Life in Laos through the lens of a diplomatic wife raising twin toddlers.
It’s great that the State Department ships our car everywhere we go. Not so great that it takes so dang long. I turned our car over to the shipping company in DC back in late June and it is not expected to arrive in Vientiane for another month at least, after which we’ll still have to wait for Lao paperwork to be completed before we’re allowed to drive it. By then it will be torture to have it here without being able to actually use it.
So how have we been getting around you ask? Just about any way we can…
The most luxurious and convenient option is reserved for the member of our family that brings home the bacon who gets picked up every morning by an embassy vehicle and getting dropped off at home at the end of the day. But that is about the extent of that luxury since all of you American tax payers probably wouldn’t want your tax dollars spent on driving diplomats and their families around to get to school or pick up groceries or anything like that. So don’t worry. Your tax dollars are well guarded in this respect. It is only being used to make sure your diplomats get to work and serve your country.
For the rest of us, we were given the name and number of a taxi driver who we can call to pick us up and drive us around at a metered rate. This worked out really well since he was always only 10-15 minutes away or if he wasn’t available he would call his friend from the same company to pick us up. We used him everyday to take the kids to school and pick them up during their 2-week 1/2 day summer session. Needless to say, this taxi driver got to see every degree of toddler temperament as they transitioned to everything in a new country and a new school and a new nanny they didn’t like to sit next to in the taxi. Some days the kids were happy to see him pulling into the driveway, other days they screamed and fought while whaling “I don’t want a taxi. I want a Jambo!!!”
The Jambo. Some people use Tuk Tuk and Jambo synonymously but from my observation they are slightly different. Tuk tuk are slightly bigger than a Jambo but with smaller wheels (???). Structurally, they seem the same to me – an open metal carriage with bench seating rigged to a motorbike that you climb into from the rear. The kids LOVE riding in a jambo. They’ve even fallen asleep on them. For me, the fresh air is nice when it’s actually fresh and cool (quite rare) but breathing exhaust fumes and dust (there is a lot of dust in Vientiane), and getting flying specks of stuff in your eyes while sweating bullets in the heat does nothing for me. If I was in my 20’s backpacking through Southeast Asia and traveling for the first time, riding a Jambo would be right up there as an exhilarating “look-at-what-I’m-doing-everybody-back-at-home-isn’t-this-exotic-?” trophy travel experience. But as a mother of two 2.5-year olds who refuse to let me hold onto them while bobbing up and down and side to side along dirt roads or nearly crashing into trucks and cars that just pull right in front of your Jambo, it is not as exhilarating, or rather exhilarating in not such a nice way. But all of that aside, we stopped calling our taxi driver and spent the past week during school break (yes, home with me all day!) renting a Jambo everyday. The driver’s name is Joy and M&O love him just as much as they love his Jambo. I even like his Jambo because it has a larger carriage, normally the size of a Tuk Tuk, and he is a really safe and cautious driver because of the kids. Moreover, he can make them laugh the minute he arrives and when we’re stuck in traffic. I’m close to asking him to replace our nanny ;D
Another public transportation option in Vientiane is a little open-air bus that I’ve seen everywhere and costs only 25 cents to ride the entire route, but the inconvenience of getting out to the main street from our muddy dirt road, waiting in the heat, and puttering along at a snail’s pace in the heat, has not appealed to me at all, definitely not with the kids in tow.
Last but not least, we try to walk. The challenge is getting the kids through our muddy street out onto the main road where we have to dodge garbage, dog poop, and cars parked on the sidewalk. Other than that, we are close to a mini-mart, some good street food stalls, vegetable and fruit vendors, and a very nice cafe with a kids playroom. Week by week, we are able to make it out a little further, a little faster. This weekend, O managed to ride his Mini Kick scooter all the way to the cafe and back. Opting for the paved back road on our way home also gave him the advantage of a slight downhill which he loved. M, however, did not like the street dogs along the back road one bit, at one point declaring, “I don’t like dogs in Laos!” Still, having a two-year old willing to ride his scooter through mud, rocks and potholes, is considered a marked progression as far as life adjustments is concerned. And I’m tempted to send this picture to Mini Kick as a testament that it can literally go anywhere.