Activities in Siem Reap

On Sunday the 13th, we woke up and got a tuk-tuk from the entrance to our hotel ‘Mango Rain’. The tuk-tuks all have the names of the driver written on the side. The driver we got was called Mr Dhat and we used him lots of times while we were in Siem Reap/Angkor Wat.

He took us to the Angkor Wat museum so we could learn about what we were going to see over the next 3 days. Only Mum and Dad were looking forward to the museum but Cara, Piran and I had been promised to go to the ‘Royal Archery Club’ if we were good at the museum.

When we got to the museum we all jumped out and walked towards the entrance. Inside there was a spiral slope which we walked up so we could go to the first room.

The first room was a large one with 1000 Buddha statues in but I didn’t think it was very interesting. I thought most of the museum was boring but some of it was fun like the lingas, which represent a boys phallus. They have a square on the bottom, a octagon in the middle and a cylinder on the top. We saw lots of lingas while we were looking around temples.
When we were nearly at the end we found a board that had all of the 9 kings from Cambodia during the time when Angkor Wat was built. We found the king who built it was called king Suryavarman II. In the length of 400 years (during the ancient Khmer kingdom) those 9 kings built over 60 temples all really near to each other! Before we had left Mango Rain, Mum had made a worksheet for us to fill out and that was one of the questions so we stopped to put it on. After that we finished, got an ice cream, had lunch and went to archery.

At archery we were told to put on the gear that we needed on for shooting. There was a greave, a little bit of leather you put on your finger to stop it rubbing and a belt with your arrows in. After we had put all of it on, we were given a bow and mine was taller than me! One of the staff told me how to fire the arrows and soon I was starting to shoot.

I started on a 5 metre target and I worked my way up to the 25 metres which was furthest away. There were also rubber animals that you could shoot and I got all of them. There was a crocodile, a skunk, a dinosaur, a grizzly bear, a black bear and a leopard. It was really fun and I loved the archery especially the shooting the animals. At the end we asked if we could have a go with a proper Khmer bow and arrow. They said yes so we were given one and 3 really sharp arrows. We then started shooting and I was the best at them so I was happy.

We enjoyed it so much that Dad, Piran and I went again 6 days later. When we went again we had a competition to see who was best at the modern bow and that was Piran so we called him ‘modern master ‘ and then I won at Khmer so I was called ‘Khmer king’!

On Wednesday we did a pottery class that was run by people who couldn’t talk or hear so they had to mime it. We got a tuk-tuk there because it was on the other side of town. When we got there Mum, Cara, Piran and I sat down but Dad didn’t do it because it was expensive. We were showed how to make the pots and then we did it ourselves. We had a pottery wheel that we used for making the pots, plates, vases, cups and bowls.
Here are the steps for making a pottery cup:

  1. First you get your clay and roll it into a ball
  2. Next you hit it hard onto the centre of your wheel and start turning it
  3. Then you hold your hands tightly around the clay to make it go into a cylinder
  4. After that you stick both thumbs into the top so you make it have a hole
  5. Next you make the wall thin but not that much otherwise it could break
  6. Then you get some string and cut off the top of the cup to make it flat
  7. After that you stop turning the wheel and cut off the pot (because it will have stuck on the wheel) using the string
  8. Finally you can decorate it if you want

I thought that pottery had been really fun and I would have loved to do it again.
Siem Reap was our last place while travelling. I didn’t really like Siem Reap because of all of the noise and the temples but there were some fun things around to do and we were in a really nice hotel with a swimming pool. Although I didn’t like the city, I was happy because we would be going home in a few days and we got to do archery and pottery and we got to go to the circus. I felt both happy and sad in our final week of travelling because I was looking forward to seeing my friends and family again but I was going to miss doing so many fun activities.

Temples

In Siem Reap, we went to a temple called Preah Khan. Preah Khan is a Hindu temple. The temple is dedicated to lots of gods one of which is Vishnu.We also went to another god’s temple and their name was Shiva. Shiva’s temple was next to a big foot print. There were carvings of dancing girls on the edges of the passages in Vishnu’s temple. There were also carvings of Shiva. There were loads of piles of fallen rock on the ground. We were surprised that you were allowed to just walk around, there was no path.

We went to another temple that was the reason we went to Siem Reap. The name of the temple is called Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat has an unnecessary wall around it. It is the biggest temple in the world. It has small temples around the main centre. Inside the small temples are Buddhas. There are five tall towers on the main building, with four smaller ones surrounding the tallest tower in the middle. There were also carvings of the Gods in a tug of war to try and make a potion of immortality. In the end none of them got it. I don’t know what is in the four towers because children aren’t allowed in but my Dad went in.

There are loads of temples in Siem Reap and one is on the water with Lilly pads surrounding it, another one has faces that no one knows who they belong to, another one has loads of carvings on it. There are at least sixty temples in Angkor. I thought the temples were fine if you only did one a day. I also thought they were interesting because of how many people it must have taken to build these enormous temples. It would have taken forty thousand elephants to get all the rock to build Angkor Wat. Each ceiling and wall was carved by hand.

 

 

Playing with Laos Children

We went to a Laos village for two weeks and taught children how to speak English and played with them. We taught the children the song “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”. They asked us to sing a lot. Their favourite song was “The ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah”! They didn’t teach us any games but that was fine because we know an awful lot of games. A helpful thing for playing games was that we could tell which child was which. The little children liked playing with the Harry Potter cards and the big ones liked playing with the normal cards with jacks and aces and kings.

We found out that the Laos children liked splashing in the river. They made it seem like it was a game so we did a lot of splashing. Lots of them always asked to play with my bow. I occasionally said “no” but quite a lot I just handed them the bow and let them play by themselves. We only played one game all together which was “Duck, Duck, Goose” but they really enjoyed that one game. One boy called Miter loved the drawing and colouring. They also played loads and loads of draughts.  They don’t have their own colouring pencils and paper or toys. I loved all the games we played and I think they liked the games too.

Travelling

After spending 2 weeks at Ban Yangkuea I was looking forward to some travelling and getting somewhere new. Having not travelled at all for 2 weeks, we spent over 40 weeks on the road this week! When we left the village, first we went in the back of a pick up truck that belonged to one of the adults we had taught. It was really wobbly and bumpy but we all thought it was good fun.

