Category Archives: laos

Strike Me

strike me in bowling alley in laos

The recent Jian Ghomeshi trial here in Canada reminded me of this disturbing graphic I saw on the wall of a bowling allery in Vientiane Laos. It sends a blatant and tragically erroneous message about sexual violence something that is a problem world wide.

Other posts about relationships between men and women……

Hot Wives and Christian Leaders

Men and Women’s Friendships

Gender Inequity at the Wailing Wall

What’s Wrong With This Picture

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Dave Bends Over Backwards

waterfall laosAll the rushing water around here now that the snow is melting reminded me of a flooded path we encountered while attempting to hike up to a waterfall in Laos during our visit to that country. waterfall in laosNormally you can choose to hike up to the falls either using a tree lined forest path or a paved roadway. hiking through rushing water laosWe reached the foot of the hiking path and Dave offered to be the trailblazer. He’d forge on ahead and see if the forest path was feasible. 

walking through flood laosHe plowed forward for quite a while, gingerly lifting his shorts to keep them from getting wet.

dave rushing water laosIt wasn’t long however before he did an about turn, came back and suggested we use the paved roadway.waterfall laos

 We could hear the deafening roar of the water long before we reached the falls.

waterfall in laosThere was water cascading from about four different places high above. It came crashing and splashing down to the rocks below creating a fine but soaking mist. marylou in laosTraversing the bridge at the base of the falls you were guaranteed to get wet. 

taking photo at waterfall in laosI call this photo ‘Bending over Backwards’ and it makes me laugh. Dave doesn’t like to use the camera and I often have a hard time convincing him to take pictures of me. However when these two young and beautiful German girls requested that Dave snap a picture of them in front of the falls he couldn’t have been sweeter. I thought he might fall backwards over the bridge as he tried to get into just the right spot to take the perfect photo of them.

no swimming area laosThis rather cryptic sign says it all. The base of the falls was quite definitely a DO NOT SWIMMING AREA.

Other posts about Laos……

Fair Trade Coffee and Hope for Laos

Eating Sticky Rice in Laos

Kayaking in Laos

 

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Eating Sticky Rice in Laos

eating sticky rice and dipping it in laosAfter living in Asia for years we were sure we’d eaten every kind of rice dish. On our trip to Laos we discovered that wasn’t true. In the town of Luang Prabang we visited the Tamarind Restaurant and tried sticky rice for the first time. Sticky rice is a type of short-grained rice.

preparing sticky rice in laosWe watched some women preparing sticky rice in Luang Prabang. First they soaked it for several hours in water and then placed it in a bamboo basket shaped like a boat. A fire was built in a large cracked crockery pot and when it had burned down to glowing embers a black cauldron filled with water was placed over the hot coals. The bamboo boat was gently laid across the top of the cauldron and in this way the rice was steamed for about half an hour. Later the women put the rice on a stone slab and kneaded it with a wooden paddle.

eating sticky rice in laosThe rice had a glutinous texture by this point and it was placed in a narrow cylindrical bamboo basket with a lid. At the Tamarind Restaurant they set one of those baskets filled with sticky rice in front of each guest. We took the lid off and grabbed some rice between our fingers and rolled it into a round sticky ball. The Tamarind served a variety of interesting dips to roll your rice ball around in before popping it into your mouth. man eating sticky rice in tamarind restaurant laosThere was a chili paste called Jeow Bong, a salsa called Mak Len, an eggplant dip called Mak Keua and a corindar and garlic sauce called Pak Ham. My husband Dave tried rolling his sticky rice in several types of dip before eating it.  Traditionally sticky rice is served with a group of snacks they call The Five Bites. At the Tamarind Restaurant our five bites included dried buffalo meat, pickled bamboo, lemon grass noodles, spicy cucumbers and tiny sausages.            

