Bye bye Bangkok, hello Laos

  • By Daniel
  • 2009-07-01 08:07:00-0700

I'm in one of those mid range SE Asian guesthouses again. The kind with the mini fridge stocked with soda, water and local beer. They're nice enough to have an air conditioner, but not nice enough to have free wifi. There's a shower, but no bath tub. Along with the bidet they do provide toilet paper, but you're not allowed to flush it down the toilet. Instead you have to put it in a little bucket. My bucket came with some already used tissues and a used condom. This bathroom has two tiny extras: a phone in the bathroom next to the toilet and a clothes rack on the door.

One nice constant on my month-long trip has been the availability of american power plugs. They're not always grounded plugs, but there are always plugs. The ones that aren't grounded sometimes make your gear sting you with a tiny flow of stray electrons.

I'm in Laos at the Douang Deuane hotel in Vientiane. This was the 4th place I had to try before I found an open room. My room wraps in an L around the elevator shaft, but it's quiet so far. I'm on the 4th floor which is second to the top. You can find me in room 404.

I have yet to check into a hotel that has 4 digit room numbers, let alone get lucky with room 2046.

Room 410 would've been mildly amusing too, and if I had Tien here we might have had to play charades.

It took me 5 modes of transportation to get here: taxi, motorbike, train, car, and airplane. I was somewhat hoping for a sixth being a tuk tuk, but you can't win them all. I suppose the sixth could be my feet since I had to wander around in the dark of night looking for a place to sleep.

Yesterday was Tuesday and My had school. We caught a taxi to the Sky Train in Bangkok and she went off to class leaving me to do what I wished in Bangkok. I took some photos and soon got lost inside of an enormous mall next to six or seven other enormous malls located in Siam Square. I basically wandered around and took some photos and gawked at all the different things. I tried to find some photography gear that was decently priced but everything was just slightly more expensive than in America. I wonder if photographers in Thailand are inherently better because of the higher cost of entry.

The AnoontakaroonsThat night Mint and I sat up watching The Usual Suspects on Thai TV. They blurred out guns pointed at people at point blank. They blurred out people smoking. They blurred out people's lips when they said certain thing. They let you hear every cuss word.

Today I looked at my schedule and decided that I better get a move on and get out of Thailand. I was enjoying the company of My and her family, but I was longing for the freedom and the lifestyle that comes with it. I also only have a few days left until I need to be back in Saigon and I have a whole country to see. With that in mind I logged onto ye handy internette and bought a plane ticket to Laos, surprising My and spoiling her day at school. She called her friend to answer her name and fill out her homework for her, then spent the day with me. We once again performed our taxi and sky train maneuver to get downtown, then got coffee and headed off for the backpacker district, Khaosan Road.

Khaosan Road is just about everything I hate about backpacker culture, all wrapped into a very long block. We were only there for 90 minutes, but that was plenty time to see what there was to see. I could go on and on about how much BS there is there, and I plan to do so over at Dream Not of Today where I post photos and from time to time write logical criticisms of culture, other assorted diatribes and whatever else fits the edgy dynamic of that site rather than the personal angle of this site.

Long story short, we hit the road in a taxi that went so slow we both fell asleep and woke up 1 block later. My paid the 45 minute 100 baht fee that took us around 2 sides of a single city block, and we walked. We had to do something, I was now 45 minutes late for my projected timeframe of going to the airport.

A block or so later she found us some motorbike taxis. This was not only a fantastic way to kill the 5km of gridlocked traffic between us and the sky train, but it was reminiscent of Vietnam, the country where four days from now I will return into the arms of my fiancé.

Siam Square transit took the two us through gridlocked traffic on that motorbike the way I'd handle just myself on a bicycle, which is more aggressive than most, passing between cars and taxis and busses like he was navigating a maze and knew the way through. We used the oncoming lane to pass hundreds of cars. We ran gridlocked red lights with police sitting right there or doing the same thing on their motorbikes in the opposite direction. We passed a traffic cop stopping cars that would otherwise have a clear shot and hit 50km on the open 5 lane road and were passed only by a CBR 150 before diving back into the gridlock. We passed through more maze like traffic, turned down and alley and went through a parking structure and ended up right at the stairwell for the sky train. Why did we ever get into that stationary air conditioned automobile?

I thought about how there are never any traffic jams in Vietnam unless there are automobiles involved. I shared this thought with My. Later on that night her dad would share the same thoughts with me.

We got off the sky train, got into a taxi and got stuck in traffic again and I loathed the automobile. I wondered how on earth so many cars could contain so many drivers that were so fucking stupid as to sit there in the street burning up and smoking dead dinosaurs when they ought to be going somewhere at a very rapid pace. I thought back to when I first bought a motorcycle in San Jose in order to cut through traffic and give up the sitting and dinosaur smoking lifestyle.

We eventually got home, I packed as fast as I could, which gets harder every time I buy a bamboo flute or a man purse or a pair of broken swimming shorts, piled into her dads car and headed off to the airport. I arrived at the airport 45 minutes before the plane left. I got my ticket 30 minutes before the plane left. I got through passport control and security 15 minutes before my plane left. I got to my seat on the plane 10 minutes before my plane left. I didn't know things could go so well after going so badly.

The flight was nice, I was nearly asleep when they gave me a delicious meal and a small pour of wine. I listened to Halcyon + On + On and One Perfect Sunrise. Orbital is always great traveling music.

When I got off the plane I still hadn't filled out my arrival card, which is standard procedure on the plane in order to make passport control quicker. There were no pens, so I just went to the line and stood there. The man turned me away to go fill it out at the desk where there were no pens, so I went. There were about 7 people standing around sharing a single pen. It belonged to an Asian man of a descent I couldn't discern, but he gave it to me when everybody was done with it and walked away with his wife and child. I filled out my stuff and left the pen there as goodwill, but then thought I should've done differently when I ended up next to him in line. He didn't care, he just smiled and waved it off. It was late and we were tired, who cared about a pen? It's always good to have smiles and laughs from strangers, and there's something extra when there's no other communication beyond the rudimentary.

I changed my remaining Baht to Kip. Kip is another currency with 4 or 5 trailing zeros. My taxi ride to the hotel was 52,000. I got dropped off by the waterfront of the river that separates Thailand and Laos, so basically I was only a few hundred meters into the fourth country on my journey. The hotel I had found in the guidebook was full. The place next door was full. I had predicted this and had scoped out a few places on the way in. They were also full, including the one that had wifi. I had picked the right neighborhood though and the 5th or 6th place I went had a room open, and that is where I am now.

I like Beerlao. I'm not sure if the beer here is great just because I haven't been drinking as frequently, of if it's just better, but beer here in Asia is nice. Maybe it's the property of ones being applied to a heat factor that is well above what I'm used to. Anyhow, I'm safe and sound in Laos. I have 4 days here, then it's back to Saigon to be with my fiancé and handle visa stuff for her trip to America with me. Beyond that, I'm not sure how my trip is going to go, but I think I will only be able to see Malaysia and not Singapore. Perhaps I can shift in a different sixth country to make up for it...