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Published: December 12th 2006
I Love Laos
One of the many well-kept collection of huts dotting the side of the highway. Sadly, the larger the town, the greater the concentration of plastic bags and other garbage at the edge of the pavement. Still beautiful, though
It's funny the things you miss when they're taken away from you (or when you leave them). After having Pad Thai pretty much at least once daily for the past 30 days, I was pretty eager to eat some of the readily available, cheap western-style food in Laos. Today, though, as we returned to Thailand, I found myself quite looking forward to a pad thai supper. We'll see how long that lasts.... Pad Thai and fried rice are consistently at least half the price of any other kind of food here in Thailand, so that's what I eat. ALWAYS. I wonder what my main staple will become in Malaysia? Only 3 more days! We are also sort of ashamed to say that it was a momentous occasion we we spotted the first 7-11 that we'd laid eyes on for the past two weeks. There just wasn't really a good convenience store alternative in Laos. There were little family run "businesses" selling pop and chips and stuff EVERYWHERE, but all of the food offered at them was very old, stale, sunbaked, mud caked, and flat. One of the best things about 7-11 is that you know there's a high turnover on their
From bamboo huts we come to shops and cars
merchandise, so nothing is ever too risky--in terms of freshness, anyway. There's lots of odd Asian snacks you can try if you want something risky. Lobster Lays potato chips or dried watermelon seeds, for example (and those are tame examples, for sure). The other big upside to 7-11s is that they never have a problem breaking the "big" bills you get from the ATMS that no other establishment will except. These bills only amount to $40CAN, mind you, but still no one other than 7-11 will deal with them, so the first stop after the ATM is always a 7-11 for a random, small, 10 Baht purchase which is paid for with a 1000B bill. Haha.
Which brings me to the subject of ATMs. Ahhhh to have access to my lovely bank account again! There is literally only 1 international ATM in all of Laos, and it is in Vientiane which, as you know, was our last stop in Laos, so we'd been running on cash reserves for 2 weeks. Well, a combo of cash and travelers' checks, but mostly cash. Plus, we had to deal with bank hours for our money needs, which is something I haven't done
Just the basics, here. The fences keep out the free roaming goats
since I was about 8 years old. I never actually enter a bank for ANYTHING. Give me a good ol' automated teller machine any day. I don't know how people survived in the olden days. Anyways, we're happy to have ATMs at our disposal again.
So yes, we left Laos a day earlier than we'd planned. Vientiane wasn't really offering any real excitement for us and we were paying a lot for our accommodation and getting next to nothing in return, so we decided to cross the border and spend a night in Nongkhai, the Thai border town, before catching our train to Bangkok tomorrow. Not that there's a wealth of sites to see here, either, but at least our new room costs much less and is realllly nice and clean. There's a bit of a sewage smell in the bathroom, but I'll take a sewage smell in an otherwise spotless place over a visibly grimy dungeon anyday. Plus, I'm pretty sure that my bed in that Vientiane room had some kind of insect infestation because I am currently covered in bites. *shudder* PLUS we told a whole bunch of ghost stories last night and it was suggested that our place was haunted, and then I couldn't sleep and was afraid of ghosts.... and that just did not add to my enjoyment of the hotel, either. Man, am I glad to be out of there. The city itself really wasn't that bad, we just couldn't find anywhere nice to stay that was in our price range.
Excluding the time spent in our room, yesterday was really quite enjoyable. I broke the breakfast budget a bit by starting at a really nice, upscale cafe, called Joma, on the main road where I spent about 90 minutes sipping great coffee while reading the Bangkok Times in a nice leather chair. It was air conditioned, too. QUITE lovely. Oh, and might I just mention how incredible the bathroom was! I must give kudos to Laos for some seriously great public washrooms. Toilet paper and soap were always provided, as far as I can remember, and sometimes you could even flush the paper down the toilet itself, rather than leaving it in an open wastebasket beside the bowl to fester. Quite a luxury.
