Durrell and I had an great opportunity recently to travel with our friends to Laos. A family from our church is planning a relocation there soon, and we wanted to go see for ourselves where they would be living and the work they will be doing there. Here are some photos from the trip. (mostly taken with cell phones, but hey, carrying a backpack with all of my belongings in it made camera wrangling tricky sometimes) HA!
A little history: Laos is a landlocked country bordered by Myanmar (Burma) and China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the southwest, and Thailand to the west and southwest. It's one of only 5 remaining communist countries in the world, predominantly Buddhist, and home to over 160 different people groups. From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than 270 million cluster bombs on Laos during the Vietnam War. Up to a third of the bombs dropped did not explode, leaving Laos contaminated with vast quantities of unexploded bombs. Over 20,000 people have been killed or injured by UXO in Laos since the bombing ceased. The country side is still dangerous for those living there. Bombs explode everyday, some by teams attempting to slowly clear the land of the UXO's with special equipment and others by unknowing civilians with unfortunate footing. Even though it seems Laotian people wouldn't be out of line to hold grudges against Americans for our part in the ongoing tragedy, we were greeted by the kindest, open armed, and hospitable people. Even not speaking any of the tribal languages, we never felt unsafe or scared moving around. Being a Christian in a closed communist country was a concern for us at first, but overall it added more of an awareness to our situation than fear.
SO.... lots of flying to start the trip off. CLE > Dallas > Hong Kong. The flight from Dallas to Hong Kong was 17 hours. I have a hard time sitting still for a whole hour sooooooo the flight felt like an eternity. We spent a day in Hong Kong wandering around the city and catching taxis to places we wanted to see. We stayed at a little airbnb on the 62nd floor of a tower on the bay with a view of the mountains. Then back to the airport to catch a flight to Bangkok and finally our destination, Vientiane, Laos.
In Vientiane, We stayed at a cool little place right in town that made getting to the market and moving around pretty easy. We found ourselves pointing a lot at pictures to show people where wanted to go or what we needed. Honestly, at one point I think Steve made an "oinking" sound to a street food vendor trying to ask her if the meat was pork or not. She got quite a kick out of it. The further out of the city, the less people spoke English. Luckily, our friends were with us for most of the time we spent in Laos and they could communicate for us.
We were told before our trip that Laos has the best iced coffee ever and it was sooooo true! It was amazing! Lots of ladies had little stands on the street that we could purchase from. We always say we will avoid street food when we travel, but somehow we find ourselves eating it and then wondering what we just ate. HA But the coffee was great! It was served in a plastic bag inside a paper bag with a straw. There were monasteries on almost every corner and they were BEAUTIFUL! The monks would come in the morning and walk through the village collecting food and tithes from the residents and then in return they would bless the people and their homes. I felt kinda like the tourists that come to Holmes County and take photos of the amish! Nobody even looked twice at the long lines of boys dressed in orange robes with bare feet chanting in the streets, but there I was with my eyes glued and camera clicking. (discreetly of course ;) Another reason I used my phone camera a lot instead of the beast.
We were excited to get out of town and see a bit of the country side in Vientiane. I'm always more drawn to the rural side of places we visit. The mountains were beautiful and green and the river flowed through the villages full of fish and supplying water to the rice fields. Kids played in the creeks branching off the river. We stopped at a cool floating village on the river and had lunch on a boat as we floated down the river and saw the country side that way. Then we headed to a small school to visit and have dinner. Eating in Laos was a very different experience for us. Meal time always meant sitting on the floor "crisscross applesauce" barefoot and eating with our hands, or sometimes chopsticks. The food was amazing, but some of it was, well...... unconventional to American culture. BBQ Chicken feet, whole shrimp with the eyes starring back at you, and dare I say it.... dog with dog gravy. I won't even go into detail about how it's made or where the dog meat comes from. Duey got his share of Pho with alllll the hot peppers, and I carbed up on rice and noodles ;)
We visited a large park called Wat Xieng Khuan with over 200 Buddhist and Hindu statues. It was very bizarre but also interesting to see.
Then another short plane ride to Thailand and back to Hong Kong. We spent the last day in Hong Kong visiting an enormous bronze statue of Buddha Shakyamuni. We traveled by a crystal bottom gondola trough the mountains to the statue located at Ngong Ping, on Lantau Island. The statue is sited near Po Lin Monastery and symbolises the harmonious relationship between man and nature, people and faith. It is a major centre of Buddhism in Hong Kong, and also a popular tourist attraction. We toured the monastery and then hopped a bus to a nearby fishing village. At the fishing village we took a short boat ride in search of pink dolphins and to see the village from a different viewpoint. The shacks on stilts over the water seemed to be barely standing. Some of them leaned so far one way or another it looked as if the smaller wave or lightest wind would push them over the edge. The whole village smelled of fish and on nearly every clothes line hung childrens clothes next to fish parts drying in the sun.
Even though we had a 12 hour time difference to our littles back home, EVERYDAY they sent us the sweetest selfies to wake up to. We feel sooooo blessed to have grandmas (and Marilyn) that looked after Will and Abby when we were traveling. It's hard being away from them, but much easier knowing they are in caring loving hands.