Posts Tagged With: Laos

On Top of Laos With Abraham Lincoln

I climbed the winding staircase.

The afternoon humidity in Luang Prabang made each step more laborious than it otherwise might have been. The steps zigged and zagged up the face of Mount Phou Si. The stone, smooth and rounded from the movement of so many feet over so many years. In a small plastic bag at my side swung two flowers wrapped in bamboo leaf cups. Incense protruded from their center, offerings for the altar at the top of the mountain. I took care not to let the flowers bump and knock into my leg as I walked.

The trees that engulfed Phou Si’s side encroached and advanced on the staircase. Seeking to reclaim it back into the jungle. Vines hung low over the steps and roots snaked and twisted through cracks in the stone.

As I climbed higher I began to pass stations along the staircase. Nooks and crevices set up as shrines in the mountainside. Sanskrit mantras carved into stone. The Buddha reclined on a flat slab of marble. Golden idols and painted serpents flanked the narrow stone steps.

One of the many idols along the face of Mt. Phou Si.
One of the many idols along the face of Mt. Phou Si.

I heard voices up ahead. A low sing-song mumbling. As I ascended further, it got louder, until I matched the sound to the chanting of over a dozen monks. I tip-toed passed the Wat Tham Phou Si temple, peeking through an open door of the small building and watched as rows of monks, sitting cross-legged, chanted in unison. All of their eyes were closed, heads down as they sung. A synchronized low sound of meditative prayer.

I climbed higher still. The trees began to give way to high shrubs and ferns. Bright butterflies, with wings of impossible turquoise danced and fluttered across my path. It wasn’t long before I was at the base of the gilded stupa of Wat Chom Si, the temple that capped the summit of Mount Phou Si. I stood at the foot of the temple and wheeled around taking in the view. I could see for miles and miles, Luang Prabang the former Laotian capital sprawled out around Phou Si below me.

I looked out, the roofs of Luang Prabang dotted the valley below. Distant temples and pagodas glinted gold under the sun. The lazy Mekong River, brown and murky, snaked off, hugging the town and vanishing out into a heat hazy horizon. Distant mountains rose upwards in the distance, their faces covered in every spectrum of green, a canopy of jungle trees. Their peaks rose into the wispy traffic of passing clouds. White and grey masses that trailed and churned around the high summits as they crawled across a bright blue sky.

My eyes, glued to the panorama before me hardly noticed the movement that eventually broke my gaze. I looked over to see a score of monks standing and doing the exact same thing as me. Staring out in awe of Laos. One even had a camera about his neck. With their robes of saffron and crimson they added yet another color to the landscape behind them.

Luang Prabang, Laos from the summit of Mt. Phou Si.
Luang Prabang, Laos from the summit of Mt. Phou Si.

I made way for them as they spread out along the railing, quietly chatting with each other. The one with the camera noticed me and held up the bulky piece of equipment about his neck. He smiled big at me nodding towards my own camera in my hands and then out towards the scenic landscape of Laos. His gesture was endearing, his smile even more so. As if the fact that we were both carrying cameras and had come to photograph the same view made us long lost brothers.

Wat Chom Si the crown on top of Mt. Phou Si.
Wat Chom Si the crown on top of Mt. Phou Si.

I walked passed them smiling back and took a small tour of the mountain summit. Walking by the entrance to the temple I peaked in at an altar of golden Buddhas and rows of flowers and incense. An orange Tabby cat sat lazily off to the side, keeping its distance from the idols as if it couldn’t make heads or tails of what the building was for. As I rounded back around the sides of the pagoda I saw a rocky outcrop dotted with the tiny bamboo leaf flowers I had purchased below. I placed my two in the crevices of the rock next to the others and watched the breeze ruffle and wrinkle the pedals. My offering complete I stepped down and took a seat along the wall, waiting for sunset.

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Cats N’ Buddhas
Offerings of flowers and incense on the summit of Phou Si
Offerings of flowers and incense on the summit of Phou Si

“Where are you from?”