We were dropped off at the bus station 20 minutes away. There was a local bus that pulled up and some people were getting on so we thought it was ours but it wasn’t. Although that bus wasn’t ours the next was, so we got on and got settled for the 6 hour bus journey ahead. We were on a local bus that had only 2-3 seats left, heading to Thakek.

The bus was really cramped but I was next to Piran so I had lots of space because he was small. The journey was really long and I spent most of it reading and Piran played games on his kindle. When we arrived I had finished my book and was wanting to go to sleep but we got off and wandered around for a little while looking for somewhere to stay. Eventually we found somewhere called Sooksomboon Hotel and stayed there.

One day later we woke up at 6:00am because we had hired a car for 3 days to do ‘The loop’ (which is a 500km route that has lots of caves and swimming holes). The first day of the loop we drove 150km, taking us 3 hours including stopping at caves. The next day and the day after was the same distance as the first day.

On the second day Dad almost killed us when he overtook a big lorry. When he was half way round it a local bus came round the corner. Instead of slowing down and pulling back in behind the lorry, he drove at top speed and missed hitting the bus by an inch!!!

I thought it was really fun doing the driving from one cave to the other because before we came travelling Cara, Piran and I had made up a fun game to play. We called the game ‘wheetos’ because in it you open the window and when you overtake someone you shout “Do you want some wheetos?” as loud as you can!

Four days later we were getting a tuk-tuk to Thakek bus station so we could get an air-conditioned bus to Pakse. When we arrived we went to the ticket counter and asked for tickets for the 9:00 bus to Pakse. The man said that it had left 15 minutes before and the next bus was a local bus at 10:30 and then an AC bus at 12:00.

We sat at the station waiting and talking about whether we should get the local or the AC. Mum, Dad and Cara wanted to get there quicker and take the local bus but Piran and I wanted the AC one. Eventually at around 10:00 we all agreed to get the local bus so Dad bought the tickets and we got on.

It was a long 7 hour bus journey and I read my book the whole time. It didn’t feel very long to me but to the others it felt like forever. It was quite wiggly and bendy but I didn’t get sick. When we arrived in Pakse we got off and went to sleep in our guesthouse.

The next morning we woke up at 6:30am to get a minivan to Siem Reap which was a 12 hour bus journey through Laos and Cambodia. We ate breakfast and when we were ready to leave we sat down and waited for the minivan to arrive. We waited 1 hour for the minivan and while we did I counted 958 motorbikes drive past! When we got in the minivan it drove 5 minutes down the road and then we were told to get out and get onto a bigger bus.

The big bus drove 1 hour to a junction and we got off again and onto another bus that took us to the Laos-Cambodia border. It took a long time but eventually we got through. When we were walking to the building that would give us a visa we met a teacher who taught french children in the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. He had his projector and I carried it for him while we walked.

When we got our visa we got on another minivan that took us 3 hours down exciting roads to a place called Stung Treng . Then we had a quick lunch and carried on for the last bus of the day. It was the last drive which was 7 hours in a really cramped minivan. On that bus journey I listened to lots of music and then I watched a Blue Planet (which is a programme about the ocean and creatures miles under the sea) which I thought was fun. Mum and Piran both felt sick but neither of them were.

It was really bumpy and windy and all along the way there were open rice fields. At one point I thought we were going to die because our driver was going too fast round blind bends. It was one of my favourite drives we had so far on our travels.

Here are all of the ways of travelling we have used while being away:

Type of transport Number
Buses 22
Aeroplanes 14
Boats 10
Trains 2
Campervan 2
Pick-up Truck 2
Car 1

Week 28- Vang Vieng to Ban Yangkheua

After 4 days of water fights, dancing and vast quantities of Beerlao, Pi Mai finally came to end on Monday, so on Tuesday we felt brave enough to risk the roads again. We were ready to leave Luang Prabang after so long there and decided to get up early on our final day to see the monks collecting alms in the morning quiet, before departing this wonderful place. At 6.30am the city felt so calm and quiet with the wide streets nearly empty of people and the usual food stalls, a complete contrast to the activity of the past week. There were, of course, women trying to sell sticky rice to the tourists so they could join in the alms-giving, but it didn’t feel right to participate in this ancient tradition that is not part of our culture, so we stood down a side street where we could observe but not interrupt the daily ritual. It felt like a great privilege to witness the monks processing in their bright orange robes, humbly collecting food from the locals who were lining the streets, putting a small donation in each monk’s bowl as they passed. How wonderful to start each day with the act of giving.

We were expecting to start our volunteering project in Ban Yangkheua, a couple of hours east of Vientiane, next Monday, so we decided to head to Vang Vieng which is roughly half way there, to work on the kids’ school project in a more rural location. Although it used to have a strong drugs scene, I had read that that has all been cleared up in the past 10 years and Vang Vieng is now more family-friendly, with beautiful scenery and plenty to do. Despite booking a ‘VIP’ bus, we found ourselves in a minivan when we set off after breakfast; luckily our journey only took 4 hours and I enjoyed seeing the largely unspoilt scenery winding through mountains on the way. Arriving in the heat of the day we managed to walk from the drop off point to the lovely Maylyn guesthouse where we found a cheap room and a beautiful garden. We would never have managed this simple act a few months ago without the kids moaning about their rucksacks and dissolving into tears at the distance and the temperature, so they have definitely toughened up a bit whilst we’ve been travelling! Jago even managed the walk barefoot, in his baggy trousers and long white shirt, sporting a necklace and bits of string around his wrist. He is looking more like a hippie every day! The guesthouse was just what were looking for, a beautiful garden oasis in which to work and relax for a while; more importantly their dog had 3 young puppies which we felt confident enough to let the kids stroke, something we haven’t allowed whilst travelling due to the risk of rabies. Cara, in particular, was in heaven and just wanted to spend all her time cuddling puppies! The town itself was pretty grotty, but we were very happy in our home for the next couple of days.

