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Meditations around the world My 8-month Trip to Southeast Asia.

Jan 15-18: Enter Laos

LAOS | Thursday, 18 January 2007 | Views [2074]

Vientiane, capital of Laos.

January 15-18, 2007

The cool of the morning was quickly fading as we approached the Friendship Bridge and into Laos. The $35 transaction for our visas went smoothly and we walked a few hundred meters north expecting a grand walk across a wooden expanse of rickety transversal over the Mekong River. Not only did we progress to find that it was a bus ride rather than a walk, there was no wood involved in this kilometer long concrete overpass similar to any such highway engineering. Hardly the small quaint villiagesque river crossing we had expected. Nevertheless, we gleefully boarded the bus and quickly disembarked on the north side of the river in search of a taxi to Vientiane, the capital city of Laos.

There are few things that put me into a panicked squirm. Sinus evacuations in my soda realized after consumption, a large hairy spider crawling on across my stomach, monkeys lunging at me with barred teeth dripping with E.Bola and Chlamydia. Upon entry into our mini-van taxi, I realized one more.

Mosquitoes, it is well known, carry many transmittable diseases that range in affect from fever to death. Malaria, Dengue Fever, Japanese Encephalitis and other lovely micro-organisms that gleefully render very bad days to the probiscusly initiated. It was with this in mind as I slid into the mozzy aviary that was our ride for the next 20 minutes. The hungry buzzing of a population ranging in the hundreds of pestilent airborne virus dispensers. I was renamed Grasshopper by a cheery English chap as I snatched a handful of them out of the air. Leslie had a better idea. The electric zapper racket. She quickly retrieved it from the bags and by the time we reached our destination, we stepped from the van with crazy eyes and wild hair, but full of victory and conquest. The van was now mosquito free and we emerged uninfected.

The first order of business when arriving at a destination is to find suitable lodging. One that is fitting to the budget, clean, acceptable mattress, and has some defence against rogue mosquitos. This is not always the easiest accomplishment especially when arriving in a big city where prices are higher and the choices more spread out. City lodging also is built on smaller plots, meaning it must be built up rather than out. Building up mean stairs and for some reason, the only room available is always on the fifth floor. With luggage secured weightily on our backs and daypacks worn reverse on the front, we clamber up these flights of stairs occasionally professing our religion to see a room that is usually either too crappy for our comfort or too posh for our budget and so we move on, refusing to disrobe from our packs for fear of some wild-haired thief lurking in a dark corner who will dart forth and snatch our packs by the time we reach the second stair. Needless to say, we are very relieved by the time we find the right place.

Occasionally, as was the case here in Vientiane, our wills are not so heartened for the cause and we will either splurge for the convenience of not having burning thighs or like now, settle with a budget decision to suck up our internal protests at a immaculately unclean, unfriendly, windowless, stuffy, fluorescent lit, dirty walled hole on not only the top floor of this fine establishment, but the floor where stairs were too much of a chore to build and something of a permanent ladder conveyed you from the floor below. The shared bathroom at the end of the hall was reminiscent of our recent van in occupancy and the facility was inconveniently without a seat. Still, we were happy with just having the decision made and did our best to turn the hole into a home.

Vientiane, it can be said, is the most relaxed and laid back national capital in the world. The western influence is seen mostly in the restaurants, aside from the obvious motor vehicles, paved roads and architectural influences. We were almost ecstatic to find a little Swedish bakery with both pizza and salami sandwiches and engorged ourselves in glutinous bliss. Actually, we don't find there is terribly much else to do in these big cities but to enjoy fine dining. Over a few days, we found the Thai embassy and, being forwarded on another trek to find the Thai consulate, secured a 2 month visa for re-entry into Thailand. We got a few books from a used bookstore and enjoyed a large cup of real coffee at a posh little cafe.

The most blaring difference to us between Vientiane and Phnom Phen in Cambodia, aside from extremely chill versus extremely frantic, was the lack of pharmacies. Cambodia had several per block. Vientiane had none in sight. We took off to find one, Leslie needing back pain meds from looking at too many 5th floor rooms. We were not met with success until traversing the city streets for nearly two hours. Either Laotians are an extremely healthy people or just have secret medical supplies stashed out of sight of the canvassing foreigner. We found what we needed and threw in a few extra rounds of cyproflaxin for good measure and prepared to probe the depths of Laos the next day.


Tags: On the Road

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