Often when I travelled in a land whereby I could not speak nor understand the language, instead of intrepidation and fear, I ventured forth knowing that I could use one language – the language from the heart! I have received so much care and concern from strangers who did not know me from Adam but yet chose to embrace me with their benevolence and gifts. So … what exactly is this language from the heart? It is a language whereby you seek something or ask for help not with malicious intents, without expectations but genuinely wanting to make a connection. Words may not be needed, appropriate gestures, a smiling face and genuine communication are the keys to the language of the heart. It’s gratifying how I asked for so little and yet was blessed by much. I discovered that people do want to help – it’s how we convey our needs.
Ivan, my second son, will be 20 years old this September 2015. I decided to take him backpacking to Thailand for 10 days while he was having a break from his studies. To my utter surprise and absolute delight, he turned out to be the perfect travel buddy and a born backpacker. Let me tell you why Ivan surpassed my expectations as a compatible travel buddy.
I was in Laos from 7 to 16 April 2015 and my trip coincided with the Lao New Year known as “Pii May Lao” in Lao language. This year (2015), this important festival which represents rebirth and purification was celebrated from 14 to 16 April. Lao New Year takes place at the end of the hot dry season and the beginning of the monsoon season.
After a good night rest, all thanks to the comfortable bed, working aircon and a quiet room, we got up early to have breakfast before setting off to do a bit of sightseeing. Breakfast is complimentary and it was the usual fare of baguette with eggs, pancakes, fruits and juices.
Vang Vieng is a tiny riverside town in Central Laos. It has no more than three streets, no airport and a bus station. Tourists normally will break their journey between Ventiane and Luang Prabang in Vang Vieng. They are attracted by the wooden bridges over the river, the karst mountains, laid back countryside and cave-filled rock formations. Few years ago, it had the reputation of a backpacker’s haven for its famous wild parties at the many bars which could be easily found in town and along the Nam Song River. Tubing along the Nam Song River was the most popular activity in Vang Vieng. As many as 20 bars were set up by opportunist backpackers along the river to cater to tubers. Loud music, hard liquors, beers and drugs were part of the party scene. Unfortunately, in 2011, 27 tourists died while partying on the river. Some of them were too drunk or too high and thus ended up drowning in the river. Some bars set up riverside swings and “death slides” and that resulted in a number of bad accidents. The local authorities had clamped down on illegal activities such as drug and had shut down many of the tubing bars. They placed restrictions on the volume of music from the barand all the dangerous riverside swings and death slides had been dismantled. When I was there in April 2015, only a handful of bars operate along the riverside. We decided not to do the tubing because the water level was low and the idea of sitting on a big tube and slowly .. very slowly carried down the river by the very very slow current for 3 hours under the hot scorching sun was not appealing at all.
One of the highlights in the UNESCO Heritage City of Luang Prabang is to witness or participate in one of the most sacred Lao traditions, the Buddhist Alms Giving Ceremony also known as Tak Dat.
Together with my 3 friends, we tumbled out of bed at 5 am and quickly walked to Sisavangvong Road where the famous night market is located to witness this ceremony. Other tourists seemed to be heading towards the same directions and by the time we arrived, the place was already crowded.
According to our travel voucher, we will be picked up from our hostel at 7.30 am to go to the bus station to board the VIP bus which was scheduled to leave Vientiane for Vang Vieng at 8 am. We checked out of our room, had breakfast and was ready with our luggages at 7.15 am. There were still no sign of anyone asking for us at 7.30 am. At 7.45 am I sought the help of the receptionist to call the number which was written down on the voucher. While the call was ringing he passed the phone to me and I thought that the other party could speak English. Instead, a guy spoke Lao and I passed back the phone back to the receptionist saying that I can’t understand what he was saying. To my shock, he told me he could not speak Lao as he is Vietnamese. Anyway, I asked him to try again and this time a lady answered and she was able to speak English. She told me that the pick-up will be at 09.30 am and the bus will leave at 10.00 am. What?!!! We had to wait for almost another 2 hours. This is just the beginning of my bad experience with transportation in Laos. 9.30 am came around and a chubby guy yelling “Vang Vieng” walked into our hostel. I double-checked with the receptionist to make sure that we are going with the right person as I understand there are many agents, buses and other forms of transportations that are being used. We were ushered into a truck-like vehicle….I know that a limousine is out of the question but a truck?!! (I later found out that it is called songthaew, a ubiquitous passenger vehicle in Laos and Thailand adapted from a pick-up or a larger truck and used as a shared taxi.)
Together with 3 good friends, I visited Laos for 10 days. Our entry point was Wattay International Airport, Vientiane and it was just 2.5 hours’ flight away from Kuala Lumpur. Immigration took slightly longer than expected as the officers took time to check the visa documents and passports. We were met by our driver sent from our hotel in Vientiane which costs us USD9 for the transfer. The distance from the airport to our hotel took merely 15 minutes.
My hubby and I took advantage of the free seats offered by Airasia and booked ourselves free flights to Phnom Penh and Siam Reap. It was a 8 days trip and we left on 3 July 2006. We have never been to Cambodia and thankfully, my travel agent friend, Elizabeth arranged for someone to meet us at the airport. Mei was there when we came out of the arrival hall. She is Malaysian and has been in Cambodia for two years working in an orphange. She is a missionary and we could see that she is very comfortable speaking Cambodian language. The moment we turned out into the main road from the airport, we were bombarded by the the sights and sounds of motorbikes. Well, as we all know, motorbikes are meant for two people. But take a peek at the photo. Four adults on a motorbike and see how comfortable they were! There was even room for a green basket of groceries in front of them! Necessity is the mother of all creations!