I looked down from staring up at the temple’s high stupa to see a young boy had sat down next to me. He looked to be about fifteen or sixteen with short slick black hair and the dark complexion of someone born in Laos who spent his summer outdoors.

“I’m from the USA.” I said, “Are you from Luang Prabang?” I asked.

“Yeah, yeah.” he nodded, “My house is just over there.” he pointed out over the rail into the void. His house could have been anywhere within a hundred miles for all I could tell.

“What’s your name?” he asked without a hint of shyness. Another boy about the same age appeared at his side. He was slightly taller than his chatty friend and wore a red oversized Chicago Bulls basketball jersey.

“My name is Justin.” I introduced myself. “What’s yours?”

“Abraham.” he said with a smile, patting his chest. “This is Gabriel.” he pointed over his shoulder with his thumb at his tall friend.

Biblical names and impeccable English, I smelled the work of a missionary.

“Abraham?” I said in surprise. “Do your parents call you that?”

“No, no.” he said with a laugh as if it was obvious. “My real name is Lieu, I picked Abraham as my English name.”

“His real name is Kai.” Abraham said, pointing to his friend. With a smile Kai nodded in affirmation.

“Why did you pick Abraham?” I asked, suspicious that the missionary had a hand in helping him decide.

“I love history.” he said swinging his feet as he sat on the bench. “I really like to read about American history.” he continued. “Abraham Lincoln is my favorite to read about.”

Not expecting that answer, I was taken aback. “What about you?” I met eyes with Kai, who called himself Gabriel. He smiled and shrugged looking down at his feet.

“He’s shy.” Abraham answered for him. “He just picked it because he likes how it sounds.”

I nodded and smiled reassuring him that this reason was as good as any.

“He looks like Paul.” Gabriel said to Abraham. They both laughed.

“Who’s Paul?” I asked.

“Paul is the man who teaches at our school.” Abraham said, his eyes down watching his feet swing back and forth from under the bench. “He looks like you.” he lifted his head and eyed up my face. “He has one of those.” he reached out and brushed the hair on my face.

“A beard?” I asked, laughing inwardly. Me and Paul probably looked nothing alike in reality. He was likely just another white guy with a beard.

“Yeah, yeah a beard!” Abraham’s eyes lit up recognizing the word. “Abraham Lincoln had one too.” he added. He mimicked stroking a long beard with his hands.

I laughed in fascination that a teenager from Laos had such an affiliation with American history. A subject even many American teenagers had no interest in.

“What else do you know about Abraham Lincoln?” I probed.

“He was the best president.” he continued still swinging his feet. “He was a very strong leader.” he stopped swinging and looked at Gabriel and then at me. “He stopped the war and kept your country together you know?” He said this with stern eyes, like he had just divulged new information to me.

“I love history too.” I told him. “I studied it at university.”

“Really!” he straightened up on the bench in excitement.

As the sun sank down westward to be swallowed behind the murky Mekong I sat and chatted with the two boys. Abraham was fascinated by my knowledge of American Civil War history and I was fascinated by his fascination with it. As I descended back down the steps in the dusk I chuckled to myself as I walked. At the top of Luang Prabang, in the middle of Laos, on the peak of a small mountain I had had the most unexpected of encounters with an even more unexpected topic of conversation.

Whoever you are and wherever you are from, go outside, find a bench and have a seat. There is no telling who you will meet and what you will talk about.

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Categories: Laos | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Letters From Vientiane

Almost as soon as I arrived in Vientiane I began searching for a way to escape.

There was nothing in particular that drove me from the Laotian capital other than the simple fact that the city was not the jungles, mountains, and rivers that surrounded it. The Laos I wanted to see was the slow boats of the Mekong River, the lush mountain jungles of the highlands and golden pagodas of rural Buddhism. All my research and traveler advice pointed me away from Vientiane’s urban sprawl. My research pointed me north, to Luang Prabang.

