December 26, 2018 – Wednesday

Weather: 30 Celsius – Sunny

This morning, after breakfast at the hotel, John and Sam were set for their departure – luggages at the reception. They said goodbye to Sengkeo. With the driver Somphet, John, Sam, Ken and I went to the local bank for a payment transaction. Half-a-hour later, at 10 am, we were at the airport. John and Sam checked in, passed quickly customs and security. Au revoir dear friends. We will see you in Winnipeg.

Back to the hotel, Ken made a few phone calls, met some friends and members of his family. We talked to Toui, our contractor, about our next school construction project. We are glad to announce that we are getting closer to our target goal of CAD $55,000, thanks to the latest donations from Canada, USA, Australia and Laos. We are confident the construction of Nong Chung Primary School could start in the next few months. 

In the afternoon, we went to the Central Lao Post Office to have the certificates of appreciations wrapped and ready for us to bring with us to Canada. 

This evening - time to pack. We have to leave the hotel at noon tomorrow. Our flight will be at the end of the day. Destinations: Bangkok, Hong Kong, Chicago and Winnipeg.

December 25, 2018 – Tuesday

Weather: 31 Celsius – Sunny and hot

Merry Christmas! We woke up early for a special event. At 5:45 am, John, Sam, Ken and I were outside waiting for transportation at the Grand Hotel Riverside 2. A little truck full of passengers picked up people at Grand Hotel Riverside 1 – where we went.

At the site, the twenty something foreigners watched the preparation of the material. Yes, we were going on a 45 minutes hot balloon ride to admire the sunrise from high above. It was a first for John, Sam and Ken. 

At 6:45 am, the view was spectacular on the landscape, fields and trees under us, mountains in the background, and the bright shiny sun into the clouds. All was pleasant – experimenting a floating sensation, almost living in slow motion. We took pictures, videos or simply embraced the moment. It was a symbolic and personal way to say farewell to the enchanting Vangvieng. Thanks to John who decided to do this activity and invited us. 

Back to the hotel, we had breakfast. John and Sam went to rest in their room. John wasn’t feeling well. Possibly it was a reaction to the local food taken at the Na Yè village. Sometimes your stomach can be disturbed.

We left Vangvieng at noon sharp. And we arrived in Vientiane close to 4:30 pm. We were in familiar turf, at the hotel Douang Deuane. John and Sam planned to leave tomorrow morning. They wisely opted to go to sleep and recover as much as possible before the continuation of their trip in Cambodia and South Korea.

At 8:30 pm, Ken, Sengkeo and I went to the popular Suntara restaurant. The view over the river was so nice. Ken invited me to join his Lao friends, Chittakone, Malaythong and their son Ben, from Australia. They were donors for SKL and attended the inauguration of Ban Na Chantai in 2016. They had to leave tomorrow for Vietnam before heading back to Canberra. We were very happy to meet them and celebrate Christmas together, eating and drinking Lao Beer.

December 24, 2018 – Monday

Weather: 33 Celsius Sunny and very hot

After an early breakfast, we all left at 8 am. Sam was feeling better. With the bumpy roads, it took us an hour to arrive to Ban Na Yè.

Patiently waiting for our arrival school children, teachers, village people and representatives were happy to see us. After a brief introduction by a district education officer, the formal ceremony started at around 9:30 am with the speeches by the village chief, myself, John, and Vangvieng district manager. Toward the end of the formal ceremony, we presented them the scholar and sport items given by the Wasabi Group. And SKL gave $100 to the school maintenance committee to encourage them to save money for the school.

Following was the traditional Baci ceremony.  With a bottle of Royal Crown Whisky John brought from Canada we had fun exchanging drinks with the Lao people, who had their own« Lao Khao», a Lao hard liquor.

After a brief lunch, John and Sam distributed scholar items: notebook, pencil, pen, eraser, sharpener to each student. They were all very grateful. Sam distributed frisbees and showed them how to play. He made a little speech motivating them to use the sport items and practice activities: soccer balls and net, volleyballs and net, badminton kits, jumping ropes and frisbees.

After, at noon, we briefly visited an orange orchard just next door to the school. A nice personal way to learn more about organic orange plantation. Together we said an emotional Bye Bye to the Na Yè village. 

