Monday, 30 November 2015

Marigolds and castles

It is traditional for Lao Buddhists to offer  floral offerings at temples, both on festival days and at other times.  These wax flowers and marigold arrangements are for sale at Wat Simeuang near where I live.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

The Bright Lights of Vientiane

The main roads of Vientiane have been decorated with fairy lights.

It is all to celebrate Laos National Day this week. 

The lights are on trees lining the only properly sealed roads of the city.  This photo is along Lan Xang towards the  Patuxai monument = the Laos equivalent of the L'Arc de Triomphe , lit up in blue. 

Maybe it would have been better for all to spend the extravagant lighting money on potholes and surfacing the other 99% of roads across the city! or healthcare! or education! 

I can say this as few people read this blog and of those none are Vientiane residents.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

That Luang

The That Luang festival has been the focus of this week in Vientiane.  The That Luang gold covered stupa is seen here viewed from a nearby temple that is part of the large complex.  That Luang is an important place for the Buddhist religion and a symbol of Laos sovereignty.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Remembering Loi Krathong

Friends in Chiang Mai have been celebrating Loi Krathong this week.

So today I am sharing some photos from last year's memorable parade in Chiang Mai.



While it is held at the same time as Buon That Luang here in Laos, the night of the full moon of the twelfth lunar month they are not the same festival.

We saw Krathongs (floating flower baskets) as part of Boun Lai Heua Fai on the Mekong last month when we were in the south.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Colour and Movement-Blurred

I know they are out of focus.  It was night time and I didn't want to use a flash. However I do like the images as they convey the richness of the colour and the constancy of the movement as people and monks circled Wat Simeuang on Monday evening.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

That Luang

That Luang festival continued today with a parade from Wat Simueang (where we were last night) to That Luang.  Apparently monks gather from across Laos and many ethnic groups wear traditional costume in the parade.  Unfortunately I had to work, so missed it.  So here is another photo from last night's celebration at Wat Simueang.  After circling the wat three times people enter the wat, make their offerings and receive a blessing and white string bracelet from the monk.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Buon That Luang

Tonight was the first night of the That Luang Festival, which occurs over the next few days,  coinciding with the full moon of the twelfth lunar month.

I am just back from a candlelight wax castle procession at Wat Simeuang, near my apartment. It is the most important wat in Vientiane.  Groups paraded around the wat three times with castles of various sizes or small tokens made of wax, flowers or candles, festooned with gold paper and kip notes (money).

As well as the castles, there were drums, portable sound systems, singing and dancing - I joined in- welcomed by the locals- some of whom had more than a few beer lao .  A wonderful experience.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Sidecars at the Lake

I spent the weekend with two friends from School at Nam Ngum.  We stayed at a place I had visited on SALSA.  It was very relaxing, swimming in the dam, reading and general mooching, extremely different than life in the area in the 1070s.

Bikies from Vientiane provided a distraction this afternoon.  The Vientiane Sidecar Club were a slightly surreal portion of the group.

Nam Ngum Dam was built between 1968 and 1971, funded by the US, Thai, Japanese and Netherlands governments. It was part of the US effort to invest in the Mekong Region, with the aim of encouraging development (read: capitalism), and discouraging the march towards communism. At the time Lao was in the middle of a war, the “secret American war”,  or what the locals call the "CIA war" and it wasn’t long after completion of the dam that the US-backed royalist government was overthrown by the Pathet Lao and a communist government came to power. 

Unlike the majority of the dams now causing controversy in Laos, the electricity produced by Nam Ngum Dam is predominantly used for domestic purposes, powering Vientiane and surrounding towns. The majority of the other dams,  are being developed to power the significantly more developed and power-hungry countries surrounding Laos; Laos proclaiming itself to be the “battery of Asia”.

Re-education Camps operated on islands in Nam Ngum during the 1970s and 1980s, and were used to contain the unsavoury types from society, including “hooligans, prostitutes, hippies, playboys, smugglers and bandits” who were rounded up off the streets of Vientiane. The island camps on Ang Nam Ngum were short-term Re-education Camps, where somewhere between 2000 and 4000 Lao Nationals were imprisoned. Three islands were used; Thao Island for men and Thong Island and Nampo Island for women. By 1980, most the of detainees on the Ang Nam Ngum islands were deemed to be rehabilitated and the camps were empty. During their period of operation, they were the only camps made accessible to foreign journalists – predominately because the situation there was very mild – a virtual island paradise compared to other prisons.

