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    Laos in a Betel Nutshell

    February 2nd, 2008 by mary

    Laos was a quiet and less populated country than its neighbors, by far. The capital Vientiane feels more like a resort town with its laid back atmosphere lack of traffic. There are plenty of expats living and thriving here to provide the comforts of western life amongst the stupas. The US embassy rep gave us a funny look for needing extra pages added to our already double wide passport.

    Vang Vieng is best described as spring break for wannabe backpackers. The main street is lined with open air restaurants blaring episodes of Friends and The Simpsons. The river right outside the otherwise dusty road town is one bamboo bar after another. The locals meanwhile take advantage of the dry season and drive their tractors to the middle of the river for gravel while others stoop over to collect river weed. The river weed is dried and compressed to look like thick seaweed then roasted and sprinkled with sesame seeds. It made me hurl for 24hrs.

    Luang Prabang was all about temples. Everywhere you walked there were monks going about their daily activities in their saffron robes and often matching umbrella to keep off the sun. The monk schools were packed with boys of all ages. Here more than anywhere else it seemed monkhood was a way to get an education.

    To get from the northern Laos town of Luang Prabang to the Thai border we would have to endure a two day journey by slow boat up the Mekong. Each day’s cruise started at 9am and ended just after 6pm. There were no stops along the way except to drop locals at their villages so we had to bring all snacks and beverages along, as well as entertainment. At least we were going against the grain of the travelers so we had space to spread out on the wooden boat. The boats going in the opposite direction were notorious for packing in 100 passengers on a 40 capacity boat so people had to fight for room and some slept on the piles of cargo and backpacks. We had less than 20. The first night we slept in a border style town with nothing but guesthouses and snack shops. The next day was full of rain and we had to put the tarps down to stay dry. At the end of the second day we arrived after the border closed so we had to wait until the next morning to make our third entry into Thailand.

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