Pakse ⇒ Hue

My legs were cramped. I really needed to stretch! Thanks to the rice bags, my own bag, the women’s bags, and bus driver who was sleeping on the floor along the walkway, stretching was literally impossible. So, I ended up falling asleep with my legs on the top of the headrests of my own seat, upside down. To anybody who saw, specifically the lady to my left, I looked insane…

On my way to Vietnam from Central Laos, I wasn’t sure if I’d make it or expire on the way.

So far, this trip was most difficult. However, I had already preppared myself based on the information given to me by an expat and long-time resident of Pakse. He owned a motorcycle-rental shop and sold bus tickets to tourists. I asked him how much to get to Hue, Vietnam, and he laughed a cynical laugh practically right in my face. He told me that the trip from Pakse to Hue was notorious for being absolute shit in every way imaginable. The only thing worse than the buses and drivers going on 14+ hours on the road, he told me, were the roads themselves.

After handing him 220,000 Chickens (Kip) for the ticket, he bluntly told me this is probably going to be the “worst ride” of my life.

Holding my gaze, he went on to say that he’d rather not even sell tickets for this route but that if he didn’t somebody else would. I told him it’s fine and thanked him for the words. In my head it didn’t matter much as long as I made it alive. After all, it would just add to the experience.

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Distance to the border; from there lies Hue some few hundred kilometers away

Having spent the past week on an island showering with Mekong Riverwater and swimming in it daily, I eagerly took to finding a shower in a hostel where I’d stayed previously.

After eating, I played with his little daughter before hopping on a tuk-tuk to the bus station. As I approached my “VIP Bus,” two phrases came to me. First, the famous Thai mai pen rai, the Thai equivalent to “it’s OK” in English; in Laoatian, the corresponding phrase is bor pen yang . As I approached the the bus, those two phrases reverberated in my head like a bird flitting about in a box. I was the only person on the bus and four hours later, hanging in a hammok I put up in the back of the bus, I would find out why.

As I hopped on, he motioned to me, implying that I should eat as he told me the bus leaves at eight– it was five.  

At this point, already aware of scams in the area, I knew I was in it and had to find a way to dismantle the situation, figure out what’s what. . The guy who sold me the ticket from downtown Pakse said the bus left at 5:30. As the scam goes, you pay for a VIP bus and instead you get…what I got. An old, broken down bus outfitted to be stuffed with cargo. I walked around, asking the ticket booths and other bus drivers which bus was going to Hue. They all pointed to the scrap heap. I asked everybody I could and did everything short of calling a spade a spade to their face. I sucked it up, wondering what kind of experience I was about to have. I walked back, drank a beer and had some soup to regroup.

Getting on the bus, I perked up, realizing I could make better use of the seats by avoiding them altogether and stringing up my hammock in the back area of the bus.

The driver laughed at me with a snort when he boarded and saw me suspended in a bright-orange hammock at the back of his bus. Crazy foreigner.While the hammock was great, swinging back and forth with the sway of the bus, it was short-lived. Photo Feb 21, 6 32 26 PM.jpgOur first stop was just forty minutes from the bus stop, whereupon the driver and few guys filled up the entire back of the bus with goods. I was asked to move to one of the six empty seats. For an hour they loaded hand-woven baskets, red bags, blue bags, and green bags– oh, and bags filled with charcoal, which left a dark mist in the air after a bang would land on the floor. Within the next six hours we made five more stops, each to pick up more goods. I had no idea a bus could be packed so tightly. The bags contained flour, sugar, and rice. Mind you that each time they stopped to load the bus, I was asked leave and wait outside. For a lack of better English, the driver would wake me up, loudly exclaiming “You! You!” Yes, that was my signal to get up so they could load. Mai pen rai, I told myself.

 

By the end of that last stop, I was practically in a permanent squatting position.

There were bags in between every seat and under every seat, in every compartment including the roof, and my seat no longer had space to recline–or space for my feet below.We slept for a few hours on the bus just outside the border, waiting for it to open.

Follow me as I cross the border into Vietnam and kill some time in the abandoned water park in Hue as I await a train to Hanoi.

**Below is the little girl from the ticket office in Pakse, who reminded me of my little sister, Isabella.

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Cutie!

Thailand ⇒ Mekong ⇒ Laos

Everybody’s worried about time / But I just keep that shit off my mind / People living on twenty four hour clocks / But we’re on a ride that never stops.

For two days we went by boat along the Mekong River.

On the 29th of January, I crossed over into Laos. The route that began in Chiang Khong, Thailand, near Chiang Rai, stopped at Pak Chong, continued to Pak Beng, then finally let us off in LuaLP-to-Chiang-Mai-sm.jpgng Prabang, Laos. I realized I knew nothing about the country. The Dutch group with which I travelled was quick to point out that “kip,” the currency used in Laos, is the Dutch word for chicken. Amused, we referred to money as chicken during our time there.

