Testing 1.. 2… Sibilance. Sibilance.. Hello, North America.. Come in, North America.. Can you read me??
Been a long time, huh? When I last wrote, I was still choking on the exasperation from my experience in Burma. Yes, I’ve gotten a hold of myself. And, no, I haven’t fallen into a vat of coconut curry or been abducted by a Thai heirum in the meantime as I’d hoped. I’ve just been enjoying detachment in the technology-light laidback-ness of Laos for the last month. And it’s been absolutely wonderful. This entry’s another mega-ultra-hyper-huge whopper, so grab some Whoppers and settle in.
Before I go on, I should clear up a coupla things. First, the location. Like a lot of people, I wasn’t exactly sure where Laos was before I pulled out the map. It’s a sort of keyhole-shaped landlocked country in the middle of mainland Southeast Asia that shares borders with Thailand, Burma, China, Vietnam and Cambodia. Second, Laos is actually pronounced ‘Lao’. Like ‘how’, ‘now’, ‘brow(n)’ or ‘cow’. But not like ‘mouse’, ‘house’, or.. ‘louse’. I always used to giggle when I heard travelers come back and refer to it as ‘Lao’, with their new-fangled international edumacations and smug pronunciations butting up against my American ignorance but.. turns out they’re right. And now I’m one of ’em. The people of Laos refer to themselves as ‘Lao’ or ‘Laotians’ and their country as ‘Lao’ and have for a while. Many still spell it that way today. When the French came in the late 18th century and took over the area of Southeast Asia that includes present day Laos and Vietnam (aka French Indochina), they decided to add an ‘s’ to ‘Lao’. Isn’t that nice? But even that ‘s’ was supposed to be silent – on account-a bein’ French ‘n all. So, there you have it. Now you can sound smart – or uppity – at your next cocktail party. Tres chic!
Speaking of occupations, the US has played a very important role in the history of Laos as well. Did you know that Laos is the most heavily bombed country per capita in history? And that the US did all that bombing?? That’s right. In an attempt to prevent the ‘domino effect’ of communism that was feared to start in Vietnam (encouraged by Russia, Cuba and others), the American military (who had already been financially and militarily supporting the anti-communist movement in the country for years) undertook the most aggressive bombing campaign ever, dropping more than 2,000,000 TONS of bombs on Eastern Laos (including the Ho Chi Minh supply trail and the suspected headquarters of the Pathet Lao/Communist movement, which I’ll talk more about later) from 1971-1973 as part of America’s ‘Secret War’ that took place in tandem with efforts in Vietnam. 2,000,000 tons. That’s 1,000 pounds of bombs PER PERSON in Laos at the time. And more in total than was dropped worldwide during all of WWII. Can you believe that shit? The best part is, it didn’t work. As soon as a peace agreement was signed, the communists came out of hiding and took over control of the country. It’s technically a communist country today. And much of the country is still riddled with UXOs (unexploded ordnances) preventing much of the land from being explored, farmed or settled. And people still die every year when they accidentally stumble across them. Awesome.
Despite all that that, no one ever gave me a hard time about being American, not even a second glance. And Laos is one of the most beautiful and peaceful places I’ve ever visited. Had I not read about all of the above, I would have a hard time believing it as the experience I had was so far from anything resembling conflict. As I sit here trying to figure out how to describe Laos, a stream of wonderful words comes to mind: green, green, and more green (‘seekeeow’ in Laos), undeveloped, simple, pastoral, laidback, unmolested, fertile, hilly, unhurried, rice paddy, earthy, lush, jungle bucolic, banana, verdant, buffalo, papaya, tribal, quiet, relaxed… Ahh… I’m 75% more chilled out just thinking about it..
Laos is an oasis of rugged green, populated by some of the most laidback people on earth. Somehow, surrounded by the maniacal pace of culture-wiping concrete-ization and tourism development in Thailand, China and Vietnam, Laos has managed to sneak by without much of.. anything.. changing. The people there seem more interested in maintaining their old way of life than catering to the opportunities in business and tourism that their neighbors are clamoring for. And it’s wonderful. It’s like a chilled out protected ethnic nature park smack dab in the middle of the emerging modernization of Southeast Asia.