After a free refill I was caffeinated and ready to hit the Laos National Museum. The boys picked me up and we walked the 2 blocks to the museum, at which point we realized that it was a seriously hot day! I was glad we had planned an indoor activity for the afternoon. The museum was pretty interesting, and covered a variety of subjects. The first part of the ground floor was devoted to the anthropological history of Laos and included a lot of ancient artifacts on display that had been unearthed in the country. They also had a dinosaur section, with real dinosaur bones! No casts here. All the displays were of the real thing, in fact, including the display of confiscated drugs. Yup. Behind a thinly-walled glass case there were such delicacies as dozens of ecstasy pills, a couple hundred grams of pot, and literally a brick of cocaine. But I'm getting ahead of myself. After the exhibits on ancient Laos there was a neat, new edition, exhibit on the hill tribe peoples of Laos, which I didn't really know anything about until that point. It was nice to hear that many of them are still living just as they have been for hundreds of years since their territories are so remote they rarely have contact from the outside world. However, there was mention that some of the traditional weaving patterns now included such designs as bombs and aircraft, after their villages received much more than their fair share of such "gifts" during the middle of the last century. The next part of the museum outlined much of Laos' incredibly turbulent history as it was pulled between one oppressor after another. Most of the displays were just poorly reproduced black and white photos or paintings with sparse captions, only sometimes translated into English (but at least usually translated into French and I could make out enough of that), but I learned enough to figure out what was going on. I found it quite interesting how incredibly anti-American the exhibits dealing with the 1950-1970s era were. A common phrase was "American imperialists and their puppets." This would be used in captions for such exhibits as machine guns, saying "Example of weapons used my American imperialists and their puppets for killing our people." Yikes. But I mean, honestly. Can you blame them? Just because their neighbor country was embracing communist principles and they were leaning in that direction, too, the US feels it needs to bomb the heck out of the country and shoot/enslave its people? OK, I admit my info on this matter is coming from an extremely biased museum in a tightly politically controlled country, but it still seems awful. I think I might do some research on Laos history when I get home because I'm really quite interested in it (hopefully I can find a slightly more impartial source). But fear not, Americans, the museum was hard core anti-French, too. At least you've made recent amends with Laos, unlike Canada which appears to be hated so we have to pay more for our Visa than any other country in the world. *psh* I'm still upset/curious about that. Then there's Australia, which seems to be single handedly fostering the developing SE Asia world. Everywhere I see and read about ways Australia is helping Thailand or Laos. In fact, the bridge we crossed to get from Laos to Thailand was called the "Friendship Bridge" as a partnership between Australia, Thailand, and Laos. Plus there are signs all over in Laos showing various initiatives that Australia or Japan are helping out with. What's Canada doing? We'd better have our own needy nations under our wing somewhere, because I'm starting to feel quite guilty over here. Oh well. As Derek would say, "it's OK. We played with Laos children." Hehehe. That seems to be our answer now any time we feel guilty about anything.
After the museum I decided I would brave the world of Laos salons and get my hair cut, so we were heading in that direction when we heard shouts of "Canada! Hey Canada!" coming from a restaurant at the side of the road we were dashing across. After dashing BACK through traffic, we realized that it was our Oregon friends from way back on the Pai minibus! We'd been bumping in to them often on our journey. We hung out for a little bit, but I wanted to get my hair cut so we said that we'd try to meet up again afterwards.
My hair cut isn't anything special, but it didn't turn in to a disaster, either, so I'm happy with it. It was basically just a straight trim all around--no layering or anything. The best part, though, was how much they fussed over me. First of all, I got a scalp massage while they were shampooing my hair, which was quite nice. Then, my hairdresser gave me a shoulder massage before she even picked up this scissors! Then, she probably took 45 minutes to blow dry it because she continually brushed and fussed over individual strands. My hair has never felt so loved. Wow! I should have gotten a few haircuts in Laos. And all for only $10US. Derek took the opportunity to get his head shaved, and he received the same fussing (minus hair drying) but they cut it realllly short which he wasn't too happy about. Oh well. His hair grows so fast it won't matter. Mark took the opportunity to partake in his favourite pastime, shopping, and bought a couple Beer Lao shirts.
Speaking of Beer Laos... after the haircutting we went back to the restaurant and met the Americans. We thought we'd just chat for a bit, but we ended up spending the whole night there. The Americans had decided that morning to cut their trip short and head home in a few days (they had some identity theft problems they had to attend to back home--super rough), so they were ready to spend some money. I don't know how many pictures of Beer Laos they ordered, but there seemed to be continually full jugs on our table. It was a good night. We had some great conversation, too, including the aforementioned super creepy ghost stories. *shudder* I won't get in to those because I am currently trying to forget them. Hehehe, one of the best events of the night occurred, of course, near the end when a quite intoxicated Jess (US Jess, not me!) decided to invite an older German woman, who was sitting by herself, to our table. She told us to call her Ziggy because her German name was a bit long for us, and she was quite the lady. She's been to Thailand 25 times and speaks Thai! I felt badly for her, though, because the restaurant started fighting with her, trying to say that she didn't pay her bill but she adamantly insisted that she HAD paid her bill. I believe that she did, and some other customers were able to back her up, but the restaurant wouldn't let it go. What happened to the customer always being right? In the end, Gavin (one of the Americans) secretly paid the bill (it was only $3.50US) just to end the matter, but I wish he didn't because Ziggy was in the right. Oh well. I gave her my business card and she said she'd e-mail me so we can meet up in Germany and so I can send a group picture we took with her. Right on! We're making so many good Europe connections here!
After a restless night of basically no sleep between bite-scratching and ghost-worrying, I was pretty ready to check out of our hotel. We took the "Laos-Thai International Friendship Bus" across the border, which was really nice and completely hassle free, and now, here we are, back in Thailand with a number of exciting new stamps in our passport. In 3 days we'll get more stamps! Yeah!!!
Thanks for your e-mails and comments after my last whine. I really do appreciate them! I'm putting up some random Laos scenery pictures I took out the window of the bus on the route between Vang Vieng and Vientiane.
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