Vang Vieng is on a river that’s famous for tubing and kayaking, with enormous limestone mountains jutting up out of the ground that are famous for caves and swimming holes. I was really keen to explore but the kids were so motivated to work on their project that we spent the whole of Wednesday morning in the garden, Jago designing the website with Ben, Cara writing and filming a video for it, and Piran taking photos. We managed to drag them out for lunch by the river, but unfortunately we sat at the nearest restaurant for nearly an hour before realising they had forgotten our order. We had been busy playing in the water, having drinks and playing cards, and hadn’t noticed time passing but now we were hungry! We headed back to the guesthouse and finally ate a very late lunch and enjoyed more puppy-stroking time. Late afternoon I succeeded in dragging everyone out for a short walk to a cave and swimming hole just outside the town. As we walked, there were still plenty of Lao people out drinking and dancing to EDM, clearly not quite ready to finish New Year celebrations just yet! Once we left the main road, we started to appreciate the beautiful scenery more with the enormous karst cliffs jutting out of nowhere alongside the calm river with beautiful flowers along the riverbank. Unfortunately the cave was closed for the evening by the time we arrived, but we had a dip in the freezing cold water and found a couple of tiny openings in the mountains with Buddhas inside to explore. It was a nice, easy outing for a couple of hours, and I was glad that we had got to see a little bit of Vang Vieng whilst we were here.

We hadn’t intended to leave Vang Vieng so soon and there was still so much to see, but on the Wednesday we found out that OpenMind wanted us to start our volunteering earlier, on the Friday rather than the Monday, so we had to press on with our journey to Vientiane. Realising that we needed to extend our visas beyond the 30 days that we had been given on arrival, we decided it would be easier just to go to Nongkhai in Thailand for the night where OpenMind are based, so we could have a proper briefing and just get new visas on return to Laos the following day. So on Thursday morning we found ourselves back on another bus for a 6 hour journey back into Thailand. The border crossing was a bit chaotic and it wasn’t at all clear what to do or where to go, particularly having to queue for a free ticket to get through a manned barrier where we immediately gave them the ticket straight back again, but we eventually managed it after being herded and shouted at by our bus driver who was clearly in a hurry! At one point he took our passports with a small bribe to jump the queue which did make me a tiny bit nervous, but luckily our passports came back with the tickets we needed and our bribe was returned to us as well.

On arrival in Nongkhai we went straight to the OpenMind office by tuk-tuk where we were warmly greeted by the whole team of management, trainees and volunteers. At their Nongkahi centre the trainees live as a family learning English and IT as well as health and the environment. The organisation coordinates various volunteer projects such as ours in Laos, and others in Thailand, Myanmar and Nepal. They also organise camps for young people from disadvantaged villages to spend a week getting a taster of what the trainees learn, hoping to inspire them to want to learn new skills and showing them how to use smartphones to find out information and educate themselves. The main goal seems to be motivating them to learn, showing them that if they do so they can get employment in the towns or tourist centres rather than resigning themselves to life in a poor rice-farming community and marriage at a young age (here girls get married as young as 12 and start having children as young as 13). We spent a couple of hours with Sven, one of the founders, Golf, the project coordinator and Jouy, one of the trainees who is from Ban Yangkheua, the village we were going to, and who would be accompanying us during our stay. Everyone was very friendly and they kindly invited us to stay for dinner; unfortunately the kids were exhausted and in need of an early night so we had to decline but it would have been nice to get to know them all better.

We retired to our guesthouse which was possibly the best place in the whole world ever, due to a bed each and an abundance of enormous cuddly toys making for some very happy children. We stayed on the riverfront in Nongkhai, a really nice area with statues of Nagas along the Mekong and on all the streetlamps, with bunting strung up across the street, and we managed to find a very nice restaurant for dinner. It was a really nice place to hop over the border for a visa run! We did encounter our first major disaster since we started travelling that evening, as Ben discovered that his business had been shut down and bank account closed due to him missing the deadline for the annual return with Companies House. Although we set up mail forwarding to my stepDad before we set off, who very kindly agreed to scan anything important and email it to us, we haven’t always been able to open these documents and we definitely haven’t received all our emails so I guess the communication from Companies House must have got lost somewhere in the ether. After a couple of hours of frantic telephone calls to the bank and Companies House, we managed to ascertain that we will be able to recover it all on return to the UK, thank goodness, so we don’t need to despair too much. Another lesson about travelling learnt- it is necessary to have a really robust communication method for important stuff!

With another day of travel looming on Friday, I was really glad that we would be spending 2 whole weeks in the same place once we finally arrived in Ban Yangkheua. After packing up our stuff yet again, we set off back to the border in a tuk-tuk with Golf and Jouy on Friday morning. We have been managing to cram ourselves into smaller and smaller tuk-tuks as time has gone on, and I can’t quite believe the engine coped with the 7 of us and all our luggage, most of us squashed inside with Jago standing on the bar at the back and clinging on for dear life. Going back through the border to Laos was much easier with our companions and they found us a local bus to Vientiane on the other side, a short journey where Cara shared a seat with a Laos couple and got plied with new fruit that we hadn’t seen before, like a very small lychee in look and texture but extremely sour and only good for sucking rather than eating. The bus station in Vientiane was a complete shock after the calm of everywhere else we had been in Laos, with people, traffic and street vendors everywhere. Cara had decided she wanted to become a vegetarian, so we walked for miles trying to find somewhere that would serve vegetarian noodle soup- apparently this is impossible to find in the market so we ended up in a shopping mall away from the hustle and bustle where we had a delicious lunch before continuing with our journey. After further discussion with Cara she agreed that she would settle for being a ‘shouldhaveseenitaliveatarian’ rather than giving up all meat ie. she wants to know that it has been well treated and had a good life. We all agreed that this is a good idea, and that this is something we should all do once we return to the UK. However it seems quite clear that this isn’t going to be possible in Laos!

After lunch we stocked up on supplies for the village- pencils, colouring pencils, plain paper, exercise books etc, before getting a local songthaew (pick up truck with benches) that was heading east. We would be going as far as Ban Thabak on the main road, a 3 hour journey with lots of stops to collect and drop off deliveries as well as people, seeing the lovely scenery and so many glimpses of local life along the way. Herds of cows walked along the roads, people were working in the fields with their baskets on their heads using equipment and machinery from a long forgotten age, and everywhere people sat around chatting in groups of men, women and children. From Ban Thabak it was another 30 minute journey to the end of a dust road with the village chief, Pim, who had come to collect us. At 4pm, after 2 days travelling, we finally made it to Ban Yangkheua.

