This is my fourth volunteer experience in Southeast Asia. I decided to do it because I had no idea if the Coronavirus situation in China would take long to be under control. My idea was to volunteer in Luang Prabang for about 2 weeks but ended up staying 1 month at the volunteering place.
This volunteer was different from all my previous volunteering experiences: in India, I was a tour guide, in Vietnam, I helped in an English center, in Myanmar, I helped the bears. And in Laos, I will help a local couple that runs a jewelry shop in Luang Prabang. The shop is called the Garden of Eden and I loved the items they sell, so I thought I would like to volunteer there.
Garden of Eden is one of the many shops with awesome crafts that exist in Luang Prabang. There are two Garden of Eden shops. One is near the city center, and the other one is just after the main bamboo bridge, the bridge that connects the touristy side of Luang Prabang to the local side. On one side of the bamboo bridge, there are touristy things with a very good look, on the other side is where locals live, where there isn’t many things to see but a local culture to learn. The Garden of Eden where I am volunteering is the one right after the bridge and that is where I sleep too. In fact, I sleep in the most inspiring place I have ever slept in. It is this damn gorgeous bungalow with the best view in town, I would say. The bungalow is hidden under some trees, but once inside it we have a clear view of everything around: the river, every single person that crosses the bridge, the other side of the street, and the temple where we can watch the monks playing gongs at 4 pm every Saturday. The place where this bungalow sits is perfect. I woke up every single day with a view of the river, I just needed to open my eyes and there is the river. The bungalow is super cute, made with wood and bamboo, and inside there is a place for 2 double beds. I have one of those for myself, and Cobie, the other volunteer, has the other one. As they have two shops, they need two volunteers at the same time… It was me and Cobie and it was awesome to have her as a partner!! It wouldn’t have been so much fun without her…
So, what are my daily tasks as a volunteer?
Basically, I was staying at the shop and help the clients. The clients of the Garden of Eden are 99% foreigners, to not say 100%. The best way to interact with them is in English and besides the English of the owners being very good for any Asian, they still need someone else to be at the shop. They also count on the help of young family members but they don’t speak English… That’s why they need volunteers.
I was working 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, and my role was to stay at the shop, keep an eye on costumers and help them every time they need, clarify them when they have doubts, and sometimes having interesting quick chats about traveling during this COVID era. I was also cleaning the dust and arranging the exhibited jewelry if necessary. Some days the shop was very quiet, depending on the number of people coming in, so sometimes I was at the laptop writing or editing photos. Reading a book is also a good idea to kill theses dead times when no one is around…
And that was it! That was my role!
In the morning, before going to the shop, I was writing and updating the blog, watching what is going on in the river, and be amazed by the landscape that surrounds me. Every day there were local kids going to swim and play by the river. It was never boring staying in the bungalow…
After working hours I ate with the people that were living at the same house and tasting awesome Lao food made by them. This was where I had the best meals in Laos. If before this volunteer I would say that Laos food is not special, after this volunteer I say that Laos food is super delicious. Plus, I had the chance to learn how they cook, what they usually eat, and learn a lot more about Laos that I was expecting. Sometimes we were watching TV while having dinner sitting on the floor at the back of the shop and I noticed that people’s faces on TV were blurred. Every single face on TV was blurred. At times, all you could see on TV was a blur. That was weird…
I also learned many other things about Laos and their culture, and this is mainly the reason why I like to volunteer abroad. I know that I will not have the chance to learn as much as I do when volunteering.
I and Cobie also had the chance to do a photoshoot with the items sold at the Garden of Eden. For this, we counted with the help of Sophia that was volunteering next door. It was super fun!
The couple that owns the shop, Nic and Lan, is so cute! They are so cool. I loved to meet them. We went out to the disco sometimes and it was super fun. I spent my birthday there with them. I always asked to go to a local disco and listen to local music. I can dance to the sound of Western Europe in too many other places. While in Laos, I wanna listen to what locals listen to! And its fun to see how their culture is different, how they dance, everything is new! I planned to volunteer two weeks but I ended up volunteering a few days longer but staying even longer due to COVID.
Our bungalow was super cute, amazing, and breathtaking, but it wasn’t very safe during storms. The original bungalow had no walls at all. Everything was covered in white fabrics, so beautiful. But that was a problem… When it rained, the things inside the bungalow were getting wet, and that was not cool… Until the day when a real storm happened. The winds were so strong that made many things all over the house fall. Our bungalow got “destroyed”. It only had a roof. When this happened I was totally alone at the shop and nobody showed up for the next hour. Even knowing there was a huge storm going on. I was basically panicking and having no idea what to do while watching things being destroyed. All our stuff was in the bungalow. All our stuff got wet. The following nights weren’t that fun.
We needed to change room and replace the bungalow for a room that was ok but not that comfy… Things in that room got wet too so we had no blankets or whatsoever to cover ourselves that night. I spent all night shivering cold and barely slept. We had a heater in the room but Cobie got the best of it haha. The couple that hosted us was super worried and cleaned all stuff from our new room that was a mess. They were impeccable.
But that bungalow was the thing making my days happy, and our hosters were not very interested in fixing it, so I cleaned it myself and hang some already dried blankets as walls. It took some time but finally, they covered the walls with some bamboo improvised walls that allowed us to be in the bungalow if it rained. All kinds of animals were visitors of our bungalow, from huge spiders to geckos, huge ants, reptiles, and other insects that I have no idea about their names. We once had a visit of a mantis, haha. Still, I loved that bungalow and wouldn’t change it for any other luxurious place in Luang Prabang. The dusk light hit it daily so gracefully, it was so calming staying there and listening to the sound of the river and birds around us. I miss that bungalow a lot!