UXO SURVIVOR INFORMATION CENTRE
The UXO Survivor Information Centre is operated by the Quality of Life Association (QLA) which is a provincially registered not for profit organisation that provides support for UXO survivors. They cover the cost of medical treatment and manage a range of livelihood training initiatives to help UXO survivors to have a sustainable livelihood after their accident. The QLA team and also their Board of Directors are Lao nationals, some of whom are UXO survivors themselves, which makes this local organisation a bit of a stand out. The Centre has an exhibition with information about the various programs and short stories about some of the people they have helped. The Centre also has a small shop where they sell handicrafts that have been made by UXO survivors and UXO affected communities. The proceeds go to UXO survivors and towards buying more materials for making more products. Fifty percent of the contributions to the donation box are used for payment of medical bills and the other fifty percent is used to keep this very special organisation running. Well worth a visit. Open all week, Mon & Tues until 4pm, Wed to Sun until 8pm.
- Arts and Culture
RUSSIAN TANK OR OLD HUNK OF JUNK
We rented a motorbike and after visiting the Plain of Jars we went in search of the Russian Tank, and sure enough there was a sign Russian Tank) pointing to a track, and sure enough we went belting down the track in search of the famous tank. The track split several times and it was a little muddy and we seemed to have reached a dead end and had not yet seen the tank. So we turned back and when we reached the main road again my wife spotted the tank. There was just the shell left and all the accessories had been removed for scrap metal, and it is quite difficult to see from where the sign was. The Russian Tank was a great disappointment, suggest you give it a miss.
The Lao people enjoy a game of petanque, brought here by the French and it is interesting to watch them play. Large amount of money can change hands as bets can be considerable. Don't be tempted to play with them as you will lose. Late afternoon you will find them playing in the parks or any spare piece of flat ground.
There are several organisations dealing with the removal of unexploded ordinance and helping the disabled who have lost limbs due to this. They have displays and offer free documentaries at certain times of the day. One can't failed to be moved by this as there are still many locals each year affected and injured by unexploded bombs that were dropped 40 years ago. Australian organisation are training locals to remove them from the countryside but there job will last many more years as millions are left. Give generously to the donation box.
PROVINCIAL TOURIST OFFICE
The tourist office should be visited, only to see the selection of bombs, grenades that are stock-piled in their yard. There is a foto exhibit, but not much literature on hand, couldn't see any staff the day we visited. It is only a 10 minute walk from the market.
ENJOY VIETNAMESE COFFEE
Near Diethelm Tours there is a Vietnamese coffee shop, which is worth a visit to taste the traditional coffee. The cup will come complete with its own filter (buy a few from the market to take home, it's a wonderful device). A pot of tea is also served with the coffee. Don't leave without trying this, and savour the taste.
BUSY LOCAL MARKET
The local market is a vibrant and colourful place and comes alive early morning and again in the late afternoon as the locals purchase food for their evening meals. There are many local products made of bamboo or rattan, many snacks available, including bread baguettes, of course. Locals are friendly and don't mind having their foto taken
A few kms west of the centre is a mulberry farm where the staff will show you the whole process, from the silkworms to the weaving. The silkworms are fed on mulberry leaves, and the threads of silk are unwound then spun together. Drinks are available and there is a small souvenir shop. This business helps to support some of the local women and is free to visit, but there is a donation box if you feel inclined to help out.
climb the hill in town
Spend a couple of hours visiting the Vietnam and Lao war memorials, both located on adjacent hills 30 minutes from the town centre. It is a short climb to each of them, and both offer good views over the town. The Vietnamese memorial consists of a stupa but the Lao memorial is more impressive and perhaps a more interesting climb.
PLAIN OF JARS
Although The Plain of jars is extremely interesting you may consider renting a motorbike for the day, several establishment will rent bikes for around $5 near the centre. it is very easy to find the sites and once you have seen one, it's probably enough. When you get to the various sites parking is safe.
Help to clean the country from dead
Don’t forget to visit the office of MAG Mines Advisory Group. Their slogan is: Save lives Build futures. There are some panels with very interesting information about what some people with foreign funds is doing to clear mines from the country. You can learn what bombies has represented for the future of the country. You can buy some nice articles (no bombs) to help economically in their projects. They have a very nice T-shirt at 10 dollars, which I recommend. People inside are very nice. weekdays 8:00-16:00
- Historical Travel
- Adventure Travel
Can somebody help me here?