women giving monks sticky rice in luang prabangSticky rice is very tasty and it’s easy to pick up in your hands. Perhaps that is why the hundreds of monks in Luang Prabang favor sticky rice as a donation when they are begging. Every weekday hundreds of orange robed Buddhist monks parade through the streets of Luang Prabang just as the sun is rising. I got up one morning to watch them.monks begging at dawn in luang prabang The monks need to beg daily for enough food to sustain themselves.  Devout women were perched on wooden stools along the monk’s route. The women were holding bamboo baskets filled with sticky rice. monks begging in luang prabangAs the monk’s passed by they bowed their heads, reached into their baskets, grabbed a large ball of sticky rice and placed it in the monk’s begging bowl. 

         I’m as big a fan of sticky rice as the monks’ were. I think sticky rice is delicious. The only problem it presents is that when your meal is over your hands are just as sticky as the rice itself. Porcelain bowls of scented water and hot towels served by our Tamarind waiter at the end of our meal took care of that.

           rice cakes drying in laosSticky rice wasn’t the only new rice dish I tried in Laos. I also saw homemade rice cakes being made. Hundreds were drying on racks outside people’s homes in Luang Prabang.

       I thought I’d tried every kind of rice dish possible in Asia. My trip to Laos proved me wrong. 

Other posts about Laos……

Bringing Hope to Laos One Family at a Time

Kayaking in Laos

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Kayaking in Laos

river in laos“ Head straight into the waves and paddle hard”, my husband Dave shouted at me. We were kayaking down the Nam Khan River near Luang Prabang in Laos. The day before in the office of the eco-tour company that organized our kayaking adventure I deliberately requested we take the trip labeled ‘easy’. I wasn’t interested in any white water rapid shooting. I just wanted to see the Laotian countryside from a river perspective.

boater on mekong in laosThe first part of our trip was deceptively calm and placid. The scenery was as interesting as I had hoped. Rounded rocks covered with lush green foliage and neatly terraced farm fields lined the river. Little boys were jumping into the water for their morning bath. Women in large straw hats were wading up to their waists holding bamboo cages they were using as fish traps.  Along the shore huge horned water buffalo were cooling off in shallow pools. 

kayaking in laos tad se waterfallOur first stop was the Tad Se waterfalls. It was the rainy season so the falls were running high and hard. A white watery torrent raged around leafy trees, across large rocky boulders and washed over bamboo bridges. swimming in the tad se waterfall in laosOur guides took us to a beautiful pool at the base of the falls where the water was clear and cool. Sweaty from kayaking in the blazing heat we jumped in. dave in laos waterfall tad seIf you stood just under a place where the water was gushing over the rocks it was like having a shower, the powerful spray pummeled your body like a strong masseuse.   

lunch on laos kayaking tripOur guides had brought along lunch. There was oily sticky rice rich with vegetables and spices that we ate with our fingers. We were ravenous after our paddling and swimming and washed down the meal quickly with water and large bottles of Beer Lao, the local brew that some say is the most delicious in Asia. For dessert there were small Laotian grown bananas.

mekong river laosWe left the waterfall in pouring rain that lasted for almost an hour. I was drenched in seconds but it was a lovely reprieve from the humidity. The only time I was slightly nervous was when a couple of bolts of lightning forked down not far from us accompanied by ear-splitting thunder.  tad se waterfall laos Just as the sun broke through the clouds we reached a set of rapids. The guides had warned us they were coming but I was sure they were joking.  The seething eddies and high white- capped waves in front of us were certainly no joke. I was in the front of the kayak and as we hit the first wave, muddy water washed over me and right into my mouth stifling my screams. rapids in laos riverMy husband Dave shouted at me to “paddle hard and head straight into the waves”. Galvanized by fear I obeyed orders. It only took a few minutes for us to clear the rapids. We looked back to see that two British ladies who were also on our tour hadn’t been as fortunate. Their kayak had tipped and they were floundering in the water. Our guides had jumped in to rescue them and their belongings.            

rapids laosWe were more prepared for the next sets of rapids and after two more hours of paddling we arrived at our destination. We still had a long slippery trek up the high muddy riverbank in the blistering heat but I was just happy to be back on land.  

