26 July 2007

Lao language

Someone in my office had 99 white roses delivered to her today. Her English is good by the florist's isn't so good- the card read 'please merry me'. It's amazing you can get roses in Laos, I have not seen them. Maybe they are from Thailand.

The people at work were discussing words for friends. One of the words is 'very socialist' someone was saying. I'm guessing this word mai translates to comrade.

There is a Lao word for a friend of the opposite sex which isn't your boyfriend/girlfriend- kikh. This can mean- just a friend or a mistress. There are some other useful Lao has that English doesn't have.

- the word for boyfriend/ girlfriend which is good because it's not gender specific
lao- a word for he or she which is also good because it's not gender specific
puak jao- a plural of 'you'. I think yous or youse is a word but unfortunately most people don't. I use it anyway.
hottie- someone on the side! Not the same meaning as in 'strain- I did try to explain

23 July 2007

Lao National Museum

I thought this museum was quite good. The prehistory section contains artifacts such as pots, drums and tools. They also talk about what happened between the 14th and 18th centuries. Laos was known as Lan Xang, meaning a million elephants. It was much bigger than the present day Laos covering much of today’s northern and north-eastern Thailand region.

The modern history section talks mostly of the Laos battling against the ‘US imperialists’ back in the 1970s. There are heaps of guns are on display in this section- ‘This machine gun shot down this helicopter…’, ‘these are the guns the Americans used…’

The most odd thing about the museum was the display from the Lao Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. They had a bunch of drugs they claimed they had confiscated. There were some crumbled tablets they said they said was amphetamines. There was a bag of leafy green material they labeled as marijuana. They had a couple of wrapped up bricks they said was heroin and opium. Surely it wouldn’t be real- but in this country I cannot be sure. Another funny thing was a cabinet of gold and silver buddhas with a sign that read ‘From the 14th to 18th century found in 1998 at the University of Laos

I learnt that today in Laos, there is not much left of the past. Say in Vientiane, all the temples were destroyed by the Siamese a few centuries ago and there is only one old one left that the Siamese used as their headquarters.

Definitely not as polished as other museums I have been to, but they do have some interesting facts and photographs. Some displays look like something that I did in year 4, but that’s ok. It is also interesting to see the way they present their history- not as much propaganda as I thought it would be.

This is located on Samsenthai Rd opposite the Cultural Hall and entry is 10,000 kip. It will take about an hour to see everything.


A’s parents came to visit during the weekend. We hired a minivan and driver to take me to Udon Thani to pick them up. On Saturday we just had lunch, watched Australia play Japan in the soccer at a pub, and had dinner at Kua Lao restaurant. This is a Lao restaurant with an evening cultural show. It is the best Lao restaurant I have been to so far. The food is superb and the restaurant itself is in a lovely old French- style house.

On Sunday we went to the Morning Markets and did some shopping. I love those markets, so I had a lot of fun. We had lunch at a Chinese restaurant. It was good because A’s dad was able to explain the Beijing food. When I saw it I thought hey, what is this shredded, fried potato doing on the menu but A’s dad said that they have it in Beijing.

A’s family came to visit our house in the afternoon. They are the first people from home to see our house! We had dinner at Xayoh restaurant. They do a Sunday roast there which some of A’s family ordered and seemed to enjoy.

19 July 2007

Learning English and security

We received my guard's report card from the English school. The poor thing, he got Ds and Es for everything except attendance and homework. It looked pretty similar to my Chinese school report card. He seemed keen to start another term- hopefully he really does want to do it and doesn't just feel he has to.

Since the Hmong people in the US threatened to overthrow the government, the government they have made a step towards improving security. They are re registering all the foreigners in Laos which involves submitting a photo, address, passport and visa details.


I spent just over 4 days in Bangkok to see the Socceroos play in the Asia Cup and generally hang out with a few of my friends from Australia. It was a fun place to hang out and really good to see my friends. I’ve never seen my friends shop so much, and I did quite a bit too. A went particularly crazy and probably tripled his existing modest wardrobe. I stayed a block from Khao San road, the short but busy road where most backpackers stay. It was easy to catch taxis around town, and 20km trip where we spent nearly an hour cost around $5 AUD.

