February 23, 2016

Laos Neighbour Program

Last December I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to visit Laos on an all expenses paid trip by my college as part of the Asean Neighbour program where students from different countries around Southeast Asia gathered together to share and learn from each other. I have never visited Laos (or even thought about going there lol) so this was a truly eye opening experience. We were there for a week, to learn about local craftwork then come up with ideas to improve them with the help of students from the faculty of architecture at National University of Laos.

Upon arriving at the airport, my first reaction was 'Why does it seem like it's air conditioned outdoors?' The weather in Laos is really cooling and at night times it drops to around 10°C. Silly me didn't expect it to be that cold so I brought summer clothes and one jacket which I ended up wearing throughout the entire stay.

We were arranged to stay at Villa Senesouk which is within the heritage area. Overlooking our guest house is a temple where hundreds of monks gathered each morning around 6am to receive food offered by the locals. I didn't end up catching that ceremony because I was much more interested in snooze land.

On our first night we had dinner with the rest of the students and lecturers who are part of the neighbour program, getting to know each other and to talk about the specific workshops that we have chosen to attend, namely textile, paper and bamboo workshops. After the brief discussion we headed to the night market nearby to check out some goods and street food. I didn't end up buying souvenirs at the night market because later we learned from the local craftsmen that the 'Handmade' good sold there are actually factory made. But I'd recommend to try the street food because they are pretty cheap.

The next morning my group from Singapore wanted to have breakfast together and I had to pull myself out of bed to join them. There were many french cafes around the area we were staying at and they are all really good. We had our breakfast that morning sitting by the roadside, enjoying good food in nice weather, watching cars pass by and children going to school. It was a beautiful scene to watch. Oh by the way, in Laos they use their local Kip currency which you might not be able to obtain through money changer in most countries, but you can always use Thai baht or USD to purchase stuff at tourist friendly areas to receive Kip for the change.

The second day was planned to visit the National University of Laos, where we witness students studying outdoors and a house which the students built that has study areas. Although they are short on classroom facilities, they are still able to gain knowledge through proper lessons.

After the university tour and lunch at their school cafeteria, we split into our respective workshop groups to learn how the crafts were made. I was so excited to see how the local women skillfully execute each step. We learned these things in college but to see it being done makes it feel more real lol. I still feel happy looking back at these images *v* I ended up buying a salmon pink scarf of cotton and silk blend for my mom. It costed 10USD but it was really beautiful and they use actual silk thread from silkworms so why not haha~ (Although I was really grossed out by the baskets of worms they store at the workshop ugh)

Once we were done at our destined location, we headed to pick up the team at the bamboo village. They were weaving bamboos and learning techniques to create different finishing but I was more interested in the kitten, puppies and the locals there lol.

The next day the textile group headed to another village where we could try weaving hands on. I was so happy I got the opportunity to do this! The piece that I weaved myself is my top prized souvenir from Laos. Nothing beats the experience of learning to make something new from somewhere faraway that belongs to you. We could choose our own colour silk thread from the workshop so I went for simple Pop colours. The craftsman said I was a good weaver for my first time haha! :D The workshop itself took 3 hours and it was quite costly but the expenses went to the college so technically it was free for me ngehehe, so glad I went as part of a college trip!

The next day our plans were cancelled and we had the whole day to ourselves. Aside from discussing with our groupmates regarding out presentation on the final day we wanted to spend the day exploring places further away from where we've been to so far. That morning we walked along the heritage streets to visit souvenir shops and passed by the National Museum which I really wanted to visit but didn't get to.

We had lunch at a noodle shop that day where I spotted this sign in Japanese. The locals converse in Laos language and a bit of Thai, but the students we talked to could speak a little English. Japanese was definitely out of the context so I was surprised to see this sign lol

After lunch we joined some local students to visit a village, temple and a cave. We had to take a boat that takes passengers, motorcycles and even a truck across the river for a small fee. I hadn't seen a village like this in years so the trip made me felt nostalgic. My relatives used to live in village house like this when I was very young and I would go there with my grandpa to play with my cousins where we climb trees, make our own hammocks, chase chickens around and other games that village kids would do lol.

We reach this old temple where we had to climb a long flight of stairs which got us pretty breathless when we reach the top. But the scenery up there was good, it overlooked the river, mountains and the heritage area we came from. Following that we visited a cave but it was too dark and slippery so I didn't take pictures in there. I was holding on to my dear life as I slide down the steep path as my legs were about to give way.

Took a boat across the river back to the heritage side. It was beautiful watching the water flow and the sunset around us.

The last day before we left I didn't capture much photographs. Here's another set of sunset photos. I remember us reminding each other that it was the last sunset of the trip and we watched quietly as the sun slowly hides away from the horizon. This trip has gave me so many new experiences and enabled me to see things in new perspectives. To be honest I wasn't that keen on visiting the country at all, if it wasn't for the school trip, but I'm so glad I went. It's nothing fancy like most tourist destinations but I felt like I gained a special memory from visiting Laos.

I can finally check off this post from my to-do list! I know it's been long overdue but I had been occupied with college ever since the term started. I have so many reviews I want to do that were pushed back because I wanted to blog about this first, or it'll never see the light hahaha ^^; I will be posting reviews soon (hopefully) and also an update on 'Life Lately'. :D

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