07 May 2007

Udon Thani

We made our first trip over the border to Thailand on Saturday. We did this so we could get a visa to stay for a year. We went a bit further than we had to so we could do some shopping. The customs process took a while on each side and it took around 2.5 hours to get from Vientiane to Udon Thani. Udon Thani was quite good for shopping. We went to a 4-level shopping mall and it had some familiar Asian chain stores such as Robinson’s and Watson’s. I bought some things which are hard to find in Laos, or more expensive in Laos because they are imported from Thailand. We stopped at Nongkhai on the way home which is right on the Thai border and happens to have a Tescos. It’s a big shopping centre and apparently they are from the UK and are everywhere there. It was very obvious that just over the border of Laos in Thailand, it is so much wealthier and more developed. I wonder what the main reasons for Laos being so poor compared to Thailand which is so close and so similar in language and culture. A different government? Better natural resources?

Later that night I went to a Dutch party, celebrating the Dutch queen’s birthday. All the expats from Western countries were out again. It was outside in a garden which was actually just a large patch of dirt. The music was loud and they played Ricky Martin and the like, and they also played bad covers of bad songs. There was free beer Lao. I went to a club after at the Don Chan hotel and danced tiredly until 3am. I was dancing with a group of people and one boy got out a tiny tub that glowed blue. He opened the lid and inhaled. ‘Tiger balm’ he said and I could confirm that it was from the smell. It must give him energy to keep going.

I had my first Lao lesson the next morning on 4 hours sleep, but I felt fine. A and I joined with another couple for a lesson at house which is not far from ours. I like our teacher, he is really friendly and explains the tones of the language really well and seems to have a good system for learners like us to learn them properly. Lao is spoken by about 3 million people in Laos, which is around half the population. Not many, I first thought. In the north-eastern Isan region of Thailand people speak Isan language which is virtually the same as the Language. 20 million people speak this Isan language which makes it much more worthwhile learning Lao, I think. I think Lao is very similar to Thai which has many speakers- I’ll have to test how well I’m understood there outside the Isan region.

I saw a scorpion the other day as I was walking along the road. It was about 10cm long which is by far the biggest one I’ve seen alive. I wonder how poisonous it is. Our friends who live down the road saw some people kill a cobra with a stick to be eaten. Also, I discovered I have been using squat toilets backwards. I have been using squat toilets for years in various different Asian countries. Why didn’t someone tell me! I’m not as good as one of Ms friends who said her friend got down on all fours to use a squat toilet in Turkey- apparently some are sparkling clean there.

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