We arrived in Vientiane at around 10am on Thursday April 4th. Within the first 36 hours we met some of the most interesting and admirable people we have met in a long while. On our flight to Vientiane from KL, we met a retired couple from Australia that decided to offer 2 months of their time to the Mivac mission in the Lao village of Ban Xai. Mivac is a group of retired Aus military personnel and their families that are working to eradicate the terrible legacy of Unexploded Ordinance (UXO) in Laos. During the Vietnam War, over 200 million tons of bombs were dropped on Laos (which by the way, was not in the war per say and I think it was “Tricky Dick” that said there were no American operations in Laos but I don’t want to get off on a rant) and it is estimated that 30% did not detonate. That means there are probably 65 million tons of UXO’s lying in the countryside and you read of so many stories of children and villagers picking them up to sell for scrap metal to feed their families and so many of them go off and maim or kill these people. Mivac is training local people to search for and safely dispose of these UXO’s as well as building schools, water and sewage facilities and farming operations to empower local villages to succeed. Truly amazing work and when we consider that these 2 wonderful people are in their so-called “Golden Years” of retirement, and they are headed into the north-east corner of one of the poorest countries in the world and it is littered with land mines and UXO’s, really does make one stop and think about ones regular day. We really do recommend you stop by the Mivac website and look at the work they are doing.
After we checked into our hotel, we wandered to a local French style Cafe on the river shore for a morning cappuccino and an obligatory chocolate croissant. While enjoying our treats, we met a young man from the UK that decided in his 30th year on this earth, to quit his job in the financial world and go on the road to see what he could see. This is a story, not too unlike our own, that we are hearing more and more as we meet people along the way. After a great conversation comparing travel stories, we continued along our first walk of the city.
Later that afternoon, we met up with our new friends from Aus for a couple of cocktails (big surprise) and while chatting, a lady at the next table asked if she could join us. “Of course” we said and now we were 5 travellers having a wonderful evening and none of us knew each other just hours earlier. Our new friend was also from Australia and was travelling on her own for a couple of months around South-east Asia. On top of that, we were regaled with stories of her having lived all over Australia in her camper for the past 5 years or so. Now considering we were the youngest in the group, this was truly amazing and just goes to show that you can do whatever you want, where-ever you want and when-ever you want if you have the courage to just bloody well do it. We had a great Indian dinner and exchanged contact info and said our goodbye’s as we all headed our own ways the next day.
The next day (2nd day in Vientiane) we went to a restaurant that we heard of that was owned by a French Canadian fellow. While we enjoyed conversation and some great wine, we met a gentlemen from the Netherlands that had been living and working in Vientiane for the past few years and was involved in Financial Inclusion (micro-finance projects) in Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and Nepal. He had quit his finance job in Europe and moved here to do something meaningful with his life. We have all heard about this new finance vehicle called micro-finance where people in developing countries that would not have normal access to loans and financial services are able to access these programs to enable them to start businesses and so on and stand on their own 2 feet to build a better life for them and their families. The simplest versions are perhaps buying a cow and then selling milk and repaying the loan etc but there are many much more complex examples as well. We were amazed at his stories of how so many local Lao people go over to work in Thailand as rice crop pickers because the wages are higher but then travel overland to get back home to bring the money to their families. But the problem is there are too many other people that know this and prey on the traveling workers as they know they have the cash on them. These workers do not trust the banks even if they had access to them. A lot of them don’t have ID and can’t open bank accounts. Add to that, some banks here are only open 1 day a month. We were shocked to learn that because of these banking problems, people tend to diversify just like we should at home except for a fairly major difference. In Laos, and similar countries, a family will diversify what little money they have into 20% belongings, 40% cash and 40% livestock. They need to keep cash because a hospital will not take a cow. All too often, by the time they get home to Laos, there is not much cash left but they continue to do it as they have little choice. With the help of these companies, people are taught how to deal with a bank and to trust them so that they can travel without the cash and then withdraw it when they get home. All of it.
This was the first 36 hours in Laos and we are completely amazed at what we have seen so far. Vientiane is such a calm and clean city. It is just full of fantastic restaurants and much more on that in the next post. We have met some great people and made new friends that we will be sure to keep in touch with. A few pictures attached with more to come. Thanks for stopping by. Bye for now.