sabaidy, dear readers, and greetings from vientiane, laos. we say “lao” over here, not “laoS”. ya gotta drop the “s” if ya want to speak like a native. anyhootie, after a very mellow few days in northern thailand, nong khai to be exact, i’ve arrived in lovely laid back and a little bit loco laos.
my first impression (granted, i’ve only been here for 4 hours so far): good! the folks seem genuinely nice and helpful, and not out to rip me off IMMEDIATELY, unlike in thailand (sorry thailand stokers. this was indeed my burden in thailand, mainly from those tuk tuk drivers. scammers all of them). to its credit, however, thailand does indeed have it’s fare share of wonderfully nice and sincere folks. bangkok was a bit busy and noisy and smoggy for my taste and, since i’m not into shopping, it didn’t have much to keep me there. if i were in the market for silk weavings of any kind, i’d drop big dollars there for sure. gorgeous work they crank out!
my hotel was really nice and of course the hustle and bustle of khao san road was entertaining, but the smog really got to me and i got very sick and missed a whole day. didn’t matter much since i wasn’t able to get a train ride booked anyway. am mostly fine now and the markedly cleaner air does help, plus i’m trying to eat good (eg, not fried) food and stay away from booze (that’s tougher as beer is pretty cheap and most refreshing in this sultry, steamy heat). the train north was a breeze. it left at 10pm roughtly and arrived the next morning at 10:30 in nong khai. i had a lower bunk sleeper which was VERY comfy and private and the communal toilets? well, i’ve seen worse. if all of my riding the rails experiences around here are that good, i’ll be one happy girly. only downside was the drunk czechs (damn them) shouting outside my bunk late into the night, drunk. did i mention they were drunk? they were HAMMERED. kids these days, i tell ya…
so back out on khao san road in bangkok i saw one farang (westerner) passed out on the sidewalk with the beer still upright in his hand and it was all of about 11am. remind you of anyone you know? of course, this kid was probably all of 25 years old. but oh lordy, what a sight! i had to laugh. obviously he’s an amateur unlike your humble narrator.
things not to miss in bangkok: wats, wats and more wats. the place is LOUSY with wats. for my friend scotty back home, i send a special “100 Wat Smile” howdee-do to you. after a bit of lao coffee i’m feelin’ kinda punny. it’s a sort of in joke and you’d have to know about the band scotty played in back in the day to get it. for the rest of you, nevermind. it’s not all that clever, really.
another thing to see when in bangkok, and i’m not talking about the patpong ping pong girls either (get your minds outta the gutter, youse – although i hear the shows are indeed impressive, if not anatomically challenging, err, inconceivable) is jim thompson’s house. he was some cat from america who moved over to thailand in the 1930s or so and designed and had built a series of teak buildings in which he made into one building and called home; he’d been an architect in america and had quite a good eye for design as well as an keen ability to incorporate the local styles of architecture and ended up creating a truly beautiful space. he collected buddhas and interesting pottery and tapestries hundreds of years old and whatnot, and one of the most interesting things about the buildings is that the structures use not one single nail. it’s all done with teak pegs and the buildings are slightly slanty as you look up to the roof to provide better stability. that’s what i call ingenuity!
the gardens are also lovely and well maintained. is a very nice reprieve from the choking-on-fumes streets of bangkok. you can fairly easily escape the smog by taking the new, fast & fun skytrain. it’s a blast! so efficient! so clean! so fast! so cool & breezy! and only 25 baht (less than a buck, i kid you not) to go all the way across town. i took good advantage of that for sure. to those scammer tuk tuk drivers i say SORRY CHARLIE! no baht for you, sucka! you pay now! 300 baht! to go 1/4 of a mile? HAH, i think not, my dear sir. and those tuk tuks? all the time THE BUZZING. jeeezusss mary & joseph, they are whiney things, aren’t they? and all that black exhaust? still, they’re cute looking and oh so very thai.
stream of consciousness: so the deal with getting into laos is a clusterfug of gigantor proportions. here’s the scenario: i leave the serenity of the mut mee guesthouse in nong khai at 9am via tuk tuk (natch, the dude wanted to gauge me at 60 baht when the ride is really worth 20 – this i know because i was able to ride to the Friendship Bridge in about 15 minutes on the bike i borrowed from the guesthouse – so we settled on 40). i bought a bus ticket for 20 baht, thinking this would take me into vientiane. alas, not so! i then had to produce several forms filled out with all but the name of my first born on them in order to procure a visa to enter laos. for this courtesy i paid another 1500 baht (equal to about $48 US. it would have been about $7 cheaper had i paid in dollars, but i didn’t have any on me).
