whatever is in the bowl is their food for the day. They move quickly and sticky rice is pretty sticky, making it hard to provide for all… Dash had to intercept some on the way back to the wat to share his leftovers. The whole ceremony is sacred and called the Tak Bat.

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The alms giving took about an hour so by 6.30am we were back at our guest house having a little more rest before a breakfast date at 8. We tried somewhere different today, a café on the Mekong frontage where you could get eggs, bacon, fruit, baguette, coffee and juice for 35,000 kip…. not bad for 4.5USD (1AUS = 5500 kip).

Satiated, it was time to break ranks with Rob, Tiffany and Alyssa choosing to avoid the 200 odd steps of the local lookout, the Phu Si. Opposite the Royal Palace…

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the entry fee of 20000 kip was worth it… especially when you get asked to be part of other tourist photos (the Japanese love us).. on top, monks started conversations and one volunteer from Big Brother Mouse (www.bigbrothermouse.com) told us that he had the day off due to Lao national teachers day. Normally he is part of the program that provides literacy support to children near and far who would not get it otherwise. Rob and Dash met one of the managers and author at the market a few nights ago and they are an important service.

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There is a small wat also at the top and quiet worship areas with altars, burning incense and symbolic ornaments; the view is worth the effort.

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Once down from the lookout, you can visit another small Wat where ancient drawings cling to crumbling walls… here you can donate for its upkeep and Rebecca, John, James, Amy and Dash were happy to help out. In some ways it was quite refreshing to see a Wat not dominated by gold leaf..

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our 90000 will be put to good use and every little bit helps…

Soon it was time for a final lunch with Andrew from the Luang Prabang Orphanage School (www.supportlaochildren.com) and while the local’s choice rule applied (meals for 35,000 +) the food was fantastic. It certainly was a contrast to our street food of skewers of meat for 2ooo kip or soups/sandwiches for 15000 or fill a plate of vegetarian food for 10000. In restaurants we’ve tried to keep menus of 25000 on our radar.

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and now we’re back, fans spinning, reclining on the bed…. just waiting for the heat of the day to pass… later we’ll pack and it is a 5.30 start for the airport with a flight to Vientiane and our final few days…. home soon

Sammy (LFHS’s travelling crews gender non-specific pseudonym for this blog)

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elephant village adventure

wowee… just when you think you can’t jam any more experience in you get it in the rump, literally; riding elephants and spending time in their company was a real privilege. Fast on the way to being officially endangered, this eco resort was the passion of an Austrian man who wanted to help; all of the funds raised here are channelled into the care of these marvellous beasts.

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This is a beautiful place and unlike yesterday’s tour that didn’t include any frills, this one provided stunning vistas, fresh drinking water and many informative workers and signs… they also recycle elephant dung, making paper dyed red for impact… the elephants take guests (you can stay here for 2 nights for 130USD with rides etc included) on a continuous loop (river, trail road walk) before being treated to bananas and then being released into the forest for the afternoon/night. In the mornings, the mahouts call their animal (each elephant has their own mahout) and it starts again. Elephants eat 200kg of bamboo / leaves per day and drink 80 – 100L of water. They may well get a bit sick of the monotony of the tourist trade but it does provide for them.

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When you think of amusement rides, this venture would make the carnys proud; seatbelts and guard rails are used to keep the riding couple secure as the elephants lumber gracefully, using their trunks as a sonar to guide the way. Rob’s and Tiffany’s was frisky, spraying water and holding its ground before following the mahout’s cajoling; the water play seemed to be catching.

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once through the first river crossing, it was time for the riders to become the mahout (well, pretend) and this shows how trusting these gentle giants are (or how good the mahouts are).blog 11c6 blog 11c7 blog 11c8

and then we were back at the resort and the elephants were ‘stabled’ in the eating area… Dash couldn’t work out what why his elephant kept reaching its trunk towards him, thinking it wanted his stick… eventually he worked out that it was sniffing for bananas and after buying a bunch for 1USD, it was much happier.

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Before lunch (a buffet of local curry, vegetables and rice), it was a trip across river to the baby elephant camp and this bull and cow were happy to get our attention..

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and then it was upstream past local workers to Tad Sae waterfall. This is a popular spot and no wonder… the water is sublime and our team could not get enough. We were a little disappointed that the zip line and swimming with baby elephants was not available (still low season, come back in a month) but only a little…. eventually, our guide, Soak, had to force us to get out!

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tomorrow is our leisure day but already we are planning to give alms to the Buddhist monks (5 am start!) and climb the Phu Si (the local lookout)… not many days left and we are absorbing as much as we can… LFHS community can be proud as Alyssa, James, John, Tiffany and Rebecca are superb young people.

