A few choice shots from Bali
One activity we did not anticipate encountering in Luang Prabang (or really anywhere in Laos) is bowling, but low and behold, it’s all the rage here. It probably helps that it’s the only institution open past 11pm (and they’re open and serving BeerLao until 3am!). I’m not a huge fan of bowling, but when the bar closed and our Slow Boat friends were headed that way, we hopped in the tuk-tuk for the ride.
Luang Prabang is set in a beautiful location, with lush green mountains in the distance, and the mighty Mekong passing right through downtown. In the middle of the city is Chomsy Hill – a short climb up reveals 360 vistas of this beauty. A few photos:
Over the past 9 months, we’ve eaten some strange things. It’s part of the adventure, and half the time we don’t even know what we’re really getting. One thing we did take a pass on was bugs, beetles and scorpions. We saw carts full of them in Bangkok, but our most memorable bug-eating experience happened as we were relaxing with Pui in Maetachang.
We’re hanging with Pui while he cooks some vegetables wrapped in a banana leaf on a little fire next to this sort of covered patio structure we’re chillin on. A huge black beetle comes flying by, and to our surprise, Pui reaches out and grabs it mid-flight and holds it up to show us.
Again to our surprise, he throws the beetle on the fire next to the vegetables, and it cooks for about 30 seconds. We’re thinking, well, that’s kinda cruel, but if we lived out in the middle of nowhere, maybe we’d do that too.
Then, to our biggest surprise, he plucks the beetle off the fire, cracks it in half, and bites off the juicy torso of this beetle. Yum. WTF?!
Our visit to Nat’s village was one of the more unique and special experiences we’ve had to date. Many travelers wander their way into remote parts of Thailand, but few have close ties to someone from these rural areas. While our ties were 2 degrees of separation apart, those degrees were very small, and as a result, we experienced something that I believe few travelers encounter – a familial welcome.
A bit of background – Our very good friend Mark and his college buddy Matt lived in northern Thailand teaching English for 8 months back in 2005, right after they finished school. Matt lived in Maetachang, earning the trust of the local community and falling in love with a local girl named Nat. When Mark took off to head back stateside, Matt stuck around and ended up marrying Nat, and the two now live in Hawaii. Nat and Matt regularly visit Nat’s family in Maetachang, and they even built another wing on the family’s house, including a bedroom (that we stayed in) as well as a “modern” kitchen (meaning it has running water, a gas stove, and a refrigerator). Matt has also helped to pay for his nephew’s (Pong, our friend and quasi-translator) college education as well as the scooter he uses to ride back and forth between home and school in the nearby Chiang Rai. Needless to say, Nat’s family is grateful for how much their son-in-law has done for the family, and hosting his friends as they roll through northern Thailand is probably a welcome opportunity.
But, we didn’t know any of that. All we knew was that Matt married Nat, and Matt called the family and told them we were coming. We were both nervous about the whole scenario beforehand. We had put ourselves in challenging situations many times before – some of which turned out great, others that were painfully uncomfortable – but never before with quite so many unknowns: Not sure how rough/dirty it was going to be, not sure anyone would be there to pick us up from the bus stop, not sure what to expect from Nat’s family, not sure what we would do, not sure how much we were going to be able to communicate, not sure how long they expected us to stay, not sure how to arrange onward transport, etc. In some ways, it turned out to be the challenge that we anticipated – hard to communicate, uncertain of how to interact with our hosts, unsure of how to appropriately express our gratitude, etc. However, it was also easier too – the accommodation was significantly less rustic than we expected (after all Matt and Nat built it for their visits!), we had Pong there to help us communicate, the food was great, and we had Matt who communicated with them and paved the way for us (in many ways).
Life in Maetachang is very laid back (by Western standards), living comfortably with what feels like plenty of what you need, but not much more. A slow pace of life, to be sure. Nat’s family has a very interesting mix of modern amenities juxtaposed with some traditional ways of life. In this rural village, they enjoy 24-hour electricity, running water, a refrigerator, a washing machine, a TV with satellite reception (meaning they get 4 channels), and a gas lawn mower. But subsistence farming is everyone’s primary occupation, food is still cooked over an open fire (despite the fact they have a gas stove built by Matt!), and the whole family still sleeps in a single room in a traditional stilted home.
Once Pong left to go back to school (after our first day there), communicating became very difficult. It was a challenge even when Pong was there, as his English is not that good, but at least we could get the point across eventually with the help of his dictionary. Once he left, there wasn’t a lot that needed to be said, but we certainly missed his presence and his ability to convey our gratitude. But despite the communication challenges, there was an additional layer of unspoken comfort here – We didn’t feel too weird about showing up, eating their food, chillin on their deck, playing with their kids, and just taking it all in. The fact that we were friends (or rather, friends of friends) with their son-in-law somehow made it feel like we were truly welcome. It’s this kind of local connection that makes a world of difference when you’re on the road and far from home. Now, just gotta meet Matt and Nat…
Big multinational corporations have to make some adjustments in their products and marketing to be locally successful. For instance, McDonalds doesn’t sell beef in India (that’s right, you can’t get a burger in Micky D’s!), and here in Thailand, they make sure Ronald is demonstrating proper Thai etiquette.
As we explored the many wats of Chiang Mai, we stumbled across a few influential lamas (high priests, teachers) that have been preserved for generations to come. Ok, well, not actually preserved, but a scarily-realistic wax version of the lamas, often encased in glass, on display for inspiration and devotion. WTF?!