I sat on the couch in the hostel lobby twirling the zipper on my backpack between two fingers. Waiting my turn to check in, two German girls argued with the Lao kid at the desk about the lack of private bunks.

Behind me, pool balls clinked on a ripped and worn table. Two guys exchanged turns in what already looked like a slow game.

Who comes to Vientiane to play pool? I thought.

A third buddy trotted up with three beers, clunking them down on the chipped edges of the pool table.

“What’s the name of this place….Vinetan?” he asked, unashamed. I pitted him as American or Canadian. I wondered if he even knew what country he was in.

His buddy, clad in the signature elephant pants of tourist South East Asia and a backwards trucker hat rested his hands on the top of his cue and squinted hard, obviously in deep thought.

“I don’t know.” he shrugged after a moment. “Can I have a cigarette?”

I began to look forward to my escape.

It’s no secret that the countries of South East Asia are a hot bed for young tourists. Expenses are cheap, the weather is warm, beaches are plentiful, and drugs and alcohol are easy to find.

“What’s up, man?”

I looked up from the bus schedule on the lobby desk and was greeted by a short backpacker in elephant pants and a neon green tank top. Unable to see his eyes behind the mirrored sunglasses he was wearing I looked back over my shoulder, unsure if he was addressing me.

“Where you goin’?” he nodded towards the bus schedule.

“Luang Prabang.” I answered, hoping to keep the conversation short.

“Prabang’s sweet.” he swung his pack off of his shoulder and let it thump against the desk.

“Definitely hit up Vang Vieng.” he bent over the schedule to point out the town on the bus route. “Its real chill there.”

As he bent back down to pick up his pack I noticed his tank top read “Tube n’ Party! Vang Vieng”

From the moment I had started researching travel in Laos I began hearing about how “chill” Vang Vieng was. The town, along the Mekong River turned into a tourist haven for partiers and substance abusers. A favorite activity was over indulging in any mind altering drug and then tubing and rope swinging in the river. On several occasions the town had gotten so rowdy and overrun that the Laos government stepped in to put a stop to the number of dead tourists that would inevitably drown whilst partying. To me, Vang Vieng didn’t seem “chill” at all. To me Vang Vieng seemed like a tourist infested, drug ridden, cesspool. Vang Vieng was exactly the kind of place I wanted to avoid.

Watching Mr. Tube n’ Party swagger up the stairs I was skeptical I’d find anyone on this trip I’d be able to relate to.

Side street outside my Vientiane hostel.
Side street outside my Vientiane hostel.

Checked in and ready to start exploring I laced up my boots outside the lobby, ready to get away from the hostel atmosphere.

“Excuse me.” I looked up from tying my boots. “Do you know where the arc is?”

The accent was British.

Not your typical run-of-the-mill British. Pristine British, classy British, the type of British you’d expect to hear at a London opera or in the corridors of Downton Abbey.

I rose to meet the gaze of two Asian girls. They seemed to contrast each other. One carried an artsy handbag and wore hip round sunglasses while the other was clad with a traveler’s pack and straw cowboy hat. I moved my eyes between them not sure who had addressed me.

“My name is Ada.” The girl with the sunglasses said. She patted her chest, her handbag swinging at the elbow.

“This is Anthea.” She gestured towards her friend who smiled underneath the brim of her hat. “We are trying to find the arc. We think it is around here somewhere.”

The arch in question was the Patuxai Arch.  A monument to Laotian military victory, it was inspired by, and modeled after Paris’ Arc de Triomphe.  One of the more notable sites in Vientiane it was on my to-do-list as well.

“Straight down this road and then left at the Governor’s Palace.” I answered, not entirely confident, trying to remember its exact location from my map. I told them I had looked it up because I had planned on seeing it too.

“Would you care to join us?” Ada asked, with a smile.