After humming along at a healthy clip for nearly a year from the US trip, to Portugal, Spain and Morocco, to Nepal and India, and the fascinating but tiring experience in Burma, I was feeling a bit frayed around the edges by the time I left Burma. The daydreams I’d been having about ending this whole trip with a month in the woods by myself (Alaska??) to unwind and truly, finally, relax were growing and, regardless of location, I knew I needed some down time. “But you’re on vacation!”, you’re probably shouting at your computer at work. Well, as I’ve come to learn, traveling in developing countries, with all of the challenges that come along with it (and amazing adventures, as it goes without saying), is not quite like sipping tuna coladas on the beach in Cancun. Believe it or not, it’s damn tiring at times. I know I won’t win that argument with any of you, so I’ll shut up about a little fatigue creeping in as I traipse around the world.. Anyway, after all I’d done and seen, I now can’t imagine a better place to end up than Laos. It’s as if a doctor had written a prescription for my world-traveling weariness, for 200 milligrams of Laos per day for a month. Sorry, I know how cheesy that was. But once it entered my mind, I had to. Someone’s gotta entertain me out here.
As I jumped into a colorful long boat at the Thai border town of Chiang Khong and floated across the Mekong River away from the 7-11s and shiny new air-conditioned cars of Thailand and into the slow pace of life in Laos, it felt like stepping back in time and being washed over by a huge wave of relaxation.
While it seemed that most people that crossed the border immediately jumped on a boat heading south to Luang Prabang, I decided to go in the opposite direction. I’d heard lots of good things about the remote beauty of the north and wanted to check it out. After sucking down my first bowl of phoe (pronounced ‘fu’), the wonderful rice noodle and vegetable soup I’d soon learned is the staple meal in Laos, I jumped on a bus heading north. As I was baking in the sun on the ride, I overheard a guy in the back mention a place called Vieng Phouka, a quiet little village in the Northwest with some great trekking that most people overlook. After cringing at the tourist crush in Chiang Mai, I was motivated to get far away from backpacker trail in Laos, so when he got out, I did too. I’m glad I did. Aki Honkasalo, the 28-year old perma-grinning/giggling muscle-bound competitive judo-practicing commercial airline pilot from Helsinki (a sure thing for MTV’s Real World had he ever tried..) with whom I expected to have absolutely nothing in common, turned out to be one of the nicest people I’ve met in all of my time on the road, constantly smiling and laughing about.. everything. We hit it off and ended up traveling together for most of the next two weeks. (It’s amazing how first impressions can be so completely off the mark. Lesson learned: don’t judge a book by its aviator sunglasses..)
The morning after we arrived, we set off with two local guides, Sikham and Chansing, on a trek through the mountains near the Nam Tha National Protected Area in the Northwest of the country.
For three days, we trekked through lush green woods, bamboo forests, and wet jungle (over a 1.5 day period, I counted 35 different leeches on my feet – thankfully dispatched quickly by Chansing’s homemade brew of tobacco and betel nut juice he’d swab on the little bastards – but not before inflicting some fun damage).
We followed singletrack trails for miles, stopping every few hours along the side of the trail for a meal of sticky rice and sauteed bamboo or other mixed vegetables unpacked from banana leaves that Sikham and Chansing had cooked earlier. Simple, delicious, and addictive. (I’ve now got a nice little sticky rice belly forming from eating basically the same thing 2-3 times a day for the last month).
We walked from village to village occupied by different hill tribes who seem to be nearly unchanged by modern life, something I was surprised at and completely fascinated by. In all of my travels, the closest I’ve come to traditional tribal living is the various ethnic Nepali groups in the Himalaya, who, by comparison, are completely modernized because of tourism. By total contrast, most of the Lahu, Kamu, Hmong, and Akha villages (a few of the many different ethnic tribes living in Laos) we visited look and function just about the same way as they always have.
Accessible only by winding trails through the countryside, each village consisted of a cluster of fifty to sixty little huts built on stilts that house its 100-200 members, all connected by dirt paths and all constructed by hand from the materials on hand – mostly bamboo.
They have no electricity except what some get from the occasional diesel generator. The village acts like a true community, where only the walls of their huts separate them, and only, it seems, when they’re sleeping. Everything else seems to be a community endeavor. The inhabitants depend on farming rice and some vegetables and raising animals.
Many of the women wear colorful traditional clothing and headdresses that denote their marital status (usually incorporating beautiful solid silver French piaster coins left over from the French colonial period as accents or buttons on jackets),
young children run around with only t-shirts on their little bodies (the cleanest way to raise a kid in an area where diapers don’t exist – most of the developing world for that matter), babies are strapped to the backs of the young girls on baby-sitting duty,
dogs, chickens, goats, buffalo, cows and black pigs wander everywhere, and all able-bodied members spend the entire day (usually 5AM ’til after dusk) working quietly side-by-side out in the rice paddies and vegetable gardens that dot the hillsides, while the elderly tend to the animals back home.
