TWELFTH MOVEMENT: LAOS
Luang Prabang, Laos
I woke up at 07:20 today, showered, dressed, and packed my bags. I then walked downstairs and waited for the prearranged taxi to come pick me up. While waiting, I chatted with the Vietnamese receptionist and he commented on my appearance, believing that I looked like a movie star; I laughed and tried to dispel such silly notions, but he insisted and took a photo with me (similar to China (and just as I experienced two days ago) locals love to take pictures with Western guys and gals). The taxi then came and I said goodbye and entered in to the cab. The drive to Noi-Bai Airport in Hanoi was close to an hour; once we reached the airport, I grabbed my bags and walked to the check-in counter, but I could not check in for another half hour (at 10:00), so I hung around for a while, waiting. Shortly after 10:00, I then checked in, went through immigration and the security check, and then walked to the gate; from there, I walked upstairs to a restaurant to eat lunch and spend my remaining Vietnamese dong; I had Hanoi spring rolls and Vietnamese beef steak; as one would expect, my meal in the airport restaurant was mediocre at best. I then spent most of my remaining dong on beer before it became time to board the aircraft. Once on board the airplane, it took about an hour to fly from Hanoi to Luang Prabang. Aside: I will miss Vietnam; it is a beautiful country with lots to see and I enjoyed my brief time there despite all the un-Godly propaganda, annoying touts who bother you while eating, and all the motorbike drivers and merchants who don’t take “No” for an answer (“Hey! Where you going? Motorbike? Where you from? Motorbike?”). After arriving in Laos, I received my Visa on Arrival (I paid with the remaining Thai baht I had in my wallet, which, after doing the conversion on my Currency App, I discovered I had more than overpaid – it would be a true statement to declare that the Laotian Immigration Department stole the equivalent of twelve USD from me (a third of the price for receiving the Visa on Arrival)) and then walked through their non-existant customs. From the airport, I decided to walk to the guesthouse I had made a reservation with; I walked through brief drizzles of rain, along pavement and dirt roads (passing some very European-looking homes (stone walls for the ground floor and wood for the top floor – from the French colonial days), streams, and remaining patches of natural jungle); I then realized I was lost, so I asked a local where I was and how can I get to the guesthouse (showing him a snapshot of the map from Booking.com on my iPhone); he told me I was 200 kilometers away and he could take me there by tuk-tuk (if I had known that he and his friend were in this business, I never would’ve asked); he then revised his fib and told me I was thirty kilometers away and when I asked him which direction the hotel is in, he pointed in the opposite direction of where I should actually be walking (with the sun past its zenith, it was obvious which way I should be walking); I told him he was a liar and walked away (sigh . . . once again, my extremely negative view of all people in the taxi and tuk-tuk business is confirmed to be true – sadly, it seems half the population in Southeast Asia is in this business, where cheating and lying is so common it has become the modus operandi for this occupation). I then followed the sun westward and came across a hotel where I stopped to ask if I could connect to their wifi to find my current location; the receptionist agreed and even told me which route to take to get to the guesthouse; I thanked him and then walked out in to the blazing sun (the rain clouds no longer obscured the scolding beast and its effect on my skin was immediately felt, so I did like the locals, and used my umbrella as a means of protection). I then walked west to the Mekong River (we meet again) and then north to the guesthouse, which was hidden in the alleyways (it was about two kilometers away (at most) from where I had asked the dishonest tuk-tuk driver for directions) – I had also stopped again for directions, this time at a police station that had a family inside squatting on the floor eating a meal, no one was in uniform and no one looked like a policeman, but they did tell me to keep heading north. Once found, I then checked in at the guesthouse, was shown to my room, took my bags and shirt off, and then laid under the fan to cool my temperature.
After laying on the bed for some time, I then put my shirt back on, grabbed my camera, and walked out of the guesthouse. First I stopped at an ATM to pull some Laos kip (passing by some temples with Nāga balustrades just like in Cambodia); then I grabbed some much needed and appreciated cold drinks at a convenience store; with iced lemon tea in hand, I walked by a local market and then I walked along the Mekong River. Since it was nearing 17:00, I figured everything of interest was closed or closing, so I walked back to the guesthouse and used the wifi to plan my attack for tomorrow, researching Luang Prabang, what there is to see and do, and where everything is located. After all that planning, I then walked out to eat dinner at a restaurant along the river (according to the internet, the cheapest restaurants in this town are along the river); at the restaurant, I met a German guy who had checked in to the same guesthouse while I was conducting my research, so we decided to sit together as we ate our dinner; I had Luang Prabang-style pork sausages, steamed vegetables with a small bowl of green chili paste in the middle to dip the vegetables in to (this chili paste was very spicy, similar to Thai spicy), and two bottles of Beer Lao; during our meal we discussed what most backpackers discuss: our respective travels. After dinner, we paid our bills and walked back to the guesthouse. I then went to my room and began typing away some journal entries. In due time, I did succumb to that candy-colored clown they call the sandman.
In dreams, I walk with you.
In dreams, I talk to you.
In dreams, you’re mine, all the time.
Forever. In dreams…