I lost my iPhone! I think I left it in Sapa. It’s a horrible feeling. I’d say it’s comparable to losing a beloved pet, that’s been your loyal companion for years. It’s what you get for bringing an expensive gadget on a long trip Dan. I brought it mainly for when I return to Africa in September; the kids loved playing the games on it. It also served as a backup to my backup backup camera. I’m not entirely upset that it’s gone. I planned on getting a new one when I returned back home anyways. If it was any of my other cameras or my iPad that was missing….oh I don’t even want to think of the lengths I’d go through to get them back! So whoever found my phone in Sapa Town…enjoy. There’s nothing I can do now, Lucy and I are off to Vientiane, the capital of Laos!
Vietnam is known for it’s pristine beauty and landscapes. Thailand for it’s diverse beaches and lively city culture and Cambodia for it’s world renowned temples and architecture. Landlocked in the middle of those three countries is Laos, which is perpetually forgotten, bypassed, and lost within the mix. Unfortunately, it has the gloomy reputation of being the most heavily bombed country in the world. Hundreds of people every year are still killed or severely injured by bombs that have been left untouched since the Vietnam War. I have to remember to never go off unmarked paths while traveling through the country, there could be land-mines. Because no one ever talks about Laos, Lucy and I went into the country knowing almost absolutely nothing. We flew from Hanoi into Vientiane completely naked; no place to stay, no one to meet, no nothing. After a quick hour flight, we retrieved our bags and looked for internet. There was an internet station on one of the floors where we were able to book a hostel for two nights at a place called Sihome Backpackers, just seven minutes away. We exchanged some money into Laotian Kip, the currency used here. One US dollar equals roughly 7,500 kip, to give you an idea. We took a taxi to Sihome and came to find out that they overbooked and we couldn’t stay. No worries though. Sihome reserved us another hotel for the night about two minutes away. Two guys on motorbikes came and picked us up and off we went!
We got settled into our room and lounged for a bit. I was starving! Lucy was feeling a bit under the weather and decided to stay in for the night while I went into the unknown to search for food. It was pass 10pm, raining, and almost lifeless outside. Unlike Saigon where there were always people and motorbikes everywhere, the streets of Vientiane were basically empty. I had my rain jacket and walked along to try and find a bite to eat. I went down the block, turned the corner and walked about a block down hoping to run into a place to eat. As I walked aimlessly, I heard loud “kissing” noises and guys shouting “Hey boy!”…at least I think they were guys. Suddenly, out of the depths of the dark alleyways and corners, a gang of ladyboys came up and surrounded me! Definitely not women, but skinny Laotian guys dressed in drag. It caught me off guard as I was not expecting this at all, I started to laugh. “You look for a good time?” said one of them. “Noooo.” I responded, with a bit of a laugh. There was one on a motorbike, who rode past me and slapped my butt in the process as the others howled and swooned at me. That’s when I decided I wasn’t that hungry, turned around, and went right back to Lucy at our hotel. I told her what happened and she thought it was the most hilarious thing in the world.
The next morning we were instructed to go back to Sihome backpackers and stay there for the next couple of nights. Sihome is a very laid back hostel with backpackers mainly from Europe and Australia. Lucy and I had the “ninja” room and settled in. Afterwards, we roamed into town to see what Vientiane had to offer. It was super relaxed and easy going. We did finds loads of cool buddhist temples around. I had to take off my shoes in certain areas.
