May 05, 2004

An authentic Laos evening

J and i explored Vang Vieng, a small town nestled right up against the mountains which features a chill, backpacker vibe and many a cave dotting the river.

After an afternoon siesta we headed to Tham Jang, a very cool cave perched 100M above the river. Janet even braved her hydrophobia (or at least swimming phobia!) and swam with me in a cool little spot below the entrance to the caves. The water was a bit chilly but quite refreshing (sorry, no pics of either beauteous spot :-().

Whilst caving we met Nathalie, a cool chiquita from Switzerland, who introduced us to a Laos school teacher she'd met the day before on the way back from the caves. The teacher was thrilled to be practicing his English and begged us to join him back at his hut for some Laos Hai, a rather potent beverage.

The three falang looked at one another suspiciously, each succumbing to Western cynicism / defensiveness (is this for real? what does he really want? am I really going to give up my evening?).

Thankfully, we ignored the voices and agreed to come by, dragging Teresa (kiwi friend) and Mai Kiko (Japanese friend of Nathalie's) with us to Khum Soon's (sp?) house . It was a great experience, whose centerpiece was the Laos Hai, a drink fermented in a large clay pot in which one pours water to dilute and drinks via bamboo straws:

Jim and Khum Soon (yes that was his name :-)) gulping Laos Hai

Drinking was done in tandem with the host setting the number of gulps required. Khum Soon was so genuinely grateful that we came, asking us to sing American songs (i think we mustered "now i know my abc's) and swapping stories and views on our various cultures.

It was a completely unjaded, memorable experience...the kind of "anti-lonely planet" event you hope for.

We were later joined by KS's neighbor (who got a kick out of my size, especially the belly) and a few students, one of which joined teach for a few gulps.

We walked home high on more than the rice alcohol...
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