 

While one or two were made nauseous, others were just as easily coaxed into a deep sleep by the soothing sound of the boat as it loudly tugged along the Mekong._dsc1932

Most people played drinking games, took pictures along the riverside as the boat passed through, or chatted with the others. You can see the view from the boat along this path by visiting my other site, Mr. Chido.

As we stopped in Pak Chong, night was beginning to fall. As the boats unloaded, ranks of people quickly started their way up the ten-minute trek uphill, towards the hostels and guest-houses. The locals knew the drill, of course. The tourism from the boats provided them a steady supply of eager consumers. Consequently, we knew the drill, too– be at the front and get the better rooms. Delaying the search for accommodation can sometimes lead to interesting situations based on what’s left over.

I broke off from the Dutch and British I was with on the boat and found my way with another group.

We were coaxed into sharing a room after the owner of a hostel approached us, offering us some rice wine while advertising his private rooms. We accepted the drinks and took a look at the rooms. Satisfied, we gave him the money and laid in our beds for a while, drinking and chatting. After dinner everybody who still had some energy left converged at the one bar in town, which I forget the name of. It had a jungle/island atmosphere, L.E.D. lights and locals selling weed, opium, and offering both for the curious tourist. Although I would later try opium in Vang Vieng, Laos, I wasn’t up for the task yet.

At the bar, the two British lads and I were invited to some girl’s, where we would later get locked in by a barbed-wire fence. 

When one of the girls pretended to cook traditional Laoatioan food in the kitchen, waking up the owner, I realized things were getting sloppy. The owner was becoming increasingly present, often appearing to do a visual check on us or the girls, or her property. I later learned this was probably because pre-marital sex is extremely taboo here. After sometime the owner went back to bed and dissapeared. Three hours before our boats loaded up and left, we decided to leave; the girls were already asleep. We were chatting outside, feeling the breeze. As we left the building, it locked us out. To our surprise, the barbed-wire fence that once had a gap to let us in, was now locked. After forty-five minutes scanning the perimiter, we found a weak spot in the soil  where we could lift the gate up enough to shimmy out.

By 7am, everybody was already up to check out and make our ways to the boats and continue the last leg of our ride to Laos.  

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The Boats

Continue to Luang Prabang! Or, see how I spent my time in Thailand

All Things Arise, Exist, and Expire

Perhaps that look inwards is another goal in travelling to the more remote parts of the world.

Catching me off-guard, a stranger I’ve only known for two days noticed a sadness in me that goes unnoticed back home.

I was straddling a ledge on the roof of our hostel, smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer. The main street created a corridor that framed the sunset along the town’s main street. 16707386_10207937500506329_5323739127012508184_oI think it’s normal to feel highs and lows in life. I just get like this sometimes, I told her, throwing in a dumb joke about how I wouldn’t jump. She laughed and admitted that even if I jumped, the wires would brace my fall and I’d probably be alright. She left and I finished my beer. Strangely, I felt like crying.

 

 

 

Despite having so much time to myself while backpacking, I still experience many of the same negative emotions that I did back home.

Realistically, I feel these negative emotions are arising pricesely because I have so much time to myself. There is no distration to make me forget, to weed to numb the uncomfortable feelings I feel sometimes. 

In an environment without television, internet, or other distractions, one really has nowhere else to look and starts to look inward.

Perhaps that look inwards is a subconscious goal of travelling to remote parts of the world. With that increased inward gaze, one starts to be aware of things that was previously suppressed with distractions. Traveling in Asia has no shortage of distractions to the foreigner should they welcome it but can be equally distraction-free if you design your trip that way (no portable movie players, ipods, etc). This isn’t a 12-hour trip to distract yourself during, it’s something you need to interact with as much as possible and in as many ways as possible. In doing so, your interactions with travel will, in reality, be interactions with the self; the decisions you make, the people you seek out, and the way you hold yourself.

If at any time things get tough or heavy, realize a fundamental truth: All things arise, exist, and expire. Nothing is permanent. Things come in and go out. The thing that is liked just appears for a moment, exists, and expires. 

Discomforts of Travel

Today I leave by bus, heading to Pakze from Van Vieng.

This will be another sixteen hours of travel-time. During these times of discomfort and long bus rides, it’s enough to just remind yourself that you are not here for comfort. In fact, part of us seeks the right kinds of discomfort during these journeys. For the time being, local buses and vans are welcome discomforts. Trying unfamiliar and visually appealing food, getting lost and getting directions amidst language barriers, taking chances– these are also welcome discomforts. The difficulties caused by this require one to problem solve, in turn leading to physical and mental growth. 

Every day I see backpackers getting upset about insignificant things. 

Their food wasn’t what they expected, or it took too long. Perhaps their accomodation wasn’t all that it was said to be. There are times when I could let myself get upset but most of the time it’s easy to take a step back and realize, everything is fine.

Most situations resolve themselves when we have flexible, fluid expectations– or perhaps, none at all.