THEN, then dear readers, i proceed through immigration, forms in hand, ready to find the bus and expecting a big air-con bus, only to find a little sawngthaew (open-air truck type deal) and all the dudes around it hustling me over to get on board NOW NOW NOW. 100 baht for a 1 hour ride into vientiane. now that i could live with. chatted with fellow passengers, nice kids, one italian pierced-face guy and a young american girl working as a missionary in thailand. pleasant ride, over all, and i reckon worth the dysfunctional customs & immigration dealio.
got a great hotel here called the dragon lodge. sounds dubious but it’s really not. it’s quite nice. my room has carpeting, air-con, a bathroom to myself, hot water (so they say; will see tomorrow when i check out the shower scene), for about $24 US, or 200,000 kip. this kip business is KERRRAYZEEEE. i have a pile THIS BIG of bills with many, many zeros on each of them and they’re all worth, put together, about $30 US. AND i can buy any bus, air, or train ticket departing here from the hotel AND AND AND they will give me a FREEEEE tuk tuk ride to the terminal of my departure. i like laos. besides all that, this is a big improvement on the very basic digs i just came from in nong khai.
don’t get me wrong, nong khai kinda kicks ass. it’s sleepy, it’s mellow, folks are nice, food is good, it’s right on the mighty, murky, muddy mekong river (hard to believe our boys wanted to bomb the shit outta these fine folk back in the day. unforgiveable, you ask me) and mut mee is a little bit of paradise in the jungle. for the price, i got a decent deal. 140 baht got me a hard-ish but ok bed with mozzie net (the only holes in which were at the bottom, so tucked in i was completely armed against the little bloodsuckers – of which there were MILLIONS), 4 walls with 1 window, a 3-speed ocillating fan, and a bathroom around the corner. the bathroom was a den of iniquity for the mosquitos, though, and that sucked. they have the water supply in the room, open and constantly filling up when drained, so the bugs just LOVE it there. it’s like the garden of eden for them. so as you shower (shut the toilet seat first and put the TP up high), the little buggers swarm yer ankles. i won’t go into too much detail, but it was one of my less pleasant loo experiences and, fortunately, i only had to endure it for 3 days. any longer and i might have done myself in for all the bugz. before y’all lecture me, yes i did use DEET. All_The_Time. my skin/blood is probably poisoned from using so much of it, but it was 100 percent necessary always.
the best thing about mut mee, you ask? i’d have to say the sweet sweet super awesome palapa patio with the beautiful teak tables and comfy bamboo chairs. the common area serves as hangout zone (eg, for obnoxious germans and israelis as well as regular quiet folk like yours truly), dining area, and meeting place. they have WiFi for those of a gadgety persuasion, good food and drinks and everything you use/eat/drink/borrow is done on the honor system. you write in your designated book what you had and how much it cost, and at the end of the day they tally it all up for you! then, the next morning you start a fresh page and at the top of the page, some nice mut mee’r writes “Good Morning Karen!”, which i think is perfectly awesome. they also have a book exchange and bikes to rent (although most of them are suffering chain & brake problems, but nong khai is relatively flat and everyone goes real slow, so it doesn’t matter as long as yer legs are up for it), a daily river cruise down on the mighty murky mekong for 100 baht (it was pleasant), and the staff can provide oodles of info on Isan culture and getting in to laos.
so according to one friend back home who told me some tales of of his wacky adventures in laos and beyond before i left, a sizeable pile of kip like this will last me quite a long time. that’s good news because i’ve been spending like a drunken sailor lately and it’s time to reign it in, folks. it appears the kip is dollar friendlier than the baht. yippee for the kip!
next up: up to vang vieng tomorrow to see about doing some WWOOFing. in case ya don’t know what that means, it’s not barking like a dawgg, yo, it’s volunteering on an organic farm. my guess it’s a bit like working on a kibbutz but not as brutal. for what amounts to $1.20 a day, i get to sleep (dorm style, but clean) and have all the fresh, organic food and mulberry tea i can stomach, all the while learning about whatever it is they do here in laos agriculturally and for commercial use. tea making? banana leaf curing? sheesh, buddha only knows but the idea of clean air & organic vittles is pretty appealing and ya can’t beat the price. besides, it’ll do me good to do some giving back, not just taking taking taking, as has been my habit thus far on the odyssey. they have programs of a few days or a week or longer. i think i’ll start slow with just a few days and see how it goes from there. if there are a bunch of obnoxious germans and israelis there, forget it. i’m outta there…as eric cartman would say, “screw you guys, aah’m goin’ home”. if the latter turns out to be the case, then i’ll skip it and cruise on over to luang prabang for some swell franco-lao architecture and more laid back loco lao-ness. word.
on that note, i will leave you now, dear readers. i promise there will be photos up soon. i have downloaded almost 100 of them to my photo site and the next time i get a couple hours on the old ‘pooter, i’ll throw a few up to give ya a wee taste of what’s been in my sights.
oh, and before i forget: a very special shout out to miss lori ann shouldice who’s birthday it is tomorrow! YO, LOLA! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YA, YA OLD BAT! MMCHAAAA!!!