Flashpacking flights and fold away beds on trains...whatever next?
21.03.2012 32 °C
Reluctantly we start to make our way south towards Bangkok. We have run out of time to explore northern Laos and cross the border to Northern Thailand. We decide to avoid the overnight 12-hour bus journey back to Vientiane and jump on a 30-minute flashpacking flight. We have time before we leave to go to our favourite street stall in Luang Prabang and pick up some fresh baguettes. Lu, the stallholder, also makes up two supersized Oreo shakes for us and we say a very sad goodbye to Lu, her family and Laos.
Rachel, who lives in Laos with her husband David, meets us at the airport. They have very kindly offered us a night’s accommodation. We settle down for an evening meal that includes two of my favourite foods (real cheese and potatoes I’ve missed you so much) as well as a lovely fresh salad, baguettes, duck and wine. We spend the evening chatting about Laos, working / living abroad and travelling in Asia before settling down into the most comfortable nights sleep we have had since leaving Manchester…thank you!
In the morning Justin meets up with David to find out more about his work at the infectious disease unit at the hospital, whilst I head to a much-needed bum-ache inducing Pilates class with Rachel. Afterwards we have a delicious Laos lunch with Rachel in a little restaurant surrounded by beautiful hanging flowers before saying our goodbyes. Justin has had a fascinating insight into medicine abroad and talks about the lack of life saving antibiotics as well as the hospitals three goats, which they use to make the blood agar plates (you can’t just order them from GSK!).
We jump in a taxi to the border train. It is a 15-minute sweaty journey over the border bridge to passport control in Thailand. At the border posters listing the penalties for trafficking people surround us. One of my friends from Agecroft Rowing Club has just completed a 45-day, 3000 mile crossing of the Atlantic Ocean as part of the Row for Freedom crew. Row for Freedom is a five-women rowing team raising awareness and fundraising for two anti-trafficking charities.
This is the toughest rowing race in the world (more people have climbed Everest or gone to space than rowed an ocean). They set two new world records (The fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by an all-female team and the first five-woman team to row any ocean), raised a lot of money and helped create a lot of column space on this important issue. I’ve included some notes at the bottom if you are interested. Well done Helen and crew! You can find out more at:
We jump on the night train to Bangkok. We start off with seats but the guard comes along as it goes dark to transform the seats into bunk beds. We are only on the train for a short time before we see the yellow arches of McDonalds and the fluorescent signs of the malls… it suddenly dawns on us that we haven’t seen any of these for the last five weeks.
Arriving into central Bangkok, we head to the MK mall on the super clean metro for a day. We stock up on luxuries (razors that work, mosquito spray, pizza!), and watch a movie in a giant air con theatre.
It is a very surreal experience after Laos. I loved Laos so much. Some of the most breath-taking scenery I have ever seen, tasty food and friendly people We hope that when we come back the standard of living has improved and that the gap between rich and poor hasn’t exploded. As one NGO worker we spoke to said “There is a fine line between developing and losing your own identity” and I hope Laos can get the balance right.
Human trafficking is one of the largest global organised crimes today. In 2008 traffickers made an estimated $31 billion buying and selling humans. In same year approximately 0.5% of this figure was spent combatting trafficking. Today an estimated 27 million people are slaves (and half of these are children). I’ve had a read through some of the websites around trafficking in the Mekong Delta and found http://www.no-trafficking.org/ interesting:
Human trafficking – essentially the recruitment, transport, receipt and harboring of people for the purpose of exploiting their labor – affects almost all parts of the world and is widely believed to be increasing in both scale and gravity, though statistics are still quite incomplete. Although trafficking has existed for centuries, the uneven effects of globalization have, in recent times, contributed to an environment in which trafficking has been able to flourish into a highly profitable and generally low risk criminal business.
The Mekong region compared to many other parts of the world contains very diverse patterns of human trafficking – internal and cross-border; highly organized and also small-scale; sex and labor, through both formal and informal recruitment mechanisms; and involving the victimization of men, women, boys, girls, and families. Examples include:
• Trafficking of men, women, children, and families into Thailand from neighboring Lao PDR, Myanmar and Cambodia – against a background of widespread irregular migration – for forced prostitution, domestic servitude, or forced labor into sweatshops or onto fishing boats, construction sites, plantations, or farms;
• Trafficking of children from Cambodian or Myanmar border areas or rural Vietnamese or Chinese areas to beg or sell flowers on the streets of larger cities;
• Trafficking of Vietnamese girls and young women for sexual exploitation in Cambodia;
• Trafficking from rural China, Myanmar, or Vietnam into the interior of China for forced marriage leading to domestic servitude and/or sexual exploitation.
COMMIT is a multi-lateral agreement signed by the governments of Cambodia, China, Lao, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. It is designed to implement strategies addressing human trafficking from a regional perspective. You can find out more about their initiatives on the above website.