Words By & Photos by: Katherine Khaw
I have many lives. While this statement may alarm many, it is nothing extraordinary. After all, as an avid reader, I see myself in the lives of the characters I meet, and even in the characters that I do not. With every twist and turn, my mind will take a part of them away with me for always.
Even so, I possess a distinct peculiarity: there is no will to travel, though I have traveled far with my never ending perusal. Comfortable and unperturbed, this state of mine has been challenged when I signed up for this year’s study trip, namely In Search of Vientiane & Luang Prabang. 13 days have been scheduled for this excursion, dating 25 June to 7 July.
Before my days as a student traveler truly commenced in Laos, I prepared for it as well as I could. By this, I meant information about the country, my luggage, and our dance that will be showcased during the trip. As I am not the best dancer and I was going with a majority of persons that I did not know personally, worries brewed. Plus, it would be my first official trip without any family members accompanying.
With the semester flying by, nonetheless, the moment I’ve been waiting for (with a mild dose of dread) made its appearance. Well-meaning goodbyes afloat, I found myself on a flight to the Southeast Asian country that held my highest hopes and biggest fears. There were so many things for my mind to be anxious about, had I let it, for the mind of an introvert runs well beyond necessary: establishing friendships, encountering the unexpected and wondering if there is a needed item left behind. Nonetheless, with great determination, I decided that I would do my best in all ventures. If blunders were found a part of my personality, so be it.
Upon arrival, the similarities and differences of the country melted into one. Like Malaysia, the weather was blistering hot and as per usual, the mosquitoes of every continent seek my blood. Aside from those forgivable negatives, I was excited and interested in what I would learn from this trip.
For I have no want to speak on and on with never-ending description, I will do my best to be concise. Initially, the student travelers were expecting the worst regarding our accommodation as our pathfinder Dr Yeoh had given us a few ‘talks’. I was pleasantly surprised, more so in the countryside as we lived in a beautiful guesthouse. We certainly arrived as guests, yet as we interacted with our friendly hosts Andy and Venus, we left as friends.
The view from Manichan Guesthouse
While it was definitely a study trip (we went to our designated venues for talks and we slaved at night to finish our appointed duties), we also had the liberty to do fun, memorable activities. As it is universally known, “work hard, play hard”.
How could I describe the beauty of the temples we visited? The prominent one would be Pha That Luang (also known as the Golden Stupa), which eventually became the national symbol for the city of Vientiane. Other attractions would include the COPE Centre, Lao National Museum and Patuxai (Victory Monument). All of these are imbued with rich history and culture.
Pha That Luang (Golden Stupa) basking in the Sun
The magnificent Patuxai (Victory Monument)
The view upon ascending the monument steps
With our feet, we found ourselves in the night markets, where a good bargain can be obtained and during our stay in the the countryside of Luang Prabang, we cycled almost everywhere. So many moments were gained in exceeding measure: the viewing of a black-and-white local movie, walking across the Bamboo Bridge, talking to students eager to learn English at Big Brother Mouse, understanding the textile industry (Ock Pop Tok), the beautiful Kuang Si Waterfall, visiting the Luang Prabang Elephant Camp and the talk of a learned man, Dr Robert Cooper on contemporary Laos.
The Bamboo Bridge disappears underwater during the monsoon season
Hello, dear silkworm
Eating bahn mi in view of the Kuang Si Waterfall
As for the dance I mentioned earlier? Well, while we danced during Cultural Night, we also used it for another exciting, bold initiative: conducting a flash mob in the streets of Laos. It is certainly a memory I would not forget.
This experience is not for myself to share or speak on the behalf of so many other brilliant minds. There are the Thai student guides, alumni and chaperones — as for the team, we come from various parts of the world: Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Korea, India and Pakistan. I return blessed, and I find myself unable to express well enough to give justice to this experience that I have gained.
As a result, this shared memory can be seen through the eyes of many through our collective WordPress blog. Do drop a visit and realise the enormity of what we continue to try to encapsulate for others to see in the form of videos, stories, and other creative forms of writing.
Oh, look! Told you that I’m an avid reader — I found Le Petit Prince in the local language at a bookstore