Sunday, November 16, 2014

Luang Prabang lantern festival

It was back in October that we headed up to Luang Prabang for an impromptu long weekend. It was the boat racing festival here in Laos and the streets around our apartment in Vientiane were becoming congested. Street stalls were popping up, there was loud music, and a really festive atmosphere.

Joff was speaking with friends who had decided to skip the 'craziness' of Vientiane and head to Luang Prabang instead. He came home stating that there was also a festival in Luang Prabang but that this was a lantern festival and according to friends who had lived in Luang Prabang it had been their favourite festival there.

After hearing all of that we decided to go for it. We booked flights and accommodation and were gone 2 days later.

As it turned out we were not the only ones. It seemed that every expat family that we know had decided to escape the chaos as well and we found ourselves out for dinner in Luang Prabang with 10 adults and just as many kids all sitting around as if we were in Vientiane. It was a lot of fun, and a different kind of chaos. The town itself was not congested or busy. There was no raging parties, or crazy drunken behaviour.

In fact, the first night we were there, it was magical. All the temples (Wats) were lit up with hundreds and thousands of paper lanterns. Monks were taking photos of their hard work, tourists were quietly and peacefully walking through the grounds. I don't think i will ever forget it. The second night this all happened again but in addition there was a parade of paper lantern boats through the main streets. Beatrix and the other kids loved it. Bea has only been to Luang Prabang twice- the first time she watched a parade of elephants, this time it was lanterns! After the parade we headed down to the banks of the Mekong and let our own paper lanterns up into the sky while we watched Lao families send offerings down the river.

It was all beautiful and brilliant and more than we had anticipated. Words don't really do it justice. Here are a few photos to share instead.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

24 hours in KL

KLCC Park playground

Back when we had newly arrived in Laos I was obsessed with making the most of our time here and trying to get as much Asian travel in as possible. Not a bad pursuit. I spent a fair amount of time searching for cheap flights and deals. Luckily for us I stumbled across some cheap flights from Vientiane to KL with Air Asia that were too good to miss out on.

So last week we headed to Malaysia for a mini break. The original plan had been for us to spend the entire time in Langkawi relaxing on the beach but Air Asia made a minor adjustment to our flights and we ended up with an extra day of holiday and consequently an unexpected day in KL!

I'll write about Langkawi another time but I wanted to fill you in on our day in KL. We started our planning with a google search "things to do with kids in KL" or something along those lines. Its my usual starting point. Mainly because happy children = happy parents = happy holidays. But also because whenever we go to a big city there are things there that you just can't get here- like playgrounds, and aquariums, and other kid friendly activities.

We had stayed in some relatively budget accommodation in Langkawi so we splashed out a bit on our accommodation in KL and got a suite in a hotel/residence quite close to the Petronas towers and all the action. The hotel was excellent. Clean, huge rooms, friendly staff, amazing food and a very relaxing pool. And to top it all off (in Bea's eyes)- it even had its own playground. When we walked into the hotel room rather late at night Bea looked around the room and said "this hotel hasn't got a bed!" She was looking at us like we were idiots for having booked such a room. But when we showed her the separate bedroom with the huge bed her eyes lit up and there was at least half an hour of excited squeals while she got comfy in the big bed, jumped on it, and snuggled in with the down pillows.

Moments like that are what holidays are all about- staying up past your bedtime to jump on the incredibly plush bed and snuggle into the bedding with your mum and dad!

Anyway our full day in KL was mainly spent around the Petronas towers and KLCC park. We headed there in the morning and spent a good couple of hours in the "ginormous" playground. Honestly, Bea was running around like a lunatic. She was hot and sweaty but she didn't care because there was SO much to do. Unfortunately the adjacent splash park area was under maintenance so we had no way of cooling off but we went into the shopping mall instead and enjoyed mixed berry juices in the air conditioned delight.

After a kip by the pool we all had an afternoon swim. KL was quite a bit cooler than Vientiane and the water felt fresh compared to the swimming conditions we have become accustomed to. Feeling refreshed we ordered room service snacks and then headed out again to the playground for an evening play before heading out for dinner. We could have gone to a number of amazing Malaysian restaurants but in the end I fulfilled my craving for a beef pie! Yep, I am Australian at heart!

FYI some of the other attractions that we had thought about going to but just didn't get to were the KL Bird Park and Botanical Gardens, the aquarium and the Petronas Towers observation deck (closed on the day of the week we were there)

We really enjoyed the little of KL that we saw and would be keen to head back there another time. But for now, we had a ball for our day there!

Melinda xx

KLCC Park, Kuala Lumpur

The perfect dismount!

Hot and sweaty playground action

The pool at our hotel

Monday, October 27, 2014

Where did 2 months go?

Hi everyone,

First up I want to apologise for the lack of "activity". In some ways I'm not sure where the time went, and in other ways I know exactly where it went! Anyway, I have high hopes for more regular updates now that life is settling somewhat into a bit of Laotian normality.

