Friday, 15 November 2013

Six months in Lao

So it has almost been six months since Gavin and I first arrived in Vientiane, Laos, and 5 and a half months since we arrived in Pakse, in the southern province of Champasak. So I thought it was time to write a quick blog and let you know how we are faring here....especially seeing I have been so slack (this blog has actually been edited from one written and not published about four months ago - whoops!)

Pakse Family
So many times when you travel, your friends become family.  Jess, the AVID volunteer who was already in Pakse when I arrived, put Gavin and I in touch with all the right people and instigated the formation of "The Pakse Crew" - a close knit group of expats, some volunteers (or vollies as Jess would say), current and retired NGO workers, English teachers and travellers to boot.

We have regular get-togethers, often at a favourite grilled duck restaurant "Poptavanh's", overlooking the Mekong on a Friday evening. Any event is a good event for dinner or lunch together though, and we have been known for gathering when someone is going away for a couple of months, a week for work training, or even just going away for a night or weekend (Pakse is very exciting, as you can see). Watch this space for updates of the up and coming "Gin and Tonic and Tutu Party"....

Myself and fellow AVID volunteer Jess
Renting a house
Gavin and I were homeless in Pakse for quite some time. A rental in this town has been very difficult to find and the volunteer who was already based here, Jess, set a high standard in the lovely home she snagged when she arrived. In total we have viewed 7 properties, ranging in price from $75 to $600, from unfurnished studios to a six bedroom furnished home. Furniture is expensive, so while the rental cost is definitely cheaper, we're pretty sure it won't be worth the effort unless it's an amazing home. Eventually, Gavin bartered down the $600 6 bed house down to $450 and we have a German housemate, Maria, who is helping to share the costs - more on the house in another post!

Our house in Ban Tahai, Pakse

During our initial stay we settled into the Nang Noi guesthouse quite nicely, despite the lack of airconditioning and limited living space. The owners are amazing - we now think of them as family! They even helped us to look for more permanent accommodation :)  and have one of the best value breakfasts in town - 20,000 LAK for two bread rolls, a massive omelet, fruit and coffee or tea. Gav and I split it between us and we're plenty satisfied - we still go back for the breakfast!

It has not been difficult to convince Gavin to eat out on a regular basis, but I have certainly missed having my own kitchen and have been making the most of the one in our new home. It is definitely cheaper to cook for yourself!

- Restaurants -
In terms of restaurants, most of which are located along the main highway 13, we have regular haunts at two Indian restaurants, Nazim's and Jasmine, a Viet-Lao Pakse institution called Daolin (awesome value fruit shakes) and Delta coffee for dinner. Delta has some of the best western food in town (awesome chicken diane, pasta and pork schnitzel), although it's hard to go past the freshly made burger at Xuan Mai (you can actually watch them mince the meat and cut up the potatoes to order! Every meal at Xuan Mai seems to be freshly made, one of the reasons it tastes so good, but be warned, when they're busy things can go haywire). Initially we were eating a lot of western food here and were spending about $10-$15 a day (although we're cutting that down now we have a kitchen).

- Street food -
The street food here is good, hasn't caused anyone I know here grief, and is the cheap option. Cheapest quick meal for me is 5000 LAK (less than $1) - which is a bread roll filled with a pate of some sort (I don't think about it too much), a bit of veg and sauce (with or without chilli powder). I often grab these when I'm running late to work in the morning, but it could do for a small meal any time of day.A couple of grilled chicken skewers and sticky rice will set you back around 8-10,000 LAK ($1.20-$1.50). Fresh rice paper spring rolls are about 4 for 6000 LAK on the street, 10,000 at the market, and 20,000 for a bag full of fixings and rice paper so that you can roll away at home (makes about 8 to 10). There is a lot of really good deep fried street food out there - including something Gavin likes to call "Lao KFC" - if we don't watch ourselves we could end up a little fatter (but certainly happy) than we intend!

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