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Taking Grandma to Laos

Grandma Charlotte arrives in Thailand, and other adventures

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What does Grandma get for treating us to several days at Chiang Mai's most luxurious boutique hotel? Talked into an adventurous trip to Laos via a two-day slow-boat journey down the Mekong River.

Lest we sound ungrateful, Grandma is fully up for the trip. Regretting that she didn't take in Cambodia during her trip to Vietnam a few years back, she's ready to take on Laos as part of her Thailand experience. "I go with the flow," she said with a good-humored, philosophical shrug when we presented her with the idea.

This is the perfect attitude for a trip to Laos. We're told it's developing at breakneck speed and standards for food and lodging have improved over the past few years, but Laos remains a destination geared more towards intrepid, independent travellers than towards those who demand security, predictability and all the comforts of home. In fact, we had nearly talked ourselves out of Laos altogether thanks to descriptions like these from our guidebook:

About getting around: "Buses in Laos range from a/c tourist coaches to the rattling wrecks that serve the outlying provinces. Cramped, overloaded and extremely slow, the latter can be profound tests of endurance and patience. There are no public toilets in Laos, so passengers relieve themselves by the road during breaks on long journeys. Keep in mind that some areas still have unexploded ordnance about, so it's not a good idea to go too far off the road."

About eating: "As for hygiene, Laos kitchens are often just a shack without proper lighting or even running water, and, in many northern towns, there's no electricity to run refrigeration. As a rule, sticking to tourist-class restaurants or well-frequented street stalls is the safest bet but it is by no means a guarantee of not getting an upset stomach."

About health care: "Healthcare in Laos is so poor as to be virtually non-existent. The nearest medical care of any competence is in neighbouring Thailand, and if you find yourself afflicted by anything more serious than traveller's diarrhea, it's best to head for the closest Thai border crossing and check into a hospital."

And so on.

But we've been on the road for two months now -- nearly a third of our trip is behind us, sadly -- and haven't run into any serious health problems, so we're hoping optimism will power us through without too many hitches.

Since we're already in Chiang Mai, getting to Lao involves a six-hour bus ride to the border town of Chiang Khong, a ferry across to Huay Xai on the Laos side, an eight-hour slow-boat ride down the Mekong to the dusty one-horse (electricity-free) town of Pakbeng, and eight more hours on the slow boat to our first real destination, Luang Prabang.

We plan to break up that first bus ride to the border with a two-night stay in Chiang Rai, about three hours north of here.

But first we'll be enjoying Chiang Mai for a few more days. After we left Tamarind Village Inn in the old city, the best hotel here by far, we moved to the Imperial Mae Ping outside the walls of the old city and nearer the night market. It's still quite a nice place by our standards, and in any case we're mainly just using it as a home base. Today Mark took the kids to Baanchang for the day on a "learn to be a mahout (elephant trainer)" class, where they are riding elephants bareback, feeding them, washing them in the river and learning how to track them down in the jungle and train them. Tomorrow Charlotte, Chloe and I are off to an all-day Thai cooking class while the boys bum around town and swim. The following morning we're off to Chiang Rai.

A highlight of Chiang Mai so far was our visit to the city's oldest Buddhist temple, Wat U-Mong, built in the 1300s. We spent about an hour there learning about the temple, the monks who live there and the history and practice of Buddhism. The kids were able to participate in giving food to the monks, conveying it to them on a gold platter so as to ensure no physical contact between themselves and the monks. There was a giant gold Buddha statue whose facial expression changed dramatically depending on the light cast upon it, and the kids were quite entranced by that. Later that afternoon they made rice-paper lanterns in the northern Thai style for a festival coming up soon. I hope those survive the journey home in Charlotte's suitcase!

Posted by The Rymans 02:42 Archived in Thailand Tagged family_travel

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by Tricia

Hey Patti! Whenever I'm in the car with my kids, Noah and I argue to listen to CBC while the girls want the "New Hot 89.9!" (Where we heard that Elton John wants to adopt a child from 'Ukrania'). Anyway, Noah and I won the argument and I tuned in to hear a very familiar voice. The kids thought what you are doing is really cool - particularly the no-school, ride-elephants part. I've been following you from the start and living vicariously through you. It was fun to hear you talking about it as well. So I felt compelled to actually comment. Which I just did.

by Nicky

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