Long Tieng Assistance trip, 4-9 March

Mac & Sunee Thompson made a road trip up to Long Tieng, LS-20A, on behalf of the TLCB to deliver school supplies the week of 4 March. Must say, it’s a somewhat grueling trip, at least portions of it on the highways and byways of Laos.

Sunday 4 March was taken with the drive from home, just north of Bangkok on up to Nong Khai, left my van in secure parking there and we went across the Friendship Bridge to Lao Immigration and on to Vientiane.

Monday was shopping. We had a TLCB Assistance Committee budget to work within so needed to identify what would fit. Checked out some expendable school supplies, writing pads, pens and pencils, and such, sports equipment, soccer balls, badminton sets, etc. Didn’t really look like we’d be able to get enough to cover the three schools, Long Tieng Primary, Ban Na Ngua Primary and Secondary. So thought about school books that could be used by all the schools over a period of time.

Talked to a tuk tuk driver outside our hotel who was quite helpful, he took us over to a quasi government printing house, the Education Printing Enterprise. Talked with the staff there, explained the program, number of kids by grade in school, and the budget. They explained that most public schools only received new text books every five years so I figured this would be a good investment. I also included a number of English language primers. They went to work with their pencils and came up with quite a list of books that fit within the budget. These are for 1st through 9th grades. Told us to come back later in the afternoon to pick things up from the warehouse. Did so and delivered them to the outfit from which we rented a 4×4 pickup, with driver.

Tuesday 0700 hrs hit the road, headed out of town on Rt 13S, downstream towards Paksane. At about km 92, Thabok aka Thaphabath, turned north on a very good dirt road which later turns to decent pavement on up to the E-W road between Xaysomboun and Rt 13N, near Vang Vieng. From here it’s a bit of a butt buster on the road travel. Stopped for coffee at what I call the Gold Mine Junction where an Ozzie company, Phu Bia Mining, is in operation, then headed north again for two hours to the gate at Long Tieng itself, about 7+ hours one way drive.

The gate guard quite properly, I guess, wouldn’t let us in but he did phone up to HQ and a military police captain came down to see what’s up. He wasn’t real happy to see us but when I showed the receipts for some kip 4,700,000 of school books he agreed to let us through to talk to the “boss” whom I’d met the year before on the trip with Roger Warner. The boss, Bounsouk, seems to be a pretty good sort, he’s in the red shirt on some of the photos.

Sunee & I explained what we were doing this trip and Bounsouk called up the head school master for the valley. We then went over to the two schools at Ban Na Ngua to explain to the teachers there what we were up there for and agree to a meeting the next day. Back to Long Tieng and the primary school, same deal with the staff.

I had also wanted to drive over Skyline Ridge to the Sam Thong, LS-20, valley where I was based spring of 1969 with the USAID refugee program but Bounsouk said there’d been a heavy rain a couple weeks prior and the road was still blocked. Will try again next trip.

We asked about RONing at Long Tieng but this was denied so two hours back to the Gold Mine Junction and a not-too-fancy guest house for the night. Good enough restaurant attached, tho, with plenty of cold Beer Lao ( http://www.beer-lao.com/). Up early the next morning, and back to Long Tieng, two hours on the rough road.

Distributions made to the schools followed by a meeting with Bounsouk, who is also the chief of “development” for the area, and the school headmaster. We had some discussion about possible future school projects that the TLCB might be able to assist with depending, of course, on budgets and on cooperation of the participants, the people of Long Tieng. First on the list is a 4-hole toilet facility for the Long Tieng Primary School which has none at present. There are also requests for roofing sheets for one building along with wood siding, with is looking pretty sad at present. This is the building where we had our meeting, it also includes two classrooms. Replacement school furniture was also mentioned as much of what they have isn’t in good shape.

Note that the Long Tieng Primary school is still housed in the buildings built back in the mid-to-late 1960s, the wood building and two out of the three rock and concrete buildings.

The two Ban Na Ngua schools are more recent with the secondary school funded by the Lao government 3-4 years ago and the new primary school funded by the Australian government just last year. Also visible in the photos are the remnants of the old pre-1975 rock and concrete school buildings, just about all fallen down now.

After the meeting, lunch, then Sunee & I headed back south. It was too late to make it all the way back to Vientiane so decided to head west via Ban Xon, LS-272, the former USAID base after Sam Thong went DTT in March of 1970, and RON at Vang Vieng, L-16, which I’d last visited in April 1967. Quite some changes in that town in the intervening 40 years! Beaucoup tourists!!

Thursday 8 March, on to Vientiane and across the river to Thailand and some 360 miles drive back home.

A few notes about Long Tieng these days:

— No electricity but hope to have it perhaps as early as later this year, the line from the south is just 10 km short of Long Tieng now and poles have been dropped along side the road.

— They do enjoy Thai TV much more than the stuff on the Lao channel(s), more movies, soap operas, sports and news. Run the TVs off of car batteries. Sunee joked with them about when she was a kid out at Sa Keo, east of Bangkok, same deal in her village, watch the TV picture scrunch down as the battery runs down.

— The large proposed dam, Nam Ngum 3, on the Nam Ngum river, seems to be on hold for the moment. Funding?? Environmental impact statement lacking? This’ll be quite an economic shock for the valley if/when it comes off. There’s probably 1,000 people living there now, the dam construction crew could be up to 2,000 more, with a number of foreigners amongst them.

— In a couple of the photos you’ll notice the smoke from upland field burning, sure made for some difficult flying in the old days.

— There’s now daily “bus” service between Xaysomboun, LS-113, and Long Tieng. The “bus” being either an open top 6-wheel truck, or a beat up van.

— Note the pickup load of scrap metal gathered up in the area. I’m informed by a former U.S. Army O-6 retired friend that these are 155mm.propelling charge shipping containers. The Thai SGU had the155 guns.

— Saw several cell phones up there but I couldn’t get a signal on my Lao SIM card so asked about this. Reply, “they couldn’t either but they were handy for taking photos.” Good signal tho at the Gold Mine Junction area and all along the E-W road.

That’s it for now, hope to be able to make another Long Tieng Run in the future.

Thailand, Laos, Cambodia Brotherhood, www.tlc-brotherhood.org