Jay (this blog’s team name)

ps don’t forget that some of these photos are panoramas but they should open up if you click on them…

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the wonderful Mekong

the lifeblood of our world is water and it was refreshing (excuse the pun) to watch a doco (the limited channels here do provide 3 English speaking channels BBC, CNN & DW – a german production) that shared the establishment of a transportable filtering system for use anywhere. The down side is that there are still 1 in every 9 people in our world going hungry every day… no doubt, some of them are in Lao. Duesch World also shared a story about Whale Fishing, a company that is touring the channels of Amsterdam scooping the plastic waste from its waterways. They recycle this and use it to make boats! There are now even tourist tours where you can help collect.

Here, the Mekong dominates and this was a feature of our first tour day yesterday, a highlight for many the hours spent on the water chugging our way upstream (2 hours) and costing down (one). It is surprisingly perilous with rocky outcrops marked by floating plastic bottles used as markers along with large concrete cairns where you can se the rocks protruding.

Ken (conveniently westernised for us ‘falang’) was our guide and we began by walking from our uncomplicated lodgings (no Royal Crown Hotel but does have the basics and according to the locals, pretty typical….. and certainly affordable – thanks James) down the road, to….

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One of the great things is that our guest house is right in the heart of the old town and walking to the key sights isn’t an issue. The museum is actually the home of the royal family, their personal wat and palace. The family itself is in exile in Europe, fleeing after the uprisings of 1975 (a BIG year in this region) and the formation of the people’s democratic republic (which is actually communist?). Inside, it is cover up, shoes off, no pictures and no touching…. what is inside is opulent as in rich! and one room is full of gifts from other nations including a boomerang from the Aussies and a piece of lunar rock from the Yanks.

And then the Mekong and Pak Ou caves…. our 43 seat boat was on the upmarket side and quite restful…. riverside life is simple with terraced gardens and children splashing and laughing… pretty hard to find any down side to this journey. And then there are the caves…. full of buddas, this is a temple of its own, the notion being that the water that drips through the limestone, provides nourishment for them which then flows into the Mekong and downstream to the people….blog 10b blog 10b1 blog 10b2 blog 10b3 blog 10b4 blog 10b5 blog 10b6 blog 10b7 blog 10c

and in the wonderful Luang Prabang world of dubious internet provision, it is going to be a halt to this blog so we can catch our 8.30am transport for the 2nd day of our tour…. till later

INTERMISSION

and we’re back! it seems that the mid afternoons when most tourists are out (or business demand means stronger signal?) when internet is at its best… so back to yesterday

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conveniently, across the river are a few restaurants… and of course, the tour operator had one he could recommend (as you do…) As per normal, prices were elevated when in such a tourist driven site…

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and then back on to the river as we headed downstream to the silk village…. there was an offer of a visit to the lao-lao (aka whiskey) village but we politely declined.. getting a bit tired now, lulled by the hum of the motor, the lapping water against the hull, the comfy seats, the warm sun and the fresh air..

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there was no haggling in this village and the recycled paper and hand made silks were only surpassed by the elephant dung cards and jungle vine tree of life designs (these sell for a million kip each…. 125USD)… just in case you were wondering the life cycle of a butterfly (egg – worm – pupae – butterfly) is 45 days in summer with a bonus 15 in winter… the butterflies die 3 days after laying their eggs and the silk comes from the cocoons (from 200 – 500 metres each one).

To finish the day we went to the herald champion of all wats in LP… the Wat Xieng Thong (yep, got it wrong the other day, that was Wat Pha Mahathat)… and it is a real beauty… the remains of past rulers are housed here and the gold trim is bedazzling…

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and then we had our (becoming a regular event) afternoon quiet time before heading off for yet another night market assault…. and that’s another blog…

final words for this one..

we love.. Luang prabang

Leigh (just gunna make up gender non specific names now as the team is not being overly creative)

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Culture, Community, Calm

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Our 2nd day at the Luang Prabang Orphanage School has exceeded expectations… we have shopped for ingredients at the local market, cooked a traditional meal (chicken larp with pork & liver infusion accompanied by sticky rice… and a whole lot better than the one I ordered for lunch at the Mekong River restaurant), distributed new sleeping mats, provided a tertiary scholarship, shared more aussie treats, done some general maintenance, been introduced to Andrew’s wife La (and been invited to have dinner with the family Wed night!), played, laughed and conducted a flag ceremony. By all accounts, this has been a wonderful start to our relationship.

The local market is vibrant and pungent, full of a mixture of tools, books, herbs, meats and vegetables. Having pre-ordered our ingredients, this was a quick pick-up and then it was off to the orphanage to begin preparations… we only had 2 hours to get everything ready.

