Well here I am laying on my bed in a hotel in the capital of Laos, Vientiane making my first proper blog entry in over a week. What a week it has been!
I left Bangkok on a small turbo prop plane bound for Laos on appropriately enough an airline called Laos airlines. 1 hour later and I was waiting in the cue for my visa. It costs $30 US for a visa and you are meant to provide 2 photographs but I couldn’t find mine (there ended up being under the laptop in the computer bag) but they didn’t seem to mind and gave me one anyway. Perhaps it was because I had been here last year, who knows.
I only had 2 jobs that I needed to achieve that afternoon and that was to exchange some Australian money to US dollars and Laos Kip.
The Laos are much better at mathematics then the Thai people as they accept the dollar, kip and Thai baht all over the country and are very quick at working out the appropriate exchange rate.
The other job was to buy a Tigo sim card and walk to their office to get my phone and laptop set up to be able to access the internet. I got there only to find out that it was a public holiday and the office was closed! I couldn’t believe my luck! I tried calling them 2 days later to get it done but they insisted I had to attend their head office in person to get it organised.
As the buses to Lak Sao (where I was headed) departed at 5,6 and 7 am I wasn’t going to be able to make it the next day either.
The next morning found me on the 7am bus (you didn’t think I was going to get up any earlier did you) bound for Lak Sao. Lak Sao is in the Bolikhamxai province and is due east of the capital although you have to follow the winding Mekong river for half the way.
Some of you have no idea what I am doing here so let me briefly explain.
My brother and I plus a third party (lets call him Sammy) have formed a company and we have been doing research for the last two years regarding a tree known as Agarwood. We have been buying plantation trees from a few local farmers and using some new technology which injects a stimulant into the tree which forces the tree to make small amounts of dark wood which is what we wish to sell. In the past these trees have been illegally cut down in the search for this rare dark wood and now there are almost none left. There are plenty growing in plantations but apart from this technology no one has been able to work out how to produce the dark wood. We believe these kits work and purchased some as well as some trees two years ago and now was the time to harvest them and to see what results we had achieved.
We had lined up a team of 20 carvers and Paul Sammy and I arrived to direct traffic.
We have leased a research block for 10 years and next door to that is a house where the carvers worked and the carvers from out of town lived as well as Paul.
We also had 2 cooks/cleaners to keep us and the team all well fed.
The owner of the company who provided us with the kits plus 3 of his staff where also there, all up a team of around 30 people so it was quite a circus!
My bus was full before we even left and the first stop was 2 kms down the road outside a plastic chair shop where the bus driver jumped out and purchased about 20 chairs for the people standing in the aisle to sit on. I was lucky as I ended up with 4 young girls from Holland sitting in the aisle next to me so it was good to have someone to talk to for the duration of the trip.
The trip took 7 hours and I called my brother when I arrived and he came and picked me up from the bus station a few minutes later. The farm is about 4 kms from town along the main road to the Vietnam border which is 30 kms away.
It was great to see him again as it had been 6 months since we had last been together. After a quick catch up it time for me to have a crash course on the Agarwood game and find out what they had learnt in the 4 days that him and Sammy had been there.
More to come….
A good map of Laos can be found here.