At the Lahu and Hmong villages we stopped at on the first day, we were welcomed into the hut of the village chief, where we sat on the ground and smiled or tried what few Laos words we knew (less English is spoken in Laos than any other country I’ve visited) as he either smoked tobacco from a PVC pipe (opium, although technically illegal is still grown in much of the north despite the huge UN efforts, advertised everywhere, to stop it),
or just sat in the darkness tending a fire in the middle of the dirt floor. For some strange reason, most of the huts don’t have windows (not that they’d have the glass anyway..), so they were usually dark and smoky all day. At the end of our first day of hiking, we stopped in an Akha village to spend the night. While we had our own hut (built specifically for tourists by the sustainable tourism efforts in Laos which direct a big chunk of trekking dollars toward the villages themselves for improvements to sanitation, water, irrigation etc – a novel concept in developing country tourism), we were able to sit out on our little porch and watch the evening activity of the village. After slowly making their way back from the fields as the sun set, with hand tools slung over shoulders and huge rattan baskets of rice suspended on backs supported by straps strung around the forehead (similar to Nepal actually),
the villagers would gather at the water pipe in the middle of the village, and begin the nightly ritual of bathing and gossiping. From there, they’d head back to their huts to eat and then might gather at another’s hut to sip low-low (alcohol made from rice) and tell stories before heading to bed to prepare for another long day in the fields. There are no days off in rice farming where a work day typically goes for 14 hours. Yikes. Oh, before I leave the Akha people, there’s one disturbing thing I have to relate. If you like babies, skip to the next paragraph. If you don’t, keep reading. You sick bastards! The Akha people, like most Laos tribes, are animists. They believe in spirits – good and bad. They’re also superstitious. Twins – be they babies or mutant bananas – are considered bad luck. Very very very bad luck. Until five years ago, if a woman gave birth to twins, the babies were killed. They were covered in hot coals from a fire and burned to death. And the parents were banished to the forest for 3-4 months until they were rid of the evil spirits.
For those of you that didn’t read the last few sentences, I assure you it was about ice cream and flowers. You didn’t miss anything.
Shite, I’m already at 2,100 words and I’m only three days into my month there. Long story short, the villages of northern Laos are fascinating, colorful places where time seems to have stood still, and where people live the same very simple, quiet, self-sufficient, community-oriented, and labor-intensive way they have for a long time. It was incredibly refreshing to see. Like stepping through a time warp for a few days. As I made my way through the north, I learned that, while a bit more modernized, most of the rest of northern Laos wasn’t all that different. Remote, simple, rugged and beautiful.
When it was clear that the relaxing pace and stunning green beauty of northern Laos was just what I needed, I decided to explore more of the area. After making it back to Vieng Phouka, Aki and I hitched a ride in a pickup truck up to a town called Luang Nam Tha. Along the way, after our driver continued to nod off, swerve, and generally scare the shit out of us even after two energy drinks (consumed like soda in Laos and most of Southeast Asia), I subtly/forcefully offered to drive and found myself at the wheel of a pickup truck with the driver in the middle and Aki laughing in the passenger seat, all of us bouncing down a ribbon of black winding its way through the beautiful green countryside of Laos. Another in a long line of ‘if my friends could see me now’ moments..
In Luang Nam Tha, I had a slightly less warm and fuzzy experience. As I was taking a walk through some back alleys, a little puppy trotted down the street toward me with bright eyes and tongue wagging. Just as I was leaning over to pet him, I noticed the mange covering his back and decided against it. He carried on, not seeming to take offense. About 10 seconds later, as I was turning the corner into another road, I heard a horrible thud and squeal from behind me. I turned around and saw that same little dog lying on its back after being hit by a speeding scooter. As I ran over and crouched down next to him, it was clear he was in trouble. Over a 3-4 minute period, his convulsing and squealing slowed and finally stopped as his tongue turned from pink to grey. Just then, I realized there was a group of locals standing behind me, trying to figure out why this farang (the Laos word for foreigner – easy to tell they’re talking about you when every 10th word is ‘falang’) was so interested in this stupid dog. It was clearly not a big deal to them as animals – domestic or other – don’t hold quite the same status they do in the West. After he died and I finally walked away, I turned back to see them still looking at me and snickering. Eventually one of them poked at the dog roughly and rolled it around. Convinced it was dead, she picked it up by its legs and brusquely carried it back toward their home like it was a sack of potatoes. As I turned around to keep walking, it hit me. I know what they’re having for dinner tonight. They eat dogs in Laos.