We were absolutely exhausted on arrival, but the local children appeared in droves to greet us as we arrived, and it wasn’t long before our kids headed down to the river to cool off with their new friends. We were staying in a purpose-built wooden guesthouse on stilts, on the edge of the village overlooking the Nam Leuk, with the unexpected luxuries of 2 separate bedrooms and even electricity. The location was idyllic, on the edge of the Phou Khao Khouai national park, surrounded by jungle. After settling in, Jouy took us on a tour of the village, pointing out the village pump where we could collect drinking water each day, a couple of local shops selling snacks and toiletries, the meeting hall where the men meet to make plans for the village, set on a village green with a rattan ball net and lots of roaming cows, and the village temple with one resident monk. There were just over 200 residents and about 40 households and we were able to walk from one end to the other in about 10 minutes. The houses were simple but big, often with concrete or brick bases, and all with electricity, often with a little organic garden attached where people grew their own vegetables. There were also several fruit trees in the village that seemed to be a free-for-all. At 5.30, many of the women and children headed past our guesthouse down to the river to wash their bodies and clothes, although some of the houses had containers of water and bowls for showering, including ours. There were a few squat toilets around the village, all with bowls to flush water, but it didn’t look like many houses had their own apart from ours.

At 6pm we had our first of many meals there, brought to us by 3 or 4 of the women who all offered a dish or two of meat and vegetables plus masses of sticky rice which they sat and watched us eat, sitting on the floor of the guesthouse balcony. As it grew dark we were inundated with hundreds of insects, particularly beetles and cicadas, which were attracted to the light. The women caught the bigger ones of these for their own meals each night and we couldn’t help but develop a curiosity for what they might taste like as a clearly popular food amongst the villagers. However they had clearly been instructed in what to feed ‘farang’, and generally our meals weren’t very adventurous or spicy. For the first few days we were given far too much food and felt incredibly rude that there was so much left over from each meal. Luckily as time went on our meals got smaller and after a big cooked breakfast of vegetables and pork with sticky rice on Saturday and Sunday, they agreed to stick to egg and rice or bread, and fruit when available, for the rest of our stay. Over the course of the week we mostly ate morning glory and pork, bamboo shoots, pumpkin, and noodles as well as the mountains of sticky rice. However we did have the occasional interesting meal: shrimps and water lice after an afternoon of fishing, fried frogs, snails and finally assorted insects (at our request) for breakfast on our last day. I would definitely eat frogs again, and the rest were all perfectly edible, but I don’t think I would choose them again if given the option!

After dinner we went to the meeting house where we were to teach English to 4 local guides most evenings during our stay. That first evening all the village children came as well, and we spent our time on introductions, with each person announcing their name and age. It was an easy way to start our stay and get to know people without feeling too overwhelmed, and we felt very welcomed by these warm, friendly villagers.

On Saturday night one of the village girls, Amon, was celebrating her 12th birthday and invited us to her birthday party. We arrived late after teaching the local guides but were quickly welcomed in and given huge slices of cake to and bright green fizzy drinks. After all the balloons had been popped at once, making the sound of firecrackers exploding, and the cake had been eaten, the next phase of the evening began with the younger boys hitting the couple of remaining balloons to each other inside the house, and the women and girls tucking in to the Lao-lao (local whiskey), Beerlao and noodles with sausage. All ages drank alcohol together, the youngest I saw being about 3 or 4, and the teenage girls turned up the music and took selfies much like girls the world over. Everyone was so happy and relaxed together, but with my Western eyes I couldn’t help feeling sad at the sight of a 4 year old boy gyrating to the music in an alcohol-induced trance-like state whilst everyone laughed at him and kept plying him with lao-lao, and it felt like all these children had lost their innocence far too young. Seeing 12 year old girls behaving like young adults, was a fairly shocking reminder that they have already reached marrying age, although none of the girls I spoke to were intending to marry so young. We were so lucky to be invited into their personal celebrations after just 1 day in the village, and it was a fantastic evening for getting to know them better and see what life is really like for these people. Luckily we were able to refuse offers of alcohol for our own children and we all slept well when we finally got to bed at about 10.00 that evening.

In hindsight, I am very glad that we started the project on Friday rather than Monday, as it gave us time to get to know the children in a relaxed environment before going in to the classroom. We spent Saturday and Sunday daytimes with most of the children hanging around the guesthouse, drawing, painting and colouring; reading the books that we had found there – Dear Zoo, nursery rhymes, Dr Seuss, and Where’s wally; showing them photographs of our home and all the places we have visited on the laptop; splashing about in the extremely shallow river; and constantly naming things as the Lao children repeatedly asked ‘what is your name?’ whilst pointing at things, and then repeating the answers back to me. Jouy attempted to teach us Lao, and we successfully mastered counting to 10, saying hello, how are you, I’m fine, My name is… , and I am … years old. It felt good to be learning as well as teaching. The days passed quickly but we all found them pretty exhausting with little to no time to ourselves, as well as the late finish after teaching the guides in the evenings. We hadn’t really been prepared for how difficult those sessions would be, as Sven had emphasised that the OpenMind approach is simply to get people to practice conversation and to focus on being able to communicate with each other rather than on perfect English, which is what we had been doing at Big Brother Mouse. Unfortunately the guides here had so little English that it was impossible to get a conversation started in the first place. They knew several stock phrases, but did not understand when to use them and did not have the idea of looking up phrases on their smartphones or using google translate, technology we couldn’t provide as we didn’t have a local sim card. Jouy came with us to translate, and we ended up teaching them more stock phrases and attempting to practice using them in conversation, but whenever we offered a leading question they would just repeat the question rather than giving the answer! Very frustrating! We really enjoyed the weekend and it felt so wonderful to be part of a community, with a sense of purpose, and doing something meaningful again, but by bedtime on Sunday we were all very tired, looking forward to having a few hours break whilst the kids were at school on Monday and getting into a new routine.

Week 27- Luang Prabang and Lao New Year

We hadn’t originally intended to stay in Luang Prabang for so long, but Lao New Year (Pi Mai) was fast approaching and sounded like far too much fun to miss, so we decided hang around for another week. Besides, Luang Prabang is such a nice city and there was still so much that we wanted to do here, so we were all happy to hang around a bit longer. After our week at the Elephant Conservation centre, Monday was mostly spent catching up on blog posts and having long discussions about how to spend the rest of our travelling time. Until this point Ben had been working remotely 2 days a week and we had managed to spend less of our savings than we had anticipated; however his contract finished at the end of March meaning we had to think more carefully about the way we were going to spend our money. Travelling has been wonderful for us all, but has had diminishing returns as time has gone on, with sightseeing fatigue setting in for the kids big time, and the longing for friends and stability starting to outweigh the ongoing benefits of seeing more of South East Asia. We would really love to see Japan, but after much thinking about it, decided that we couldn’t justify the expense when the children are really longing to get back to the UK. The more we started to think about cutting our travels short and heading back home in the near future, the more it felt like the right thing to do. However, after so long away it also felt really difficult imagining just returning straight back to our old life and carrying on as though we had never been away. The idea of a transition period started to form in our minds, where we could continue our travels for a while, but back in the UK, with family nearby and friends within visiting distance. We have all loved being by the sea during the last 6 months, enjoying surfing, swimming and running by the beach, and with Ben’s Dad living in Cornwall it seemed like a logical place to head for a couple of months before returning to the farm. By the end of the day we were all mulling over the possibility of trying to combine the fun activities of our travels by staying near the coast where we can spend our free time at the beach, with the stability of school and work. We were delighted to hear from our lovely farm-sitters that they would be happy to continue with the current arrangement until July, even with us back in the UK, so we all agreed to think it over for a few days before making any firm decisions.