Saturday, 21 November 2015



Seven school belong to MRISA and compete against each other in sporting and cultural events. This weekend VIS is hosting schools from  Hanoi, Saigon, Phnom Phenh, Bangkok,  and Phuket for a basketball tournament. The opening ceremony this morning was brief, without lawn mowers or Ned Kelly dancers, but similar to the olympics, with teams marching in to the gymnasium with flag bearers and teams in uniform - all very international - well at least south east Asian - different from NEDSA. The cutest part was each elementary grade cheering for a different school.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

A long walk home

This little girl looked so pensive, and cute as she strolled home from school along a dusty track on Don Daeng Island. Jo and I cycled along the track while on the island for the October break.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Walking to School

Yesterday I showed you kids leaving school, here is a group on their way to school, early in the morning on Don Khone island.  So cute.  Love the umbrella up at 7 am to keep the sun off.  A traditional scene, but nevertheless the images on the backpacks reflect the westernization of Asian culture.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Kid Chucking Out Time

Alternatively dismissal time, but here in Laos it can be at lunchtime or in the afternoon.  Whenever it is the roads are full of students on their way home. Sometimes school will be held in shifts, one group leave mid morning and another replace it, or sometimes they go home for lunch and then return.
When we were exploring Don Daeng Island by bicycle in the October break we were confronted with the dust storm of  cycling and scooter or motor bike riding students headng home for lunch.  Jo can be seen intrepidly cycling past the students and on into the dust.

Monday, 16 November 2015

La Solidarité


At such a terrible time there it is easy to feel overwhelmed by terror and uncertainty. Tonight I attended a brief and formal service at the French Embassy to stand in solidarity with the French community of Vientiane. The Ambassador, Mme Claudine Ledoux spoke strongly and clearly about liberté, égalité, fraternité and the attack as an act of war.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Misty Morning on the Nam Song

This morning was wet then misty on the Nam (River) Song, (above) so we abandoned the planned kayak trip on the river, opting instead to spend time at the "eco lodge"  writing reflections on the trip and then visiting a cave near Vang Vieng.

The cave was rather disappointing, but offered great views over the river to Vang Vieng from the top of the stairs (right) to get to it. The kids then enjoyed time swimming in the water hole below the cave and swimming into the cave. Something I avoided due to claustrophobia, but the clear blue water did look tempting.

Friday, 13 November 2015

SALSA - the Action part

Rock climbing yesterday, cycling and zip lining today.  We are all enjoying the Action part of SALSA.

Some concerns regarding risk assessment, but hope suing isn't part of the Laos culture.
The road was very rocky and bumpy with various traffic hazards from wandering cattle to crazy tourists in dune buggys and the usual speeding motor cyclists and 4WDs.
At the zipline today we had to stand on a rickety chair, with half the seat missing when we finished one of the lines- made me question the security of the lines.
Rock climbing was great and if you look closely the pink dot at the top of the photo is me.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

SALSA - Its not a spicy condiment

At VIS SALSA is a week of Seconday Action Learning Secondary Activity. I am spending the week in the Vang Vieng area, about 100km from Vientiane.

The program mixes Science with Humanities and is about disparities.  On the first day we visited a drum making village, a salt mine and a rubber tree plantation.  At the salt mine and rubber tree plantation we interviewed the workers and took soil samples and tested the air and water. Despite the temperature probe saying it was 32 C it felt like 50 + with the humidity.  We all felt for the workers in these conditions.  Many move from their home villages to live in shanties beyond the salt drying area to work at the mine as there is little alternative employment for them.
We took a boat over Nam Ngum lake on sunset to our lovely accommodation.  It was gorgeous and a lovely reward after a hard day for the kids.  Never the less they all appreciated their position and that they were able to swim and relax after the heat but it was never ending for the workers.

