Pictures From My Recent Holiday In Lao 2010

Recently I returned from a short trip to Lao, it was good, we had a fantastic hotel room with hot water, air con, satellite TV and everything for only $14 per night,  the rooms were cleaned every day, and the sheets and towels all changed etc.

We ate mostly french food but went to the local all you can eat Barbecue for $4 a person most evenings. The food was good.

The are pictures from a Buddhist park outside of Vientiane Lao.

Millions of tourists every year, cross the bridge within bike riding distance of these two places,  and don’t even know they exist.

Lao Temple Life Heaven Hell

Into The Mouth Of The Giant

Lao Giant Of Death

Giant Carries the Dead to the Next Life

Wold Eather Lao

World Eater

Multiheaded Lao Divine Figure

Divine Figure Watches All

Payana Faces Giant Of Death

Five Headed Payana Faces Giant Of Death

The pictures below are the  only pictures I have with me currently  from the Thai temple in Nong kai that were built by the same monk, after he built the Lao temple.  All though I do have more,  they are in Canada and I am currently in Malaysia. I do plan to travel back to Nong kai in a few months though to take photographs of it.

Thailand Buddhist World Eater

World Eater

Buddha Sits On Piyana, Rising above the Jungle

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If you have any questions or comments  please add them below.

America Has No Culture ?

I have been traveling or living overseas more on than off for almost two decades now, I have spent very little time with people of my native country of Canada, or native continent of North America. I have often worked overseas for Korean, Japanese, Thai, and quite a few British companies as well. Over halve of my adult working life has been spent as a stranger in a strange land.

I had a recent trip to Lao with a group of people, some of them I had met and talked to before, the majority were Brits. For some reason the first thing a group of Brits wants to know is if I am American, I of course tell them no I am Canadian.

For some reason at this point more often than not the Brits will start talking my ear off about how America has no culture, how they are always telling everyone what to do, and correcting my English. For some reason things like English Football being called Soccer in North America is a big deal. And how Potato Chips are actually Crisps not chips.

I actualy found this fascinating when I first started hearing all the opinions of America and Americans, but very often these things tend to touch a bit of a nerve about my home country of Canada also, the accusations of no culture, of being new, etc etc. Over time this has worn on me a bit. I became tired of this conversation a long time ago. I can pretty much predict what they are going to say all the time because I feel with some of these people this is the same list of things they say to every North American, and often with each other.

Now I have no problem with Brits, I have many British friends, and although we had this conversation once upon a time we eventually got past it and worked our way into truly interesting conversations and proper friendships.

But let me make a bit of a rebuttal here about North American culture.

First of all, games like Hockey, Lacrosse, Baseball, and North American Football did not come out of thin air, they were invented in North America, usually adopted from Native North American games and adjusted into our culture.

Halloween in North America is very different to what it is elsewhere, I dare say it is a unique North American culture.

Rock and Roll, Blues, Jazz, and Hip Hop as well as Country and Bluegrass Music were all invented in North America, this too is part of our culture.

North American Movies and Television are also part of our culture, although Americans have a much stronger influence on entertainment, you will find a large number of Canadians mixed up in the headliners for American music, movies, and television.

T-Shirts and Teddy Bears also come from America.

The problem is not that Americans have no culture, it is that you have adopted so many American cultures into your own you can not identify it anymore.

When I go to the stores in virtually every country in the world the Potato Crisps are called Potato Chips right on the bag, I guess the Americans just did a better job of marketing and selling their products, get over it. Same as too many people mistake Chips for French Fries, if there was a huge chain of fish and chips in the word, this wouldn’t have been such an issue. Yes, I realize that chips and french fries are not the same thing, I had my fish and chips wrapped in a newspaper when I was growing up.

Now I would like to take a look at Canada for a minute here, we have three official languages, English, French, and Inuit, but of course there are many other languages used and spoken. Often people only speak one of these three languages, they don’t generally live in the same neighborhood as each other, places like Vancouver on the west coast usually can not speak french, and 4000 odd KM away in Quebec City, generally they do not speak English, Of course there is the extreme north where there is the Inuit also. If you go all the way over to the east coast to places like Newfoundland, usually speak a mixed dialect of French and English, with some Scottish thrown in.

