Tag Archives: Vang Vieng

The Easy Life – Monthly Update

14 Mar

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Hello, how have you been? It’s been a while…

So it’s now been over four months since I arrived in Vientiane and I feel like the time has flown. But it’s not the same as when I was back in Sydney, when weeks, months and years seemed to go by so fast and without notice that it would be scary. The difference here is that I feel like I have done, seen and experienced a huge amount in the last four months.

Here are some of the things that I got to do since arriving here:

  • live in a big house for the first time, sharing it with pretty cool people
  • get a dog!
  • have a cleaner and a gardener (this bit is kinda weird but does mean that I don’t need to do the washing or the ironing! Actually I never did the ironing back in Sydney)
  • have checked out 2 or 3 farms, had time to look into farming and have realised that is what I want to do (on a small-scale)
  • learned to ride a motorbike and went on a pretty awesome motorbike trip with hopefully more to come
  • time to do some online courses (currently I’m finishing a course on nutrition and health)
  • learn a new language
  • a chance to travel and live with Liz!
  • explore Laos and the south-east Asian region
  • grow a 2-month old beard (I would still have it except food started to get stuck in there and Liz was getting pash-rash)
  • drink bone marrow juice from giant cow bones with my Lao colleagues while at lunch
Bone marrow juice!

Bone marrow juice!

  • work on cool projects, do some interesting engineering
  • live in another communist country
  • time to continue learning to play guitar and learn to play the ukulele
  • work from home
  • work in a remote village and with the villagers themselves
  • time to relax!

That’s a pretty solid list for four months. Can’t wait to see what the rest of my time here brings. To counteract that list and so that you guys back home don’t get too jealous, here is a list of the not so good things that have happened:

  • witnessing a brutal motorbike accident
  • seeing a dead person on the road
  • feeling home-sick and missing the comforts of Sydney life
  • get multiple cases of diarrhea and other stomach related sicknesses

And finally, here is a list of things that I miss from back home:

  • being able to speak to everyone, fluently
  • smooth roads with no potholes
  • tap water
  • cheese
  • chocolate
  • clean air
  • my parents, brother and grandma
  • watching the footy

Now on to what I have been up to here since my last post….

Over the last few weeks, I have been working in Paksan. A small town about 2-3 hours south of Vientiane. This town is definitely NOT touristy. It gets a large number of Vietnamese visitors and so most restaurants sell pho…and only pho. It’s been an eye-opening experience working directly with rural Lao people and seeing what village life is like.

I was quite lucky to have two other volunteers/travelers working with me in my first week in Paksan. Linda and Andre are both fellow engineers and have quit their jobs to do a huge world trip. They are partly funding their trip through their newly established online business which is pretty cool. Having heard that Laos is more a place to live than a place to do touristy things, they found my details and contacted me about volunteering on the project.

It was great to spend a week doing some engineering, surveying and some laboring with the village workers that we have employed to fix up the very first Lao fishway that was built last year. Working in such a small town is both tough and interesting at the same time. Simple things like water, food and toilet paper become things that need to be considered at all times. There’s also a huge array of things to see and learn from.

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Fixing up the previous contractor’s mistakes

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BBQ duck – the rest of the ducks were walking around in mourning. No joke.

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Andre and Linda

Laos (1489)

Getting read for sindat – Lao version of Korean BBQ

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The workers

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I was amazed at how different the lives of people in the small village were not just to my life back home but even to the lives of Lao people in Vientiane. I saw kids washing their clothes by hand straight after school, different animals wandering around and sometimes getting slaughtered for food, people not being able to afford proper medication and treatment for illnesses, the consumption of food and the value placed on every part of an animal and plant so that nothing goes to waste. It’s really crazy to think how much a person’s life can vary depending on where you happen to be born on this planet. The lifestyle of Sydneysiders seems alien-like compared to the simple life on the outskirts of the Pak Peung village.

It’s all a lot to take in and I definitely haven’t got my head around it all yet but I’m trying.

Last weekend was the International Women’s Day long weekend so Liz and I took that chance to go to Vang Vieng. It was the second time there for me so we managed to avoid most of the tacky, touristy aspects of the town (except watching Friends on large flat screens while having dinner) and just see the really cool scenery and a bit of the village life. This included sharing a motorbike for a fun and bumpy day-trip through the dusty back “roads” of the town and then a 35km mountain bike ride that Liz managed to smash despite some reluctance. It was really nice to get away from Vientiane for a few days and see something different. We also stayed at this awesome place called, Laos Haven

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Petong

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Petong

 

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Pig

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Next few weeks for me will be filled with trying to finish off the work in Paksan while also building a scale model of a fishway that will be used as a display at an exhibition that’s coming up. The only catch is that the model will need to work properly as we will be passing small fish through it. Hmmm, I was never that good at art and craft.

Here’s the model so far…

Fishway scale model...in progress

Fishway scale model…in progress

Till next time,

Len

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Flying Fish and Vang Vieng – A Working Holiday

13 Jan

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Just before the Christmas break I was working on setting up an experiment to test the effects that water regulation structures such as weirs have on fish. The gates that regulate water flow past these barriers exert very large shear stresses on the fish and we’re trying to simulate these scenarios to work out injury and mortality rates. It was up to me to build this experiment having no previous fish experimenting experience. On one of my first days here, my supervisor showed me the ‘lab’ that still in construction and gave me a very rough outline of what I needed to do to make this experiment happen. A few sketches and a lot of googling later, and we were ready to do some trial runs. We managed to chuck down a couple hundred fish through the makeshift fish feeder and work out what needed to be fixed in the new year to get better results. 