IMG_5912 Although our trip had not been as ‘easy’ as promised, it was certainly a memorable chapter, albeit a bit of a scary one, in our Asian adventure story.

If you enjoyed this post you might also like…….

Fair Trade Coffee and Hope for Laos 

Eating Sticky Rice in Laos

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Fair Trade Coffee and Hope For Laos

“Breaking the cycle of poverty in Laos one family at a time.”  That’s the mission of Bolaven Farms.  Last May my husband Dave spent a week on a fair trade coffee plantation located on 410 acres of fertile land on the Bolaven Plateau in southern Laos. 

Child on Bolaven Coffee Plantation Laos

He traveled there with twenty- four of his Hong Kong students to work at digging holes for coffee trees, building sheds and helping care for livestock.

Dave with children on the Bolaven Coffee Plantation

Bolaven Farms is a cooperative that uses farming methods designed to sustain rather than deplete the rich nutrients in the Laotian soil. About 100 acres of the farm are devoted to grasses and legumes to restore nitrogen to the soil and provide fodder for livestock. The remainder is used for coffee growing.    

Bolaven families welcome Dave and his students to the coffee plantation in Laos

Up to fifty families at a time live on the Bolaven Farms coffee plantation and are taught how to grow coffee profitably and organically. They are given housing and earn a fair wage for the work they do.  Medical care is provided and there is a school for the children.  If they ‘graduate’ from the agriculture program at Bolaven, families are eligible for a loan to buy a seven acre coffee farm of their own and can sell their coffee to Bolaven. Workers hand sort the coffee to ensure its quality before the beans are roasted, packaged, shipped and marketed as a fair trade product in other countries. 

Sam Say is the founder of Bolaven Farms. He was born in Laos. He and his family fled the country in 1977 after a decade of heavy bombing by the United States and repeated invasions by the Vietnamese.  The Say family spent two years in a refugee camp before a Mennonite Church in Calgary sponsored their immigration to Canada. Sam eventually moved to Hong Kong and made a fortune as a commodities trader.  He decided he wanted to use his wealth to help his fellow countrymen and women and so Bolaven Farms was born.

The Hong Kong students made friends with the coffee plantation workers

     Sam Say’s son Christian used to be a student at the international school in Hong Kong where Dave and I were teachers.  Christian played on the basketball team Dave coached. 

Riding out to the plantation

Sam approached our school wondering if a group of our students would like to come to Bolaven Farms to work alongside the people there, befriend them, teach them some English and once they returned to Hong Kong spread the word about the project. Dave agreed to lead the trip.       

Building a shed on the coffee plantation

The work on the farm was very hard, and not at all what our well-to-do students are used to.  But they tackled their tasks with determination and energy.

Student housing on the coffee plantation

The students stayed in army barrack type housing and slept on air mattresses under mosquito netting.  They showered communally with the Laotian workers. Every evening they performed plays, dances and songs for the plantation workers and their families. They tried to teach the children English.

Making friends with children on the coffee plantation

Despite the language barrier the high school students developed a warm relationship with the Laotian farm families and Dave said some of the Hong Kong teens were in tears when it came time to say good-bye at the end of the week.  

Students with Bolaven families

Dave found it inspiring to be at Bolaven Farms.  Unlike many places we have visited in the third world where people living in desperate circumstances seem resigned to their lot in life, the people at Bolaven Farms are filled with optimism.  They really believe they have an opportunity to create a better future for their families. 

My thanks to the International Christian school students on the Laos trip who provided the photos for this post. 

If you enjoyed this post you might also like…….

Kayaking in Laos

Missing Pacific Coffee

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Land Mines Museum- Second Visit

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