Is that enough? Probably not. I can't imagine that an apology will satisfy your enquiring minds as to what exactly we have been up to over the past 2 months. So let me fill you in on few things.

In my last post (August 16th FYI) I was feeling good. Back from holidays in Phuket, refreshed from time with my sister showing her around, enjoying work after a needed break.

Enter morning sickness. Yep that's right. For those of you who don't already know via another means, I'm pregnant. Currently 18 weeks and counting. And about one week after my last post the dreaded ALL day sickness kicked in. To be more specific it was 4am sickness that carried on into the day, abated for a few hours and then kicked back in again at around 5pm. Anyway, its over now, lets not dwell. I only want to say that nausea is not helped when you leave your apartment and walk outside to the smells of BBQ chicken and squid at 8am!

Thankfully after a quiet couple of months of work and couch time I am back on my feet and can tolerate most of the smells that only an Asian country can throw at you! (Anyone who has been to Asia knows exactly what I am talking about)

The other weird thing about my position at the moment is antenatal care. I'm not entirely sure what the right word for it is but it seems somewhat hypocritical/ ironic that I spend my days teaching newborn care, and am actively involved in the newborn health action plan for Laos while at the same time I fly to Bangkok for my antenatal care. Yep. At least twice in this pregnancy I will fly to Bangkok to be seen and have my tests/ultrasounds that cannot be provided anywhere in Laos to a reasonable quality for Australian standards. Should I be just getting what everyone else here gets? Why am I any different? We are all people of the same world and as lucky and privileged as I feel, I also feel saddened that I have some kind of "golden ticket" when everyone else I work with misses out.

So I will continue to work hard over the next few months to do as much as I can for this country of incredibly kind and caring people. People who try to take my bag off me on ward rounds, offer me a seat everywhere we are at work, and have started bringing snacks like ice-cream and iced ovaltine to afternoon work meetings that they "couldn't possibly finish by themselves!"

And when I am back in Melbourne with my Western health care and state of the art delivery suite I will be thinking of my experiences here and counting myself lucky. In so many ways. Because U will also feel lucky for my experience here and the people I have met.

Melinda xx

Saturday, August 16, 2014

aunty visit

Time flies in sleepy Vientiane. I'm not quite sure how, but it does.

It seems Sunday has turned into the best day for potential blogging- quiet streets, many places closed, daddy daughter dates for croissants…

Anyway, it was ages ago that my sister Kate was here for a week long visit. We had a great time, Bea in particular enjoyed having "aunty time."

I felt like we fit a lot in; sightseeing, relaxing and playing at home, dining out. All in all a great week.

Here are some photos to prove it:

Enjoying croissants at Cafe Vanille

A trip to the Buddha Park

Cocktails at the Spirit House- a Vientiane institution

Trying out some of the nicer places to eat in Vientiane

The tower to beat all towers!

Monday, July 28, 2014

My thoughts on: Green spaces

I'm not entirely sure why, but for some reason our holiday to Phuket has got me thinking about green spaces, or more specifically, the lack of green spaces in Vientiane. Its strange, because we didn't visit any parks in Phuket, or get a larger dose of "green". The only connection I can find in my head is that we spent time at the beach, and being outdoors in nature. Maybe that is what it is: I miss nature.

Anyway, since I starting thinking about it, I can't stop.

I've been thinking a lot of the bigger picture of Asia and development and urban planning. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) website says that cities in Asia have grown faster than any other urban area in the world. By 2022 there will be more people living in cities than in the countryside in Asia. ADB conducted interviews of people in Vietnam about what they wanted to see in their cities and the response were following:

In harmony with nature
More trees
More small parks
More spaces for children

Exactly what i would want from a city!

Unfortunately, this is far from the reality in a lot of Asia cities, Vientiane included. Everywhere I look there is construction happening. At the end of our street there is a canal. When we got to Vientiane if you looked past the canal you would see open scrub and the river. Since then, in 5 months, this scrub has been demolished and a huge new shopping centre is being constructed. The rate of construction is incredible!

The World Health Organisation recommends that cities provide 9 square metres of unpaved open space for every inhabitant. I don't have a figure on Vientiane but Bangkok had 3.3sm. This is in stark contrast to my home town of Melbourne which has a whopping 17.8% of the city as green space.

As I look around Vientiane and how much it is changing I know that it will rapidly be a different city.  I will come back in 5-10 years time and there will be parts of the city that I won't recognise. I just hope that it learns from previous Asian cities to consider open areas with trees and parks. We know that they reduce pollution, improve air quality and reduce temperatures.

Vientiane does have some green. There is quite a large park along the river very close to us. The road between the park and the river is closed to traffic in the evening and it seems that everyone in Vientiane is down there to enjoy the fresh air and a bit of badminton/aerobics/soccer/roller blading. We are lucky to have this area so close. The park is also home to Vientiane's only public playground (that we know of).