I found it less of a culture shock than I imagined because it seems just like much bigger, crazier, tidier Lao. Also, I managed to pretend to know some Thai from the limited knowledge of Lao because its nearly the same language. I just substituted some key words and hoped for the best for the rest. Also I heard Cantonese for the first time for months and my brain couldn’t process it properly. All I could say was ‘ko tod’, ‘sorry’ in Lao, when some Cantonese speaking girl grabbed the underwear I was holding because she wanted to find the same thing while I was in the store.

The soccer

I saw Australia play two games of the Asia Cup. The Australia vs Iraq game was on a very hot day. The stadium was pretty much empty. There were mostly Aussie fans, a few Iraqi fans and not many Thai people there at all. It was not a good game- Australia lost 2-1. Even with my limited knowledge of football, I could see that they didn’t play very well. We were sitting a few rows from where the players come out onto the field so it was really good to see the players up really close. My friends took this opportunity to yell some non- complimentary comments to the players after the game and I’m certain they heard.

The Australia vs Thailand game was on a rainy evening. We weren’t sure whether the locals care about their national football team at all, but before the game we could tell that the turnout was going to be good. The game was on a Monday which they probably would have thought would be a lucky day as Monday is the day the King was born and most people wear a lemon yellow shirt in recognition. Their king seems to have achieved some superhuman status there and you have to make sure you don’t say anything bad about him. When we talked about him we used the name ‘Cyril’ instead just in case. So the audience was a sea of yellow- Thai’s wearing their Monday shirt and the Aussies wearing golden yellow. The stadium was just over a third full when the game started, but quite soon it was pretty much full.

The Socceroos looked a much better team than during the Iraqi game. It was like they were a different team. My friends had calculated that Australia needed to beat Thailand with a difference of 3 goals to get through to the quarters. It was great they managed to achieve this. What an exciting game!


I didn’t bring over many clothes to Vientiane so some are getting seriously worn and/ or covered in mud stains from bike riding or charcoal from new years. This was a good opportunity to replace some clothes. I only visited just a few markets and shopping centres of the many around.

Chatuchuk markets

There is a massive 9,000 stall weekend market called Chatuchuk market that has everything. I spent two hours there and probably didn’t even see half of it. I’m glad I missed the live monkey section my friends came across. Not the cheapest for clothes, but the prices aren’t bad and they do have some really nice clothes. Like Paddington markets in Sydney, they had some young people starting up a fashion label particularly in T-shirts which usually refuse to bargain with you.

Pratanum markets, Platinum and Central World Plaza

I recommend doing the three in that order as they are along the same road. Start with the cheapest and go up otherwise you’ll probably find the same cheap clothes at higher prices in the department store. Pratanum markets has lots of wholesale outlets where the clothes are really cheap and good, probably before being labelled, shipped off and sold in Australia for up to 10x the price. You can’t try some of the clothes on though, and for some reason some clothes are ‘free size’ and tend to be on the very small side.

Platinum is one step up from Pratanum these markets. They are cheap clothing stalls arranged in a compact air- conditioned mall. Easier to navigate than Pratanum markets but prices are probably slightly higher. Here you might not be able to try the clothes on.

Central World Plaza This is new and has lots of shops and a couple of Japanese department stores. It is seriously nice, probably nicer than Bondi Junction back at home but things are affordable. You can try on the clothes there.

The drinking

I’d heard people talk about doing ‘buckets’ in Thailand but never actually knew what it was. You can buy drinks in a small bucket, which is an ice- bucket. You can get pretty much any cocktail or mixer in them, but usually ‘buckets’ refer to a mixture of Thai whiskey, Red Bull and coke. When we tried to order individual glasses the waitress insisted we share buckets as the cheaper option. Classy!

I did experience a small range of drinking establishments. One was set up at a derelict Shell service station. Another was tables and chairs set up with drinks served out of a van. I also experienced another couple of backpacker hangouts.

The foodcourts

We really got into the food courts in Bangkok- they are wonderful. It seems most shopping malls will have at least a couple of food courts. The nice ones are a chain and managed by a particular company. They give you a credit card with about $30AUD on it to use when you’re in the food court. You pay it off when you’ve finished. There is a huge range of food- Japanese, pizza, Malaysian, Indian, dessert, drinks… all of very high quality. The highlights were the wonton noodle soup for less than $3AUD and the perfect slice of pizza above the quality of most Australian pizzas for around $1 Australian. They use proper crockery and cutlery is laid down on the table before you sit down. One food court had service where they seated you. I think Australian food courts and eateries in general really need to pick up their game- how come a Bangkok food court can do an awesome pizza but a regular Sydney cafĂ© can’t?