After a night in Luang Nam Tha, Aki headed north and I rented a scooter and headed west to a little farming community called Muang Sing, just a few miles from the Chinese border. After discovering a beautiful and deserted lodge (I was the only guest for the first 3 days) perched high on a ridge on the edge of town, I spent most of the next four days sitting on the porch of the little wooden bungalow I rented (~$5 a night) overlooking a massive valley completely covered in rice paddy and ringed with green mountains in the distance.
It was a magical place. I don’t think I’ve ever had a more serene and peaceful four days in my life. For most of the day, I just sat, read and stared. The view was amazing and soothing. The book I was reading, Awakening the Buddha Within, wasn’t bad either. I don’t know how the timing worked out so well, but starting that book there with that view and the commitment to do nothing but relax was an incredible experience. They all came together with an amazing synergy. If you’re lookin’ for some soul soothin’ and have any interest in Buddhism, check out that book.
Each morning, before the sun came up (I found myself getting up super early to meditate and take in the symphony of sounds and colors surrounding me), I’d watch as villagers would start the long walk down the road from their homes toward their little plots of land, heads covered in traditional conical reed hats, leading their buffaloes across the flooded paddy to start another long day, working side by side with their families to get the new crop planted before the monsoons rolled through to take care of the rest.
In the afternoon, I went on long walks along the paddy edges and up into the hillsides to watch them all at work. In the hills, where rice couldn’t grow, they used every square meter of the rich red soil to plant beautiful patchworks of crops with everything from bananas to lettuces, sugarcane, papayas and chilies.
Sadly, the slash and burn agriculture I saw in Burma is an even greater problem here. While in contrast to the ubiquitous green foliage the patches of red and brown were actually very aesthetically pleasing, it was clear that with a growing population, those old school methods of farming were probably not very sustainable. When I eventually took notice of a few burned out tree stumps, I started seeing them everywhere, with farmers burning wide swaths of land to make room for more crops and more money. To get rid of the stumps that survived the initial burn, they’d set little fires on top of each one to burn them out and level the land, leaving grey ash heaps here and there on the otherwise colorful land.
The markets in Laos are amazing as well, especially in the small farming communities away from the tourist hubs. In Muang Sing, the local market got going early. When I arrived at 5:30 in the morning, it was already buzzing with locals selling produce, fish and meats they’d gathered that morning, and textiles and traditional clothing on display from some of the local tribes hoping to supplement their income. I supplemented some of them quite a few bucks as I couldn’t get enough of all of the rich colors and designs.
As I move from country to country on this trip, the markets are one constant source of curiosity and amazement. Despite the regional differences in the things actually on display, the energy and sense of wholesome freshness is always the same. The incredible colors, smells and sounds are like tractor beams that seem to pull me in wherever I am. It never gets old.
From Muang Sing, I headed back to Luang Nam Tha to begin the long journey up to Phongsali, the hill station in the North, to rendezvous with Aki. Riding in the back of a sawngthaew (a pickup truck with bench seating in the bed that seems to take you – and 17 other people crammed in with sacks of rice, chickens and pigs – everywhere in Laos) on the ride to the bus station, I met a photographer from Spain. He was fresh off a trip to Patagonia, where one of his pictures had just been purchased by National Geographic for a two page spread in the upcoming August issue. If you have the issue, check it out. Supposed to be an amazing photo of the mountainscape in the Patagonia area. Another interesting dude in a sea of characters I’ve met on the road. Paying for his travel by taking amazing photos along the way.
After a night in a nothing town called Oudomxai, I got on another long bus ride through the winding hills of Laos where we usually averaged about 20 mph, complete with the now requisite 4-5 locals with heads out the windows vomiting their sorry guts out, unaccustomed to life in a moving vehicle. At moments like that, it was damn good to be American, with an iron stomach developed over a lifetime of leisure travel in cars.. At Phongsali, I met up with Aki who was, by then unimpressed by the town and ready to move on. Anxious to see a different kind of transportation, and the famed waterways of Laos, we jumped in a longboat for the two day trip down the Nam Ou (literally ‘Water Ou’ or Ou River) back to the next major roadway.
