The Lasting Volunteer Memories of my Time in Laos

The Lasting Volunteer Memories of my Time in Laos

It’s been a few months now since my volunteering days in Laos concluded and quite often I find myself thinking back to the days of teaching English in Laos. Often those volunteer memories come flooding back as I reflect on what I enjoyed most when assisting in helping others have the basic understanding of the tricky English language (even myself I find it tricky!!!).

Time in Laos

Teaching English to the monks in Laos.

I think back to the memories that were created and as to be expected there were a number of special memories that always stick in the mind. Lasting memories from the experience of teaching English to the monks and learning how human and downright cheeky they really are. To teaching the primary students and the challenge of keeping the young minds interested, while frantically making a dill out of myself.

All fantastic experiences I will admit.

 

I can tell you now that it wasn’t the repetitive food we had at the Green Lion Organisation, or dorm style setup that didn’t provide any air-conditioning just a fan or two and made a good night sleep near on impossible. But heck, that was what we signed up for, to live in 3rd world kind of conditions, so we could really appreciate the gimmicks and comforts that were left back home.

 

Volunteer memories

The lasting Volunteer Memories of my Time in Laos.

 

So, what volunteer memories really sticks out the most?

 

The single memory that does come to the memory bank often, amongst a lot of cherished memories, was the time spent with the fellow volunteers. A bunch of men and women of all ages who were in the country for the very same purpose as everyone else, which was to give back to the world, where the help was needed most.

Volunteer memories

Fellow volunteers.

It is the greatest unknown when entering a volunteer house for the first time, what kind of people will I be volunteering with? It is one thing you can’t control, especially if going into the journey on your own, which I did on this occassion.

The questions run through your head, what nationality will they be? Will I get along with them? Do they have a sense of humour? What if I room with someone who annoys me or worse snores? Most times the thoughts are negative, that is human nature to have a little fear when entering the unknow, and to be honest those feelings should be quite the opposite as for any worry I had leading into my trip to Laos was unfounded.

Remember this little fact, each volunteer you meet has paid good money for the experience, it is not cheap. Whether is it teaching English or roughing it outdoors while constructing a building, they are all there for the common cause, to lend a helping hand. Therefore, each volunteer who you come across are honest, good folk who just want to assist in whatever way is required at the time.

Volunteer memories

Fellow volunteers and the hosts in Laos.

It was the same for my own experience in Laos, people came to the Green Lion Volunteer organisation from all over the world, there were people from France, Malaysia, Denmark, Holland, England and Canada. I was the sole Australian.

Whatever the nationalities and personality differences there may have been, it didn’t matter, I got along with each volunteer. We participated in sport, played cards, drank beer and sang karaoke. The whole time was a blast, even if there was a few boring down times, that just meant we had to pick each other up and get through the dull periods by saying something stupid to create a little laughter.

Time in Laos

Fellow volunteers at the Patuxai War Monument in Vientiane Laos.

What blew me away the most was the age difference, I got there expecting volunteers of all ages and that I heard is generally the case. Except not during my time in Laos, at the tender age of 35 (which I still find quite youthful), I was the oldest volunteer in my tenure by at least ten years with most other volunteers being college students and under the age of twenty-two.

At first it concerned me. I mean my own kids were not that much younger, thankfully the fears were put to rest quite early, because I quickly learnt that age was no barrier, we all got along and acted as youthful as one another, sure they partied longer than myself in Vang Vieng on the weekend, but that suited me just fine to have a little me time.

Volunteer memories

All smiles in Laos as memories are created.

Anyway, I marvel at the fellow volunteers I had the honour of meeting during my time in Laos with a lot of respect to them. To meet people so young but performing an honest deed and paying good money for the experience, including flights, was a real credit to them and for that there was a lot of respect.

When the program came to an end in Laos, you came to the sad realisation that it would probably be the last time you see any of them again, except for on Facebook, where everyone befriended each other. At the end of the day one common thing will always stick around, there were lasting volunteer memories that will always stay in the mind of the good and wild times that were had in Laos.

check out other articles from my volunteering experience in Laos.

An Epic journey of a Volunteer in Laos.

Why you should consider Volunteering abroad?

What to expect when Volunteering abroad.

Volunteer memories

Good times were had with a few Lao Beers in the evening.

