..............a voyage well worth it
18.11.2012 82 °F
Good Evening From Laos,
It’s around 7:00 pm Sunday evening and I am sitting a block away from my hostel in an internet café smack dab in the middle of the somewhat laidback city of Vientiane. Situated on the Mekong River and very close to the Northern Thailand border I have been here since Friday a 5:30 am.
Leaving Hue, in Vietnam I booked a “sleeper bus” ticket for a journey that was sure to be trying. Trying in the sense of being on, for lack of a better term, “shit bus” for nearly 23 hours. I was scheduled to leave Hue Thursday morning at 9am with an arrival at Vientiane, Laos Friday morning at 6:00 am or so. As planned the bus was almost 1.5 hours late, which I had pretty much already anticipated from the beginning. Nothing is really on time here, but I am in no rush so not a big deal at all. The bus shows up and I am herded to the back to sleep in a small section with three others to the right of me and another to the left. All reclined to an almost laying position in a small sort of den type place. Now I have been on a handful of these sleeper buses before and I know they usually save this horrible back part for the backpackers. The rest of the bus is fully reclining seats stacked on top of each other with a total of three rows. Tough to imagine or explain I know, but I can assure you these sleeper seats were not designed for a 6’2 American guy. It was tight and intimate quarters to say the last. Down the middle of the two rows leading to the back of my cell, I mean seat, were bags of some sort of potent vegetable/fruit in bags. Foam pads were placed on top of these bags,so when going down the aisles you would step on the pads and then on top of the mystery fruit. Almost like Yoga mats if you will. The bus was packed to the gills and the only traveler on their besides me was a young girl from Germany. This was her first sleeper bus and sure to be an experience. There is no bathroom on the bus and there are only a handful of stops along the entire route. Food and bathroom breaks are all, and like I said maybe 4 stops in total not including the border. For nearly 24 hours driving, a handful of stops is not much, but we managed. Unfortunately, when we pulled up to the first stop a little after lunch time a situation occurred that really threw me for a loop. As everyone excited the bus at the “rest/food stops” plates upon plates of food were immediately brought to the tables. “Magnificent” I think to myself as I was starving and I assumed all the bus mates would grab a chair and dig in. Big portions were served family style for which we would all share and at the end everyone throws in a set amount of money. FALSE……..very False. Myself and the German girl tried to sit down at one of the tables to join the rest of the bus mates when we were shushed away, with heads being shaken sideways in the process. They didn’t want us to eat with them for whatever reason, and then furthermore I couldn’t even order regular food by just the single dish. Astounded, I could tell our type wasn’t welcome here and that was a real bummer and even as I write this four days later, I still haven’t figured it out. We got to the border and then got off the bus where we walked through Vietnam immigration, out of their country, and then a 1km down the road through Laos immigration. The main photo above is of leaving Vietnam. My passport wouldn’t scan and my picture looks nothing like me on the passport. Once again, par for the course, as this is expected and not a big deal. Just delays the process a little bit. I might have a different tune to sing should I ever be strip searched or brutally integrated. The rest of the bus ride was long and tough, certainly no friends were made (besides the German girl I was travellng with on the bus. I forgot her name but we definitely helped each other out when possible.) Arriving in the capital currency must be withdrawn from the ATM and a hostel sorted out. Probably should have planned this one a little better, but whatever.
It is what it is and by 9:30 am I was in a great hostel, 12 person dorm room at $5.000 US per night or 40,000 Kip. My head hit the pillow and I was out until mid afternoon. Waking up, grabbing a shower and feeling like a new man, I was yet in another country with no idea of really where I was. Food was a priority for which I quickly found a more than willing street vendor and feasted. The hostel has 3 big dorm rooms with 12 beds in each and a downstairs common area near the main entrance. It’s in the main entrance area that the damage was done. Part of the hostels deal is free Vodka every night. When a bottle of Lao, rot gut, less $1.00 a fifth is passed to you, there is no time to decide. It went down like firewater but nothing I couldn’t handle. You can fill in the blanks for the remainder of the evening and on Saturday I felt like absolute death.
For some reason when travelling in South East Asia my hangovers are minimal if existent at all. This Laos Vodka dispels that illusion more so than a 13 year older discovering there’s no Santa Claus (I was a late bloomer okay don’t throw stones as I graciously thank my parents for the couple extra years of magic they provided.) Saturday was spent recovering from the bus ride and aftermath of a fun night. Took several long naps throughout the day in the AC dorm and got about half way through a book called Papillion I have been reading.
Rented a bike this morning with another German dude from the hostel and we just set off into the city. Temples, monks, flowing robes, mopeds buzzing next to you, delicious street food, all things experienced on a dollar rented bike. Many pictures were taken and we probably put 20 km under our wheels all said and done. No accidents and the chain fell off only once, which was easily repaired in a matter of minutes as a Laos man watched me and laughed. A kind laugh which I simply smiled back and made my repairs.. Doing so I had flashbacks to when I was younger and this would happen often- minus the old Laos man laughing at me.
3 days in Laos so far and the sleeper bus debacle was well worth it. 24 hours of that experience and I think I might just hang around this city for a few more days at least. I am in no rush as I don’t fly out of Bangkok, Thailand until the 13th of December. I will see more of the city tomorrow via bike as there are many other places to enjoy. The Laos people are very friendly, combined with a good ebb and flow of people at the hostel, and plenty of sights make this a spot I am want to invest some time in. Not really sure where I will head next. Most of the country lays to the North away from Bangkok so a few mini trips might be scattered in as well. When heading to Bangkok I am thinking sleeper train is the way to go at a whopping $40 for a just over 20 hour trip down south. Maybe stop at a few small cities for a night here or there as I go South. I don’t know, I really don’t know. But what I do know is that it’s a great feeling to have many options and experiencing the extreme up’s and the extreme downs while trying to take in a snippet of this huge world. This was a long one and I feel like Doogie Howser M.D. as I bring it to a close. Good bye for now and until next time- stay classy out there.
Signing off for now,