We walked the crumbling sun-baked streets of Vientiane. I tied a handkerchief about my forehead in an attempt to stem the flow of sweat that trickled over my brow. The sun was intense, I found myself squinting, even from behind the lenses of my sunglasses.

In my mind’s eye the Laotian capital was very different from its other South East Asian counterparts. Phnom Penh was a progressive getaway. Bangkok, a commercial metropolis. Yangon, the wild frontier. Hanoi, a historical giant. Vientiane always seemed…well…forgotten.

As my eyes took in the streets and buildings around me Vientiane seemed to uphold that forgotten allure. Long ago an outpost of colonial France it was as if the French built a city in the jungle long ago then simply packed up and left.

Like the streets of Paris, vendors sold loaves of bread. Pedaled carts loaded up with baguettes and fresh rolls. The streets were lined with coffee shops and bistros, al fresco style dining sprawled out on the sidewalks.

Unlike Paris though, the city seemed in various states of disrepair. Cobblestone brick sidewalks were torn and rent, pedestrians either forced to hop over the gaping holes or detour around them altogether. Colonial style terra cotta roofs were discolored and disheveled. The European influenced facades of government buildings were cracked and crumbling. Motorcyclists and tuk tuk drivers bobbed and weaved to avoid piles of fallen brick and up turned concrete.

As we neared the arc the girls began to chatter to each other in excited Cantonese. As they took photos in front of the monument I walked on to inspect it more closely. It really was a model of the Parisian icon, but with an Asian twist. Carved with sitting Buddhas and capped with pagoda style towers.

The Patuxai Arc
The Patuxai Arc

Looking around I noticed that even the outlying streets resembled the thoroughfare of the Champs-Élysées. I wondered how many people back home mumbled the name of the Patuxai Arc in the same breath as the Arc de Triomphe.

I gazed up at the dirty and stained stone of the Patuxai Arc. Vientiane was certainly no Paris but it still had so much of its own character. It deserved to be given a chance by travelers and urban explorers not just partying backpackers on a layover.

Vientiane deserved to not be forgotten.

When the afternoon sun drove us out of the street we retreated into the air conditioning of a nearby bistro. Whirling ceiling fans circulated the oscillating smells of freshly baked bread and pressed coffee grounds. At a small corner table I got to know Ada and Anthea.

Recently graduated from university in Hong Kong the two had planned a tour of South East Asia together before they began their prospective careers. When they weren’t studying at school they made their spending money busking on Hong Kong’s busy streets. Ada sang and played guitar, Anthea was on percussion and back up vocals.

“I must play for you when we get back.” Ada said, gazing down at the sandwich just placed in front of her. “The hostel has a guitar, I saw it earlier.”

“Are you going to Vang Vieng next?” Anthea asked pausing from sipping on her iced coffee.

“No, not my cup of tea.” I said, hiding my strong feelings about the place. “Did you guys go tubing there?”

Anthea crinkled her nose, “Ugh, no too many loud tourists there. We just took the bus there to get here.” she said, pulling out her camera and switching to pictures that designated where here was.

It was a picture of the two girls sitting on the floor of a bamboo hut. A Thai family sat with them smiling up at the camera, a feast of curries, rice, and soup laid out on the floor in front of them.

“We had a homestay with this Thai family here.” she explained. “We wanted to really learn about the local culture.”

Ada nodded in agreement from across the table. “We really wanted to have an authentic experience.”

I smiled at this, maybe there was someone in Vientiane that I would be able to relate to after all.

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I commented on the quality of her camera, it was a more advanced model of the one I had just purchased for myself.

Anthea nodded, “I studied graphic design, I take a lot of photos.”

“What kind of job do you want to get with your degree.” I asked.

She let out a nervous laugh. “I really want to work and freelance and keep traveling.” she looked down at her camera fiddling with the buttons as she spoke. “Working from nine to five every day in an office would be terribly dreadful.”

I felt my ears perk up at hearing this.

