Monday, November 28, 2011

Of course nobody wants to visit the Plain of Jars

Todays Vietnam Times says:
The Plain of Jars, the major tourist attraction in Xieng Khuang province, will be the focus of a promotional blitz after reports of lower visitor numbers recently.
Not a surprise. First of all the problem with this spot is that you are done in 1 hour. Have seen one jar means you have seem them all. Although there are 3 different spots, the experience is always the same. Then it comes to accessibility: This place is basically not accessible. Not enough flights, and travel by bus or car takes way to long. You are literally trapped there for at least one night. and there is nothing to do. No museu. No restaurants for tourists. No entertainment. Nothing. If the earth would be flat, this is the place were it ends. My concern is that again the Plain Of Jars will be promoted the way local authorities like to see it, not what actually international tourists expect. What is indeed a good development, if real is this:
In the past, tourist numbers averaged almost 3,000 people per month, of whom 80 percent were foreign visitors, but this number has dropped to 2,600 people, most of whom are Lao.
If locals really start travelling, then it is a good sign. I know what I am talking about: German people spend most of their holidays in Germany. Now comes the real bad news:
To ensure all visitors have a great time when they are here, especially in the coming Visit Laos Year, we are preparing some special events and also trying to promote the purchase of local products such as wood carvings and silk..
I haven't seen a single local event that met international tourist standards. The program is usually boring, you see always the same dances and cultural performances, and when it come sto local singers, it is getting worth. Be prepared of high-pitch-singing-but-never-hitting-the-tone-girls, as well as a moderator that shouts so loud as there wasn't a loudspeaker. Again, if this should attract more local vistors, I am fine with it. But the complain is about the decrease of foreigners, and it is time for those spots, to open up to international standards. (Just in case you expected a well balanced, polite and political correct article: That's the wrong place. I want to provoke, and I like to use irony without placing the irony tag every time when I use it)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Demand and Supply

"Small family producers in Savannakhet and Saravan provinces don't haveto worry about market access under the One District, One Product (ODOP) scheme, but are now struggling to meet overwhelming demand....The project, implemented by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, has helped to expand market access for local producers." (Vientiane Times) Actually, I bought the Beef Jerky, and they had no package date and no expiry date. Wonder what markets they want access. Also, if you can't supply the demand (common problem in Laos), what was the purpose of the project? Most of the products I saw are overpriced, like the honey, compared to other Lao producers.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Get a calendar, man!

If there is something that always bothered me than it is some peoples lack of using a calendar. It is kind of an irony that a short movie with the name "Calendar" just won at the film festival, yet people are not able to use one (including foreigners, by the way). It actually seems that beside company meetings people pretty much live as there is no next day. Deadlines are missed, appointments ignored or postponed in the last minute for not really important reason. Oh, and while I am already ranting, I experienced a surprising lack of communication skills as well. I wonder how people make business here when they never respond to an email (and I am talking about big companies). Is this pure arrogance, shyness or laziness. (Includes foreigners again). Get Google calendar, man!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

How are the dogs and cats doing in Laos?

I got aware of a group of people from Ottawa looking for funding to get a Vet to Laos to help dogs and cats.
As a pet lover and dog owner I was wondering what kind of help is needed in Laos?
From my observation there are not many streetdogs, at least in Vientiane. if there are strays, they are often in a good shape, since food is available everywhere. Yes diseases like rabies are there, but I did not hear of a significant outbreak.
In fact, what you see is that more and more people get the idea of a pet instead of a watchdog. I see more and more people walking a dog, and when you see how busy Dr. Kamdeng is these days, you see that there is a significant change in the way dogs are treatet.
For sure there is still more to do. For example, people here still don't spay and neuter there dogs. "Cannot" is what they say if I ask them. However, some give female dogs an injection to prevent them getting pregnant.
It seems that Lao people pretty good learn from each other. Treating a dog well has bacone a fashion, and this akey for success. There are to many organisations trying to educate, instead giving just support and a bit if advice when needed.
When I showed people in my street that my dogs listen to commands, they said uts because they are foreign dogs. When I showed them that it takes me five minutes toteach their dog the command "sit" they started thinking. In particular kids now trying to train their dogs, pet them, hug them and watching them if they want to run on the street.
That is another problem: since people are used to just open the gate and let the dogs out in the morning, they are at great risk getting hit by are car (or stolen by either people who want a dog or dog meat sellers).
So another afford might be to change behavior from open the gate to walk the dog, what is, as i said, already happening, but of course with the Lao pace.
I was thinking about starting dog classes where they learn commands, but where owners also learn about dog behavior, diseases and how to handle dogs well.
Another stereotype is that dogs in laos are afraid if people. they are actually not, they are just careful. If you waita bit, they will come closer, because they want to know who you are. I always show people my patience with dogs and many are surprised that at the end the dogs isn't scared at all.