After a morning of planning, we did at least manage to venture out in the afternoon. Top of our to do list was to find some bamboo straws that we could carry around with us and use instead of plastic ones. Laos has a plentiful supply of bamboo and the ECC had been advertising locally made bamboo straws, but had unfortunately run out of them during our stay. We came across a lovely shop called Ock Pop Tok, which commisions villagers from all around Laos to make clothes, accessories, toys and bamboo items and then sells them in Luang Prabang and on the international market, providing a good income for locals using their traditional methods of weaving, silk production and dying. We were able to find bamboo straws there and enjoyed the satisfaction of knowing that our money was going to local people, much more rewarding than buying metal straws from Tesco would have been. After our shopping, we went for an ice cream at the old Royal Ice cream parlour, the 3 Nagas, and over the course of an hour the kids came up with the idea of buying bulk quantities of these straws, and selling them back home. At first they thought they would give talks at school and sell them to their friends, but after an hour or so they had decided to set up a website to spread the word far and wide, to give talks at lots of local schools, to ask cafes and restaurants if they would be willing to sell them and display cards and flyers advertising their website, even contacting Blue Peter when it takes off. They want it recorded that this was the day they decided to save the world one step at a time, starting with straws. Having agreed that developing this idea could be their home school project for the rest of our time travelling, we went back to Ock Pop Tok to check that buying in bulk would be possible (it is), and we signed up for a Tie Dye course later in the week, so we could learn more about their organisation and the traditional handicrafts that they are supporting. As we reach the end of our travels, it feels right that we should put our efforts and attention towards ‘giving back’ in some way, and this project will bring together everything that we have learnt about as we have journeyed around the world. We have seen first hand the effects of human destruction with widespread loss of rainforest and associated loss of wildlife, as well as all the rubbish and plastic on the beaches. It is time to do something about it!

This desire to spend the rest of our travels giving something back to the world after spending so many months focussing on having fun whilst seeing and learning about different countries and cultures was also nurtured by our week volunteering at the ECC and the time we had spent at Big Brother Mouse. It felt like Laos would be the perfect place to find a worthy project to get involved in before heading back to the UK. After more time browsing the internet, I came across an organisation called OpenMind projects which focusses on teaching English language and IT skills to locals to enable them to earn an income from Ecotourism. They were looking for families to spend 2 weeks or more in a remote village homestay, to teach English to the local guides and children, to go trekking with them and tell them what we would expect from them as tourists. This seemed like the perfect opportunity for us, but also slightly daunting. We had agreed to go on a long trek to some remote villages near Luang Prabang with our new friends on Wednesday, staying in a Hmong village overnight, so we decided to see how that went first, but assuming that went well then we all agreed that the OpenMind project would be a great way to spend the rest of our time in Laos. Our plans were coming together at last! We finished Monday with a visit to the Grand Palace, delightfully simple after the excesses of Bangkok, another trip to Big Brother Mouse, and our usual crepes at the Night Market.

After months without any clear ideas of timings for our travels, when we would be coming home, and even all the places we would be visiting, it felt really good to be forming a picture of how the rest of our time would be spent, at last. On Tuesday we even felt ready to book our flights home, confident that one more month divided between Laos, to give us time for our volunteering project, and Cambodia, to finish with Angkor Wat, the last ‘must-see’ on my to-do list, would be plenty. We settled on May 20th, to give us time to see family and friends before, hopefully, rejoining the British school system after half-term at the start of June. I suddenly had to start thinking about work again, a huge shock to the system, and a rather worrying reminder that I really haven’t done anything at all to maintain my knowledge whilst we have been away. I am taking comfort from the fact that I did even less when on maternity leave but still managed to ease my way back in after having Jago and I still have a few weeks to revise before starting back. Applying for my old job again back at Thorpe Hall hospice, it was remarkable how long it took me to switch back into the necessary frame of mind, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I am looking forward to that level of mental stimulation and human contact again. The desire for our ‘gap year’ was partly a response to the very long hours I worked for the past 3 years, so figuring out how to create a better ‘work life balance’ on our return is important for us. The first decision we have made is that I am not going to return to the hours I worked before, instead cutting back to no more than 3 days a week, and limiting locum shifts to one a month. Hopefully this will create more time for hobbies and family; otherwise we might have to keep taking regular breaks to travel the world, like one of the other families we met in Luang Prabang who spend 6 months a year in Norfolk and 6 months a year on the road!

Our main activity on Tuesday was a trip to the ‘Living Land’ rice farm to learn about traditional rice production. We had a fantastic morning, wearing our bamboo hats, ploughing the fields with Rudolphe the pink buffalo, planting rice, harvesting it and threshing it, finishing up with lots of tasty rice snacks and a drink of rice wine. The morning was brilliantly organised and we all enjoyed it a lot. It was astonishing to see how much work goes into the production of a food that we really take for granted as such as staple part of most people’s diet. Although a lot of rice farming is now more mechanised than we were shown at Living Land, there are still plenty of subsistence farmers growing rice in this way, doing everything by hand. We are so lucky that we no longer have to toil like this in order to have food on our table.

