Last month, Anna, aged 9, visited Laos with her family, parents and younger brother. Anna offered to keep a diary for us in order to show other children (and their parents) what might happen on one of our family holidays in Laos.
We think Anna did an absolutely brilliant job – really bringing a family holiday to Laos alive. See if you agree!
*Please note that since this blog was written in 2010, Experience Travel Group no longer arranges experiences that include elephant riding*
Sunday 1 April – Luang Prabang
We stayed in ‘My Dream Boutique Hotel’ in Luang Prabang which is a bit like the lodge hotel we went to in South Africa because our beds have mosquito nets around them. I love making dens in them. There is a swimming pool which is very good because it was very, very hot!
We got picked up by our guide who was called Khamsone. We set off for a village to see some shops. We saw two paper shops where they were both making paper the same way. They put some white gloopy stuff in what looks like a flat rectangular plate (but quite a big one), put it in water and swirled it for a bit before putting it out to dry.
After that, we went to see a silk shop. We saw the silkworms, their cocoons and finally little baby ones (they were black). Felix was more interested in the structure of the building and how the roof was made of bamboo but I liked the way the lady weaved – she was very fast.
Then it was time to go to the temples. We visited at least 5. The first one had a huge – and I mean huge – sitting Buddha. You had to take your shoes off before you went inside. The next one you had to take your shoes off, in fact, you had to do this at all the temples. Here there was another huge Buddha but he was standing up this time. I didn’t think he was as big as the first one but everyone else thought he was bigger! Khamsone showed us all the different positions of the Buddhas – when he has his hands down by his sides it means he is praying for rain. When he has his hands held up flat out in front of him it means ‘peace’ or ‘calm down’.
Finally, it was lunch time and we had some rather delicious sweet and sour chicken and some yummy noodles, spring rolls and fish bombs (at least that’s what they were called but they didn’t explode or anything). The restaurant was outside by the Mekong River so we could watch the boats.
After lunch, we went to a museum where there were lots of traditional Laos costumes. Mummy and Daddy walked around looking at everything while Felix and I sat on the floor and did some colouring that the ticket man gave us. We coloured in lots of Laos people and then we had a yummy fruit shake in the café.
Next, we headed back to our hotel (it was boiling hot by now) to have a swim. It was very refreshing but unfortunately, I had hurt my finger and it hurt whenever I did a stroke so I just floated about.
In the evening we went to a ceremony called Baci. It was in a small house where lots of people were waiting for us. First, you sat around a kind of tray with flowers and snacks on. The Shaman said quite a big prayer before he came to each of us and tied cotton around our wrists. After that, to my surprise, everyone else came and tied cotton on our wrists. By the end, we had so many on our arms that it was like having an extra sleeve. Next, you had to put your hands by the tray and the other people put food in our hands. It was to welcome us and wish us good luck. They do the Baci when it’s a special occasion in the family or someone has to go on a trip. I had three things to eat but Felix and Mummy had at least 5! The food was quite good – I liked the rice cake.
When it was time to go back to the hotel we walked through the night market to find a tuk-tuk. The ride in the tuk-tuk was thrilling but windy. The wind blew my hair out so much that I thought it would fall off!
Monday 2 April – Phadang Primary School
We had to get up at 6.30 today! As soon as we got up we had breakfast – it was good but a bit of a rush. We met our guide Khamsone and also another man called Mr Ken and got into the car. The journey was one hour 30 minutes but it was an interesting ride. Some roads were still being built and there were lots of diggers moving the earth around so we could get through. It was very bumpy but fun.
When we arrived at Mr Ken’s village we looked around his house and then we walked to a primary school. The children there stared at us. We looked in all the classrooms and we got to teach the last year some English. It was very fun because we got to draw on the blackboard and write the English words underneath. Then we said the word and the children repeated it. By the end of the lesson the whole school was crowding into the same classroom (it was ok because there are only 5 classes but it was still a lot of children!) Some children were outside looking through the window at us. Everyone was smiling.
Next, we walked back to Mr Ken’s house to have lunch but before we could do any eating we had to fish! The way you fished was not the boring way with a rod – it was very different. You had to take all your clothes off except your pants and t-shirt and actually get in the river! Lots of children joined us. Felix wanted to swim under the water with a mask like some of the others but Mummy told him not to swallow any water. There was a round net which they threw out into the river and then dragged back to catch the fish.
After the eventful fishing we trudged back up the river bank to Mr Ken’s house to cook the fish (we had quite a lot!) I had to mush some green beans, chilli and garlic together and cut up some salad. Mummy got to cut up the salad and help make the jackfruit soup and some other things I can’t remember. Daddy and Felix helped make a fire and we speared the fish onto sticks so they could cook them. While everything was cooking Felix played with the other boys. One boy gave him some crisps and a girl made him a present out of palm leaves.
All the people in the house shared the lunch but they sat somewhere different from us. The food was delicious, especially the soup and the sticky rice!
The ride home was much the same but Mr Ken’s sisters and quite a lot of watermelons came too. When we finally got home I rushed to get changed into my swimming costume and raced to the pool for a swim.
In the evening we walked down the road in search of a tuk-tuk but we didn’t find one. We did get one in the end but it was a very short ride. The restaurant was called Couleur Café and it was very good. I had pasta with tomato sauce which is my favourite and Mummy and Daddy had Laos food which Felix shared.
