You Lazy Laos

Trip Start Dec 31, 2004
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Trip End Apr 22, 2005


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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Tuesday, January 25, 2005

After what could have very well been an extremely pleasant train ride from Bangkok to the border of Lao I am now in the Capital of the slowest country on the face of this Earth.

When I arrived for my overnight train at Bangkok's main station I seriously had my hopes up after my insufferable 14 hour plus bus ride just two days ago. After the conductor made my bed with crisp white sheets, a fluffy pillow and a nice cozy blanket to ward off the gusts of beautifully cool air conditioning I got ready for a nice sleep. Then three drunken Scottsmen and the filthiest most vile Dutchman I've ever laid eyes on took over what felt like the entire car. With them a lovely Thai prostitute and her daughter and neither of them spoke English. Two of the men walked about sans shirts in swimming trunks. The Dutchmen's tremendous stomach poured over the front of his floral trunks like a tub of hairy cake batter. On his fat right arm a cheap palsy-inked tattoo of praying hands bulged as though they'd been whacked tapping a beer keg. Clearly the hands were praying for more Asian whores and cheap beer. They were repellent beyond description. At first I mistook them for your typical American redneck. I had hoped I'd left those people far behind in the Six Flags Over Georgia parking lot in a pickup with Alabama tags swatting their children and torching up a half-smoked menthol cigarette.

It was torture. A French Laoatian woman across from me scrunched her nose and said, "deegusting!" They drank and jumped up on the bunks and mumbled and laughed and and they smelled. Even when everyone had drawn their curtains they continued well past midnight. "Shushing" them did no good but after I'd fallen asleep the third or fourth time and awoke to the Dutchman's incoherrant mumblings followed by the cackles of his henchmen I'd had all I could take. I ripped back the curtain with a vengeance that in retrospect could have gotten me killed. I screamed I was so enraged, "SHUT UP! SHUT UP!! SHUT UUUUUP!!! People are trying to SLEEP FOR GOD'S SAKE!!!" The unctuous Dutchman poured himself out of his friend's top bunk and laughing burped, "Hey I think we've upset little Miss High Spirits --ha, Ha, HA, HA!" With that he went to the other end of the car to his own bunk. Meanwhile he and his friend every other minute or so for maybe a quarter of an hour made rooster noises and fart sounds and then the others would laugh. By the way, these men were well into their late forties. All the while I waited in paralyzed fear that a piece of iron pipe would come crashing through my curtain and crack my skull.

It didn't happen but you'll be happy to know that I have traveler's insurance and my policy includes the repatriation of remains. I was able to sleep about 30 minutes later. When it was time for breakfast they were queuing up to get off at Udon, which was about an hour before I had to get off and I breathed a sigh of relief. After they'd left the whole car started talking about them and complaining but of course it took me to say something. It would have been more effective if other people had chimed in with me but most people are spineless.

Finally at the last stop we still had to make it to the border and go through Thai customs and Lao immigration. The former Laotian who has been a French citizen for 28 years and I shared a weird-looking tuk-tuk to a place where we could get our Lao visas. As an aside, when Lao became a French colony the French mistakenly added an "S" to the end and it stuck. It is still not the correct name of this country as you can see from its complete title, Lao Peoples Democratic Republic. I knew that we could get one at the border at immigration but the woman I was with didn't have a photo and it's imperative to have one in advance and then she told me the visa was $50. I told her that it was only 30 bucks at the border and that's what my travel agent in Bangkok had told me and then I began to question myself. Anyway I handed over my passport and photo and then it snapped that something was not right.

I told the woman I was with that I was really pretty sure that it was only $30 and that I didn't want to shell out fifty bucks and then I asked the workers to hand me back my passport. The price went down five dollars right away. Then the French woman said that there'd be a line there and anyway it'd be worth it because this is a legitimate visa service and she would expedite the process and whiz us right through. I thought back to the horrific lines in the sweltering heat when I was leaving Cambodia and then said, "40 dollars US and not a penny more --take it or leave it." They begrudgingly smirked and I tossed my passport back and shelled over the cash. In no time we were done and piled in the tuk-tuk with the visa lady now in tow holding out passports. The French lady was right -- sure enough we just got to sit there while the visa woman waited in line behind only two other people. Above her was a three by five foot blue sign written in Lao, Thai and English "VISA $30". I could feel my eyes squinting and I was breathing deep from my inflamed nostrils. More than anything I was mad at myself for being taken. Lesson learned. At one point when we got in another line for something and she was going to hand me back my passport and I told her, "Honey I just paid you 10 bucks to do this -- you hold it, you stay in line and I'm going to stand over here. Thank you."

