Back In The Saddle Again!

Laos has dealt us a couple of blows, but we’re about to fight back! We have hired a motorcycle here in Vientiane and are about to head down to Pakse, about 750 km to the south, over 5 days or so. (We have shipped our big bags ahead of us, keeping one smaller bag with us; and we have arranged to return the bike once (if?) we get there. Although the route has certainly been done many times before, and the roads should not be too bad in most places, we’re excited to get off the tourist circuit where you meet the same people and the locals’ displeasure for westerners is clearly displayed on their faces.

We have managed to have some fantastic times in Laos as well – a random sampling:

  • Taking in extraordinary and virtually pristine scenes of village life on a 2-day slow boat trip down the Mekong (while trying to drown out the chatter from fellow Quebecois – pretty much the last thing on earth we wanted to heat at that moment);
  • During our stopover in Pak Beng, taking a rowdy group of teenagers up on their invitation for a drink with them at the side of the road from their large cooler of coke mixed with lao-lao (rice whiskey). Their English was no better than our Lao, but the great equalizer did away with such barriers;
  • Arriving in the surreal town of Luang Prabang and eating our fill of noodle soups and snacks from the night market;
  • Consoling ourselves (after having been involuntarily relieved of our valuables) with drinks at the night market with some wonderful and sympathetic newfound friends whom we will almost certainly never see again;
  • Driving out of town on our motorscooter to tourist destinations which we then decided NOT to visit, preferring to keep riding aimlessly instead of facing the madding crowds;
  • Walking across the Mekong on a bamboo bridge, which is destroyed annually when the river rises and rebuilt again next season;
  • Finding a small and beautiful waterfall, as yet untouched by the tourism epidemic (and sharing our find with some Lao guys washing their truck by splashing buckets of riverwater onto it);
  • Perhaps one of the most interesting and rewarding experiences of our trip – meeting and hanging out with a gregarious group of novice monks, and being invited to visit their ceremonies, chanting sessions, English classes, and dormitory. I’ll write more on this another time.
  • Taking our best overnight bus ride yet from Luang Prabang to Vientiane – we each had our own berth, and no one was snoring too loudly around us;
  • Enjoying the occasional Beerlao, the national beer which we’re told occupies an astounding 99% of the market share here;
  • Observing the mystifying devotion some Lao have to Sylvester Stallone, going so far as to emblazon his likeness on the mudflaps of their vehicles (although it might have something to do with the fact that he filmed a movie here in the 80s);
  • Biting into the flakiest, butteriest croissants we’ve had in a very long time – my longing for Olive & Gourmando was (only temporarily) suspended (we have Laos’ history as a French colony to thank for this as well as for streetlamps);
  • Having a beer under the Arche-du-Triomphe-like structure on the main boulevard in Vientiane, and being joined by some more friendly monks eager to practice their English with foreigners who actually smile (according to them, many don’t!);
  • Finally reaching the end of our wild goose chase to get a new computer at Lada & Co, apparently the only store in Vientiane that sells Apple products;
  • Enjoying a tasty and inventive meal at Makphet, a restaurant that offers chances a career in the hospitality industry for former street kids – the banana flower and grilled pork salad was divine;
  • Enjoying an equally tasty lunch at a restaurant with no English menu or staff; managing to order by pointing at the feast being devoured by the Laos at the next table (we ended up with a whole grilled and salted river fish and all the trimmings).

I could go on, but we’re almost ready to get on the road! More soon!

Watching the Mekong go by (the boat pictured is similar to the one we were on)

Stop on a random river beach

The seasonal bamboo bridge across the Mekong, which gets destroyed and rebuilt annually

Mystifying display of reverence for Sylvester Stallone

Working on pronunciation in the novice monks' dorm room

The novice monks share their dorm with one actual, full monk. This is him. In all his tattooed, chain-smoking glory.

Ice cream stop

Our own private waterfall

Poor us. We had to drive through nothing but this all day.

Our guest appearance at the novices' nightly English class in Luang Prabang

Monkeying around under the Victory Gate in Vientiane (same outfits, different monks) (the guy in white is a friend the monks went to school with before they joined the monastery)

Wouldn't you rather work out here than your depressing concrete dungeon-like gym?

So many astonishing temples in southeast Asia, but we liked this nondescript stupa in the middle of a roundabout. That's me in front, for perspective.

Le Croissant d'Or in central Vientiane, against the backdrop of yet another magnificent temple.

The Vientianers (Vientianese?) make a solid croissant.

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