 

 

time in Laos

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About Your fair Dinkum Traveller

Anthony Jury

Anthony Jury

Your Aussie - Asia Adventure
G'day mate, it's your Fair Dinkum traveller who ventures into Asia and around Australia. Stay tuned for epic destinations, great tips and awesome travel stories.Read more...

A Desire to turn a dream into Reality – Visiting Antarctica

A Desire to turn a dream into Reality – Visiting Antarctica

In my life of travel, I have been spoilt to visit many countries. I have gone deep into East Timor during peacekeeping times, taught English to the monks in Laos and stepped in to the demilitarised zone in Korea. They are only a few of the adventures I have had the privilege to go on thus far, yet still, I can’t be satisfied, because the bucket list is full of different adventures that include many destinations and visiting Antarctica is high priority.

Over time, I have marvelled at the footage of Antarctica while viewing a television documentary and I have envied other travel writers who have stepped foot onto the icy grounds and wish, if only that were me. Envy doesn’t help me get me there quicker though, only a desire through hard work and commitment can help make my own dreams turn into reality, and so I soldier on until I can finally tick off another bucket listed destination.  

Visiting Antarctica

A desire to cruise to Antarctica.

  I can only imagine the anticipation and the excitement levels of visiting Antarctica. Hopping aboard the mega cruise ship in Argentina and heading south to the planet’s most Southern Continent. Naturally, it would be bloody cold, but the idea of having such a unique adventure in an isolated environment would outweigh any severe chills. I like to assume that reaching Antarctica for the first time would be a case of, expect the unexpected. The excitement levels would still be in the air, that would never disappear, but now curiosity would filter through as you pass by the first ice glacier on your way to a whole new world. The biggest draw card of visiting Antarctica would have to be the wildlife. Those brave souls who were born to adapt to the cold climates and fight for their everyday survival in the harshest of climates. The Antarctic wildlife which would include, the Giant Killer Whales, the various species of seals that live in the south, and of course everyone’s favourites, the penguins. How amazing would it be to see those dazzling penguins in their natural habitat? Right now, I have Happy Feet on my mind. Penguins of AntarcticaPenguins of Antarctica. Picture from Pexels.   I have seen the range of activities on offer in Antarctica throughout various media outlets, what an adventure there is to be had in what I imagine to be the most spectacular scenery throughout the world.  Activities such as, kayaking through freezing waters with surrounding views, taking a hike in an unfamiliar climate, Having the guts to take on the terrifying polar plunge (no thanks), camping out on the ice, and of course, capturing stunning photography of a beautiful piece of land. Memories that will be kept forever. All this talk of Antarctica has me dreaming to someday visit to the isolated continent, when that is a possibility remains unclear. All I know is, that it’s  high on my bucket list and when I want something, I generally go out and make it happen. Are you dreaming of a visit to Antarctica? Or have you visited this amazing continent before? Please let me know either way on the comments below.

Antarctica bucket list

Visiting Antarctica is high on the bucket list. Picture by Pexels.  

 

Antarctica

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Anthony Jury

Anthony Jury

Your Aussie - Asia Adventure
G'day mate, it's your Fair Dinkum traveller who ventures into Asia and around Australia. Stay tuned for epic destinations, great tips and awesome travel stories.Read more...

The Tragic Tale Of Clusters Bombs in the Country of Laos

The Tragic Tale Of Clusters Bombs in the Country of Laos

Every country in the entire world has a story to tell in its long history, whether it is the good, the bad or simply tragic beyond any words. War has divided world for years and the sad truth it will continue down that sorrow path. For the land locked country of Laos in Southeast Asia, cluster bombs were tragic tale of war that claimed innocent lives and is still doing so to this day.

If you visit Vientiane City in Laos, be sure to stop by the COPE visitor centre, not only is it a source of artificial limbs and walking aids in the country, it holds a detailed museum that discusses the tragedy of Laos and its people during the Vietnam war and the following years. It is compulsory viewing to enter the movie room and watch feature length documentary on how the bombs destroyed villagers and their children.

COPE museum

COPE Visitor Centre

 

What are cluster bombs?

A single Cluster bomb is about the size of a tennis ball, the bomblets are then cased together into a larger bomb and ready to be air-dropped. Upon being released from the War planes, hundreds of bomblets are separated from their casing and cause explosion on impact, fatally destroying their intended target. Check out WIKI for more details.

cluster bombs

Cluster Bombs on Dispaly at COPE.

