Hospitals here are much better than India!

It’s been a while since we last wrote on the blog, so it’s tough to know where to begin. I think that I will start with the most recent event as it is the title of this post! Last night Claire had a visit to the Pakxe hospital. After 4 days of off-and-on fever and two solid days of a high temp it was time to find out if I was going to get to collect on her trip insurance! Needless to say, her blood test for malaria (at a total cost of US$1.60) was negative, but in good developing world fashion she is now taking eight pills twice a day (and two at lunch). Much like our experiance in Mumbai, the doctor here is treating her for pretty much anything she might have! Rest easy though Barb, she is feeling better today and is sitting right here next to me.

This is kind of just another facet of a two-week bad health spell for us… After our bike ride in northern Laos both of us started to feel low energy, unmotivated, and both suffered cramping in our stomachs. Doing some of our own investigating (what would you tell a non-English speaking doctor for those symtoms?) we self diagnosed and treated intestinal parasites. In only a few days we were back to our normal selves, so we are guessing that Dr. Internet was right!

While that may sound like we’ve been having a pretty loathsome time here, that’s not actually the case. We have been traveling happily in the south of Laos and really enjoying ourselves. After a hellish 8 hour bus ride from Luang Parbang to Vientiane which included highlights of 4 hours of linked turns in the mountains with a family of locals next to us filling a leaky puke bag, we moved quickly on to a 13 hour bus ride to Pakxe in the south – thankfully on a straight road.

We used Pakxe as a base and took a trip to Tad Lo waterfalls. Getting off the bus, we were so enthralled at making another new friend that we ended up walking right past the town and taking a 4km detour, with our full packs, in the 3pm afternoon heat! Oops. But once we found the town we were quite pleased by the unpretentious feel. It’s a small village that has not been highly developed yet, but still has all the services you could want or need. We stayed in a riverside bungalow, took walks and swam in the river. I know what you are thinking, we probably got more parasites swimming in the freshwater, but remember that most, if not all, shower and cooking water in these towns come straight from the river, so there is no escape unless you want to go for weeks without bathing! Most times we just relaxed on our balcony and listened to the sounds of kids playing in the water (apparently they only go to school in the cool mornings) and the sounds of the baby farm animals. Especially the little piglets…in fact, they were so cute we got to thinking, can one own a pig in Vancouver? Just until it’s big enough to eat, of course. We’ll be looking into that when we return.

One thing that we really appreciated about Tad Lo was the civil engineering. We have a couple of photos to explain what we mean, but you can get the feeling that your days are numbered if you spend too long here…


From Tad Lo we moved onto Champasek, where we stayed in another lovely riverside hotel, and checked out the ruins of an ancient temple. In the video below, I try to ride my bike, avoid traffic, and explain the brief history of Wat Phou, and it comes out sounding like something Bush would say, as I talk about ‘those guys’. What I meant was that both Ankor Wat and Wat Phou were built by the Khmer Empire. We only stayed in Champasek for one night because we were looking forward to checking out the islands farther south, but we did get a chance to briefly meet up again with a guy from Vancouver we had originally met in Luang Prabang, and had a nice Valentine’s Day dinner drinking Lao Lao with him and a couple of others. We also had a fun time that night trying to figure out if the person serving us dinner was male or female – we saw several of these ‘what’s that? It’s Pat!’ people in Champasek during our 24 hours there, and wondered if it was a part of Laos that was more accepting of cross-gendered people or maybe a new social movement. Either way, ‘Pat’ sure was a fan of Seth, and gave him a large, toothy grin every time it saw him! last picture below is of the ferry system across the Mekong…another great example of the superior engineering here. The most exciting moment was when our truck stalled on the ferry and had to be push-started as it rolled off the ferry over those sturdy looking planks…

Finally we arrived in Si Phan Don, the 4,000 Islands region that lies just north of Cambodia. We weren’t really able to count the islands, but I figure there were about 10 big ones, and a lot of little tufts of grass sticking out of the river (image). We stayed on the biggest island for two nights and Don Det, a smaller island without electricity, for two. I think we would have stayed a little longer if I hadn’t been sick and had to restock our tylenol supply (there being no pharmacy or doctor on the island), but as it was we still had enough time to get into the lounging swing of things down there. The people are, for the most part, really friendly and the days consist of riding around on bikes, checking out waterfalls, swimming in the river, or relaxing in a hammock with a book. Or, in my case, it’s more like lying in bed sweating with a fever and cursing the lack of a fan or a/c!
It seems for the most part that life on the islands still continues as it did before the nearby Laos/Cambodian border officially opened to foreign tourists three years ago and tourism grew exponentially in the area. However, I found that the fact that most tourists end up spending the equivalent of a month’s wages (in Lao terms) each day there is having a dividing effect among people on the island. There are, on one hand, the people who work in the tourism industry who grow wealthier, and on the other, the people who don’t work with tourists, who are still subsistence fishing and farming and don’t benefit much at all. When I think about the amount of garbage created and the stress on the ecosystem that the large numbers of foreigners have, I really hope that these people don’t end up losing their way of life.

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