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Preparation for 600 is a bit of a big deal and our head chef was a great director. We used old thongs to start the 5 fire pits (sort of a environmentalists conundrum – reuse Vs pollution) and fuelled by teak off cuts. The herbs were chopped, liver and pork fat sliced, chicken stirred in extra large woks, rice brewed in extra large pots (check out the shovel). All the while the younger children looked through the lattice work or windows, smelling in the flavours and salivating with anticipation. John, James, Alyssa, Rob & Dash were the helpers while Amy, Tiffany and Rebecca went with Andrew to start replacing sleeping mats (plastic as straw ones fester with weevils) in the younger boy’s dorms. Ultimately, everything got tossed together and when the bell rang, they came running…. no one was complaining and our head chef was beaming.

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Just before lunch was served we had a chance to wander amongst the grounds once again where we came across some older boys playing guitar… their tuning strategy was a little random but got close and after Dash helped out we were treated to a song; the self confidence to sing and play for the falangs (tourists) was impressive. When the bell rang and the children streamed from dorms to get their fill, he continued to serenade us; it was beautiful.

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Now it was time for our lunch… Andrew took us via the hotel that he first started and then to the Mekong river front for stunning views and local food. Lao-time is one that is not in a hurry so an hour soon became more before… nice to relax and soak in the surrounds.

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On our return to the orphanage the children sensed we were up to something and they were right. It was time to give out our remaining gifts and they were in for a treat….. chocolates, lollies, balls and learning tools were shared and while the initial giving was ordered, it soon became a fest of enthusiasm and appreciation. It was the younger ones who really enjoyed this as the older ones did not engage; they were happy to wait their turn and if it ran out (which it did) it was a contented ‘bo pen yang’ (no problem). We were also introduced to Andrew’s wife, La who continued the celebrations with icey poles from a local vendor. The joy in their eyes says it all…

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Before we left for the day, it was one more round of sleeping mat replacement, a roof jaunt to clear overhanging branches (if anything breaks in Lao, it just stays broken… repair isn’t part of the culture… thank you Rob.. don’t worry, Dash was there to catch him). And finally, it was time for a flag ceremony to acknowledge our commitment… they now have the indigenous, Torres Strait and anglo aussie versions to remember us by.

time for dinner now and a play in the night market.

LFHS crew feeling good

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Big, Bigger, Best?

The Luang Prabang Orphanage School has always been our main goal and yesterday our time with Andrew Brown (the ex-pat Aussie who now manages 3 orphanage/schools) and the 600 children (ages 3-19) was rich with experience and sharing. The simple fact that there are more photos than the austere Angkor world heritage area says plenty about the value of human contact over bricks and mortar. We spent half a day on site with a foray to a local restaurant for lunch breaking it up from nervous touring around the 8 dorms, the kitchen (today we are going to be cooking lunch – their one meal per day for a weekend; 2 during the week), general serving area that becomes a flurry of excitable collecting when the bell rings and the play areas (one 3 seat swing, a basketball court with broken back board, some concrete table tennis tables, the garden and ablution blocks).

After lunch it was play time, the gifts came out, Dash got his hair done, Rob signed a memorandum of understanding with Andrew and we laughed together. The 600 children come from 3 main ethnic groups (Hmong, Khmuic, Lao) and while a little tatty around the edges they radiate appreciation. Andrew is in partnership with the Lao government who provide the basics (which slowly is becoming less basic as he has become recognised for his work after 8 years) and they provide the teachers and minimal utilities assistance. The aim now is for Andrew to secure as many sponsors as possible for the high school graduates so they can go to university. If they graduate, they get full employment by the government… a good deal!

Right now, we’re having brekky in the Joma café, created and run by an American ex-pat (think bagels, coffee, waffles) and it is here that we meet our driver. Also we spent some time yesterday wandering amongst the grounds of the Hoxieng Wat where monks were gardening and we were in awe of the beauty… no doubt we’ll see more…

ok gunna try to upload some photos but not totally confident as internet service is refreshingly (and a bit frustratingly) intermittent… oh well, the net isn’t everything…

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goodbye and thank you Cambodia; hello Laos

We are safely in Luang Prabang and already we are noticing differences in the tone of the cities… this heritage city is tranquil and road rules seem to be obeyed… internet here is variable and currently I’m using the day managers private account (I’ve got 10 mins)…. suffice to say that yesterday was a beautiful farewell, the flight smooth and arrival full of excitement…. prices seem to be similar but here we are using the local currency (the kip) exclusively…. 1USD = 8000 kip and a meal is around the 5USD amount. We are spending the next few days at the orphanage, literally a worls away from AFL grand finals and rugby knock out games (for the poms if the Aussies win). For now, here’s a few photos…

maybe blog later if we can

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  • Upcoming Events

    1. Australian Maths Competition

      July 27
    2. Year 10,11 and 12 Immunisations

      August 4
    3. Governing Council

      August 7 @ 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
    4. Course Counselling Day

      August 29