We stopped along the way, first in a town called Muang Khua where we met a bunch of travelers fresh from Vietnam and Cambodia, where the usual exchange of info and suggested itineraries took place over another dinner of sticky rice and veggies on a wooden porch perched over the gurgling river. As we talked and took in ‘Laos TV’ (massive bugs dive-bombed the buzzing fluorescent lights above), I learned that if you hang a plastic bag from that very light, all of the bugs will eventually fly into it and die. Fun to watch and cheaper than a bug zapper. These are the things that become interesting at the pace of life in the middle of nowhere..
From Muang Khua, packed like sardines in another longboat (where I once again took the helm, this time as the owner/driver jumped out of the captain’s chair to work on the engine 25′ behind him as we floated down the river – no need to dock, I’ll take care of it..),
we floated past fishermen casting nets from thin canoes, young boys running around the shores naked as free as birds, and stunning white and black limestone rock formations and karsts, down to Muang Ngoi Neua. Another riverside town, this one had no roads, and therefore no cars or motorized vehicles, anywhere around. Accessible only by boat, it was a quiet oasis on the river. We spent two days, swinging in hammocks in our little bungalows perched above the river, hiking through the nearby mountain hemmed rice paddy, and shaking our heads at the seemingly endless amount of American bomb casings used in interesting ways around the town.
Over a long breakfast on a rainy morning, we met a dude named ‘J.C.’, an old white-bearded guy from Hawaii who now lives in Cambodia, who told us, at full volume, many tales of his cocaine-smuggling days in the 70’s and his interest in finding a good opium den nearby. I love traveling.
As Aki’s vacation time was running out, we parted ways – him to Cambodia and me to eastern Laos. It would take me two more days on the nausea express to get to Sam Neua in the East, along a road many people had told me to avoid. Up for a bit of adventure, I decided to go for it. During a 12 hour stop in a middle-of-nowhere town where I waited for another bus, I experienced the occasionally not so fun part of being the only white guy around. Every once in a while, I’ll walk through a neighborhood or area (in any country really) where everybody seems to think you’re a spectacle. Not in the, “hey, new guy!” way, but in the, “hey, let’s stare coldly at the white guy and not respond when he tries to greet each and every one of us with his weak Laos language skills”. By the time the bus rolled through town at 12AM (I was thankfully awakened by a bang on my room door by the driver of the once-a-day bus which had just stopped outside crammed with sacks of rice, sugar and people – the guesthouse owner had put a sign in the road telling ’em to wake up the falang sleeping inside ’cause he wanted to get on!), I was damn ready to get out. Do you like parenthetical thoughts as much as I do? Just checking.
Exhausted but proud of my ability to weather the most brutal bus trips this country could throw at me, I rolled into Sam Neua that afternoon. As I was walking up to the bus stop the next morning, I was picked up by a young guy eager to practice his English and given a free lift to the town of Vieng Xai, my real destination in the East and probably the most beautiful town in all of Laos. In contrast to the monochrome green blanket that covers most of the north, Vieng Xai is dotted with big brilliant flowers and gardens, making their colors stand out in stark contrast after so much time with one color dominating the scenery.
Belied by the fact that Vieng Xai is the spot where the communist forces of Laos held out for 9 years, living in caves while fighting the opposition in their country and weathering the storm of American bombs. Nine years where they couldn’t really go outside during the day and lived almost entirely inside damp caves as they plotted their strategy to win the war and bring communism to their people, creating the Lao PDR – the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, which stands as the official name of Laos today. Them’s some hearty folks.
Next stop was Vientiane, the country’s capital and most populous city at a whopping 200,000 people. After the remote rural feeling of all of northern Laos, Vientiane felt like Disneyland, with its endless row of tourist haven seafood restaurants twinkling with colorful lights and Beerlao signs perched on the bank of the mighty Mekong River. Anxious to experience more of the green tranquility of Laos, I linked together a string of Laos’ finest public transportation options (tuk-tuk, bus, sawngthaew) to get way off the beaten path to a little town called Kong Lo northeast of the city of Thakhek. There lies one of the natural wonders of Laos, the Hinboun river that flows for over 4 miles through a limestone cave called Tham Lot Kong Lo. It was interesting but more dark and spooky than anything else.
More amazing than the cave was the village of Kong Lo itself. Like Muang Sing, it was a rice farming village, with a massive flat valley of emerald green paddy surrounded by towering jagged limestone mountains. Even better, it was at the end of a very long road that no one but the villagers themselves had any reason to venture down. As a result, the town of about 100 people was dead quiet and pristine, with only the activity of the villagers farming every day to break the spell of quiet over the place. For most of the two days I was there, I sat out on the porch of my tiny bungalow built right on the rice paddy, with new green shoots for a front yard, and stared out at the scene.