“What I’d really love is to get hired with a non-profit. I could travel and work and help out all at the same time.” she said, with a small smile. “Its just my dream though.” she added.

I was moved by how similar our frustrations, our dreams, and our life goals were. It’s amazing how two strangers could be such kindred spirits from across the globe.

Wat Sisaket, Vientiane's oldest temple.
Wat Sisaket, Vientiane’s oldest temple.

After lunch we walked back to the hostel so the two could catch the bus to Phnom Penh, the next stop on their tour. We passed through temple gardens and golden Buddhas, along cracked sidewalks and bustling markets. As we passed a battered post office box Anthea let out a little yelp.

“Oh shoot!” she said, glancing at the box as we passed. “I forgot to mail my postcard.”

“Family back home?” I asked, sidestepping around a pile of gravel.

“No, no.” she said, with a shy laugh. “I mail a card to myself in every place I visit. That way I get a nice and proper reminder about my trip later once I’m home.”

I found the idea very clever, and put it in my mental bank for later.

Buddha garden at Wat Sisaket.
Buddha garden at Wat Sisaket.

Back at the hostel the two sat out on the hostel floor with a beat up guitar and ran through a short list of songs that they performed on the streets of Hong Kong. Ada sang beautifully and Anthea complimented her nicely with a soft quiet voice.

“Oh no, we have to run.” said Ada, after a short while. She put down the guitar and picked up her pack, glancing at her watch. Hurriedly they gathered their things to make their way to the bus station. Saying goodbye Athea halted her step as she walked away.

“Could you drop this in a post box for me?” she asked, pressing a colorful Laotian postcard into my hands.

I said a final goodbye and promised I would.

After they left I took a walk down the street. Mostly to take in more sights but also to find a post box for Anthea’s letter. I finally stumbled across one. Rusted and worn on a the cracked curb of a nearby street corner.

I noticed she had addressed it to herself and stamped it, but the whole space left for a message or well wish was left blank. I thought a moment and then told myself she wouldn’t mind if I filled in the space. I told her how great it was to spend the day hanging out with her and Ada in Vientiane. How I hoped the rest of their trip around Cambodia went well and they made it back to Hong Kong safe.

I also wished her good luck for her future. Not to give up on her dream job and to keep searching for those “authentic experiences”. I told her I would be doing the same from the USA.

As the post card fell into the darkness of the mailbox I sent with it the mental wish that the words would find Anthea.

Because everyone needs that reminder. A small recognition that they aren’t alone, that someone else out there shares their struggles and frustrations.

Everyone needs that little push to not give up, even from a complete stranger. Motivation to not let their dreams and goals go on and become faded and forgotten.

Everyone needs a letter from Vientiane.

Vientiane
Vientiane

Categories: Laos | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

The Eleven O’ Clock to Nong Khai

“No visa, no ticket.”

The clerk delivered this unfortunate news then dismissively directed his gaze to the next person in line.

I backed away from the ticket counter in frustration.  It seemed my journey to Vientiane, the riverside capital of Laos was over before it even started.  Unwilling to give up so easily I sat myself down on one of the bus station’s rickety metal benches and pondered my options.  Taking the bus directly from Udon Thani, where I currently sat, to Vientiane was out of the question now.  Flying in would grant me a visa at the airport customs but was too expensive for my budget.  I had over a week of free time, Laos was so close but bureaucracy and foreign policy made it seem so far.  I didn’t want to slink back to the Udon Thani base house and wait for my week off to expire.

I looked around the busy station.  Thai commuters, some with nothing more than a small satchel, others burdened by taped packages and overstuffed sacks scurried about the terminal, boarding busses and waving baht at the ticket counter.  My eyes fell to the timetable.  Cities and towns, many I’d never heard of illuminated the board, shuffling between English and Thai.  Their departure times remained steadfast off to the side.