Gingko in the Snow

I loved the autumn colours in Beijing.  I was amazed  and surprised by the extensive plantations of trees lining the freeways, mainly plane trees, but also in places Gingko's and beech and maples and birch.
It snowed one morning, which was gorgeous. I enjoyed being cold, a great contrast to the heat of Vientiane.
This is a Gingko in the snow at WAB.  Love a Gingko!!!!

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Beijing Tea Time

While in Beijing I did find time for some tea.  I walked along Maliandao Street which is bustling with tea shops and tea merchants.  I enjoyed my time in a family run tea shop, signals and smiles were the only form of communication.  The tea was lovely.
I also visited a more up market store and communicated in a more 21st century manner via text message translation and voice translation software on the staff phones and more smiles and signals.
I am now a fan of Silver Needle White tea. But I think its was about $US 30 per 100g so I enjoyed tasting but refrained from purchasing.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Back from Beijing

I was lucky to have four days of professional development in Beijing last week.  It was full on, learning about the MYP (Middle Years Program) for Science.  The training was at Western Academy of Beijing (WAB) and I did get to see a lot of the highways to and from the hotel and the school.


However I had some free time on Wednesday afternoon and visited the Summer Palace.  It is the largest preserved Imperial Garden in China. The gardens were beautiful and the buildings historical and interesting.  The Tower of The Fragrance of the Buddha is one main  buildings in the 290 hectare complex of gardens, buildings and lakes.

My main impetus for visiting was that I have just been reading about the Dowager Empress Cixi in Jung Chang's biography.  She escaped from the Summer Palace with her husband the Emperor when Lord Elgin set fire to it in 1860 as French and English troops took over Beijing.  She later returned to live there and use it as a base from which to reign over and modernise China.  It's a great story and relevant today. Cixi was an amazing ruler, but still has a poor reputation in China today.  Information panels in the Summer Palace presented a contrary view on her legacy to that described in Chang's book.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

A bridge across two islands

When confronted with impassable cascades, in the late 1800s, on the Mekong, the French colonialists had the great idea to build a railway through the jungle on Don Khone. They disassembled the boats, put them on the railway, crossed the island, reassembled the boats and continued up stream . All with the help of over 500 Vietnamese workers, many who died.
This bridge was built later to connect Don Khone and Dob Det, in the hope of building a trade route, but the scheme was not a success.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Life on the River

Life on the Mekong was relaxing and fun as a tourist staying in a floating hotel.  Washing in the river is life for this family and they were laughing and smiling and enjoying it . However, it would be tough on a daily basis. I don't envy their riverside life

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Girls on a Bike

Colorful Mekong

In the deep south of Laos the Mekong River splits into an internal delta, a web of smaller rivers,  or an internal archipelago of small islands.  It is called Si Phan Don or Four Thousand Islands.  We stayed on one small island Don Khon, a tropical paradise with palm trees, rice paddies and easy going locals.  Considerable time was spent watching life go by on the river.

Monday, 2 November 2015

A Week in the South

Last week school had a break for the boat racing festival.  I was able to join Mark and Jo and some of their friends to visit the southern area of Laos.

We hired a rather unreliable Hyundai Van in Pakse and squeezed in to travel to the Bolavan Plateau and then further south along the Mekong River.  The Bolavan Plateau is an elevated plateau of coffee plantations, jungle and waterfalls.

Our second night was spent at Etu resort next to Tad E-Tu (Tad is the Laos word for waterfall). The waterfall was powerful and magnificent. It was great to be staying there as I was able to visit at daytime, dusk and early morning (not dawn!)

Our group of nine; from left Dave and Terry, (Mark's mates from Canberra), Jo and Mark, Matthew (Jo's cousin who is doing teaching rounds at school) and Heidi (Matthew's partner) the back, and Margaret and David, (US and friends of Jo and Mark's from Jakarta who are now teaching at VIS) front right;enjoying a Beer Laos overlooking the lights and hills of Pakse on our first night away.

Sunday, 1 November 2015


Over 1000 years old Angkor Wat is anything but Ephemeral - but sunrise and reflections are.  So I have chosen this photo for the City Daily Photo Theme Day topic for November.

This was sunrise on the day of THE accident, so maybe the photo also shows that good times and adventure can be transient, fleeting and ephemeral too.