Is getting there really half the fun?

Trip Start Aug 25, 2008
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Trip End Oct 17, 2008


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Flag of Malaysia  , Wilayah Persekutuan,
Thursday, September 11, 2008

Last night I went for a walk around sleepy Vientiane.  Unlike everywhere else I have been so far there was no constant blare of car horns or the go cart sound of tuk tuks and motorbikes.  The silence here was the perfect backdrop to eavesdrop on this city.  Laotian women at a sidewalk table were giggling and covering their mouths with their hands while bobbing their heads rapidly.  Maybe they were gossiping about their husbands.  Every once in a while the sound of a tv came through an open window and somewhere in the distance was some dance music.  I passed many of the now closed street vendor pushcarts and could smell the lingering ash from the cooking fires. 

What I heard most was what I wasn't hearing...traffic noise.  Down a side alley a family was hunched over a table in the back of their shop eating.  Their curious stares met mine and I just nodded and kept walking.  A few young boys with shaved heads and bright orange Buddhist robes crossed the street and their clothes stood out in the dark.  I turned my head to get another look but they had already vanished into the night.  So quiet was the city that I could actually hear a stray dog scratching itself for fleas.  Go hide, Fido, or you may end up on someone's dinner table.  If they will eat boiled rats from a street market, only Buddha knows where a poor dog could wind up.

Early the next morning my pilot friend who finally caught up with me and I were eating an "American breakfast" that definitely had a Laotian spin to it.  It was scrambled eggs, hot dogs cut up, french bread and tropical fruits.  In walked a sweaty dirty girl with an Australian accent and she was attached to a giant red backpack.  She wanted a room with wi-fi access but moved on since the $18 price at this guesthouse was too steep for her. 

She reminded me of the some of the backpackers I have come across every now and then.  The true backpackers out there love to brag about how they just spent 18 hours in an unairconditioned and packed bus bouncing over horrible roads that are perfumed with dust and exhaust fumes.  Try to catch a few minutes of sleep in one of these buses if you can and you may wake up liberated of some of your personal items you just may need later like a passport or money.  I've traveled like that before and may do it again sometime in the future (in careful moderation though).  Heck, I rode the local bus to Petra and back.

Maybe I am just an intruder in a backpackers world down here in SE Asia.  Sure our paths cross at some of the places we sleep but how we get there couldn't be more different.  In their eyes it makes me less of an adventurer, and maybe they are right in a sense.  But put yourself in their shoes.  They arrive exhausted, sweaty, caked in dirt and battered from the bumpy roads.  I know I am describing any day flying the ATR right there but I am on vacation now.  I think I would rather be spending two hours flying somewhere (and getting annoyed looks from the bus travelers), arriving relaxed and having those extra 18 hours to explore.  Yes my backpacker friends, some people can and do fly. 

That Australian girl sure did look miserable schlepping all that gear around at 7am through the already hot and humid Vientiane streets after an overnight bus ride.  Maybe I am just a big wuss for researching where to stay prior to arrival, having a rough plan, and taking the plane to get there.  Give me the air conditioned comfort of a Chinese MA 60 any day over an overloaded hot bus. 

But I do ask you again, if getting there is supposed to be half the fun, am I cheating myself out of some rich travel experiences?  Since I don't have any war stories to share with you about 18 hour bus rides, am I depriving you of  reading something that may be halfway interesting? 

I thought about all this as we took our $4 air conditioned cab ride to the air conditioned international terminal to board an air conditioned 2.5 hour flight on an Air Asia A320 bound for Kuala Lumpur.  The shiny new red plane even had white writing on its side saying "Now Everyone Can Fly."  All you purist backpackers out there take note--Vientiane to Kuala Lumpur by air for about $50 one way including tax. 
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