Quickly, I drew a map from my backpack.  With my finger I found Udon Thani in the north east of Thailand and slowly traced along the road north.  Just before my nail reached the Mekong River, the natural border between Thailand and Laos I stopped.  The dot under my finger was the last Thai city before the border, Nong Khai.  I would take a bus as far north as I could and walk into Laos.  I would buy my visa at the border.

Pleased with myself I slapped my map closed with a happy pat and looked up at the timetable board. Scanning the different stops I finally found what I needed, Nong Khai.  Departure time eleven o’ clock.  Calmly I stole a glance at my wrist watch.  My breath caught in my chest as I watched the minute hand strike three minutes past eleven.

Shit!  I thought as I stuffed my map into my bag, slung it over my shoulder and pushed into the bustling mass of Thais.

Shoving my way down the platform I stopped under a sign for Nong Khai.  A man at a card table lazily handed me a ticket as I quickly pressed money into his hands.  The bus was still there albeit exhaust spewing, engine rumbling.  It would leave any second.  Rushing up I banged on the door with my palm.  The driver gave me a frown then swung a handle letting me in.  With relief I staggered down the aisle.  The bus was all but empty save for a couple older women, a long dark haired European and a monk.  I sat opposite the monk and caught my breath as we pulled out of the station.

The Thai countryside

The Thai countryside

As the bus crawled along north I already felt myself being lulled to sleep by the gentle bumps and cool air conditioning. Out of the corner of my eye I stole glances at the monk.  I knew part of the vows for taking the robes forbid monks from naps.  Oversleeping was taken as laziness.  How could this ride not make him tired? I thought.  Making my own personal game I became determined to stay awake and outlast him.

We drove and drove.  He sat with perfect posture, gazing straight ahead, only pausing from time to time to steal a peek out the window. My head and eyes grew heavier and heavier and I knew I had lost.  As my eyes closed and I drifted off I swore I saw him glance sidelong at me and smile.

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“You know you’ve missed your stop.”

The English woke me from my short doze.

“What?” I asked, surprised and confused.

It was the long haired European, spun around to face me from the seat in front of mine.

“Yeah, yeah.  You should have gotten off at this crossroads here.” he pointed to a map on his smartphone.  “You are going to the bridge, no?”

German.  I thought.  His accent was easy to place.

“I’m going to Nong Khai, I’m trying to get to Laos.” I answered him.  I didn’t like his tone.  He spoke matter of factly, like I made a stupid mistake.

“Yeah, me too.” he said. “But the bus should have stopped at the crossroads, I don’t know where we are going now.”  He traced his finger along some road on a map on his phone that I couldn’t see.

“I’m just going to wait until we get to the bus station in Nong Khai.”  I said, half certain that I hadn’t missed my stop.

“Didn’t you download Google Maps?” he asked, pointing to his phone as if introducing me to the technology for the first time.

“Uh, I just brought a map.”  I gestured towards my bag. “Like, one made of paper.”

I didn’t know how else to word it.

He gave me a strange look like I had some kind of infectious disease and his mouth moved into a half grimace as if he had just tasted something foul.

“Oh, well I think we should stop the bus.  We may be driving for awhile now.”  He made a move to gather up his things.

No sooner had he hunched over then the bus screeched to a halt under a faded aluminum sign that read, “Nong Khai Bus Terminus.”

I narrowed my eyes at him after he realized where we were.

“Oh!” he said with a small laugh. “We’re here! You were right!.”

He flipped his long black hair from his eyes and extended a hand beyond the seat for me to shake.

“My name is Max.” I clasped his hand in mine. “I’m from Frankfurt.”

As we stood on the Nong Khai bus platform I learned Max’s story.  He was an exchange student living in Thailand.  His two year graduate studies were at an end and he would be heading back to Germany soon.  With the common goal of getting into Laos we agreed to go across the border together.

“We should have a tuk tuk take us to this park.” he said, thrusting another finger at his beloved Google Map.