The US has a much higher population, with smaller gaps between settlements, causing more blending of cultures, but all together it can be called American Culture.

You see what happened is a long time ago now, 500 years ago now, and yes there are actually buildings that are almost 500 years old. People came to Canada, with their cultures intact, from many different places in the world, and generally did not settle together, keeping their culture intact until today, in fact I almost wonder if there aren’t more kilts and bagpipes in Canada today being worn then their are in Scotland.

Now I know 400 year old building aren’t that old, but there are an awful lot of them, and considering there have never been any great wars to destroy them, some of the cities like Montreal or Quebec City look very similar to what it must have been like walking around Europe around that time, even more so than Europe does today, with the exception of places like Austria.

I know England has a particular bar that is almost a thousand years old, but, I have actually been to Varanasi, and drank bang lassies in a lassie bar that has been there for close to six thousand years, so in the same way our 400 year old buildings don’t measure up to your very old buildings, yours don’t measure up to India’s.

There are building in New Mexico in the US that have been constantly inhabited for over a thousand years.

I am not sure exactly what culture we are missing, but we do have culture.

And to be honest, saying things like how rude Americans are is actually very rude of you.

I love Brits, I have had the absolute best times in my life with large groups of British friends, my mother is British, and I am also a citizen of Great Britain.

But just because a bunch of people packed up and went overseas together, it doesn’t mean they lost all their culture. Canada and the United states have just evolved over the last 400 years or so on a path of its own. As you have been evolving also in different directions.

No one however, has no culture.

As for Americans always telling everyone what to do, that is just the pot calling the kettle black, England used to tell 80% of the world what to do until recently, now it’s just America’s turn. England hasn’t been told what to do for many generations, it must be frustrating to be in a different position, the rest of us however are used to following orders already, and it doesn’t seem to bother us quite as much.

Short Trip to Lao

Luang Prabang Lao Waterfalls

This beautiful waterfall is just outside Luang Prabang Lao

I just returned very late last night from a trip to Lao.

I have been many times to Lao, I love the country, it is a safe quiet little Buddhist country based between Myanmar, China, Thailand, and Cambodia. I would highly recommend it to anyone that already visiting a neighboring country, although it is beautiful, most of the country is inaccessible, and there is not really that much you can easily see.

The best way to view this country is by taking river boats up and down the Mekong river. There are some one or two week trips available you can book at the travel agents in Vientiane, you can usually get away with only spending about $20-$30 USD per day for food, travel and accommodation.

I visited the capital city, Vientiane, this week which is right on the Mekong river. Vientiane is beautiful, it is often referred to as Asia’s Paris. It has lots of large green trees all around the city, tons of beautiful Temples, and a lot of french architecture. The food is excellent,  and the people are very friendly. There are virtually no cars making the air fresh and the city quiet enough to listen to the birds.

If you ever go to Vientiane I would highly recommend visiting the Buddhist sculpture gardens just outside of the city, most people overlook this treasure, the monk that created this garden later went over the river to Nong Khai in Thailand and created a second sculpture garden.

There is also a nice little hippy community on a beach on a bend in a nearby river from Vientiane, I have not been there yet  but it does seem like my kind of place.

Nong Kai Thailand Sculpture Garden

Nong Kai Thailand Sculpture Garden Across the Bridge from Vientiane

I have added some images from the Thai version of the sculpture gardens, the Lao one is very much the same, ufortunatly I do not have my pictures with me from the Lao version, same artist anyhow and they are only about two KM apart as the crow flies.

Anyhow this is just a quick post, I am still very tired from the trip, I will likely talk more about it later. Though more about the people I met while traveling this time.

The Difference of Actually Being There

I have a lot of friends back home I talk to daily via the Internet, and all of them it seems, have a pretty strong image in their head, of what they think my life is like here in Asia. Sometimes I think they imagine me surrounded by guys in pointy bamboo farming hats, firecrackers going off in the streets, and ninjas hiding on the rooftops as I eat my rice with chop sticks.

People might think that Asia is poor and those around me are poor, but everyone that lives around me has far more money than I do. They own cars and houses, and all their necessities of life, and are usually debt free because they tend to not buy on credit here.