What's your experience with dogs in Laos?

Monday, November 7, 2011

From Lao Bumkin: Murder Piracy Drugs and Warlords on Sleepy Upper Mekong

Murder Piracy Drugs and Warlords on Sleepy Upper Mekong:
Is that a blatant attention grabbing blog post title, or what?

No doubt they see a lot of strange things come down the river at Chiang Saeng, but the two Chinese cargo boats rudderless, crewless, and turning with the currents of the Mekong no doubt caught the attention of anyone watching the river earlier this month. Chiang Saeng is just downstream from the border of Burma, it is what passes for the beginning civilization in that part of the Wild East known as the Golden Triangle. Competing casinos in Burma and Laos vie for the baht of eager Thai gamblers. Though no longer the center of world opium production the poppy is still widely grown and the lawless Shan State in Burma is a large supplier of methamphetamine (ya ma) for South East Asia.

Above the two unlucky boats tied up at Chaeng Saen

I have a lot of photos of this part of the river because I like to take the fast boat down from Xiengkok to where there are roads at Muang Mom. Despite what it sounds like this portion of Laos is generally pretty quiet. Mostly the river sees few foreigners, there are no roads, no ATMs, no airports, or internet. The wide photo up on the header of this blog is actually looking up the river in the direction of China from Xiengkok.

For a couple hundred or more kilometers above Chaing Saeng the Mekong runs between Laos and Burma on it's way from China to the sea.  Xiengkok half way up has a Lao border patrol man watching the river with a very tired eye. The "port" is simply a place where the rocks jut out into the river giving boats a place to anchor in slack water.

Leaving the slack water in Xienkok early 09

The Chinese blasted a channel in the rapids deep enough to run cargo boats most of the year, and it's a regular roller coster ride between the mountains. Chinese cargo boats for now are more profitable than trucking cargo the long way around from Jihong to Chang Rai vial Mengla, then somehow across the river at Huay Xai. Maybe once the bridge outside of Huay Xai is complete boats will stop running.

Chinese cargo boat exiting the rapids above Muang Mom headed upstream. "rocks as big as houses".

For the unfortunate crewmen on the two cargo boats that ride was their last, a dozen Chinese crew were tied up, executed, and thrown in the river.

Above the same Lao freight boat we saw leaving Xiengkok about to enter the rapids below Xieng Dao (I think)

Newspaper accounts attribute the violence to a warlord not receiving protection money from the Chinese. They sure were quick to add a name to the crime too, but a name with freinds at the highest levels within the Burmese military. Who knows, I sure don't.

From the Irrawaddy:

Over the past two decades, three ethnic armed groups from Burma have attempted to control the Mekong River route through the Golden Triangle. The first group was drug lord Khun Sa’s Mong Tai Army, followed by the UWSA and the Shan State Army (South) led by Yawd Serk.

“All were pushed back by the Burmese army,” Khunsai Jaiyen said. “Unless they had the support of the local Burmese authorities, Naw Kham and his men could not survive in this area.”
I have a hard time keeping all the names and armies straight, all I know is that I've never had an inclination to step foot on that part of Burma. The closest I've come is fueling up on a fast boat.

It used to be that you could catch a ride on the freighters if you wanted a slow, cheap, way to go to Jihnong China that didn't involve airplanes or the long go around to Boten.

Now there is a fast ferry that looks like below.

167km from the border of China 1/09 early morning fog

In that same article a journalist tells of being extorted for money by the same folks.

“At the time, Naw Kham’s men were on three speedboats. They cut off our boat and boarded it,” he said. “They were well armed, and some of them wore masks. They made us kneel with our hands on our heads. Then they took all our money.”
The speed boats are very fast, basically an auto engine with a propeller at the end of a long shaft pushing a very light weight flat bottomed boat.

 The wind in the face is strong.

And lastly a very short video to get an idea of the speed of the things.

The striped bag is some of my new designer luggage.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Posters, posters, posters everywhere

All my life, at least since I am 16 year old, I was organizing events, and part of this was advertising them. We usually did that with posters. But we always followed one rule: Ask before you stick a poster on someones property. When We were not able to ask, because we did'nt know the owner, we built our own stand, and, with permission of the community, placed them next to the street. In Laos, you see more and more posters stickes on fences of constructions site, on phone company boxes, lantern masts, everywhere. I was told police was already complaining. What is really sad, is that foreigners who should know better how dirty a city looks like when everyone uses everything as advertising space, are the ones who pollute a lot. See the picture I took opposite True Coffee. I can't believe there is a lack of legal places to advertise.