“We are here, you see?” he held the smartphone out for me and I could see that the phone’s GPS had transmitted our exact location down onto the phone where we stood at the bus station.  It made getting lost impossible.

“We should go to this park, the drivers think we want to go to the bridge at the border but if we say we want to go to this park instead they will charge us less.” He spoke in a very animated manner. Gesturing with his hands and emphasizing words to the point where the veins bulged in his neck.  I found myself giving him a wide berth while he talked.  Because Max had more experience in country I seceded this plan to him.

The humble tuk tuk

The humble tuk tuk

After the driver dropped us off at the Nong Khai park we hoisted our bags and began walking through the park, Max assuring me that bridge to Laos was just on the other side.  The noon time sun of tropical Thailand beat down on our backs as we walked.  My backpack grew heavier and heavier.  Sweat dripped freely from my brow and pooled around my shirt collar.  Finally we arrived at the opposite end of the park and were met with the sight of a concrete wall.

“This shouldn’t be here!” Max exclaimed, swinging his arm in exasperation at the wall.  Frantically he swiped at the touchscreen on his phone aghast that Google Maps had failed him.

We backtracked through the mid day heat back to the entrance and down the narrow side streets of Nong Khai.  Sweat poured in torrents down my back.  I drained my water bottle and gradually felt myself becoming more agitated for not just taking a tuk tuk straight to the bridge.

Finally, standing on a wide thoroughfare a sign ahead pointed towards the border and Vientiane. Unfortunately walking across would be no easy affair.  Thai soldiers blocked the way.  They stood, guns slung at their sides pacing back and forth and watching traffic.  We decided to hire another tuk tuk to take us through.

As we passed the checkpoint a soldier barked an order in Thai at our driver and we were soon dumped at a border customs office.  Paying the driver he pointed forward to a window labeled, “Visa On Arrival.”

Filling out the application card I paid the fee and smiled at the officer.  I felt like it was just something I was supposed to do, as if not smiling would incriminate me and deny me access.  He took my paperwork with disinterest and went about tossing the various forms into different piles, not bothering to read them.

I was ushered into a wide square room.  Void of any decorations, wall hangings or furniture, the space was only occupied by three small booths.  The only sound was the echoing thuds of stamps being implanted into passports.  I stepped into a queue and waited to see if I would be allowed admittance into Laos.

As I waited, I thought how much this part of travel meant to me.  Sure it was a headache and could be frustrating, but it was also challenging and fun.  Choosing to skip the easy route of flying and just being dumped where I wanted to go, I went through the rewarding experience of actually trying to get there on my own.  I navigated buses, read maps, and braved border guards.

I gazed over my shoulder at Max, head down, fiddling on his phone behind me.  With the challenge of getting from one place to another puts you into situations where you meet new people and can be brought together by the mere fact that you are both trying to undertake the challenge of getting to the same place.  Whether these people help or hamper you is just all part of the experience.  Every journey should be one worth remembering, the more challenging the travel the more memorable the journey.

I stepped up to the counter.  The guard eyed me up. Looking back and forth from me to my passport. He gestured I stare into the tiny desktop camera.  I stepped back put my hands at my sides and had another internal struggle whether to smile or not.  He planted a stamp on an open page, the action sounded like thunder in the hollow room.   Quickly he pushed my passport back across the counter.

Stepping back outside I took in my new surroundings.  It’s a funny thing crossing borders. One minute you are there. There, being a place with its own language, currency, culture, history and politics. Then suddenly you take two steps and you are transported to here. A place where all the things that defined there, are totally different.

People hustled and moved out of the office clambering aboard shuttles. Money booths advertised exchanging Thai baht into kip. A new flag snapped in the breeze. Blue and red with a white circle emblazoning the center. Signs displayed a new elegant but indecipherable script.

“Sa-bai-dee!” the shuttle driver greeted me cheerfully.

I let this new word for “hello” ring around in my ears.

I smiled.

I had done it.

I was in Laos.

Categories: Thailand | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

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