We had a 10 hour bus journey to Lak Xao which was where we crossed the border from Vietnam to Laos and the next day we travelled to Vientiane, the Capital city of Laos, where we stayed for a couple of days.
It was here that we found the most amazing bakery called Joma and we ended up ditching the cultural stuff and sat here for most of the day, watching the world go by and eating as much as we could. I got chatting to the manager of the cafe and it turned out that not only was it the best place in the whole entire world for food but also the best place to work. The majority of the staff were girls who were in danger of being sold as sex slaves and had been taken in by the manager. They all lived with her and she taught them to speak English, to read and to write, to cook and to basically look after themselves. She said it was really hard to teach them that they were equal to men and should be treated with respect, particularly when they were raised to believe that men can do whatever they want to them. She said that after a few years the girls begin to buy themselves presents like jewellery or a scooter and then a few years later they’ll get married and their husband will take everything off them. I thought it was really sad but good that there are people out there trying to help (and make amazing food at the same time!)
Dara eventually prised us away from Joma and we went for a bike ride around the city. It was obvious that we annoyed Dara sometimes, like when we overslept, and I think that this was his form of payback. We went to a dodgy looking street stall for our bikes and headed into the city. It would have brilliant if it weren’t for all the cars. We saw some gorgeous temples and other buildings and a market at the top of a tower overlooking the whole city. The views were amazing and I kind of wanted to stay there so I didn’t have to get back on my bike and battle with the traffic.
Dara glided through all the cars and scooters like a pro, managing to zip around them, change lanes easily and always get through the green traffic lights without breaking a sweat. I wasn’t so fortunate.
If I ever tried to switch lanes I was suddenly surrounded by cars and motorbikes, feeling very vulnerable between the speeding vehicles that blocked me in. My bike was far too small for me which meant that it was nearly impossible to to take one handle off the handle bars and use hand signals because my bike would then veer into the traffic. I found that it was safer to simply stay in the right hand lane, keep my eyes forward and pedal as fast as I could and pretend that I wasn’t surrounded by crazy drivers who hadn’t even noticed I was there. The traffic lights were also all against me and turned to red as soon as I approached.
While on the bike ride we went to a rehabilitation center for people who have been injured by landmines. During the Vietnam war there were up to 90 million landmines dropped on Laos, that’s more than there were during the whole of the second world war. It is thought that there are up to 27 million bombs still waiting to explode so there are hundreds of people still being injured by them 30 years after the war ended. This rehabilitation center and charity was set up to help these people and to raise money for the people who can’t afford prosthetic limbs. This was so sad especially watching a video of a woman describing her little boy going off to play in the fields and never coming back because he stood on a mine.