Assistance to Laos, 7-13 December 2008, Mac & Sunee Thompson
"Where your money is going!"
We visited four projects during this trip, two follow-ups and two new.
Map of NE Laos at the photo url below, and there is always Jim Henthorn's super map scan project as a resource at: http://www.nexus.net/~911gfx/sea-ao.html
Sunee and I drove up to Nong Khai on 7 December and took a taxi over to Vientiane. After arranging for a 4WD pickup rental on Monday morning, we headed up to Phonsavan on the PDJ. It was roughly a nine-hour drive. On the way, we passed through some old towns with names familiar to "old Lao hands”: Phon Hong LS-133, Vang Vieng L-16, Moung Kassy LS-153/249, Sala Phou Khoun LS-260, Moung Soui L-108, and into Phonsavan, the capital of the Plain of Jars in Xieng Khouang Province. We RONed at the Nice Guest House, a place we knew was good as we had stayed there before. While there are a number of restaurants in town, we mainly ate at the Craters Restaurant, which is now run by several Vietnamese folks who are still learning Lao. It is right next to the MAG office. (The Mine Advisory Group - the UXO clearing folks).
It was cold up there, at least cold for us. It was about 61F in the room at the guest house, got down to 58F in the morning, and was 48F outside! Sunee's first stop was the morning market for another jacket, an import from China costing seven dollars. That gave her five (5) layers for warmth.
We ran into a group of eighteen Thai on BMW motorcycles passing through. They came in via Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang, going on to Vientiane, Pakse down south, then back to Bangkok via Ubon, a several thousand kilometer trip. They were nice folks but they must have iron butts, and I know a trip like that is not for me.
On the way back from Ban Phak Khae, Nong Het, out near the Vietnamese border, we stopped for some good pho soup at a place in Muang Khoun, aka Ban Ban. We saw a really interesting truck quite a few times during our road trip. I think it was an import from China but perhaps based on Japanese technology. Take note of the four front wheels. They all turn together, which makes it easier to get around sharp curves in the roads, which are abundant in Laos.
We made a quick visit to jar Site 1 for a photo op, which I will send to the PARACHUTIST Magazine. They have started a page of the magazine spotlighting interesting places around the world, and certainly the PDJ and the jars are interesting. Take notice of the cave and the "instant fish pond" at this site.
We spent Tuesday and Wednesday morning visiting two school sites. Mr. Art, my main contact in Laos on education related projects, and Mr. Sounduean of the Xieng Khouang Provincial Education Office accompanied us.
Plain of Jars area:
Follow-up to Ban Phak Khae, Motion 16-08, funded during our May 2008 visit:
Proposed: Rehabilitation of an existing 25 year old wood school building at Ban Phak Khae, Nong Het District, Laos. The village is east of Phonsavanh out on Rt 7 almost to the Vietnamese border. This was funded for $1,220.
The project is complete and includes new roofing tin, a cement floor, new wood for portions of the building, furniture, and a partition to create a small library at one end of the building. The school changed the concept of the project to provide for a teacher prep and meeting room, also to be used as a spill-over classroom as needed. The library is a good idea. The books and portable bookcases are not "ours." The "before" photo shows that the building was pretty much stripped down prior to the rehab work.
FYI, just behind the school is a small community forest that will be used by the students. It was recently cleared of UXO. Some 4,000 "bombies" were found in a 2,000 square meter area! This hilltop was pretty heavily hit pre-1973 as it contained an army camp. Several of the new roofing sheets on the school were damaged by shrapnel when the UXO people blew some of the bombies in place. Note the two UXO posters, which are common in most schools in Laos. There is still a lot of stuff laying around or buried and we need to keep the kids aware of the potential problem.
New project, Ban Phosy, Motion #39-08:
Proposed: The Phosy Primary School is to renovate one room in the old building for use as a library and a Life-Skills study area. This village is about 3 km south of Muang Khoun (old Xieng Khouang Ville, L-03), a 30 minute drive south of Phonsavan. Project funded for $1,512. NOTE: There was a $250 private donation for this project from an outside source, the cousin of a former USAID/Lao friend of mine and Art's.
The kids of the school were happy as classes were dismissed for the day because of our meeting with the district, local, and school officials. A contract/agreement was signed by several parties on the Lao side and me on behalf of the TLCB. Of note, one of the signers is a woman "nai ban," or village chief, which is not very common in Laos, or in Thailand. Following the school visit, we went to the head teacher's house for lunch: sticky rice, veggies, pork, chicken, Beer Lao, and a couple shots of "lao Lao." Ugh, it’s still hard to take that stuff. We returned to the road heading south, via the old wat at Muang Khoun.
