Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Feb 27 2010

To Laos

February 20, 2010

After finally getting all my stuff packed up again, I went to sleep at 2 a.m. and woke up three hours later, at 5 a.m., so that Ah-lin could drive Chenble and I to the airport in time for our flight. For the second time, however, we were informed at check-in that the Air Asia flight had been delayed, for two hours this time.

Lamenting the lost sleep, we sat down in front of the window at Starbucks and had some breakfast. I took advantage of the free wifi, which worked with my Thinkpad, to update my blog and Facebook stuff as well as check my email. As I did this, the sun peeked over the airport canopy, and more people arrived for flights.

The flight was delayed another half hour as we sat in the departure lounge, but eventually we were allowed to walk across the tarmac in the morning sunshine to the red-and-white jet. Inside, the man in the aisle seat found another space, allowing us to stretch out while I munched on last-minute donuts bought at the terminal.

Immigration in Vientiane was slow. The line of passengers from two flights was processed by a row of visa officials with greased hair and unfashionable uniforms, one by one. I got the typical questions about my nationality, and then we were allowed to go downstairs to pick up our one piece of checked luggage, and then out into the arrivals lounge to meet Prince Roy, who had fortunately checked his email in time to know when we were arriving. We changed money, bought tickets to Luang Prabang on the 22nd and back on the 24th, and then set out north in his Civic.

Vientiane, or at least the bit I saw on the way out, seemed a dusty, odiferous town, reminiscent of the towns of 1990s China. I have to admit I was glad to leave after only a few minutes there. Well out of town, however, things improved quite a bit. “Laos is generally very safe,” Prince Roy said as he dodged between a herd of cows and a truck with 17 people hanging off the back.

The road improved dramatically in the vicinity of a bridge built by the Japanese, and then resumed its natural state, winding up into the hills. Occasionally we’d pass a bio industry complex operated by PRC interests, red dust kicked up by passing cars blurring the air in between toll stops manned by a couple of guys chatting.

Things got nicer just before we arrived at Vang Vieng, home of an old Air America runway and thousands of hippie backpackers. We found our hotel, the Elephant Crossing, easily, and after putting our stuff away, went for a walk around town.

Vang Vieng is bizarre in many ways, but I think the most surreal part I’ve seen so far is the dozens of young foreigners laid out in front of TV sets showing episode after episode of Friends. We had some delicious banana cakes and then walked over a plank bridge to the other side of the river as the sun set behind the Guilin-esque hills. Little bungalows on stilts dotted the other bank, home to bands of roaming hippies and their recruits. The remains of bonfires dotted the open fields.

Chenble was chased by a drunk Western girl as we walked up the street and back, while Prince Roy chatted up some mainland Chinese people. I took pictures of vendors, empty barber chairs and sitting monks, for which, I was told, I should have sat down to shoot in order to show respect.

We walked back to the Elephant for a delicious dinner on the riverside next to a table full of Russian mafia members. Prince Roy has had to abandon his vegetarian ways, and he had chicken fried rice. The kip/dollar exchange rate makes everything seem quite expensive when it is actually quite cheap.

Now I’m back at our room, where the Thinkpad is once again refusing to connect to the wifi, so I’m going to just save this and upload it when I can.

posted by Poagao at 11:54 pm  

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