 

How it affected the Lives of Villagers

The problem, apart from the cruel act of war, was during the Vietnam war of the 1960’s and 70’s, the US dropped the cluster bombs over Laos, largely because they didn’t want to bring them back to base in Thailand. Millions of the cluster bombs didn’t detonate on impact and tragically the bombs remained live, buried and hidden from the locals who continued to live and farm in the area.

The villagers needed to farm and the children needed to play and in the years following the War, many lives were lost due to impact with the bomb with gardening tools such as a gardening rake or a shovel. Even uneducated children out having fun had contacted the bomb and were tragically killed or injured in the explosion.

If the bombs didn’t kill, at times the limbs were lost from the explosion and that is how the COPE Visitor Centre came about in 1997. A dedicated area for those who need artificial limbs and help in getting back to some sort of function with walking aids and wheelchairs.

 

COPE

Artificial limbs on display at Cope.

 

What has been done to make it right

To the United States credit, in the following years after the war, a lot of money was put into the project and teams were sent in to recover the undetonated bombs. The good news is the detonation rate has improved, but still to this day many cluster bombs remain live and buried in the soils of Laos.

To end the sombre article on a positive note, in 2016, Barack Obama became the first American President to visit Laos for the Southeast Asia summit and made a $90 million-dollar pledge to clear the unexploded bombs.

For great facts about the Cluster Bombs, check out this detailed website, or even better visit the COPE Museum in Vientiane and find out the tragic details for yourself. I know it left an ache in my own heart but it was great to learn about the history of a nation.

Laos War

Weapons of War

cluster bombs

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Anthony Jury

Anthony Jury

Your Aussie - Asia Adventure
G'day mate, it's your Fair Dinkum traveller who ventures into Asia and around Australia. Stay tuned for epic destinations, great tips and awesome travel stories.Read more...

3 Cultural Points to Keep in Mind When Travelling through Thailand

3 Cultural Points to Keep in Mind When Travelling through Thailand

Written By Ryan Biddulph

 

I’ve spent over 2 years in Thailand during my 6 year world tour.

Thailand is my favourite country on earth for a number of reasons. The stunning beauty of the place, amazing food, low cost of living and friendly locals all make for a dream destination.

Before visiting the Land of Smiles keep one thing in mind: Thai face saving culture is likely quite a bit different from how things are done in your home country.

Like all things travel this is not a good or bad thing. It is simply a group a people agreeing to live by a certain code, a code you should learn if you decide to spend time in that area.

Thailand

Culture is important within Thailand.

 

Keep these 3 cultural points in mind to enjoy your travels through Thailand.

 

1: Saving Face Is Critical

Thai culture is a face saving culture. Meaning you should never, ever intentionally demean, embarrass or humiliate anyone in a public setting. In a nutshell, be nice. Be courteous. Be polite. Even if you are waiting for 2 hours at immigration, put on a smile.  

Is it easy to adjust to a face saving culture as a new traveller to Thailand when your patience is tested? In most cases, heck no. Even if we don’t regularly abuse each other verbally in Western nations we are accustomed to complaining, whining and starting a verbal tussle or two when we’re having a bad day.  

I made the shift by choosing to smile – no matter what happens – and to say “thank you”, or “kop khun krap” in all situations. Over time, the cheeriness of locals and acceptance of the culture grows on you. To the point where you will eventually be living according to the Thai standard of “mai pen rai”, or “whatever happens, happens.” No big deal. Go with the flow. Accept and smile.

cultural

Even when things don’t go your way, remember your manners when in Thailand.

 

2: The Customer Is Not Always Right

In face saving culture it is all about not offending or humiliating anybody. So if you huff and puff and throw a customer service related hissy fit, at best, you will receive a smile and apology. At worst, you will be completely ignored.

You are probably used to “the customer is always right” type service in Western countries. In Thailand, the locals are kind, helpful and polite in all dealings but beyond a certain point the customer is definitely not always right. I love this mindset. Helps you to face, embrace and let go all business and service related stuff that arises. Enlightening.

I recall one of the first times we flew Air Asia in Thailand. My vegetarian wife ordered a special meal. She received a meat-based meal. After pointing out the situation to the stewardess the kindly woman said “Oh, I am really sorry”, with a sheepish grin, then continued with her work.

Was she supposed to Halo drop 36,000 feet from a plane to prepare and deliver a vegetarian meal to my wife? 

All she could do was apologize and move on, knowing how strict vegetarians almost never eat from dishes where the meat was simply removed/scraped off of the plate.

