At Home In Laos? |
Dec. 29, 2008
Monte Carlo, Monaco
- Diesel-powered Water Buffaloes, Minor Wives, And French
Baguettes...Welcome To Laos...
- Top-notch Medical Services For U.S. Veterans In Escazu...
- Buy For 100,000 Euro On The Cote D'Azur?...
- Where Can You Drink The Tap Water?...
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Dear Overseas Opportunity Letter Reader,
Intrepid Correspondent Paul Terhorst sends his first dispatch from Laos
"I'm in the northern Lao hill country, my first stop on a three-week overland
trip through Laos. I'm traveling with friends Roger and Naree, who speak Thai,
somewhat similar to Lao.
"Our first night, still in Thailand, we stopped at the home of the
Rico Foundation, a foundation to help rural Thai kids. The next morning we
took a bus to the border, crossed the upper Mekong River in a long, narrow boat,
climbed up the bank to the immigration office, and paid US$35 for a Lao visa on
arrival. We were in.
"Until 17 years ago, Laos was closed to foreign visitors. Now several hundred
Westerners arrive every day. Immigration at both airports and at land borders
has become routine.
"We spent the night on the Lao side of the border (Ban Huay Xai). Early next
morning we took a local bus, packed with both passengers and freight, to the far
north. Roger and Naree chatted with the driver, and, at the lunch break, Roger
translated for me.
"'This driver has four daughters, and his wife is pregnant. If she has another
girl, he says, he's taking on a minor wife. He's sick of girls, girls, girls. He
wants a boy. If his minor wife bears him a son, he'll leave his first wife and
take the minor wife as the main wife.'
"He wouldn't abandon the girls altogether, though. They'd bring a good bride
price when they married, a minimum of US$1,200 a head in gold and money.
"During the trip, I saw funny-looking vehicles, wagons attached to an engine.
See pictures. I asked about them.
"'Those are single-cylinder, diesel-powered water buffaloes, much better than
the real thing. Water buffaloes get sick, they move slowly, and sometimes they
refuse to move at all. These modern motorized buffaloes make so much more
"After five hours of winding through the hills, through dozens of small villages
of bamboo houses, we reached our destination, a town (Luang Nam Tha) near the
border with China. I stayed in a fine, new guesthouse (Khamking Guest House) on
the main drag, Seven U.S. dollars a night for clean, private bathrooms, good
insulation, and beds with quilts--nights are chilly up here.
"Next I went directly to the open-air, dry-goods market to buy two pairs of wool
socks. The vendor spoke only a Chinese dialect--Hokkien, maybe?--but Roger
helped with sign language and a 'baa, baa' sheep sound. The vendor quickly
figured I was asking for wool socks and produced the goods.
"For dinner, we chose a place that had a big sign: 'Chinese Restaurant.' Naree
speaks Mandarin, but, again, the cooks and waiters there spoke an unintelligible
dialect. They understood the word menu in English, but they shook their
heads. There was nothing like a menu available. I went over to a table where
four or five Chinese men were eating a good-looking fish in red sauce, spiced
with peppers and star anise. I pointed at the fish, and the waiter nodded.
"Naree went into the kitchen, looked around, pointed at this and that, then
returned to our table. 'All set.'
"We feasted on the big red fish, stir-fried eggplant with sauce, tomatoes and
onions, and skinny yellow noodles stir-fried with broccoli and chicken. Somehow
the flavors seemed totally new to me, perhaps because of the star anise.
Delicious. (Directions: Coming out of the night market on the main road in Luang
Nam Tha, turn right, walk two blocks, and look for the 'Chinese Restaurant'
"Normally, I'm reluctant to order the way we did, without a menu and without any
idea of cost. Vicki and I have been ripped off doing that. I figure I might
accidentally order some rare, expensive delicacy whose subtleties would be lost
on me. But that big red fish looked wonderful, and, in the end, the bill for the
three of us, with plenty of beer, came to US$15.
"We could have dined for much less. Common dishes here, for example, fried rice
or noodles with vegetables and either chicken or pork, cost about a buck. More
elaborate platters cost maybe two or three dollars, with fish a bit more. An
extra large beer costs about a dollar.
"And Laos offers a special food treat: baguettes, sold on street corners. Laos
used to be a French colony, part of French Indo-China. The French taught the
Laos to bake baguettes, and they're still widely available, 30 cents each."
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"The tap water is good to drink in Panama City,
right? How about in El Valle?
"Are there any cities in Ecuador or Nicaragua
where the tap water is ok to drink?"
-- Mark T., United States
Right, dear reader, the water from your tap is drinkable in Panama City...but,
no, generally speaking, not elsewhere in Panama.
And, no, the water is not potable anywhere in Nicaragua or Ecuador. Think
"Costa Rica's CIMA Medical Center in Escazu (a suburb of San
Jose) is a medical facility superior to anything in the U.S. In the main lobby
is an office specifically for handling services for U.S. veterans.
"The medical center's headquarters are in Dallas, Texas, and it is
connected with Baylor Hospital in that city. Go the web and search for 'CIMA
Medical Center, Escazu,' and you will find a treasure trove of information and
photographs. One website shows a photo of the facility and gives details about
the veterans services offered.
"Please share this information with your readers."
-- Nell G., Costa Rica
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