We were back to the hotel at 2 pm. We had a quick snack. Then John, Sam, Ken and I took a fun boat ride on the river around 4 pm. We walked around the park nearby with strange old rocks and natural plants. Back at the hotel around 6 pm.

John, Sengkeo, Ken and I and Somphet who’s accompanied by his friend, Choy, went for dinner at the lovely Villa Vangvieng restaurant. Sam was still feeling dizzy and decided to rest and recover in his room. We had another feast with traditional chicken soup, chicken laarb, Lao salad, spring rolls, bbq chicken and some wine.

On our way back to the hotel, John paid for a hot balloon ride. We will appreciate even more the splendid sunrise. But now back to bed.

December 23, 2018 - Sunday

Weather: 34 Celsius - Very hot

We all had a good breakfast in the building next to the hotel. But Sam was not feeling well today. He slept in his room to recover and be ready for tomorrow.

Ken, John and I, with the driver Soumphet, left the hotel at 10:30 to go to Na Yè. Ken made some phone calls because it was not easy, on a Sunday, to get some students and teachers. After another very bumpy road, we arrived to Na Yè at 11:30. 

We met teachers, students, talked with them and took pictures of children holding banners with the names of the donors. John appreciated the time we had to admire the landscape, check the school, the washrooms and the water pump. It was a special moment.

We came back to the hotel around 2:30 pm, bought some fruits and cookies for Sam. While John rested with his son, Ken and I went to meet a friend of us Philippe Després. He helped us for the inauguration of school n.2 Ban Non Somboun in 2010. Now he is living in Van Vieng with his Laotian wife. They have a small restaurant, the Lotus, and the Villa Boa Lao for tourists.

Just before 8 pm, John, Sengkeo, Ken and I went for a short walk. We ate traditional simple Laotian food at the Banana restaurant, sharing anecdotes about our childhood.

On our way back to the hotel, at 9:30 pm, John decided to have a haircut at one of the shops opened late. The new John smiling was ready for tomorrow inauguration. We all need a good night sleep.

December 22, 2018 – Saturday

Weather: 32 Celsius - Sunny and very hot

John, Sam, Ken and I had a big breakfast at the Banneton Bakery this morning. Then we prepared our luggage for the trip. We also spent some time helping John with his itinerary. 

December 26, John and Sam plan to leave Laos for Cambodia, visit around and return to Seoul for the New Year’s Eve celebration. They will be back to Canada January 3rd.

At 11 am, we left our hotel. At noon, our driver, Somphet, invited us to have lunch (soup, fish, vegetables) with a group of his former monk friends. It was a small – sort of New Year celebration. Now many of them have families and jobs. They have even formed a football team.

At 12:30 pm, we were on the road again, stopping here and there to stretch or buy things such  as «Khao Lam», sticky rice cooked in bamboo tubes. Around 3 pm, we decided to do a spot check Viengkham Secondary School, our 5th project which was built 3 years ago in 2015. We were pleased to observe how well they took care of the school, washrooms and deep-well.

After another three hours on damaged rocky roads, we arrived to Vang Vieng. At around 6 pm, we arrived at the Grand Hotel Riverside 2 by the Song river where we will stay for a few nights. It’s a big hotel, quite modern and very comfortable.

At 7 pm, we walked around the night market, saw a variety of very interesting articles. At 9 pm, we treated ourselves by having our dinner at Le Crabe d’Or, a chic restaurant by the river. We were back to the hotel at 10 pm to rest and get ready to go to bed. 

December 21, 2018 – Friday

Weather: 33 Celsius – Sunny and very warm

Last night, Ken, Noy and I went to the airport to welcome, around 11:30 pm, our special Canadian guests, John Loewen and his 15-year-old son Samuel. We were very happy to meet each other. They had a long flight from Seoul. As expected, they were quite tired and so glad to go to bed.

This Friday, we had another busy and productive day. After a good breakfast at the Banneton, we left to go to the printer to pick up some banners. John and Sam had their first experience on a tuk-tuk or jumbo. 

Then at 11 am, we had a great meeting with Tim Edwards, Chargé d’affaires and Head of Office, at the Office of the Embassy of Canada. Mr. Edwards gave us a lot of information and answered to many of our questions. We really hope to work together in a near future and for sure stay in touch.

