I came back from Luang Prabang after having a bit of a wander around the former royal palace. I found there was a bit of an art deco feel to the place that mingled with the asian cliches. I really liked it.

A busy working week trying to wrap up as much as I could so I could wrap things up. Tried to have a farewell drink with as many of my new friends as I could and had a massive bender on my last working day in Laos with Mong and TC. It was a blast.

Stopped by Bangkok for a few days to get my teeth fixed up. They were a lot more organised this time around and things went pretty smoothly. It did involve a bit of pain and discomfort so I didn't get out a whole lot and even when I did go to Panthip Plaza (for example) my heart wasn't really in it and I didn't buy anything. I am nearly at the end of Battlestar Gallactica though and got a bit of writing done.

And now I'm home. And trying to work my way back into my old life, but I'm hopeful there is an opportunity for me to go back early in 2013.

Laos really did capture my heart and my head. I will wait a week or two and try to sum up just how I feel about all this. Right now, I miss it. A lot.

AuthorBruce Hardie

We were picked up on Saturday morning and taken to Elephant Village. We were grouped up with another Aussie couple and a pair of Americans. A quick cup of tea and then it was straight up on the mounting platform and into the howdah on top of an elephant. As the odd number of the group I got the seat to myself.

It is a well established tour with the mahout taking control down the hill and into the river. We step up onto a small island and the mahout suggests I have a go riding the elephant up on the neck. Of course my answer is "doy", so he hops down, grabs my camera and I move forward onto the neck of the elephant.

And there I stayed for the rest of the trip. There were a couple of unnerving moments during the next river crossing when my mount took a big step off to the side which tested the abs and my ability to hold on with my thighs, but otherwise it was a stable ride. My hips were killing me by the end though as you do have to maintain a bit of a squat position. The professional mahout made a big deal of how easy a day he was having. It was fun.

This was already one of the most memorable and enjoyable days of my life.

We then took a bum-boat ride upriver to a waterfall. This was a beautiful set of pools and small falls throughout a forest with clear blue water. It almost looked fake it was so pretty. If I were setting up a resort with a 'natural' water feature, I would make it look like this.

A buffet lunch back at the Elephant Camp and then back to town for an afternoon of rest. The stifling humidity of the morning turned into a small but powerful storm and so I sat on my balcony, reading a book and enjoyed the storm rattling around me.

For dinner we went to the very french L'elephant. The ratio of french speaking tourists is significantly higher in Luang Prabang than in Vientiane. I wonder if they still have some colonial affinity or something. We eschewed the local cuisine styles of offer as Mum and Dad were getting sick of dealing with spicy food and went full on french. Onion soup with a crouton and gruyere, canard, tart-a-tartin. It was great.

I urge you again - go to Luang Prabang.

AuthorBruce Hardie

I can sum up my time in Luang Prabang in two letters - GO! Just go. There is a magic to this world heritage listed town that I defy you not to enjoy. At least for a while.

I was really surprised to discover that this former capital is home to only 26000 people. That's the size of a large country town and yet I think this place deserves its' reputation as an important place in the world.

We toured some silk manufacturing and history places on our first day. One of them was featuring details on courting and wedding rituals among the highly diverse regions/tribes of Laos. The one that caught my fancy involved throwing a ball and singing. The girls line up and throw a ball to each other and then to boys to display some interest. Catch the ball to indicate return interest and there's a well ritualised way to reduce teenage awkwardness with the opposite sex. It looks a lot more fathomable than the Blue Light Discos I utterly failed to comprehend. Other options for finding a bride involve stealing her, with differing levels of compliance from your bride to be, or just convincing her family with a large enough bride price. Ah, the romance.

We watched a girl weaving an intricately patterned silk scarf. She averages about 50cm a week and she is certainly not slouching with her fingers flying to move threads around before a pair of back and forth movements of her shuttle. Then more rearranging threads. In comparison the girls doing the basic weave were flying along at about 1m a day.

We visited Wat Phonphao up in the woods on a hill. It is a fairly new venture only being about 30 years old instead of the usual 100+ The ground floor depicts some quite graphic versions of hell for sinners. Hunters have many varied sins to pay for over and above the killing another being problem they have in Buddhism. Some very specific offenses are dealt with in highly specific ways that are displayed in no uncertain terms. The higher levels are a bit more pleasant to view leading up into the dome of nirvana. It was worth visiting in the sense that this place was different from the usual Wat experience.

The evening saw us hiking up to Phousi on the hill that dominates the town. Sunset is very popular up here with a large crowd gathered beneath the stupa. Totally worth it too with plenty of buddha statues and stories on the way up and even the remnants of an anti-aircraft position beside the Stupa.

Down the hill through the night markets. I found myself the perfect memento of my time in Laos. A hand made stamp. They do love their stamping here and so I will take that idea home with me.

Had a really nice dinner at Tamnak Lao restaurant which I will recommend unreservedly. Luang Prabang is a lot more a tourist focussed town and so the waiting staff there are much better at their jobs than most in Vientiane.

AuthorBruce Hardie

Mum and Dad came to visit this week. Here are Mum's observations of her time in Vientiane.