My office

My office – that’s a diesel pump that doubles as a desk

Cutting steel Lao style

Cutting steel pipe Lao style

Action shot

Action shot with one of my Lao counterparts. The water was REALLY cold.

Taking video of the fish being shot out by the jet

Taking video of the fish being shot out into the high velocity jet

Having managed to get this done before Christmas, I basically had the next 2 weeks to work from home which involved doing a bit of research and some time honing my CAD/Google SketchUp skills. I was originally planning on going to Malaysia for this ‘working from home’ period but ended up going local to nearby (4-5 hours by bus) and very touristy Vang Vieng.

I decided to go to Vang Vieng the night before I left, having done some online research on the place. The picture that was painted for me was not a pleasant one . Vang Vieng has been the a backpacker destination for some years now. With the infamous river tubing, river bars, river rope swings and the river death slide having taken the lives of around 25 people per year for the last 5-10 years. However, in late 2012 the communists decided enough was enough and closed most of the riverside bars, the crazy slides and swings in an attempt to curb the death rate and make the picturesque town a little more family friendly.

Party Over for Vang Vieng

Party’s Over for Backpacker Mecca

Is the Party Over in Vang Vieng

The thing that sold it for me though was an Organic Mulberry Farm just a few kilometres out-of-town which sounded quite nice. The next day, I managed to make it on the 11 o’clock bus at 11:30am and we promptly left Vientiane at 12pm.

It was my first Lao bus ride and I was excited. I bought a banh mi at the market for sustenance and had my Lao language book for entertainment. The 4.5-hour bus ride was adventurous with plenty to see. As we were leaving Vientiane, the bus stopped next to two foreigners who had signs written in both English and Lao to go to Vang Vieng. They rejected the lift cause they did not want to pay. I guess they were after a free car ride or something. Silly falang.

Having made plenty of random stops to drop and pick up things and run errands, we made one proper pit-stop where I bought some more boiled corn. I love boiled corn.

Laos (932)

Road-side sustenance

Road-side sustenance

Having not booked any accommodation for the night, I set out to do a bit of exploring. For my first night in Vang Vieng I settled for the in-town bungalows on the other side of the infamous Nam Song River called Otherside Bungalows. The bungalows were nice but it wasn’t till the next morning that I discovered my first Lao/western toilet (i.e. it had no seat). It’s really up to you whether you squat over it or decide to place your bum straight onto the ceramic. I chose the latter for those playing at home.

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You gotta love the pink toilet paper

My first impressions of VV were great. It seemed chilled out, touristy and had the most beautiful mountain ranges. I didn’t have a set time-frame for how long I could stay there and knew that I would enjoy the next few days.

The next morning I set off to get a bike and rode the 4km journey to the farm. The farm turned out to be awesome. I milked goats, helped out with planting some food and taught English to local school kids as part of a separate program that they were running.

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Goat city

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Otherside bungalows

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Inside Blue Lagoon cave

Pig!

Pig!

The farm also happens to be the starting point for the tubing which I did on Christmas day with a bunch of other revelers. It was really fun to float around the river, check out the scenery and watch the dozens of dirty backpackers getting wasted. The tubing was actually inadvertently started by the farm’s founder, Mr Thanongsi Sorangkoun (affectionately known as Mr T). Mr T wanted the farm’s volunteers to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery along the river by floating on old tyre tubes that he bought. Before he knew it, some of the locals turned it into a big commercial endeavour which was almost the death of the town. Mr T does not like it to discuss this. With the new government reforms, I hope that the town continues to thrive and the drug-riddled backpacker scene tones down a bit.

Apart from milking goats and making delicious goat’s cheese, I also tought English at a local school. It was a great experience and one that I didn’t know I would enjoy as much as I did. My only previous teaching experience was as a high school maths teacher to snobby private school kids and trying to help my brother with his homework. These kids were really clever and eager to learn.

Farmer

Farmer

Teacher

Teacher

During my first night teaching, I was busting to go to the bathroom. Upon asking where the toilet was, the volunteer high school teacher asked if I wanted to shit. I said no and was promptly shown to a wall at the back of the school where you pee. Not quite sure what girls do at the school or what they do when it’s not just a pee that they need to do.

All in all I really enjoyed my time in Vang Vieng. I met some lovely people and did some cool stuff. I would definitely recommend it to anyone thinking of going. I just don’t suggest you stay in town and make sure you rent a good mountain bike to check out the beautiful scenery and villages in the area. Vang Vieng is a great place if you like Friends. The TV show. A number of the bars and cafes play Friends, South Park and other random shows on repeat on big plasma TVs. It’s actually really fun to get dinner and chill out watching Friends. The only nuisance are the tourists. There are lots of them and most are annoying. From the snobby older type who complain about the service to the teenagers with dreadlocks and wearing happy pants, glued to their iphones and ipads. 

I came back to Vientiane for NYE and it was fun!

SAMSUNG

Till next time,

Len

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