Thursday, March 31, 2011

Loving Lovely Laos

I know it's been a while, we have so much to catch up on! I guess I will start with a quick recap:

We had a wonderful and very emotional farewell to our school. For all the the struggles we endured we did have an incredible time and created friendships and memories that will last-well for as long as we can remember them (I say this since Graham's memory is starting to go :) ) The school had a nice going-away dinner and big party for us. Saying goodbye to Tagan, James, Dick, Sasi, Katie,  Jessica, and all of our students was sooooo hard. I held it together when the entire first grade class started bawling, I figured they are too young to remember us in a few years anyways. But when my favorite class, a 4th grade class, started sobbing uncontrollably, I totally lost it. There are a couple kids in that class in particular that I really felt close to. I hope that they have wonderful lives, and I hope to see them again, who knows? I can only hope. It did mean a lot to know that we have made a positive impact on so many kids though. I always had fun teaching (except for one infamous class, which ironically enough ended up being one of my favorite classes!) but saying goodbye really made me realize what an experience it had been. I miss those kids already. It is difficult to describe the intense emotion that I felt, but it was very unexpected and heavy. When James and Tagan (Jamen) showed up at our place so we could all bus to Bangkok together, I was crying, wandering around looking for our cat like a madwoman. It was hard to say bye to Angel and Mr. T too. I felt so guilty leaving them and hope they survive and are happy :) Thank goodness Jamen was there when we said our final goodbyes, because just being around them makes me happy, and I had to hold myself together!

We had a great day or so in Bangkok. The four of us went on a dinner cruise in Bangkok, which was really fun, if not a bit cheesy. It was okay because we all won free tickets :) It was so sad to say bye to James and Tagan, but we were sooo thankful to be able to spend more time with them as our time came to a close. We had some fun :) From Bangkok we took a sweet train (trains>buses) to Northern Thailand, Chang Mai specifically. We spent a few precious days with our good friend Caroline. We were not overly impressed with the city, so we just relaxed and spent time with her and rejoiced in our new freedom. I have not had a break from work and/or school for 3 months since-well, since I can remember. Each day we literally can do whatever we want. I know that is a dumb and obvious realization, I mean, ideally everyone does whatever they want everyday. But you know, no matter how much you love your job, I have yet to meet someone who makes the choice to go to their job everyday instead of anywhere else in the world :) The point is: we're free! And honestly that has been one of the best parts about traveling. This is also the longest I have been traveling, so I don't feel too much pressure to go Go GOOOO! every day all day, the way you have to when you only have 2 weeks to see an entire country. To me traveling goes hand in hand with being super tired, sick, and in a lack-of-sleep haze half the time. But that has not been the experience this time, which just makes it that much for relaxed, which is great.

From Chang Mai we headed to Pai, which we absolutely loved. Everyone said it was touristy, which it was, but in a really good way, in my opinion. Everyone we met there was so nice, and people served organic food, and there were tons of good book stores and book trading places, and handmade jewelry and clothes, and fewer stray know, some things we really appreciate :) We read like crazy in our beautiful mountain-top bungalow, enjoyed some magical hot springs at dusk, and rode to a gorgeous waterfall. We saw some rural villages and overall really loved the entire area and experience.

From Pai we headed to Cave Lodge, which we had heard amazing things about. we got there and I was instantly in heaven because the natural beauty around the place was overwhelming. Also, we were in a very rural area, which I have missed a lot. Unfortunately, the days we were there, there were no trekking excursions because there was a big festival in the town that everyone went to, which was one of the big reasons we went to Cave Lodge. However, this might have been a blessing in disguise, because we hooked up with some really fun people and formed the abominable "Team North America" and we hiked and caved for 2 days together. We saw some beautiful places and some awesome caves-it is always more exciting to find them on your own and venture in without knowing what you will find! A highlight was definitely seeing hundreds of thousands of swifts fly into a huge cave at dusk, followed by the bats flying out for the night. It truly was a natural wonder that was so cool to see. We had some great times overall and were sad to leave after 3 nights-back to Pai, then to the border of Laos, where we took a 2 day slow boat down the Mekong River.

The boat ride was picturesque and relaxed, and again, we met a fabulous group of international travelers who we continue to meet up with along the pancake trail (the SE Asia tourist route) and with whom we have shared some great memories. Most importantly, the boat took us to our favorite destination so far, Luang Probang. From the moment we stepped into Laos, everyone has been so wonderfully gentle and kind. I have never met a kinder people. I could go on and on about this aspect, it is continually touching, moving, and inspiring. People seem so genuine, their smiles seem right from their hearts. It is something that I have heard so much about, traveling and the type of people you encounter, but really, Lao people are BY FAR the most wonderful, in my experience. I have fallen in love with so many people, from children who just melt your heart, to tuk-tuk drivers who gently ask if you would like a ride to a waterfall, and if you start to chat a bit, maybe you will learn that they have not had any business for 6 days! You know how sometimes a person (or a thing, or an animal, or a place, etc) just has something about it....Maybe if you are religious you might feel like they are somehow closer to the Divine, or maybe you just want to make a new friend, or a little part of you does fall in love in a way, maybe you know what I mean? But this really has happened to me so many times in Laos, with people, interactions, and the places we have been. I can safely say that this is absolutely the most amazing country I have ever been to, and each day has been so full of love and surprises.

The city of Luang Probang itself was gorgeous and romantic. It is on a sliver of land between two conjoining rivers (the Mekong and the Nam Khan) and has a very strong French influence, as well as breathtaking views from any side of the city. We had a wonderful 4 days there, filled with an aqua blue waterfall, lots of walking, biking and exploring, massages, shopping, chilling in cool restaurants and bars, meeting and talking with both travelers and locals, and just soaking up the magic of the town, and it really had magic.

I could go on forever, but I will end here for now. We continue to miss our amazing friends and family in the US, and are constantly thinking and talking about all of you. we love you all and will see you in 2 1/2 short months <3


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