Anyway, I don't really have any exciting conclusions or grand ideas from these thoughts. If I was an urban planner maybe I would. But it has been interesting to research and to actually find research that confirms that the residents of green cities are actually happier. I, for one,  have been trying to spend more time outdoors walking along the river and getting out of the city on the weekends and into green spaces. A few weekends ago we headed to an eco resort with a little stream and rock pools. It was lovely to get away from the concrete and back to nature.

The only playground in Vientiane 

 A bit of green at Patuxay 

Aerobics by the river every evening

Monday, July 21, 2014

Trip review: Phuket

I have been to Thailand on holiday a grand total of 5 times so far in life (lucky girl). There is a lot to enjoy- culture, amazing food, amazing beaches, friendly people, excellent diving. These reasons make it one of the more popular Asian holiday destinations for Australian's.

So when we wanted to plan a week holiday with my parents it was the obvious choice. 

The big question was where in Thailand we would go.

Phuket has never really been on my radar as somewhere I wanted to go in Thailand. I thought it was big, and touristy and that the beaches had been spoilt by tourism. In some ways that still holds true. But it also had a lot of EXACTLY what we were after and was a lot easier to get to and enjoy from where we are in Laos.

Still, even once we decided on Phuket there is a plethora of places to stay. In fact if you go to Agoda and type in Phuket it will tell you there are 1465 hotels to choose from. How do you even begin? 

I spent more hours researching Phuket than I care to let on. It was tricky- we wanted somewhere nice, with a pool and very close to the beach (or on the beach). But we also wanted it to be within a village so that we could leave our resort and eat in other restaurants or explore other shops without having to get in  taxi. Oh, and we wanted the resort to be quite and not next door to a party place. 

In the end we decided on Kamala beach, and more specifically the Sunwing Beach resort. Kamala beach is one beach north of Patong and is known for being a bit quieter but also having a variety of accommodation. Unfortunately the combination of being shoulder season and the recent political unrest in Thailand meant that all of Phuket was pretty quiet and many restaurants in Kamala were closed. 

That said we still managed to find some gems both locally and further afield.

We did two day trips during our 8 day stay. We hired a taxi for a day to take us on a tour of the island. Essentially we went to Phuket aquarium, a few different beaches and a few gorgeous look outs. The other day trip was to Phang Nga Bay to go sea canoeing into some caves and lagoons. We had brilliant weather and everyone (especially bea) enjoyed the canoeing and going into the dark caves and popping out the other side in a lagoon. The trip was topped off for Bea by seeing a monkey outside one of the caves- the sight of it causing her to actually squeal in excitement!

The other days were spent doing a mix of the following: in the pool, at the beach, having a massage, shopping, eating and generally hanging out together. Tough times. 

Anyway, it was a great holiday and we came back feeling refreshed from the soft sand, sea breeze, and fresh seafood.

Sunset walks/runs along the beach are the best aren't they? 

View from a view point on our taxi tour day

White sandy beach stop on our day trip to Phang Nga Bay

Canoeing into this cave and then out the other side into a lagoon

One of the 7 pools at our resort, Sunwing Kamala Beach

Seafood on the beach- what the best holidays are made of!

Sunwing Kamala Beach mascot Lolo, Bea was so excited!

 Life is tough when you have to curl up with Nana on a couch and read some books

Friday, July 11, 2014

True of false part 2

I might have been too quick to hit publish on my post the other day about Bea's reality.

I have been thinking about it some more and realised I neglected to mention all the things that Bea would NOT be surprised about.

Things like the following:

- some children don't have any toys

- some people don't have any shoes

- there are some foods you just cannot get, and some people only get to eat rice

- there is another country called Thailand on the other side of that river (a totally foreign concept for most children from Australia or New Zealand)

- some children are looked after by their parents but also by their maeban (nanny).

- shoes should never be worn inside

- when you go to the park everyone will stop and say hello a bit like you are a movie star

When i look at the list from today and the list from the other day it generates a mix of emotions. I am proud of my little girl and how much she has learnt and adjusted to over the past 5 months. I feel pleased that i have been able to expose her to different ways of living and different walks of life. I smile when i think of some of the things that have come out of her mouth in response to new experiences. But i also feel a little bit sad for her. Sad that there isn't five parks in a 2 block radius anymore. Sad that she can't dip her toes in the ocean. Sad that we can't go to the park and feed the ducks. 

The reality is that life in Vientiane has many bonuses but also quite a few negatives. There is a lot of stimulation for us here, but sometimes i wonder about how much there is for small children? Everyone sends their preschoolers to school because they need to to entertain them. There is a once a week playgroup but other than that you are on your own with your toddler. No library music class, soccer, gym, story time. On one had I know that kids don't need all of those scheduled activities to be happy. They are just as likely to be happy with a cardboard box. But on the other hand, i know that if we weren't here we would be doing those things and with Bea, and she would be enjoying them. 

Anyway, i don't know why i decided to be so thoughtful on a Friday night when my brain feels slightly fried from the week at work. Perhaps its time for bed.

Melinda x