Women, men and children donning reed hats, bent over at the waist as they plunged rice seedlings, one clump at a time, into the acres and acres of soft waterlogged mud. For weeks they did this all day long, planting the crop that they’d harvest in the fall and sell in the market. As I was stealthily snapping photos one day, I was busted by a family, who made it clear that if I wanted to take pictures of them, I’d have to get in there and lend a hand. They were joking, but I decided I should give it a shot. It was odd to be standing there, pants rolled up and ankle deep in mud, side by side with these people, helping them sow their seeds (three seedlings at a time plunged in the mud into a little hole you make with your fingers on the way in), after spending most of the last 8 months exploring countries where rice is the staple food and rice farming the way of life for most people, to finally actually see what it was like out there – and where all of that food comes from. I think that strange feeling was outweighed only by their amazement that a falang had jumped into get dirty. Before long, they stopped watching and smiling and I was just one of them. But my rows sucked.
Sad to leave this sea of tranquility behind, but eager to more of the south of the country, I rode on the back of a motorcycle in the rain to a nearby river, crossed it in a canoe, then climbed into a sawngthaew, followed by another sawngthaew, followed by a bus, followed by another bus, all to get back to civilization just a couple hundred miles to the south. All of this public transport has forcibly instilled one very important virtue in me. Patience. But it’s been fun. Public transportation in these places is always a feast for the senses. Giggling school girls checking out the funny looking white dude, bags moving, clucking and squeaking under your feet from their alien animal contents, sharing seats with sacks of rice or boxes of tomatoes, being accosted by villagers at every major intersection who thrust all sorts of funky foods in your face as they speed through, eager for a sale:
chicken on a stick, crickets on a stick, bbq’d bananas on a stick, sticky rice, bamboo stuffed with sweet sticky rice, and other foods that involve sticks or sticky things. All part of the adventure and always fascinating. And usually damn tasty.
After my first roof-top ride since Nepal (a joyous reunion on some cherry dirty roads with incredible scenery),
I spent the next two days wandering through the Bolaven Plateau, a fertile area in the South with a cool climate known for it’s incredible coffee and lush produce farms. With a Swiss girl, Danish girl, and Japanese dude who told me his name was “Massage”, I hitchhiked out to a coffee plantation rumored to produce some of the best coffee in the world. In addition to alcohol and meat, I’ve abstained from coffee for the last 5 months as part of an experimental self-improvement/cleansing practice that seems to have taken on a life of its own. As a result, I wasn’t able to taste the nectar of those plateau gods.. But I hear it was heavenly.
I finished my time in Laos in the far south, in the area known as Si Phan Don, literally ‘4,000 islands’. I’m not sure if there are actually 4,000, but there are a lot. Most of them are little sandbars that form in the delta of the Mekong River as it leaves Laos and flows into Cambodia. I picked the biggest and, apparently, most laid back island (Don Khong) of one of the most chilled out places on earth. Felt like the right way to finish off the most relaxing month of the trip and possibly of my life. Naturally, I ran into someone I know. No, not my 2nd grade teacher, Ms. Pagano. I never liked her anyway. It was actually Masashi (aka Massage) that I’d met a few days earlier.
Another super cool guy who, after plenty of time spent chatting in a place with nothing else to do, I learned I had a lot in common with. We spent a couple days exploring the nearly catatonic island before floating down the Mekong to a slightly busier (barely) island down stream called Don Khon.
After spending a day riding around the perimeter of another of these bungalow-dotted terminally-chilled out islands, where only occasionally would the locals get out of their hammocks long enough to scrap the sleep from their eyes and ask if you wanted to go check out the rare Mekong dolphins, I started to wonder about the quality of life in places like this vs. the West. I bet the Laos word for stress, whatever it is, doesn’t get used much here. I’d like to bottle some of this attitude and sell it back home, please..
For most of this trip, I’ve been excited as I make my way to each new border, anxious to again feel the culture shock that comes with each new destination. With Laos, it felt different. I was actually sad as I made my out, knowing I’d left a truly special place that did something for me at just the right time in my life, and worrying that the same magic I found will soon be replaced with the modernization that seems to be gulping down the rest of the world. With Laos, I hope the future holds something different than the rest of the world. I hope it stays just the same.
With that, I’ll end this odyssey of words. If you’re still reading, send me an email with “I like fuzzy kitties” in the title and I’ll send you 20 Laos Kip as a reward for your bravery.
Over and out.
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