At noon, it was time for lunch. John and Sam had their first local pho soup – among the best according to Sam. Then we went to the shop Les Artisans Lao. John and Sam bought some nice gifts and souvenirs. 

After that we visited famous traditional local places: Wat Sisaket Museum, Wat Ho Phra Keo Museum, That Luang stupa where Sam gave freedom to a couple of birds in exchange for some wishes. Then we went to Xiengkhouane Buddha Park. The impressive leaning Buddha statue and the Heaven & Hell pumpkin are always fun to contemplate. We had a tasty coconut ice cream before going, around 6 pm, to a terrace area by the Mekong admire the ending of the sunset, and get refreshments at the Smile Dee restaurant.

At 7 pm, it was supper time. At the Suntara restaurant, on the third floor terrace with a view over the Mekong, we had plenty of good food: spring rolls, grilled sirloin, sticky rice, spicy shrimp soup, turkey laab. Back on a tuk-tuk, we headed back to the hotel. John and Sam enjoyed greatly their first day in Vientiane, Laos. A lot to see, to learn and to appreciate. Time to rest and sleep well to recover in preparation for our departure to Vang Vieng tomorrow.

December 20, 2018 – Thursday

Weather: 32 Celsius – Sunny and hot

Today was a day to recover and adjust the plan for the rest of the trip. After a hearty breakfast at the Banneton Bakery, Ken and I were very busy writing emails to John, Debra and others. We prepared the banners for the Na Yè school inauguration. We had to order some to a printer. 

Then we reserved the hotel in Vang Vieng. It’s a popular time of the year for travelers – we had to shop around. Soon after we phoned to the reporter to remind him to send us the links of the SKL interview – once received we will post them on our website.

In the mid-afternoon, we took a walk around. We had a nice soup nearby. Ken offered me to learn a little bit about his childhood neighborhood. It’s been seven years, since his last visit in that specific area. 

Quite a few things changed, but there are still back alleys, buildings built by his father among others; the temple backyard where he played as a child; the neighborhood of Sengkeo, the wife of Ken, when they were youngsters; the neighborhood of the Phanlouvong family, where some members are still living, like a cousin and the sister of a childhood friend we met; the site of his primary school. A touch of nostalgia was in the air, in a nice and very good way.

We arrived at Ken’s brother house around 5 pm. After a short conversation with his family, we took a Jumbo ride back to the hotel. I started to work on the blog. Ken and Sengkeo went to meet friends for supper. 

John Loewen and his son Sam will arrive this evening at 11:30 pm. They are coming from Seoul (South Korea). We are quite excited and lucky to have their company for the inauguration of Na Yè school, near Vang Vieng. 

John and Sam will represent the Wasabi Group and friends from Manitoba (Canada). They accomplished a remarkable work, succeeding to fundraise the complete amount needed to build a school with furniture, washrooms, deep well and playground (value: $58,000 CAN), in three years.

December 19, 2018 – Wednesday

Weather: 26 Celsius Sunny

Today, Ken and I were invited to a special event at Phouvong Botanic Park where Hmong the New Year celebration was taking place attended by 30 visiting Hmong representatives from Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin, USA. We had the chance to talk to some of their leaders about SKL. Once again, the celebration included baci, food, dancers and fashion show.

In the afternoon, we spent some quality time with the advisor of Phouvong, Mrs Latda. Later on, Ken met some friends to talk about SKL and future projects, while I worked on the blog. 

December 18, 2018 – Tuesday

Weather: 26 Celsius Sunny, a little windy

It is a beautiful day. For breakfast, at the local eating place we were last night, we had a nice homemade chicken rice soup with an egg inside.

At 8:15 am, we left for Ban Kangxé --- Ken, Sengkeo and me (team of SKL), Mr. Phouvong, his lovely wife, Chanthone,  Phouvong’s advisor, Ms. Latda, the reporter, Mr. Lanohack and the driver Mr. Noy

Our contractor, Toui was right. After the rain season, the road going to Kangxé was quite damaged and rough. It was really bumpy. Noy, our driver, was super careful.

As we reached the village of Kangxé around 9:30 am, we had the great pleasure to discover the beautiful brand new school with new washrooms and deep well.  Upon our arrival, we were greeted by the chief of the village, distict education chief, village people and guests.

