16 August 2015

Laos - First and Second Week

Although I have only been here for a short time, Laos has quickly become one of my favourite places in the world. There is only one word to describe this country, serene. It is such a lovely, peaceful and friendly place and I am sad that I am already over halfway through my time here.

After training and settling in to the accomdation (which is luxurious in comparison to what I have been living in the past 8 weeks) we were immersed in the local culture from the get go. We were invited to attend evening prayer and chanting at a new temple that was still under construction. It was truly incredible to experience first hand novice way of life and stands as a testament to the openness and friendliness of the Laos community.

On the second day we were challenged to a friendly game of football between the GVI volunteers and ex-novices. For many of the ex-novices this was their first time playing sport since being in temple, as they are not allowed to engage in activities considered fun. Despite this it was a very good game and provided a great opportunity to bond with some of the students we would be teaching. After a tough game, the GVI volunteers came out victorious but rematch in the future was agreed.

Later that day we visited one of the many waterfalls that Laos has to offer, Kuang Si. After walking through an oddly placed bear reservation we explored and relaxed in the water. We were greeted with an incredible sight of a luscious, mountainous, backdrop after climbing up a rather treacherous path to the top of the waterfall.

After such a relaxing weekend, we were thrown straight in to a rather stressful week of teaching. Due to some unfortunate complications a number of volunteers had to leave the program meaning that the schedules for those of us who remained became a whole lot busier. Initially, I once again found myself in a very daunting situation where I felt as though the English level of the children I would be teaching would be too high to what I am used to. Nevertheless, sticking with it was one of the best decisions I have made, as it has forced me to adapt my teaching style and I have been able to customise the classes to be a lot more enjoyable, as at a higher level they're able to engage in the lessons a lot more, resulting in these classes rapidly becoming of my favourite classes to teach.

That Friday we participated in the practise of giving Alms. This consisted of waking up for sunrise (5:30am) and waiting at the roadside to give the novices and monks their food for the day, a routine practised daily. It was amazing to take part in the proceedings as at allowed us to embrace local customs and opened our eyes to what our novices students have to do everyday.

That weekend we took a boat up the Mekong river and visited the Pak Ou Caves, home to thousands of Buddhist statues left by pilgrims over the years. One of the caves was so dark that we had to lead ourselves by torch light but each area was surrounded in Buddhist figures of various shapes and sizes.
On the way back we stopped off at Ban Xang Hai, also known as the Whiskey Village, a small village where Lao Lao whiskey is locally brewed and is a location of a very vibrant temple.

During the next week, in between teaching we continued to enjoy what Luang Prabang had to offer and spent some time exploring Muang Chomphet district, located on the other side of the Mekong River. There we explored some more temples and caves and were able to get a great view of Luang Prabang city from the other side.
That weekend we rented bicycles and went back to Muang Chomphet and embarked on a bike ride to a waterfall, detailed on a local map. It was amazing to see the real side of Laos, cycling through firendly small villages, with children yelling 'sabaidee' (hello) at us as we passed by, surrounded by lucious scenery.
However, I don't think any of us expected the journey to be as hard going as it was. It felt like one of the hottest days I had ever experienced with no clouds in sight and traversing through extremely hilly terrain. It made what was supposed to be an easy-going two hour bike ride a three and a half hour dehydrated, manic cycle for what seemed like a waterfall that only existed in folk tales.
Nevertheless, we persevered and finally made it to the fabled waterfall, although it was an incredible sight, I was slightly disappointed as I was praying I would be able to submerge my sweat soaked body in water. After bargaining with a nearby local we were able to save ourselves an even longer bike ride back by negotiating for a lift back to the boat port.

The following day we played football against the ex-novices again, who had greatly improved upon last game, resulting in a draw and to finish off the weekend we witnessed the sunset on top of Phousi Hill.

Sorry once again for the late posting, as you can see I have been very busy and I am no longer making any promises to get back to weekly posts, but I will try my best.

Thanks to whoever still reads this.
Luke T.

(Bonus filtered to the maximum photo of the Phousi Hill temple at sunset)

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