Thai customer service is pleasant, friendly and engaging. They will do their best to help but in some situations where things don’t quite work out the way you want them to work out, be at peace with the fact that folks will not bend over backwards and contort themselves like a gymnast just to make you happy.

Thai bar

Customer is not always right, even in a Thai bar.

 

3: Don’t Be Offended by Heartfelt Lying 

This point is about the toughest to accept for a Westerner like myself. Especially an American Westerner.

In the good old USA we are more direct and honest in our dealings. Factor in my New Jersey upbringing – where being honest and truthful are even more common – and I had a tough time understanding how Thai face-saving often involves lying to people to avoid disappointing individuals now, only delaying the inevitable disappointment.

Just accept it as not either good, or bad, but simply how it is in Thailand.

Example; someone may promise to meet you for drinks one evening but when the time arrives they do not show up. After 3 subsequent reschedules and no-shows you may think your alleged Thai friend is a real jerk, only to find out from a mutual friend that they hate to drink but didn’t want to offend you by telling you this.

When you learn to see the lie is not meant to offend but rather to be nice it helps to embrace a custom you may see as weird, or outright rude, or thoughtless in your culture so you can gracefully glide through the concept of “heartfelt lying” with a smile.

Koh Samui, Thailand

Thailand is a tourist paradise, but always resect the country’s cultural ways.

 

Your Turn

What cultural points can you add to this list?

How have you adjusted to face saving culture in Thailand?

Ryan Biddulph lives a life of Island hopping and is a travel blogger/Coach at Blogging From Paradise. Ryan is also an author of many E-books that can be found on amazon.

About Your fair Dinkum Traveller

Anthony Jury

Anthony Jury

Your Aussie - Asia Adventure
G'day mate, it's your Fair Dinkum traveller who ventures into Asia and around Australia. Stay tuned for epic destinations, great tips and awesome travel stories.Read more...
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The Experiences of Travelling Solo

The Experiences of Travelling Solo

Travelling solo was new to me. I had a lot of nervous energy leading into my trip to Bali and maybe a little guilt for leaving my family at home. Of course, I know any concerns were unjustified and while my family was not physically around, in this modern world of Skype and Facebook, they were only a phone call away.

Now the trip has come and gone, it had me thinking of my solo travel adventures in Bali. What was good about it? The bad bits? and the plain old awkwardness of it all. At the end of the day there were many different emotions, feelings and experiences to take from the trip (most positive) and I will share it with you in this article.

One thing I can assure you that is a fact. If you want to take the plunge and experience an adventure on your own, then do it. The memories will stick with you for a life time and you will appreciate those closest to you a whole lot more upon your return.

Bunbury, South West

Adventures of travelling solo.

 

The Initial Fear of travelling solo

Embrace it, because it won’t go away in the lead up to your trip, no matter how many times you are flying solo. Fear is a great commodity to have, it means you won’t have complacency in unfamiliar environment.

The fear will stick with you right until your arrival at the airport, getting through customs and if landing in a place like Bali, dodging the hundreds of taxi drivers desperate to give you a ride.

 

travelling solo

Embrace the fear of travelling solo.

 

The awkwardness of Dining Alone

Walking into the fine Sakala Resort restaurant all alone, it had me thinking of the Jason Segal movie, Forgetting Sarah Marshall. You know the scene, where Segal walks into the restaurant and Jonah Hill mocks him big time about being in the magnificent resort all alone and offering him a book to read to combat the boredom. Hilarious and it is how I felt (See the clip below).

It is a real awkward feeling when dining alone. Others are sitting together in groups, laughing and carrying on. Couples are rekindling their love in style and no doubt have further plans later in the night back in the room. It’s all the thoughts that come into your head and a little envy comes your way. You make a point from then on that the next time you dine, you do it when the restaurant is empty to avoid the embarrassment.

 

Learn the real locals

Solo travelling opens up your eyes to the others out there, the locals. It’s natural that when you are travelling with your family, your lover or in a large group, that you keep to yourself. It’s not that we ignore the friendly folk in their own country, but sometimes we do get caught up in our bubble.

Travelling on your own means you open yourself up to the locals and believe me that is a good thing. On a recent trip to Bali, I was able meet some incredible people, learn about their life, their background and culture. The experience in itself was fascinating. They were conversations I will always cherish.

travelling solo

meet the locals.

