At sunrise we took a look at the local market, to see what delights were on offer for us. Bird flu is still an issue here, and is expected to be for a few more months, so the usual supply of chickens at the market was absent, and instead all kinds of different animals were on offer – only some of which we could identify. As well as squirrels, there were rats, bats, deep-fried grasshoppers, snails, tadpoles and a strange animal that looked like a bald porcupine, being sliced and diced in front of our eyes. Everything was laid out, alongside all the usual cabbages & chillies on banana leaves.
Later in the day we went on an hour long river trip, meandering through the hills and watching life carrying on on the shores. Although Laos is a communist country, there seems to be a huge private economy here, with few of the outward signs of communist states (for example, unlike most, there are very few people wearing uniform here). In town, one example is the bamboo bridges built across the river which divides the town from outlying villages. As the rivers drop at the beginning of the dry season, two separate bridges are built by competing groups, who then charge locals and tourists a few thousand kip to cross it and keep their feet dry. They looked a bit wobbly, but once we’d seen motorbikes riding across them, we knew that the appearance was deceptive.
We saw lots of life on the river – small boys fishing and searching for snails for the market, and old ladies gathering ‘sea weed’ – bright green spirogyra to be dried and sold in the market (apparently it’s fried or boiled into rice porridge for breakfast – mmm!). We also passed flotillas of other backpackers, taking the 3-hour drift down the river in inner tubes, stopping only to buy a cold bottle of beer.
Emily continues to be a fussy eater, refusing anything that she may have eaten enthusiastically before (oh, how I remember when rice was her favourite food – but that was in England, before we got somewhere that it is dead easy to get – now she’s decided she doesn’t like it). But she has finally arrived at the conclusion that she likes eggs – two, fried or boiled – for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Meanwhile, Charlotte tucks into noodles, stir-fried vegetables, and all things Asian.