The remainder of Tranquil Laos

The rest of Laos was very enjoyable. We started seeing the same other caucaision tourists at different temples and museums, and then again in the next day or two in different towns. It was as if there was a standard itinerary that all tour companies followed. The capital city of Laos, Vientien, has less people than Red Deer, at around 100,000. That province (one of seventeen provinces in Laos) has the highest population of all provinjces in the country at just barely over one million. I think that the total population of Laos is just around six million. WIth few people in the cities this means that there is an unnatural amount of rural population still living along waterways, in the abundant backcountry, and all stretched along the highways and roads. Urbanism has yet to explode here.

One very cool thing we saw throughout Laos (but no other Southeast Asian country, including our future visit to Vietnam) were the tractors. They were not traditional ride-em tractors as we are used to. Instead they are a direct replacement for oxen or water buffalo. I have a couple of pictures on our web gallery already. Essentially, they are a big engine, with a visible, open clurtch, on top of two larger, fat drive wheels. Extending out the back is a long arm with two handles that house the controls. Think of a large rotertiller with two big wheels at the front instead of the tines, and then extend the control handles to an overall length of about 2.5 meters. This allows the “driver” to still sit at the front of a wagon and hold the handles just as if he were almost still controlling water buffalo by reigns. We saw lots of these things plodding along the side of highways, or going through town. Most had families riding in the four-wheeled wagons, but some had huge piles of cargo. This could be crops, to huge bundles of bamboo or wood, or even furniature and other goods going to stiores to be sold. For crop work I suppose that the farmers would merely replace the wagon with wahtever field implement they needed at that time.

Our guide told us that several years ago the goveernment decided to subsidize these mechanical animal replacement beasts, and pretty much every one in the country jumped at the opportunity. Originally they just offered a little money for villiagers to help them build fences for their animals OR a little more money in exchange for the animals in order to get a tractor. Our guides strong impression was that the people thought that the building of fences (even with a little monetary help) was just WAY too much like work and they opted en mass to get modernized instead. I asked how these subsistence farmers (about half of the people that have these walk behind tractors) could possibly afford gas!!! The guide said that they just adapted and learned to make or grow more goods to buy fuel. He said that there are barely any beasts of burden in the country at all anymore. To partially substantiate this, none of the five of us saw an oxen or water buffalo anywhere along our route. This naturally leads me to be highly suspicious of restaurants that have water buffalo on their menue’s. I can only presume that they were really offering dog meat from the abundance of local strays…

In Vientien (the Capital City of Laos) we met and visited over two days with a family from Sydney, Australia. The two boys were almost exactly the same age as Alex and Luke and they had a blast visiting and swimming in the hotel pool. On the second day, us three parents even consented to the four kids having a “sleepover” in our kids room. Us adults also shared a few bottles of wine and many great stories during and after supper. The next morning we had a leisurely schedule of sleeping in and packing up before needing to leave just after lunch.

The night before we were to fly out, we went by ourselves to a Lao Traditional Dance show. It was pretty inexpensive and very cool. The restaurant at the hotel we stayed at in Phalong Pabang also had a nightly show of Lao Traditioanl dance, but it was free and slightly more ametuerish. Before going to the airport, we had time for one last tour about a half hour away to the “Buhddist Park”. It was really nice with all sorts of Buhda & friends statutes and sculptures in a grassy park area. At the opposite end from the parking lot was a restaurant beside the Mekong River overlooking Thailand on the other side. There was some sort of large (about three stories high) round concrete climbable sculpture with a wild concrete tree at the top that I took pics of Claudette, Alex & Luke on from below. We’ll get those uploaded to the gallery as soon as we find a computer with DVD to extract them from…

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