 

On Wednesday we set off early to the ‘White Elephant Adventures’ office, to begin our trek to some of the remote villages north of Luang Prabang. Luckily we were able to leave our big rucksacks at their office so we only had to carry the kids’ packs with our overnight gear, some snacks and water. Joining us and the Parkers were a young German couple, and we had 3 local guides accompanying us: King Kong, Sing Song and Yalli, all of whom had excellent English. Going with White Elephant Adventures was an excellent experience where we really felt our money was going to the people it was meant to support rather than just the tour agency. The guides clearly enjoyed their jobs and felt they were well paid, and they were all from the local area. We dropped in to see Yalli’s aunt and uncle in one of the villages, and we finished the walk at King Kong’s house. It was a long, hot walk taking us about 5 hours to reach the first Khmu village, but the company and the surrounding jungle scenery made for a nice walk. Piran and Libby spent hours chatting to each other about minecraft as they walked, happily lost in conversation as the distance passed. On the way we saw a woman catching cicadas with a sticky stick, something we still haven’t brought ourselves to eat, but clearly a popular food here. It was late afternoon when we reached the village, which largely comprised wooden houses on stilts. The women and children were gathered around the village shower, water flowing through a pipe from the mountains, where they washed both themselves and their clothes. There was a small primary school which was no more than a room with benches and desks, no pictures on the walls, and very dark inside. The animals walked around freely, including cows, pigs and chickens, with no enclosures to separate them or keep them contained. The road was a dirt track, passable by moped, and there was very little evidence of technology in the village. I didn’t even see any mobile phones, although one villager was using a satellite phone just outside the village as we arrived, and there were no electricity lines. The villagers were very friendly and enjoyed having their photos taken, smiling as they looked at themselves on the screens afterwards. Ben enjoyed seeing a medieval looking blacksmith’s forge still in existence, and we could see equipment for manual rice production, still in use here. It is very humbling to see that people really do still live like this, as subsistence farmers with none of the basics that we take for granted. We found out that they get some money by selling cows to the Chinese; one cow will buy a moped that will last about one year. After we had had a good look around here, we continued on to the next village, a further 30 minutes down the dirt road, everyone now feeling very tired after the long trek. This one was a Hmong village, another minority tribe, and was to be our home for the night. Most of the houses here were on the ground rather than on stilts, and more of them had concrete or brick bases. We were staying in the home of a local family who retreated behind a screen in the corner of their main room for the night whilst we slept on thin mattresses under mosquito nets in the rest of the room. They had a small bedroom which they gave to the German couple for the night. There was a small amount of solar power which provided us with a dim light bulb. Food was cooked on a fire out the back; the toilet was a ceramic squat toilet in a hut through the garden, washing facilities again comprised a couple of mountain water outlets where villagers gathered to shower and wash their clothes. After the hot trek I was desperate for a shower so headed down in my sarong, only to realise, too late, that the thin white material became see-through once it was wet. After the quickest wash ever, I literally ran back to the homestay to change into something more modest as soon as possible! Despite the embarrassment it was well worth it to get rid of the sticky sweat. We had a delicious meal of soup and rice, washed down with Beerlao, and a relaxing evening before heading to bed. I cannot remember ever sleeping anywhere as dark as that ever before, and I managed to sleep well after all our walking despite the extremely hard floor.

On Thursday morning we looked around the Hmong village and visited their school which had 3 large buildings for kindergarten, primary and secondary school. Again, the classroom walls were undecorated and lessons consisted of teacher standing at the blackboard with the children at their desks with one exercise book and pencil. I don’t think our kids could quite believe how different school here is from their own experience back home. There was a football pitch, where a ball was being kicked about, and also a game of rattan ball in progress, consisting of 3 players either side of a volleyball net hitting a hard ball to each other, without it hitting the ground, using any part of their body except their hands. Having tried it since, I can vouch that it is extremely difficult, but the kids playing managed to make it look pretty easy! After spending some time at the school, we continued our walk past another Khmu village where we found an old woman selling beautiful purses that she had embroidered herself; I couldn’t resist buying a couple. We also stopped in at the home of Yalli’s Aunt and Uncle where the children were much admired. Here I was interested to see the second enormous goitre that I had encountered on this trek, evidence that they still have nutritional deficiencies in this part of the world despite the global increase in food production and improved nutritional status worldwide. Our guides told us that in these villages, people still have 5-10 children, expecting that many of them will not survive childhood, and men will sometimes have more than one wife if they can afford it. They are animists, despite the surrounding Buddhist influence. The trek was certainly an eye-opening experience for all of us, and everyone seemed up for spending more time living in a Laos village, so we finished our walk that afternoon hot, weary and keen to pursue our next volunteering experience.

All thoughts of the trek quickly vanished on our way home as we discovered that Pi Mai (Lao New Year) celebrations had already begun. For 4 days the Lao people wash away the bad stuff from the past year and bless the new year by pouring water on each other. It transpires that this basically involves drinking lots of Beerlao, dancing to electronic dance music, and spraying passers by with hoses, buckets, water pistols, and anything else you can find until they are completely soaked through. Groups of Lao teenagers drive around in the back of pick up trucks chucking water on pedestrians, and great fun is had by all. As we neared Luang Prabang, revellers started to throw water in to the pick up truck and we were all wet by the time we arrived back at the White Elephant office. The kids absolutely couldn’t wait to get out and buy some water pistols to join in. After a week at Villa Oudomlith already, we had booked alternative accommodation for the New Year due to a large price hike but arrived to discover that our room wasn’t actually available and we didn’t think much of the dark, smelly rooms we were offered instead. We jumped back into a tuk tuk and managed to return to our old room at a negotiated rate, delighted to have comfortable beds and a familiar home for another 5 days.

In many ways it was very lucky that we ended up back at Villa Oudomlith as it wasn’t until we returned from our trek that we realised Piran’s toy dog, Chocolate, was missing. The kids’ cuddly companions have been so important for them on our travels, keeping them company and giving them security no matter where they’re spending the night, so the loss of Chocolate was pretty devastating. We worked out that we could only have left him at Villa Oudomlith or on the tuk-tuk on the way to our trek, so we were hopeful of being reunited when we returned to our guesthouse, but the manager, who we call ‘Green Hair’ since he dyed it for New Year, told us that noone else had used our room whilst we were away and there was no sign of Chocolate. Our last hope was to ask the cleaning lady the following morning. Despairing by now, we managed to find a photo to show her, and could not believe it when she nodded and said that yes, she had Chocolate, but he was staying in a nearby village so she couldn’t give him back until the following day. What a huge relief! Thinking that some poor child was about to have the present he’d been given now taken away again, we managed to find a toy elephant to swap for Chocolate, and when Piran was finally reunited with him the next morning he was so happy! We had great fun imagining the adventures that Chocolate must have had whilst he was away, and we were so grateful to the lovely cleaning lady for returning him when she could easily have denied any knowledge of his whereabouts. The people here are so nice.