On high alert, without a full night's sleep I entered Lao feeling a bit put out but I was trying to fake it. The drive from Lao immigration to my hotel was pleasant and mercifully my driver was very nice and helpful.

I think that the Lao people drink warm milk spiked with crushed sleeping pills for breakfast and snack on valium as though they were Skittles throughout the day . This is the slowest most soporific group of people I've ever seen in my entire life. People just slowly meander across the streets here and cars and buses rarely seem to go above 40 miles per hour. There's hardly any traffic on the streets and the shop owners seem to be sleepwalking. And this is the capital.

When I entered my charming and well-decorated hotel I looked around and finally spotted the desk at the end of a bar. I was the only other person in there and it was clear that I'd just entered but about 30 feet away I only saw the backs of two people's heads. As I approached I said hello to them in Lao and they stared back with eyes glazed like hot Krispy Kremes. "I have a reservation, I booked it on the Internet. The name is Christina." You would have thought I'd started singing a lullaby. I expected them to fall off their perches at any given moment into a deep slumber. They looked through one book and then another and then lazily slid one on the desk toward me and asked, "Is it here?" I just wanted to use the bathroom and get in my room so I asked if there had any rooms. They did. The price list came creeping across the desk toward me. "I'd like to see the single with air-con, please for $15."

One of them creaked up and shuffled from behind the desk and I dragged myself behind him down a hallway. We stopped in front of a room with the door open where another vigorously active hotel employee was sitting on the edge of the bed watching wrestling on television. I was confused and asked, "Is this the room?" It was and then we entered and while it was decorated nicely it was a tad dark so I asked if there was anything that had more light. No response. I tried it another way while gesticulating what I thought a star burst should look like, "With more sun --you have with more sun?" He shook his head and I thought he was following me out of the room and when I got into the hallway I looked back. He was glued to two white men beating the crap out of each other in a cage on the television. No doubt this was more exerted energy than these two had seen collectively in their entire lives. "Uh hello? I'll take it it's fine." Poker-faced he just looked at me. "Yes, I want it -- I'll take it. OK?"

After checking in and writing down my passport number and paying in advance I threw my bag in my room and oozed onto the street. I've only been in this town for roughly seven hours but I'm pretty damn sure that this is the most boring town in the entire world. I mean "city", this is the capital after all. This place is seriously weird and even the tuk-tuks are freaking me out. They're more like little tiny trucks and they have low roofs and you get in from behind and could easily tumble out the back were the driver to increase the speed any faster than a mouse on a glue trap.

I'm sure that there's few things to see here so I'm going to take a shower and I'd better do that quick because at this speed cocktail hour will be over before I get a drink around here. Plus I would like to see a little something before I push off tomorrow to the UNESCO Heritage Site town of Luang Prabang.

When I booked my bus ticket today the agent said it'd only take 10 hours. Without batting an eye I drolled, "I think that's highly unlikely but I'll take it."

I have clearly lost my mind getting on a bus again but flying a tuk-tuk with wings would be crazier. If the British had gotten Indochina we'd at least have an almost decent rail system over here but instead the French got them and plied them with opium -- the effects of which are still felt to this very day.

Yawningly Yours,
Christina
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Comments

karsoe
karsoe on

You probably heard this one when you were there, but the joke doing the rounds when I was in Lao was that Lao PDR doesn't mean People's Democratic Republic; it means Please Don't Rush.

Kevin Quill on

Hi,

An absolute hilarious summary of the lady's journey. I laugh even more because I have also been through both Cambodia and Laos, as well as China and Thailand, a large number of times and can relate to everything she says. However, I must stress I am not one of those type of people who stressed her out so much on the train.

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