We went back to the hostel and mingled with other backpackers; many traveling solo and some with a friend. The ones who traveled solo aren’t really alone, they’ve met other backpackers in different cities in Asia and decided to travel together for awhile, which I found to be very neat. We played rounds of pool, drank a few beers, and talked about where we’ve been and what we plan on doing. The backpackers who range from age 18 to mid 30’s come from all walks of life, but we all feel a bit of unity in the sense that we all enjoy wandering the world and are completely open to new ideas and vastly different cultures and beliefs. Here we met Abe (Marrakesh, Morocco) who currently lives in Netherlands, Megan (Liverpool, England), Claire (Darlington, England), Tristan (Cambridge, England), Allison (Australia) and a host of other interesting backpackers. The next day, Lucy and I decided to rent motorbikes and go to Buddha Park. Abe and Allison would be joining us. Both have done a massive amount of traveling! Abe is a teacher at home, and has biked across Vietnam and ventures to different countries every summer. Allison puts every single traveler I’ve met to shame. She’s been to 53 different countries and counting! They have both been on motorbikes numerous times, where Lucy and I have not. The plan was for me to drive while Lucy rode on the back but she didn’t feel comfortable, but I couldn’t blame her because I didn’t feel comfortable at first either! I rode on the back with Allison to get the hang of things until we eventually switched places as I drove about 20 kilometers down the streets of Laos. Lucy rode with Abe. After a bumpy ride through mud-pits and potholes, we finally made it to Buddha Park.
Buddha Park is a plot of land full of sacred buddhist statues and structures built in charismatic and anomalous ways. It’s very religious here, as people would take off their shoes at certain statues and kneel down to pray. Everything looked so cool…and climbable. There were elephants, horses, and buddha statues that were just screaming to be climbed on. So that’s what we did.
I don’t think we were supposed to climb on them at all. We certainly got some looks, but no one came and told us to knock it off. It certainly made the day more fun! Other patrons at the park began to follow my lead.
After sweating all day, we rode on our motorbikes back to the hostel. Abe and Lucy took off and left me and Allison in their dust. I felt comfortable, but not that comfortable as I didn’t trust the traffic in Lao, and I wasn’t sure how I would react to an impending road accident with this unfamiliar vehicle. I drove at a steady pace, and all of a sudden Allison says “You just crossed a red light!” Thats when I heard a loud, irritating whistle as soon as I realized what I’ve done. We looked around, but didn’t see any police. “Should I pull over?” I asked Allison. “I think so” she said. I pulled over and saw a Laotian police office walking towards us from the intersection that I zipped through. His English wasn’t great at all, as he used hand gestures to explain the crime I just committed. He asked for identification but I didn’t have any on me. Actually that’s a lie, I had my driver’s license but I pretended like I didn’t have it. Allison did the same. He then started to check out the motorbike I was on. No license plate, no identification number. The only thing on there was a phone number to the company we rented the bikes from. He proceeded to call them but no one answered. He checked under the seat of my bike and grabbed a set of papers which I assumed were registration papers for the motorbike.
He told us to follow him back to his office but Allison told me not to budge and stay put. She’s been all over the world so I trusted her advice. “We are going to stay here and wait because it’s dangerous to drive backwards to your little office area.” she told him. He continued to walk away and kept flagging us to follow him, but we just stood there playing dumb. He walked about 30 meters to the corner. “Should we just go?” I asked. “He has our insurance papers, so I don’t know.” responded Allison. Soon enough, instead of standing around, Allison walked to the police officer and moments later I saw her walking back with the papers in hand. I think the officer meant for us to wait while he wrote a ticket but this guy had no information about us, so we took off!
We managed to escape, periodically looking behind us to see if we were being pursued. It was risky but I am without a ticket! I actually let Allison drive the rest of the way because I didn’t want to get pulled over again! We made it back to the hostel and hung out some more. I gathered a group of about 12 backpackers and we all went out to eat dinner at a live music joint down the street. Lucy and I had plans to leave the next morning to head a bit north to a town called Vang Vieng, known for drunk backpackers tubing down the Mekong river. Sounds fun! Abe, Megan, Claire, and Tristan joined our party and we decided to travel north together, since they were headed that way anyway. A great thing is, like Lucy and I, many of the backpackers I’ve met have no set agenda so are able to flex their schedule as much as they like. We found a group of newly found friends who would stick with us for the duration of our Laos getaway.
Let the wackiness begin!