After a short exchanges of pleasantries, we hastily started taking pictures of school children holding thank you banners. Soon after, Phouvong and his wife also distributed to each student notebooks and various school items.

The inauguration ceremony started in earnest approximately around 10 am with the speeches from the chief of the village, Ken and I, and representatives from the district as well as the province. SKL team members and Phouvong and his spouse were called on to receive acknowledgement certificates from the Ministry of Education on behalf of our numerous merited donors. The symbolic ribbon cutting ceremony was followed by the traditional colorful Baci ceremony during which villagers attached strings around our wrists while whispering good wishes and blessings. Soon after, lunch which composed of rice, soup, larb, fish, crab, chicken, pork, beef, vegetables, omelet, were served.

Around 12:30 pm we said our goodbyes to the villagers and local authorities feeling satisfied of mission accomplished.

On the road back to Vientiane, we made a few stops, one to buy Lao sugar and salty treats on the sidewalk (fried crêpe, banana…).

We had planned to go to Pakxoun school where we arrived some 90 minutes later than expected at 6:30 pm due to bad road condition. Fortunately for us, the chief of the village has managed to gather teachers and some forty school children at the school. 

In order for us to distribute school and sports items donated by Debra Raine and Tom Burgess of Rainemakers Bond Inc. of California, USA, headlights from our cars were used to illuminate the place which makes it sort of surreal atmosphere. It was very appreciated.

Thirty minutes later we were back on the bumpy road. We stopped at Paksan for a quick supper at around 8 pm, in a cute Lao karaoke eating place. I had some spring rolls. We arrived in Vientiane at 11 pm, tired, but very much proud of a long prolific day. We were ready for a good night sleep.

December 17, 2018 - Monday

Weather: 26 Celsius - Sunny and windy

Early this morning, to travel light, we left some bags at the reception of the hotel. At 7 am, Phouvong, his charming wife and his team were at the Douang Deuane hotel. We were all aboard ready for a special trip – destination Savannakhet. Some segments of the long road were damaged, so the driver had to be very careful. Very bumpy road. We made a few stops, one for a quick dinner. We had a nice tasty soup. 

Around noon, we decided to go to Nong Chung, very close by. Nong Chung is the village - school for which we are fundraising money right now. The site of the actual delapidated school is wide and perfect for a new school. Shy and curious children were smiling at us. We met the chief of the village. He showed us an official document signed. We told him, we were getting close to our goal. Only $ 9,000 is missing. We are confident to find the money in the next few months, counting on the generosity of everyone.

We finally arrived to Sisomphone Guest House at Savannakhet at 4:30 pm. We checked our rooms. Then we prepared some banners for tomorrow – the big day – the inauguration of Kangxé School. At 6 pm, we went for a relaxing supper to a little local eating place. Back to the hotel, we worked on the blog.

December 16, 2018 – Sunday

Weather: 28 Celsius Sunny

Saturday evening, we were invited, at the last minute, to a big wedding - the nephew of a friend of Phouvong and Ken. It was an extravagant celebration – close to a thousand of guests with dancers. At least 15 friends of Phouvong and Ken were there. Ken was able to talk with a few of them. SKL was part of their discussion.

This Sunday morning, we visited Ken’s sister family. In the mid-afternoon, Noy gave us rendez-vous near by the hotel. There was a funeral ceremony for the passing of one of his aunt; a touching ceremony with monks. For us, it was another opportunity to meet people working for some international companies. Ken also met some friends. Back to the hotel, soon after supper time, we started to pack our bags. We are leaving early morning tomorrow for Savannakhet.

December 15, 2018 – Saturday

Weather: 29 Celsius – Sunny and very warm

This morning, around breakfast time, at the hotel, we started to revise the itinerary. We always have to be flexible and adapt to improvised opportunities and meetings, like today.

We finished to prepare the scholar and sport kits for the different schools. We added: blackboard erasers, frisbees, pencils. We also sent emails to Tim Edwards, John Loewen and to our friends Thep & Charles.

Then Saymongkhoun invited us to meet a former lycéen, student friend of Ken, Vanhleng. He was organizing a Baci celebrating the convalescence of his wife from an operation. Families and friends were reunited, playing, talking and mostly eating: delectable Lao soup, fondue with fresh beef, fresh fruits from the garden, wine from the daughter’s shop. It was another great occasion to promote SKL among acquaintances, and to discuss the great economic potential of Laos (bamboo, trees, fruits, etc.).