Tuesday 3 April – Luang Prabang to Kamu Lodge
We go up and had breakfast and jumped in the car that would take us to the Mekong river where a boat was waiting for us. The boat trip was 3 hours and 20 minutes but there was lots to see and I saw a gold person (a statue) sticking out of the trees on the river bank. We stopped on the way to see some caves with hundreds of Buddha statues. One cave was very dark and we forgot to take a torch but the camera flash lit up the Buddha inside. We spotted the rain Buddha, the peace one and the meditation one. There were also some monks praying in the cave but one of the monks was videoing the other ones!
When we got to Kamu Lodge we were shown to our tents – guess what, it was boiling hot but there were duvets and blankets! (We found out later that the duvets came all the way from France because the man who looks after Kamu Lodge is French). We got changed into cooler things and went down to the restaurant for lunch. It was in the middle of a rice field and near it was the bar which was on stilts in the middle of a pond! There was a water buffalo lying down near a hose that was sprinkling his head, and lots of chickens and small pigs.
After lunch, we were allowed to try crossbow shooting. On Felix ‘s first go he shot the arrow into the trees, the second time he bent the arrow and the third time he got a bullseye on the target (but really the idea was to hit the papaya, worse luck!) Then we walked around a village but it was so boiling hot and I didn’t find it as interesting as Mummy and Daddy did.
When we finished our walk in the boiling hot village we went down to a bit of the river – it was like a giant rock pool. Felix got upset because he wanted to swim but Mummy said the water was too dirty. He had a strop and walked off so he missed it when Daddy caught a fish but he did see the guide catch a shrimp. He did get to go swimming later because Mummy let him go in the main river where the water was cleaner. We saw some monks swimming who had orange pants!
After the fishing and the swimming, we went back and played in our tents until supper time. We had a drink at the bar and Felix spotted some boys playing a game a bit like boules. He played with them even though they didn’t speak any English and they also climbed the trees. They were very friendly.
When we went to bed I had to use mummy’s sarong instead of the duvet because it was so hot.
Wednesday 4 April
When we went to breakfast we heard a weird sound like lots of screaming and we saw some monks in the next door farm – we thought they might be killing a pig! We asked someone and he said we were right (not a very nice part of the holiday!)
After breakfast, we got on the boat to go back to Luang Prabang. It didn’t take nearly as long this time because the river was fast. On the way we saw some people trying to find gold.
At My Dream Resort, we got a new room (a suite) so we could all be together and it was very nice. I really wanted a swim but the pool was closed because of algae. So we stayed in our room because it was so hot outside and played with my Sylvanians.
We had supper in a restaurant called Tamarind. We went there by bike. Me and Felix sat on the back. We had Laos food but the waitress chose it for us because she knew what children liked and it was delicious. Except for the fried river weed!
Thursday 5 April – Elephant Village
Today I was very excited because we were going to see elephants! The journey in the car was 45 minutes but it was not boring (we went on more roads that weren’t built yet). When we got to the Elephant village we were shown up to a platform that the elephants were led to. It was so we didn’t have to climb up on to them. Me and Daddy got on one and Mummy and Felix got on the other. It was quite a wobbly ride down to the Kahn River and all the hills seemed much steeper than they looked. I didn’t realise we were going straight into the river but we didn’t get wet because we were high up and the water only went up to the elephants’ knees. We didn’t cross to the other side but went to an island which (at the beginning) was scattered with elephant poos. Mummy’s Mahout (elephant looker-after) took a photo of her sitting on the elephant’s head and not the seat. A bit further on I got to sit on my elephant’s head and we walked off the island back into the river. To make the elephant go forward you said ‘bye-bye’ and to make her stop you said ‘hoy.’ Our elephant didn’t do what she was told so me, Daddy and the Mahout had to repeat it over and over again.
Back at the elephant village, we fed our elephants with some bananas and then we all fitted into a long thin wooden speedboat to go up the river to some waterfalls. Because it was the end of the dry season there wasn’t very much water so it wasn’t very good but Felix had a splash about and we had a drink. We wanted to go on the zip wire but it was very expensive so we didn’t.
When we got back to the village again we had our lunch. Daddy found out that we were allowed to use a swimming pool at the village so we had a swim there in case our hotel pool was still full of algae. The pool had an elephant fountain you could swim under. It was lovely to cool off.
Friday 6th April
We got up very very very early today and Khamsone took us to see the Buddhist monks. We thought we were late because when we were waiting for him outside the hotel we saw a long procession of monks going past but when Khamsone arrived he said it was ok because there were lots of monks to see.
We sat next to some ladies and we bought some bananas to give to the monks when they went past. They had all just shaved their heads because it was nearly New Year. I thought the thin monks should go at the front because the monks at the end of the queue don’t get so much food from everyone. Perhaps they take turns being at the front. The people give them food for breakfast and lunch but then they don’t eat any supper. Khamsone told us that the people get up in the night to cook rice for the monks.
Afterwards, Khamsone took us to a local market where there were live frogs on sticks, lots of fruit and vegetables, big fish and also flowers. He bought some tiny, hot pancakes from a lady cooking them on a stove and she put them in baskets for us made of palm leaves.
We went back to our hotel for breakfast and a swim. We went on the bikes back into Luang Prabang for lunch and because Mummy and Daddy wanted to go shopping before we went to the airport. We found a market where Mummy bought me a traditional Laos outfit. It was gold and red with a jacket, a long skirt and a sash. It’s very pretty and I am going to wear it at school when we have to dress up as people from different countries. I don’t think anyone else will have a Laos costume!