6 PICTURE ALBUM
Saturday, March 6
Steve: Today was a planned free day in our itinerary,
and we took advantage of the time for some leisurely strolls through Luang
Prabang. We also relaxed during the afternoon and caught up on our reading
and writing in preparation for our upcoming travels to Thailand and Cambodia.
While walking through the town, we talked about the quiet, simple lives that
people live here. Even those involved in tourism, one of Laos' most important
and growing industries, live slowly. From what we see, even though this is
high season, there aren't enough tourists to go around. There are
multiple travel companies in town, all offering the same two excursions to
the waterfalls and the caves - we've never seen any customers inside. Tuk-tuks
roam the streets looking for passengers - we rarely see any (this place is
so small that everything's within easy walking distance). This explains the
picture we took of a driver sleeping in a hammock that he rigged in the back
of his vehicle! There are a huge number of outdoor shops and a large nightly
market all selling the exact same crafts - mostly silk hangings and scarves
- and we can't imagine how these all get sold. Luang Prabang is Laos' top
tourist destination, yet even those involved in the tourist business obviously
don't find it easy to make money. These are all signs of an economy that is
struggling to find its way.
Tomorrow we leave Laos and fly to Bangkok.
Katie's Kwick Kwacks: Visiting Villages in Laos. Throughout our stay
here in Laos we have spent a large amount of our time visiting villages. These
trips have been some of the most interesting experiences we have had here.
The next couple of paragraphs describe the things we have learned about these
villages and my feelings about them.
An astounding eighty percent of the people in Laos live in remote countryside
villages. In other words, four-fifths of the population is in the middle of
nowhere. So, how can you visit Laos without being a little adventurous? It's
impossible. The villages here in Laos are truly amazing. It's just how you
imagine America was in the sixteen hundreds. They're like miniature versions
of Plymouth Plantation, except even more exotic.
The homes are made of woven bamboo, and have roofs of long leaves. The insides
are simple - the people cook with an open fire and sleep on bamboo mats. The
dirt paths are filled with a mixture of laughing children, women weaving,
old ladies chatting and chewing bitter nut, and chicks clucking. It's an unforgettable
scene. Around the villages you see nothing but mountains and trees. You feel
lost in the middle of some long lost civilization. At the same time you feel
hot, dirty, uncomfortable, and thirsty. It's hard to spend more than twenty
minutes in such a remote environment, and you wonder how anyone could live
in such a place. The people are slow paced, many seem bored and tired, and
have little to do in their spare time but make babies, talk, chew bark, and
sleep. We haven't seen one person reading a book or newspaper yet. This is
their life, and they don't seem to need any other.
Before we visit a village we always learn a little about the wealth and condition
of the people living in it. Here in Laos, the people classify each village
by placing them into different ethnic groups: lowlander, mid-lander, and highlander.
The lowlanders live along the Mekong River, and make a living from fishing
and farming. Because of their plentiful water source, they are a little better
off than the other groups. The mid-landers make a living from farming rice
and hunting. Because of their location, however, they are unable to sell their
goods in town. This makes them the poorest group. The highlanders live in
the mountains and do mostly farming. They also hunt grow opium. This makes
them a middle class group.
All in all, visiting villages has been a great experience for us. I have
been very surprised by how happy the people here are even though they have
very difficult lives. They have family, food, and reasonable health. Right
now they can't ask for much more than that. As long as the Lao people accept
this fact, life will go on.
David's Daily Dump: Lao Life along the Mekong River. The Mekong River
is both a source of life and a way of life for all people living along its
banks. We have seen the Mekong being used in many different ways throughout
Laos. Villagers depend on it for food (seaweed and fish), transportation,
and most importantly water. Life would be unimaginable without the Mekong
for the six countries that it meanders through on its 2,600 mile journey to
the South China Sea.
We have visited many villages along the Mekong during our stay here in Luang
Prabang. All these villages depend greatly on the river for their survival.
It dictates the people's lives, letting them farm on its banks in the dry
season when the water is low and letting them fish when it's high during the
rainy season. The Mekong is also the only thing that connects these villages
to the outside world. There are no railroads, little electricity and few roads
or radios in the mountainous countryside - only a dense endless jungle.
Most of the villages even near the big cities don't use machinery, although
some do have satellite television and radios. Everything is done by hand,
from plowing the fields to building boats and homes. We even saw people making
sugar and grinding rice, all by hand. Everyone, including the children had
to manually carry water from the river up to the villages. The river is also
used for bathing and laundry. The villages that are far away from major cities
mainly farm for themselves, but also trade with nearby towns. The remote villages
out in the middle of the countryside are totally self-sufficient, and produce
everything for themselves. In some of these villages, people don't even use
The communities along the Mekong all make a living off the resources from
the river. We visited towns that dried and collected sea weed, fished, farmed
vegetables, grew peanuts, and some that even panned for gold! Although all
the villages made very little money and lived very poorly, they were all happy
and adequately fed. In fact in some cases, the villages really didn't have
a very tough life. We saw many women just chatting in the shade and men napping
in hammocks. The children also have a generally carefree life, playing all
day when they are not in school. I made up a list of all the things I would
do if I had that much free time in one of those villages. First I would make
a bamboo fort, then a sling-shot for shooting birds, and finally a fishing
pole for my long days casting on the river. Of course I would never dream
of living in those kind of conditions, but it does seem kind of fun.
I have greatly enjoyed exploring life along the Mekong River and experiencing
how 80% of the Laos population lives. It's hard to believe that 1 in 3 Southeast
Asians live either on the Mekong or in the Mekong River Delta. You can't totally
understand how big a part the Mekong plays on the life of Southeast Asians
without actually seeing it for yourself.