Will we ever leave Laos?

Trip Start Jul 20, 2007
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Sunday, February 17, 2008

Within a few hours of arriving in Thakhek we were once again listening to
"new sound of Laos House" - another Yamaha keyboard and a new drunk singer. The
girl at the hostel invited us to a club on a boat in the no mans land of the
Mekong river that divides Laos from Thailand. Initially i cringed. But after a
few beer Laos's i was dancing along admiring how Laos has managed to keep its
own youth culture in the face of the Americanised monoculture. The music's not
my cup of tea but its better than listening to the terrible r & b and hiphop
you hear in every club in China, Vietnam and South Korea. When the Laos people
dance its not about looking good or showing off, they dance because their loving
it. I've seen more rhythm in a disphraxic elephant but they move around with a
huge smile on their face.

We hired a motorbike for 4days and went around central Laos experiencing some
more of Laos's uniqueness. We shared a wooden sauna the size of a portaloo with
4others wearing nothing but a flimsy 'decency' tea towel. Watched women apply
UHT milk to their face in order to stop it wrinkling. Traveled on a boat for
7km through a pitch black cave - which became gradually more boring and
astonishing as the cave winded on and on. Started eating an egg which was
actually a half formed chicken fetus - when we tried to explain there was a
beak in our egg the women shrugged and pointed at her daughter sucking the
poultry goodness through a straw. Taught an impromptu English lesson to three
young boys in a village by reading 2 pages of a novel to them - it was the only
thing i could do to stop them staring at my every move and repeating every word
that came out of my mouth. Became amazed at the willingness of the Laotians to
help people in need - stranded in the middle of nowhere with a flat tire a man
drove us and the bike 18km to the nearest garage and then refused payment. We
got a really sore arse traveling on roads that 4x4's dream off but are sadly
not suitable for 75cc Chinese motorbikes worth about 25p.

And somewhere during the 500km we covered we both got seriously ill for the
first time on our trip. It started with what my mum eloquently describes as
"frequent loose/watery bowel motions" and we came to know as 'always needing a
big sloppy shit.' It got so bad that one day i refused to leave the hostel
fearing I would be caught with my pants down, so to speak. I recovered quicker
but Kerry took a 4-1 lead in the England to Australia vomit challenge and it
was over a week before she had recovered.

We moved 2hours south to Savannakhet - a town with literally nothing to do
other than a dinosaur museum the size of sauna. However, it was impossible to
leave this place, it had a unidentifiable charm that held us for 3days. There
was only 1 bar, owned by an Australian with the most amazing beer belly, and
night after night we were the only customers. No one in Savannakhet gave a worry
to anything - it was the place that best exhibited the Laos trait of
non-ambitiousness. You sit in a bar for an hour and then someone walks over
asking 'did you want something, do you really want to give your money too me?' This relaxed attitude to taking your money makes Laos such a great place to travel. At the same time Western and Chinese companies have stepped in too clean up by offering stuff like VIP bus services which miss all the interesting stuff - watching a goat get tied to a roof-rack, getting covered in dust riding on the back of a pick-up truck, watching bags of chickens try to escape etc - and charge 3 times the local cost.On Valentines day we bumped into Josh and Sophie (our travel companions from Mongolia) and we spent the day doing exactly what you do in England when there's nothing to do - get pissed. At some point of the conversation I suddenly realised how seriously girls take Valentines day. I took a good look around the romantic nature of our situation. We were eating burger and fries listening to Led Zeppelin and by the bar Mr Beer Belly was grinning widely as he watched aerobics on his TV. Luckily the next day took us to Pakse and we stayed in a converted royal palace to Kerry's surprise and delight.

Our last stop in Laos was similar to our first - a small place with no roads and sleeping in a wooden bungalow over the river. However Dondet island is nothing like the peaceful tranquility of Muang Ngoi. Its full of irritating Westerners who spend the whole day shouting and arguing about who's been to the least touristy place in South East Asia. To further disturb the peace, in the next door bungalow is a guy who insists on playing his guitar all day.

People to avoid while traveling No 3 - the solo guitarist.

Although i may appear to have a personal vendetta against guitar music, i don't mind it that much as long as the person playing and singing isn't a tone death plonker with the dexterity in his hands of Humpty Dumpty. If Bob Marley was sat beside me I would peacefully listen but if I hear another wopper try and play/sing the redemption song I'm going to take a knife to some strings. Guitars also take up so much space and their owners treat them better than the Queen treats her corgie's. There will be people stood-up squashing each other all over the train but the precious guitar gets 2seats to itself. And you would think that carrying a guitar half way around the world implies some ability to play but it doesn't. A grade 2 certificate does not mean you strum away anywhere and everywhere. Its so antisocial. Your sat around chatting but el plonko gets his beast out and you have to listen because he's singing through the same 8piece repertoire as the last person you met with a guitar. To make matters worse he will then offer the guitar around the group and some other whopper who has never even held a guitar in his life will grab it and thrash about on the strings. When the guitar returns the guitarists will ask for requests and this is when it gets painful. Whatever song suggested is completely beyond Humpty Dumpty hands limited ability BUT they will attempt it anyway. Cue more pain. I appreciate I have a very different taste in music, this is why i don't walk around with a portable stereo blasting out Richie Hawtin and Luciano. People don't want to hear it so unless your the next Jimmi Hendrix leave your guitar at home.

Rant over, we're off to Cambodia, inabit.
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