Just because I am in Asia, it doesn’t mean you can imagine anything about what my life would be like, your mind wants you to, but its impossible. The same if someone told me they were in North America, it is just too little information. For all I know the guy is living in an igloo in the north of Canada, or the slums of New York, or maybe even in a penthouse in Mexico City.

I find too many people when I mention where I am, imagine something in their mind of my life and actually believe it. Reality and imagination is just not the same thing.

Asia is the largest continent on earth, as you change your latitude and longitude, the local plants and animals change, as does the food. The languages, clothing, religions, politics, and customs.

Before I go to a new country, I have usually watched news about it, or maybe some television programs on it before I go. I try and educate myself about the country I am going to visit so as not to do anything that might be considered rude. I look at pictures and surf the Internet to read about them. The amazing thing is though, every new country I get to, is nothing like I imagined it would be, even after all my research.

I came to the conclusion quite quickly that “I know, I know nothing”.

Honestly with the vast amounts of knowledge in the world, not to mention the infinite things on the earth humans have not understood or documented yet, let alone other planets, the total sum of all my knowledge is so infinitely small, I know nothing. None of us do.

I remember one time back in 95 while I was in Vietnam, I met a guy in Saigon (Ho Chi Min City)that showed me these amazing pictures from Cambodia, of these ancient temples that were being eaten by the jungle and a bunch of the ones the french had done a good job of restoring including the Bayon and Ankor Wat.

That was enough encouragement for me to jump on the local bus that was leaving to Cambodia the next day

There is a long story I could insert here, but I will save that for a later date. I will give you the very short version now.

Even though I read newspapers everyday, watched the news on television, and had read books on Cambodia, I didn’t realize that the bus I was taking into Phnom Phen was actually taking me into an active and live war zone, we passed through military check points over and over again on the long road from the border of Vietnam to Cambodia’s Capital City Phnom Phen. Almost everyone, including children were carrying Machine Guns and Rocket Launchers, and gunfire could often be heard in the distance.

I had time to contemplate my lack of knowledge as I sat down at my guest house located on one of Phnom Phen’s lakes. I didn’t realize I was going into such a dangerous place. I came to the conclusion, that this particular war had at this point gone on so long, it just wasn’t news worthy anymore.

While I was sitting there contemplating, with other fellow travelers, we were actually watching tracers from large artillery firing across the lake in our general direction.

Over 5000 people died withing three kilometers of us that night, we could see a clear view of the fire that was killing them as it crept up the side of the lake towards our guesthouse. We had a knife ready to cut away the dock we were sitting on, if the fire got too close.

There is a difference between going to a place and actually experience it, when I go to a place, I do not travel in large packs of camera wielding tourists, where my guide speaks English as do all the people with me, as do the people at the restaurants and hotels I go to. I do not stay in my little western bubble of being surrounded by people that are trained in how to deal with foreigners. That is not really going anywhere as far as I’m Concerned. I actually get a little upset on the inside when people say to me, oh yeah I’ve been there, and when I see their pictures, it is all inside a gated resort where the “locals” are wearing uniforms. When they do go out to see the sites it is in a large pack. Basically doing absolutely nothing that involves getting involved in another countries culture, if they eat what they think is the local food, almost always the resorts have “westernized” it so as not to upset their customers.

I remember someone telling me about this beautiful resort they stayed in in Jamaica, and the outside walls had barbed wire on them, and that for some reason gave them the impression that outside of their walls was chaos. Too much imagination and too little information. If they had been brave enough to walk outside the resort gate they would have really traveled. Why on earth they bothered to take an airplane to a foreign country is beyond me, maybe they just should have gone swimming at the local swimming pool and saved the time and money.

Anyhow, You haven’t been “there” when you travel like that, and you didn’t “Do” the country. Please take a step back and realize you traveled on a tourist trail and all the people you met were there to try and part you from your tourist money. You probably didn’t meet any normal locals of the country at all and learned nothing about them.

Now there are a lot of great travelers out there and I met them in every place I went that I would consider really traveling, so I am not saying I am unique or alone in what I would consider “real” traveling, far from it, but still people that do it are in the minority.

There is only one place you can see a good view of the whole world, and that is the moon, have you been there? Do you think because you can see it from earth and you have seen pictures that being there wont be any different?

Anyhow I don’t know where you are, and you don’t know where I am, so lets not assume we know anything.

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