Friday and Saturday were basically spent having water fights from morning to evening. It was a fun and easy way to spend a couple of days, and we definitely think that all villages in England should have similar celebrations on the first hot weekend of each summer. We will have to see if we can introduce it to Willingham. Of course it helps that in Laos the temperatures are nearing 40 C at this time of year, so being soaked through is actually quite refreshing once you resign yourself to the fact that you cannot avoid it. We all particularly enjoyed soaking the tourists who wanted to remain dry whilst walking down the busiest street in Luang Prabang with water being chucked everywhere. When it all got a bit much for Cara, we headed home to dry off and rest for a while before venturing out again. The thing that most impressed me was the fact that after drinking and partying all day long, all the Lao people quietly packed up and stopped for the night at about 6pm. No antisocial drunken behaviour whatsoever. They certainly love to party here, drinking alcohol from a very young age, but they also know how to control it. I love Laos!

On Sunday we had a break from the water fights as we had booked on to our Tie Dye class at Ock Pop Tok in the morning, a short tuk-tuk ride out of town. We had chosen a good day as it was wet and rainy, much cooler than the last couple of days, and we would all have been cold if we had been soaked through all day today. Ock Pop Tok was fabulously organised in a beautiful garden next to the Mekong river. We were taken through the steps of silk production, before learning about the natural dyes used to make the lovely colours we could use for our scarves (adults) and t-shirts (kids). We saw the plants and trees growing in the garden before we started producing our dyes. Piran wanted monks’ orange so he needed to take the seeds out of pods from the annatto tree, pound them up and then heat them in water with his t-shirt. Ben and Jago were using the bark of the sappan tree which they chopped and put into boiling water to make a pinky red for Jago. Ben’s had already been fermented for a few days so he just needed to heat his with a rusty nail to turn it purple. Cara and I were both using the leaves of the indigo bush, which had been fermented for several days. We needed to squeeze the dye into our material for 5-10 minutes to turn it from green to blue. The more you squeeze it the more intense the blue colour. The staff helped us tie plastic around our scarves and t-shirts before dying them, to create the patterns that we had chosen. It was fantastically simple, yet really fascinating. I can’t imagine how people came across these processes in the first place- did they have to try the bark of hundreds of trees before they found one that gave a good colour, or did they just accidentally cook it with a nail after fermenting it for several days? After our class, we were able to see the weavers making their beautiful handicrafts, including some fabulous silk wall hangings which I adored. I would so have loved to buy some but can’t carry anything more in my rucksack which is already splitting at the seams and looking dangerously like it won’t quite make it home in one piece.

On return to Luang Prabang at lunchtime we headed to our new favourite lunch spot, a small food market that sells sandwiches, crepes, fruit shakes and local food, passing an enormous procession that was lined up along the road waiting to make its way down the main street, past the important people at the Grand Palace. There were hundreds of locals representing businesses and villages, promoting recycling, martial arts and musical groups etc, that all waited for well over an hour before they finally got started mid-afternoon. It was fun to watch it for a while, particularly seeing the traditional costumes they were wearing, but we did eventually get rather bored and headed home for a quiet afternoon before another day of water fights on Monday.

Monday was our final day in Luang Prabang and I finally managed to drag everyone up Mount Phousi, a short 30 minute walk up the central hill to a small temple and large gold stupa, with great views over the city. We managed to resist buying any of the small birds for sale in little cages at the bottom of the steps which are supposed to give you luck when you release them, despite the kids thinking that it would be much nicer for the birds if we set them free. We appreciated the little piles of sticky rice that had been placed all the way up the wall as offerings, and wondered if these offerings are to bring good karma too. From here we could see many of the temples that Luang Prabang is famous for, that we haven’t visited after seeing so many in Thailand. It was amazing to notice that there was jungle on the hills as far as we could see in all directions, with just a clearing for the city with its beautiful tiled roofs and lovely French colonial buildings. Even in New Zealand, the countryside had been cleared away far more than this, and it seemed like a completely impossible sight- a city surrounded by jungle with no visible major roads or other towns nearby. After all the developed countries we have visited, it is so nice to find ourselves somewhere again, at last, that still has so much dense forest and nature throughout. So far, I am really loving Laos!

Spending two weeks in a Laos village

Day 1

We spent a whole day travelling in all the different types of vehicles and transports. When we got there we were all really tired and there were loads of kids outside all wanting to run around with us (which I thought was a little bad because we were so tired, but still ok). I thought the dinner was not normal at all because we don’t normally eat that kind of food, though I was not surprised there was sticky rice. They have sausage and noodles as a birthday treat here.

Day 2
I was surprised we had sticky rice for breakfast and lunch. (I like sticky rice so that was good for me). The problem was that when I wanted to do some archery by myself all the kids wanted a go which was so so annoying, but then I thought all I needed to do was to bring out lots of toys at once which was helpful to know.

Day 4
This was the first time we taught the children. Another thing that happened was that I managed to have a whole meal without any sticky rice (even though I love sticky rice). I thought it was a lot different to our school. I thought it was strange that they went home for lunch. We eat our lunch at our school but we can bring our own food to our school if we like. Teaching them must be fun for them. I would like to be to one of them 😁.

Day 6
We taught them again. That time I thought it was even more fun. Now I thought it must be super dooper woppingley fun. (That is very fun). Next we went swimming in a river. I thought it was a lot different to the river Thames in England (but I like the river Thames more). This river wasn’t very busy and I am used to having loads of boats around. I was not used to a river being really muddy ( like this river was). Another thing that I was not used to was that we where swimming with buffalos ( buffalos are cows with horns and more chewy meat so not very like a cow and a lot bigger!)

Day 8
We swam in the river again. In the river there are enormous leeches (leeches are worms that bite and their bites really hurt.) The people here wash in the river. Some of the people who thought I was very cute washed me in the river too! If you have a child who loves snacks come here because all the children give snacks to you if you like. (They have a lot of snacks). I love snacks myself. These are some of their snacks: shrimp sticks, rice cakes with loads of sugar on top, cakes, sandwiches with a little bit of sugar on and potato sticks.

Day 11
We were going to act out the big bad wolf at school but then we noticed it was a one day holiday (which I thought must be nice for the children, just joking!) They don’t go to school just if it is raining or their teacher is ill. On the opposite side of the river to us is a long bean plantation but Jouy said that every year the bean plantation gets washed away by the river rising, which I thought was a little bit of sad news. The two weeks we were here we saw the river rise a lot. It has already reached its gate. I have loved being here and I would recommend it. Today we spent too long sitting around watching Blue Planet in the morning and the Laos children were bored of just sitting there so they all left.