When I visited the old capital of Xieng Kouang on riding into the built up area I noticed a chedi sat on a hill overlooking the road. I decided to go and have a look by riding up a small track to the left and going the rest of the way on foot, although I later discovered there was another track that went right up to it which was evidenced by the young man roaring about on his scooter in an obvious attempt to impress a couple of young ladies who were also there.
I have tried in vain both by asking locally and use of the internet but I can find absolutely no information about this place, so I am not in a position to give much background to this tip. There is not really that much to do or see in the old capital but this place is worth a visit with it's slightly decaying structure and the hill it stands on affords decent views of the surrounding area.
Update, the same day.
How incredbly stupid of me. The one place I didn't look was VT and, of course, I found the answer there. If you go to picek's excellent Phonsavan page, all the details are there. I am not going to blatantly plagiarise them here.
- Budget Travel
- Historical Travel
- Religious Travel
Get the information first.
There just is no getting away from the bombs in this area. The area to the front of the tourist information centre looks lke a military scrapyard (see photo) and there are the obligatory bombs on either side of the door. Having negotiated the rusting ordnance, the office itself has quite a good stock of information, although I visited a couple of times and the standard of English spoken varied a bit. However, the young lady with the less-perfect English was most helpful and by dint of a bit of miming and ingenuity I got the information I wanted. I offer this as no criticism at all. In Lao, it should be incumbent upon me to learn Lao and not the other way round. I just don't have the facility with languages to do it.
- Budget Travel
A place to gladden you.
Having just visited the UXO survivors Centre (see seperate tip) I still had bomb victims very much on my mind as I made my next call. It is a very evil concept of warfare that it is better to maim an enemy than kill him as that then drains resources retreiving them, caring for them etc., and many of the munitions dropped on Lao had exactly this intention. Most people unfortunate enough to come in contact with UXO are either blinded and / or lose one or more limbs. However, there are still those who are not so lucky, if you could call that luck, who die as a result. Add to this the poor health structure in Lao and the relatively short life expectancy, and the net result is a lot of orphans.
This is where SOS Childrens villages (amongst others) come in, and I visited the Vilage in Phonsavanh, where I was greeted warmly by the Director, a charming man whose name I could neither pronounce nor attempt to spell. He was more than happy to show me round the village, which indeed is a place to gladden even the most jaded heart.
For those of you not familiar with the concept, SOS Childrens villages were founded some years ago by a German man and they differ slightly from other orphanages. In Phonsavanh, the 161 orphans currently there are housed in the buildings you can see, ten to each one under the supervision of a house mother who lives on site. I was shown round one of the houses and they are immaculate. Ther is a boys dormitory, a girls dormitory, the house mothers room, toilet / washing facilities and a kitchen. Children of varying ages live in each house and they cook for themselves and keep the place clean, indeed it was absolutely spotless.
There is a prayer room onsite where the children apparently gather every night to give thanks for the people who assist the charity and a kindergarten for the younger children. The older ones go to the public school next door.
Apart from the very pleasant central grass ares you can see in the photo, every available bit of land is put to cultivating vegetables and flowers. The Director told me that it is a very democratic place with the children having quite a say in the running of village, the better to suit them for later life. As they get older the Vilage supports them until they can gain employment or, for the more academically gifted, gives assistance with further education. I have to say the children were very well turned out and appeared very content. They were also exceedingly courteous, with each child offering a Saibaidee (welcome) and even rising if they were seated.
I believe there are six such villages in Lao now, with a new one having just opened, and I certainly saw the sister establishment in Vientiane, it is on the road to the bus station.
Although the Director did not ask for a donation, and ther is no obvious box, I asked if I could make one and he produced the donation book. I gave money, not having really thought about it beforehand, but I noticed other visitors had donated toiletries, books, clothing etc. so this may be an option if you prefer. I know they will all be gratefully received.
Plain of Jars, Site 3.
This is the smallest of the sites called Hai Hin Lat Khai and, although compact, the walk to it is very pleasant over the dykes between rice paddies and a small bamboo stile and it is aesthetically pleasing with many trees to shield you from the heat of the day. Like all the sites it is very photogenic, perhaps the most of the three although my amateur attempts hardly do it justice.
To get there, continue down the unpaved road from site 2 and then you need to keep your eyes open. I will break my one photo per tip rule here as I need to show you the "sign" for the site. It is the second photo and, as you can see, is a little basic, to say the least. Go down the road indicated a couple of hundred yards and then there is a better sign indicating to the right, and it is a few yards down there.
Admission is 10,000 kip although there is a lady at the noodle stall who will attempt to extract a 2,000 kip fee for parking your bike. I subsequently checked on this and it is not legitimate but it is, after all, only pennies.
- Historical Travel