Back to the hotel, we worked on the blog. Ken went to the store to pick up the banners.

Tonight we were invited to a special event:

December 14, 2018 – Friday

Weather 26 Celsius - Sunny day

In the morning, Phouvong and his lovely wife invited us at their home for a delicious breakfast (soup, Laotian pâté, fish, local vegetables, salad, coffee and tea). Soon after Phouvong drove us to his impressive botanic garden – amusement park – 30 minutes from Vientiane. We visited quickly the beautiful themes’ gardens, discovering the small lakes, cascades, zone for ethnic villages, and much more in construction.

Then Phouvong did an inspiring speech in front of special Lao guests, about forty international representatives involved in a variety of organizations helping Laos in different ways. Suddenly Ken and I were invited to make a short impromptu SKL presentation. We were honored by the warm and positive reception from the guests, some from Canada. 

During the copious lunch, including a small dancing and fashion-jewelry show, we made some new interesting connections. We also succeeded to book by phone a meeting (December 21) with the Chargé d’affaires at the Office of Canada Embassy, Tim Edwards.

In the early afternoon, we were back to Ken’s brother house. We prepared the bags of scholar and sport items for Kangxé, Na Yè and Pakxoun. Ken took care of the printing of banners.

For supper, with Ken’s brother family, we went to Suntara restaurant, in the Vientiane Night Street area. We had plenty of Lao food to savour, with a great view over the Mekong river. 

December 13, 2018 – Thursday

Weather: 24 Celsius cloudy.

It was a busy and very efficient day. Ken made a series of important phone calls this morning.

Now we know the two Inauguration’s dates:

Tuesday, December 18 – Kangxé School

Monday, December 24 – Na Yè School.

With the assistance of the Phanlouvong family, we went shopping. We bought all the sport and school items necessary. Some will go to Pakxoun, a previous school, thanks to Rainemakers, Debra Raine from San Francisco. Some will go to Kangxé, thanks mostly to Phouvong Jewelry, and also to Chantai Taillefer, her nephew Tom and nieces Kim and Krista. And some will be given to the Na Yè students, thanks to the Wasabi group.

Sport Items refer to: soccer balls and net, volleyballs and net, badminton sets, jumping ropes and kator balls.

School items refer to: notebooks, pens, pencils, erasers, rulers, sharpeners.

We already have blackboard erasers, thanks to the St. Boniface University.
Then we purchased a wooden cabinet where all the sport items will be safely put, for the Na Yè school.

We left all we bought at Ken’s brother house, before going back to the hotel and get a delicious Lao soup at a small restaurant near by the hotel.

Around 2:30 pm, following a recommendation of Phouvong, Ken’s friend, we met Phaylam Oudomkham and his team, director of the Lao Overseas Affairs Department (Ministry of Foreign Affairs). Ken made a SKL presentation, showing them the website on our computer. We had the Kangxé and Na Yè plaques with us, and certificates to show them. They appreciated our visit and congratulated the SKL team for all the good work done through the years. M. Oudomkham will inform his minister about SKL and will do whatever they can to facilitate our work on future projects.

December 12, 2018 – Wednesday

The weather: 26 Celsius, sunny with clouds.

We arrived in late afternoon to Vientiane, capital of Laos. 

Our agenda was a little flexible today. First, we went to the hotel Douang Douane. Quickly Ken got the sim cards and data for his phone. He made a few calls. Soon after, we met one of the Lao donors for the Kangxé School, Mr Saymongkhoune Sayasithsena.  During a nice Lao dinner, we talked about SKL, the opening school, his family and the importance of education. Then we went back to the hotel. We needed a good night sleep.

But prior to our arrival in Laos, for your information, we spent a few days in Tokyo (Japan). We were able to recover from the jetlag. We had the chance to visit two temples (Tsukiji and Asakusa), the Meiji-jingumae shrine and the gardens of the Imperial Palace. We also went to Sawara (2 hours north-east of Tokyo center), a quiet small town with Japanese traditional buildings. We were delighted by the Japanese food (sushi, soup miso, tempura).