On arrival we were taken to the Straybus office where a very helpful lady found us a hotel (we didn't fancy any choices made by our tour leader!). The hotel was close by and it was comfortable and clean with very high ceilings. We were offered a choice of rooms and settled on the larger room (of course!). We crashed for a couple of hours, showered and then felt ready to face the day. Very nice lunch and a wander around the town. Delicious ice cream at the famous(?) Joma cafe - Ruth had black sesame, and I had almond latte, both good though the sesame was unusual. The night market was just setting up and it did have different things from other markets we had been to and well, as you might have guessed, we bought quite a few things, including some pink with gold pattern elephant trousers. The stallholder seemed really pleased to have sold them.
Some Lao food for dinner at a lovely restaurant, but the staff must have had a bust up as service was abrupt; quite unusual for Laos.
After a great night's sleep, we were feeling much better and enjoyed a very leisurely breakfast, catching up with emails as the wifi until now in Laos hadn't been brilliant (it's odd how one misses it!). All done we wandered off for a gentle stroll along the main road to the end of the peninsula. Many craft shops selling quite beautiful fabrics and many wats. One or two craft shops had fabrics, handmade in surrounding villages on sale on consignment, so we knew our purchase moneys would filter down to the weavers (yes, of course we bought some). The wats were beautifully decorated but in a more understated style than those in Thailand. More use of red, which with gold figures and motifs look stunning.
We came across a small book publishing company, 'Big Brother Mouse'. They publish books for children and adults to help them learn to read and many are bilingual, Lao and English to help them learn English. We plan to return to sit with students talking and listening, again to help them improve their English, but particularly to improve pronunciation, as their teachers are Lao. If anyone is interested in learning more, about them or Lao culture, or to contribute/donate their website is www.bigbrothermouse.com
We found a small restaurant, full of Lao, on a roughly built terrace overlooking the Mekong. The food was very good - deep fried fish, deep fried chicken both with crispy fried river weed plus some steamed vegetables. All very tasty. Lovely setting, we were in another world where we wished we could stay!
Back to the hotel for a siesta, it's exhausting stuff this travelling lark! We returned to the Big Brother Mouse to help students improve their English. I had a confident young Hmong man, 18 years old, with quite definite ideas about what he wanted to do. University to study English and Chinese then get a job with a Chinese company (because they pay very well by Lao standards). It was interesting talking to him, hearing about his life and family, and sharing his and my experiences. After an hour we had to go, as we'd been invited to a talk about the meaning of animals in Lao weaving.
An interesting talk but a bit difficult to understand, the two Lao presenters had worked hard to put this together, and it was their first time at this! We returned to the hotel to try and discover what had happened to a parcel we sent home from Saigon. A bit difficult to communicate given the time differences but we think it might be sorted. Getting very hungry, so off to the night market to try some street food. There was a large display or buffet at 10,000 kip per plate, plus the same for meat, plus the same for a beer. I tried the buffalo sausage and Ruth another sausage that turned out to be sweet and gelatinous, not very nice. We tried the Beerlao dark beer which matched my buffalo sausage perfectly - all this for about £6 for both of us! - and it tasted really good.
Breakfast and off to the Big Brother Mouse again. This morning was attended by several novice monks and we had a good time talking to them. I spoke to a 16 year old who had been a monk for two years; he wanted to complete high school then leave the monastery and go to university in Vientiane (the capital city) which was a common aim amongst the students we spoke to. All wanted further education in the hope for a better job/life.
After a lovely coffee nearby we wandered off to look at the ethnic centre, a bit disappointing; there were better displays in the shops and the night market! I walked up to the stupa on top of Phousi Mount. Some 300 steps I was told, though I didn't count. Great views from the top of parts of the town and the mountains beyond. Ruth walked around the base and we met at the entrance to the Royal Palace which unfortunately was just about to close.
So back to the students for another hour before returning once again to the night market. And yes, we bought more things; we already have one of our bags full, back in Bangkok, but it seems we needed more. Dinner at the same street 'cafe' but this time we had a whole fish, barbecued with herbs and spices; delicious!