Day 12
On day 7 we had sticky rice for breakfast again. At the end of our stay I had got bored of sticky rice so I didn’t eat that much. Luckily that day we did get to do the big bad wolf. All the children thought it was really, really funny (especially Dad being the big bad wolf with a pillow up his t-shirt). Then I really wanted to be one of those children. We never really had a time off work, we were either playing with the other children or teaching at their school. So if you like work come here! Anyway who likes work, boring work? Not me at least.

Day 14
On the last day we had a small party. (I loved the party). At the party everyone just picked at the food, they didn’t use plates. I mainly ate snacks. They also tied loads of mini bracelets on us which are meant to make us come back. All the villagers have bracelets like ours. They also gave us some flowers.

 

The adventure of my toy called Chocolate

When we were in Luang Prabang we decided to spend a few days walking but when we got to the end of the walk we noticed that Chocolate was missing. So we walked the walk, then we started to look for Chocolate. We asked one of our villa staff where we had been staying before the walk if he had seen him but he said they hadn’t seen anything. After he said that I thought we were 0% likely to see Chocolate again. I was really sad when he said no one had seen him because I can’t sleep without him and he helps me to feel safe and I love him so, so much and he loves me so, so much as well. But we thought we might ask the cleaner anyway. When we asked the cleaner she said she had seen Chocolate. Then she spoke again. She said she had sent Chocolate to a village and given him to a little boy. I thought I would have done the same if I was the cleaner. Then, when we got Chocolate back, he told me he had travelled on a moped for hours and hours and hours till he came to a wooden house. He thought these people must be really poor because he was used to proper brick walls. He was also really surprised that there was no furniture. I thought he must have really enjoyed it. We gave the boy a toy elephant to replace Chocolate.

After I got Chocolate back I was really, really happy so we celebrated Laos new year. At new year, people originally sprayed people with water to wash away the bad thoughts of last year but we just had water fights for fun. We got soaked. People just sat on the side of the road and fired water at people walking past. On our road we saw boxes and people put money on the top of the box and they also played plinky plonky music. I really liked new year in Laos I would really recommend it!

 

Laos elephant centre

The goal of the elephant centre is to help the elephants stop being nearly extinct. We stayed for a week in a nice bungalow with really comfortable bunk beds and cosy duvets. They were really nice. They made us lunch, breakfast and dinner. The main things I liked were the elephants and the cats.The elephants were so cute especially the baby. The most playful staff were Mike and Josef.

Elephants are endangered because people make them perform in tourist camps and circuses.The elephants lost their jobs because logging became against the law. The elephant center is trying to stop elephants being hurt and made to perform. The problem is that all the elephants that are in captivity are not having babies. The other problem is that the home of the elephants in the wild is being destroyed, hundreds of hectares of their home a second. I think the elephant centre is doing a good job.

There was only one elephant that was good with children. The only one that was good with children was called Mae dok. The elephants I liked the best were Mae Dok and the baby. I was very surprised that one of the big girl elephants looked like a baby. To help the elephants learn how to live in the wild we hid the food in containers and under leaves. I sliced banner grass with a machete. I also scooped elephant poop and dug with a mattock. I thought that volunteering was very hard work but I really enjoyed it. I would like to be a mahout when I grow up.

Differences between Willingham and Ban Yangkheua

While we were in the Laos village I noticed a lot of differences from a English village and the village we were in. Here are some of the things I noticed –

Differences in a Laos village
At home we have showers and baths but in the village we were in the locals came down to the river at around 5 o’clock with their shampoo and soap to wash. One day I was playing on the logs in the water and Piran was by the shore playing with the local kids when the villagers came down to wash in the river. One of them grabbed Piran and washed his hair so I got scared that I was going to be washed so I ran up to the homestay and into my room. When Piran came back up and told Mum, Dad and Cara we decided to call the person who washed Piran ‘Washer Lady’.
On farms in England you keep your animals in fences so they don’t escape but in our village they just let the cows and buffalo go anywhere so when it was raining the cows came and took shelter under our house! In the river there are lots of islands and on one of them there was lots of buffalo which were from a farm 2 miles away and the owner came and rounded them up every month. The animals also pooed everywhere so you couldn’t go 10 steps without seeing a cow pat. Even the school had cow pats in the field outside. On the walk to teaching the adults it was dark and our guide Jouy stepped in some.

In England we have binmen but in the Laos village there was no binmen so the villagers just put all the rubbish on the floor and then they had a village clean where everyone helped pick up the stuff lying on the road. All the villagers were there but only 2 or 3 were actually helping, the rest were taking selfies on their phones. We helped for 10 minutes but then we went for a swim because it was too hot.

In England we have lots of different clothes but in the Laos village most of the children only had 1 or 2 different pairs of clothes. Because of this, we used them to tell which child was which when we first arrived. Some of their clothes got washed often but some hardly at all. When they went swimming the older children wore there clothes in the water because they were the only clothes they could wear but the younger ones swam naked.

In England we get filtered water out of the taps but in the village it isn’t filtered so they had to use a pump to get water out from deep underground so that they could drink. There was 1 pump in the village so if you lived a long way away from it you had to walk with your tank of water, fill it up and walk back with it full. We had to do that every other day and it was really hard work. Dad carried it there, then we pumped it up which I liked to do even though it was really hard and then Dad would carry it back. Cara came once but she couldn’t lift the pump up and down!

In England we have big schools with lots of different classes but in this Laos village there was 1 class, 1 teacher and 14 children. There were all the village children aged 5-9. There weren’t any books or a computer or anything else schools in England have. There was a blackboard with chalk and a rubber that the teacher used for teaching.

At home we eat lots of food especially potato, pasta and bread but in the Laos village they ate sticky rice, vegetables and pork with almost every meal. When we were there and it was time for our dinner they would bring us 4 pots of sticky rice and 4 bowls of veg and meat. While we ate the ladies who bought us our meals sat there and kept saying “eem” to us (which means “Are you full?” in Laos). After 2 weeks of eating sticky rice and being pestered to eat more we were all looking forward to a western meal in Thakhek. At the last meal, Mum asked if we could eat insects because they kept catching them for eating and we were actually bought a bowl full of them. We all tried one and I liked it so much I went back for more.