 

Take the freedom while you have it

Sleep in or wake up early. Drink at the bar and get home when you want. Take a day trip to an exotic location that suits your own desires. The freedom of travelling alone allows you to do whatever it is you want. And why not you have no one to answer to but yourself.

Although, at least for me, the freedom is only enjoyable for the short term. You do miss your family, a laugh with your kids, or cuddling up to the wife who is back at home. I am a family man and I know who I do prefer to take on my adventures throughout the world, even though it can’t always be the case.

travelling solo

Coffee time in amazing destinations.

 

Get some quality solo travelling tips from Amazon.

 

About Your fair Dinkum Traveller

Anthony Jury

Anthony Jury

Your Aussie - Asia Adventure
G'day mate, it's your Fair Dinkum traveller who ventures into Asia and around Australia. Stay tuned for epic destinations, great tips and awesome travel stories.Read more...

Dreaming of my Only White Christmas

Dreaming of my Only White Christmas

Don’t get concerned, I am not about to start singing Big Crosby’s White Christmas. I will need a few more drinks before I start singing. But the song does remind  me of my one and  only Christmas in the magic of snow.

I remember it as it was yesterday. The place was Muju, the country South Korea and it was breathtaking, bringing a whole new meaning to Christmas. At least for myself and family.

Fun in the snow.

Fun in the snow.

Why does it mean so much?

I am an Aussie, and that means Christmas is snags on a barbie, beer out in the esky, swimming at the beach as the melting sun scorches your skin and you are dressing down rather than rugging up.  Yes, Christmas in Australia doesn’t sound so bad, it’s great to be truthful. But you know the saying, a change is as good as a holiday.

Now I am not a winter fan, I despise it. The part of Australia that I live in come winter time gets cold, wet, windy and just plain miserable. But it doesn’t snow. And to me snow adds something extra to an occasion. A tinge of excitement, even happiness. I know it did for me and my family.

Others who live in such a climate may tell me I am crazy, perhaps you are sick of the snow, sick of the freezing cold and maybe you have the endeavour of having Christmas in the heat of summer. Not me however, how I would long for another White Christmas.

Family fun in Muju

Family fun in Muju

What is about Muju?

Muju was something special. Tucked away in the middle of South Korea, the scenery was divine. Mountains saturated the region with blissful white snow covering the peaks. It was a site to see.

The township was friendly, laid back and unique. It didn’t come with the hustle and bustle of capital city in Seoul, or the modern features. It had a small town feel about it, where all the locals knew each other and everyone wasn’t in a hurry.

Old ladies would stand in front of their own restaurants, willing people to come and eat at their shop, almost begging. The town itself offered plenty of little guesthouses, restaurants, ski shop and general stores.

Muju is spectacular in the white snow and ice.

Muju is spectacular in the white snow and ice.

Hiking is the number one thing to do in Muju along with skiing in the winter. And for good reason too. The breathtaking scenery as you slug your way through the thick snow, into the forest, up the mountain and along the valley was pure delight. Make sure you bring your camera as million pictures wouldn’t be enough in Muju.

Your only sense of modern in Muju is the Deogyusan Resort. A European style resort it is where you go for the ski slopes, fine dining and your only escape of Western food, not that you particularly need it when Korean food is so good. The resort is expensive but if you like being where the action is, you will be in the right place.

Deogyusan Resort

Deogyusan Resort

Christmas time in Muju?

It is different. You could easily be forgiven that Christmas doesn’t exist. There is little celebration going on in the township and decoration are limited. Still, it didn’t take away from the romance of a very merry White Christmas.

How could it? Everything was white, from mountain tips, to the trees, to the railings and houses. Then you add the enjoyment of making a snowman with the kids and of course snowball fights, it brings family fun goes to another level. The only type of fun you can only enjoy when snow is involved.

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If you do want a little Christmas touch, all you need to do is head to the resort. Decorations are on show and at night the resort is well and truly lit up and looking spectacular in its Christmas lights. Carols can be heard throughout the resort, belting out popular Christmas carols, whether it is in Korean or English, it doesn’t matter you still know the song and sing to the tune.

Now maybe other regions in the world do their White Christmas with a little bit more passion. I am sure it is the case. But it won’t stop me from having a very special attraction towards Muju and my only ever Christmas in the freezing snow.

Merry Christmas to all you travellers from your Fair Dinkum Traveller.

Muju lights up in Christmas