The trip on to the Long Tieng valley took a day and a half and an extra night on the road in a hotel at Paksan, L-35, much longer that the six to eight hours I had hoped for. I had looked forward to being able to make a river ford at Tha Vieng, LS-13, and head directly west about three hours to Xaysomboun/Moung Cha/LS-113 to arrange for additional furniture for Long Tieng. This didn't happen. There is a light cable-stayed bridge for motorcycles and people to cross the river, but it was not suitable for a pickup. Our valiant driver, who has been with us for six trips so far, volunteered to wade the river to check out the deep spot in the channel. When the water got waist deep and running fast, he gave up. Later we ran into several spots under construction, by a Vietnamese company of all things. Thus, we headed south another five hours on some pretty rough roads, spent the night, and the next day headed back north on the roads to Xayxomboun via Thabok on the Mekong. Perhaps the river will be down enough for our next trip, this being the dry season with no rains until May.
We had lunch at the pretty good local restaurant at the Xaysomboun market, shopped around a bit, then hit the furniture maker to order additional school desks and stools for Long Tieng. Take a look at the high tech transport for the Sat dish headed for someone's house and the local "bus" transport for the area. There are a couple more large buses that make daily runs back and forth to Vientiane and to the large Hmong town of Km 52, on Hwy 13N.
We had initially planned to RON at Xaysomboun at the Phu Bia Hotel where we have stayed several times before, a good enough place. By the way, when we are upcountry we do like three things in guest houses we use: #1, hot water; #2, a sit-down crapper for me; #3, Sat TV for Sunee. Often we get all three, sometimes two, and rarely one. It's the "nones" that I don't like, but we have stayed at those too.
We decided to head west to Houay Kham, the "Gold Mine Junction" where the road to Long Tieng splits off to the north. There are several guest houses here, including one of the "nones" we stayed at last year. We checked on a new one, the Villa Nam Ngone, which opened last year. It was Great!! It had all we wanted, plus a real enclosed shower, great view in the afternoon and early morning with the ground fog. They brought dinner to the room from a restaurant about 100 m up the hill. It was one of the best places I have stayed in Thailand or Laos.
The next morning we were out early, had no breakfast, and hit the small morning market and bought some eggs and veggies to take up to Long Tieng for breakfast there. We were on the road at 0700 hours for the two-hour trip to LT.
Long Tieng Valley:
We arrived at about 0900 hours with breakfast done up at the pho shop. The "main man" we had wanted to see had already gone over Skyline Ridge to Sam Thong, so we had to scratch the idea of joining him. Perhaps we can do that on another trip because there is a large school, funded by USAID back in the 1960s at Sam Thong that perhaps could use some assistance.
Electricity has finally arrived at Long Tieng!! The pho shop now has an electric hot water pot, a rice cooker, a drinks cooler furnished by Coke Cola, and best of all, a POPCORN machine! Civilization, I guess!! Cell phone service is expected in January, in and out to the world. No more SSB radios. I had a signal on my cell phone, but evidently the final circuits haven't been connected.
We met with the teachers of the two schools we have been working with, the Ban Nam Ngoua Lower Secondary School and the Long Tieng Primary School.
Follow-up to Ban Nam Ngoua waterline, Motion 30-08, funded during our August 2008 trip:
This project was budgeted for $400 but came in at $295. It looks good and includes a large water tank next to the two-squatter head, now in use by The Kids (tm). The villagers have done some good self-help work here with just a little input by the TLCB Assistance Fund.
Follow-up to Motion 29-08, Desks & Stools, 50 sets, Long Tieng Primary School:
There was a funding shortfall for this project during the August 2008 trip. The initial plan was for 70 sets of furniture, but funds were available for just 50 sets, which have been delivered. Note the small TLCB sticker on almost all of the desks. FYI, "almost," some have been scraped off as “kids will be kids.” This cost came in at $1,333.
New Project, Desks & Stools II, Motion 38-08:
This "new" project was for 20 sets of desks and stools to make up the shortfall of the August trip. It was funded for $600 ($550 for commodities plus $60 for transportation). The commodity estimate came in within budget and the transportation estimate was low. Diesel is still high up in that area, which is understandable given the eight-hour drive to get a fuel tanker up there.
Furniture will be ready for delivery by 30 December. An additional approximately $100 was handed over to pay for diesel and per diem for use of an army truck and four to six people to drive down to Xaysomboun to pick up the furniture.
As an aside, we invite readers to sign up with the Thailand-Laos-Cambodia Brotherhood group, www.tlc-brotherhood.org While this is mostly comprised of veterans, there is no requirement to be a vet to join and be a full-fledged voting member. Note the "Assistance" page at: http://tlc-brotherhood.org/thare.html Some $215,000 has been provided for small school support projects and other school-related items in the Udorn and Nakhon Phanom areas of NE Thailand, and starting in 2007, there are several such small projects in Laos.
Photos for this here: 2008-12 @ http://picasaweb.google.com/mactbkk/200812PDJLongTieng#
Photos for all trips here: All Trips @ http://picasaweb.google.com/mactbkk/?pli=1