An older woman's point of view:

Whiter than white:  Whilst we have been under keen scrutiny as we walk about, mainly I suspect we stand out with our white hair and white skin, I cannot be more impressed with the whiteness of the school kids' white shirts and the men's/boy's white work shirts.  And I am in love with the silk skirts carefully folded into a big flat pleat across the front and the fitted blouses also in silk.

Sustainability in practice:  Everywhere I look, there is someone or some small enterprise making do in the most resourceful way.  I ponder this constantly and wonder is it because of the widespread poverty that abounds here.  I observed the evening rubbish sorters going through the daily trash sorting out all kinds of things that must have some value. I was startled to notice a small child asleep amongst Mum or Dad's findings (I could not tell if it was male or female).  How does one respond to situations like that?  They were not begging, but seriously going about their business in a quiet and efficient way.

Many footpaths outside shops have been adorned with broken tiles pressed into the concrete.  No rhyme nor reason to layout, just lots of broken tiles pressed in here or there.

Plastic tablecloths must have been all the rage many years ago.  And yet those same ones are still on the tables set up almost anywhere - brittle, torn, food stained, yellowing and held in place by old fashioned bottle tops that have been nailed in place.  This is the city where micro-business has a predominant place in the culture of living and surviving.

I think there should be a good market in trade training here as the current crop of tradesmen leave a lot to be desired.

Which leads me into my next heading - SAFETY (or lack of or insufficient knowledge about). 

I have been pondering just where we got our knowledge about electricity and associated dangers.  Was it passed down to me by my parents or did we learn about it at school?  Whatever and wherever I learnt about electrical danger, they sure could do with some of that knowledge here in Laos.  

Urge #1 yank the metal tongs out of the breakfast boys hands as he rams them into the toaster each morning to get small bits of bread out.

Urge #2 put safety cones around the worn out metal conduit with exposed wires at the entrance to one of the gardens - well I am yet to see a safety cone here though I have seen a few milk crate things serving a similar purpose

Urge #3 somebody do something about all this wiring just hanging from poles around the city. The weight of the wiring is going to pull them over anyway and they need a plan and strategy to replace and fix at the same time.


These are very, very important.  They come complete with caps, braid around the around the shoulder/arm, buttons, epalettes, the works.  In terms of rankings I suspect a position as a security guard/officer is a lowly paid position.  I say this because many of the "security" officers I have seen have been asleep on the job. Though it was very funny when one got sprung by his superior. There was much blowing of whistles and the startled security officer scrambled to get his shoes on.  In the end he didn't bother, and I noticed him asleep sitting up a few minutes later.


See one stall on the roadside, you will see about 15 others selling/doing the same thing.  Same at the night market where stall after stall are selling the same clothes, t shirts, belts, bags, CD/DVDs, jewellery and mobile phones gimmicks.

Same in the couple of "shopping centres".  I was fascinated to walk around the top floor of one which was totally given over to selling gold and silver jewellery. probably about 40 shops in all.  Most had 2 or 3 sales people, except for one which always had a large crowd of shoppers around it and about 24 salespeople who stand shoulder to shoulder busily selling.  Not sure why this one is so popular.

The People:

Always smiling, respectful, wanting to help, love practicing their English and learning new words. They are committed to constantly improving themselves through education, as they equate learning/education with higher salaries.  There does not seem to be a welfare system here.  Evryone seems to be working so that their kids get a good education, or the kids are working to provide for Mum and Dad when they are no longer able to work. I think businesses are providing a 'de facto" welfare service by engaging many, many employees, even if they are security guards who sleep on the job.

AuthorBruce Hardie

Not a lot of note in the last week.

After a 9 day working stint, half of which was at the mine, I was ready to rest for the weekend.

I got up early and played golf with the usual suspects on a very hot day. Sweat was dripping onto my glasses as I put my head over the ball. The Long Vien clubhouse can't be far away from completion and more needlessly large edifice I have never seen in my life. The course is still fun to play.

A bit of a nap in the afternoon and my big plans for watching TV were put on hold when some guys from work called an invited me out with them. We went to a place called the Marina Bar and there is a good chance I was the oldest person in the room. A couple of bottles of shared whiskey and an eclectic mix of music made for a fun time. On the way home we stopped at noodle bar that was set up in a car park. Best. Idea. Ever. Never too early to start the process of replenishing fluids after a night on the sauce and this was a tasty wind down with plenty of laughs as well.

Sunday I had brunch with a couple of the golf boys and their wives and then went to the Sunday session at KongKhao. It was pleasant enough, although the band lapsed into wanky jam session mode with each song dragging out to 8 minutes with everyone throwing in an ill thought out solo into each song.

Monday - my head exploded. Goddam virus of some kind and looking back at the timeline it was probably Saturday night's crew that gave it to me. Curse you, Mong!!! or Oiy! or Parn! or Oudom! or Ping-da!

And, of course, a big fuck you to Cricket Australia for selling the streaming rights to vodafail and not allowing that stream to go international. No cricket on the radio for me.

AuthorBruce Hardie