12 July 2007

Sengdara fitness

I went to the gym for the first time in a decade! The last time was high school aerobics, I think. I remembered why I don't really like them too. The hour- long gym class is only 50c which is a cheap enough price for me to return after a decade. I went to 'spinning' class which is riding on an exercise bike for one hour on really uncomfortable seats, listening to loud music while a Dutch guy yells out random stuff. It was so boring, I will not be back. It was my own fault really- what did I expect? I might try some other classes though.

Sengdara Fitness does look like a nice gym though ie it has a pool, massage, sauna and a restaurant. They have a guard to look after the bikes too. I think it's another foreigner hangout.

11 July 2007

Do you believe in ghosts?

When my workmates asked me this, I told them that I wasn’t sure. They said that after someone dies their spirit will still be around the house for three days. All this talk of ghosts in Laos has almost made me start to believe!

A guy at work went to Japan for a training program. He was typing on the computer when he saw things moving in the room. He thought oh, it’s just a ghost, and went back to typing. When it happened the second time he started quickly packing all his things. The Japanese guy he was telling laughed because you’re supposed to get out as soon as possible during an earthquake and not be packing things. When he looked outside everything was normal and everyone was still walking around. Some other participants on the training program from other Asian countries would not sleep by themselves in a room that night.

Alternative afternoon tea- chilli hot green papaya salad. Some guy at work said he ate it to wake himself up. I tried a bit and he had it made very hot. Seems a few people eat it in the afternoon. People sweat while they eat it but they keep pushing on.

My housemate went to a North Korean restaurant for dinner last night with her South Korean friends. Before she went, we had concluded that it would be South Koreans with recipes from the north. We were wrong. This was a genuine North Korean restaurant run by the North Korean government. She said the food has simpler flavours than South Korean food and had the opportunity to try North Korean style dog. The most interesting thing about her experience was that the waiters and waitresses went and got changed and put on an hour long show involving singing.

Incident at the lights

I stopped at the lights on my bicycle on the way to dinner tonight. I saw a woman get off her motorbike and angrily snatch a bag of shopping from a foreigner guy on a motorbike stopped next to her. I think she took the keys out of his motorbike too. She slapped him on the face, though not too hard because he was wearing a half- face motorbike helmet. He hit her back. I can only assume he had taken the shopping from the basket of her motorbike. He did have a beer in his hand. This happened next to one of the police booths around town. She called the police to come over. You go girl!

Lao textiles

My housemate and I spent the Saturday riding our bicycles around town visiting the textile shops and galleries around town. We are now experts! We were looking at woven fabrics that can be used as scarves, wall hangings or over furniture. There are patterns in the fabric. I can’t really describe the designs- geometric? The most expensive ones are dyed using natural dyes, made of pure silk, have the back and front looking equally neat and take up to three months to make. The most expensive weaving we saw was around 3x1m and was $3900 US. This was in a gallery was on the road that comes off That Dam on the Mekong side. It was scary how much time and care it would have taken someone to complete these weavings. I do love the Lao textiles- I’m going to have to go easy on the shopping otherwise I’ll come home with a huge amount. It’s interesting to talk to the shopkeepers about the textiles. They can tell you where they come from in Lao, and what plants are used to make the dyes.

If you would like to see what Lao textiles look like, click on the link below:


Last night I went the party of an Australian that works in Laos. I think most Aussies working in Vientiane were there. There I noticed that virtually everyone I associate with is older than me. There are only three Aussies here that are younger than me, one of those being my boyfriend A. There’s not such a great variety of Aussies here, everyone is highly educated and are most likely an NGO or government employee now and before. Probably much like Canberra. The few Aussies here makes it feel like a really small town. Any function that’s on you’ll always know quite a few people there. I guess I have to make more Lao friends! I do have a few but it’s hard to make heaps due to the language barrier and the huge wealth imbalance. The party was good. It was fun to hear Kylie songs and dance to 80s music. I didn’t get home until 3:30am which is definitely the latest is been since I’ve been here.

Looking forward to meeting some friends from home in Bangkok to watch Australia play in the Asia Cup!

05 July 2007

Lao disabled women's development centre

I came across the website of the Lao disabled women's development centre today. They sell a range of bags and other accessories at reasonable prices. Some of there stuff looks gorgeous!


Apparently it's located on Tha Deu near the Friendship Bridge. I might catch a bus there sometime or stop there on the way home from Thailand.