Shopping trip to Thailand

We to Thailand to get supplies for Project Laos that we couldn’t buy in Laos. This consisted of food (including things like cheese, olives, tomato paste, olive oil, butter, sliced bread) and appliances such as toasted sandwich maker, juicer, electric elements, microwave, grill, coffee machine and grinder, toaster, speakers, and other things like that needed to set up the shop.

Our time in Thailand was filled with many ‘firsts’.  For Thong, it was his first time outside Laos.  For both Paet and Thong, it was their first time inside a mall, sitting in massage chairs, drinking real coffee, having a swim in a swimming pool (we had to instruct Thong that he had to wear bathers rather than swim naked!), having a warm shower (we had to teach them how to turn it on and adjust the temperature), eating toast (Thong proceeded to put jam on both sides), even using a knife to spread jam and butter was a first.  It made for a really interesting and entertaining experience for all 4 of us.  Next time we’ll definitely go for longer, we didn’t even have time to show them the White Temple or any of Chiang Rai’s attractions other than the walking street and night market.  Before we went to Thailand Thong told us that because they don’t have passports, they could only stay for a couple of days.  We later found out that he actually had no idea, (they can actually leave for 10 days) but was scared to death of leaving Laos (especially to go to Thailand, as the two countries have bad history from centuries ago) so wanted to spend as little time as possible away.  Once there he agreed that there was nothing scary about Thailand and that it was in fact really fun.  So bring on next time, where we will have time to show Paet and Thong some of the more interesting sights.

The whole adventure was very successful, right down to us getting an awesome minivan driver who helped us load everything into the van, unload into the boat to cross the Mekong, and then some young Lao guys helped us load everything into another minivan on the Laos side.  More details on Project Laos will follow soon!

The ‘normality’ of Northern Laos

We have had to laugh numerous times in the past couple of weeks at the things that seem so normal to us now and yet still have other tourists exclaiming about.

For example – the most common traffic obstruction on the roads is the dogs.  You have to drive around them, as usually they are taking up most of the road with 10 or so of them sitting in the middile of the road.  Even if you toot they don’t move, most don’t even lift their heads to see what is coming.  The dogs are as chilled out as the people.

– seeing the ‘headlights’ on the front of trucks is really a guy sitting on the bonnet holding a torch

– eating foods sharing the same bowls at Lao’s – there is no ‘western hygiene’ of having your own plate, you just all dig in to the main bowl and it is considered completely normal.

– cooking our lettuce in noodle soups – now seems completely normal and delicious

– spending each morning on our run and most afternoons up at the temple has become a part of our daily routine.  Most people we tell think we are crazy to go back to the same place over and over, but the profound silence and the amazing views keep beckoning us back.

– having to go into shops, choose what we want, and then yell ‘Sabaidee!!!’ many times to get anyone to come and take money off us for the goods we want.

– having to go to the local market to get the shop vendor to come back to his shop, (which is fully open with all products on display) to sell us stuff.

– communicating solely with hand gestures and actions.  We are now fully versed in having quite detailed conversations and all parties understand each other and no words (or at least no words we can understand) have been spoken.

– we have now ‘conquered’ the local Akha community and we have Akha friends who have given us honorary bracelets.  (If you have been to northern Laos you will understand about the bracelets!)  In return we have bought a few kilos of oranges and fish for their families.  So instead of them trying to sell us stuff like the other tourists, they come and hang out with us and share our dinner.  It’s quite fun.

This  morning we were excited to see not one, not two, but three trekking tours leaving Thong’s office, a couple of weeks back with his old sign he was lucky to be getting one tour a week, now today he has three in one day.  We heard his voice calling out to us from in the centre of a crowd of 20+ falangs, ‘Andrej!  Karen!  Please.  I buy you breakfast.  You help me and you bring me all of this business and I want to thank you.’   So it is really, really nice to have made a positive difference for him in this town.

All in all we love this place.  We have talked about getting a house here for a while to just live in northern Laos (we even chose the place we want the house).  For now though we are going back to Thailand to stay with Ben and Christerine for the next week and after that we aren’t sure.  We will probably finally go to Vietnam after that but for now our options are open, and there is no doubt that we will find ourselves back here at some point in the not too distant future.  It is uncanny how this place has become our little home away from home in Asia and we really do love it here.