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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

PHNOM PHEN RANTINGS

NIGHTTIME COMEDY

So I am sitting around typing on my computer and I hear an insistent pounding. I'm not sure where it is coming from - or if they are doing construction somewhere but eventually I decide to go take a look.

I figured out that a Cambodian guy who didn't speak much English had locked himself in his bathroom.

I understand that the locks on doors like these are sometimes shitty and may malfunction, but what I couldn't understand is why someone who is the only person in the room should feel the need to lock the bathroom door.

So I summoned the staff and sat around making jokes to a nice girl from Switzerland who lived across the hall from this unfortunate guy while the staff tried to figure out what to do. Eventually, I convinced them that to enter the man's room, they needed the key. The ring of keys the maids use was eventually fetched. The door was unlocked but only able to be opened to the extent of the 'dead bolt' type thing would allow it to go.

Although the trapped man was reassured in both English and his native language of Cambodian that people (a group of six, actually) were working diligently on freeing him from his predicament, he continued pounding on the bathroom door and yelling for help literally the entire time. I am not exaggerating.

Tools were brought to force the locking mechanism of the outer door - including a hatchet. I've never really considered a hatchet as a normal tool for a hotel or guesthouse to have but who knows. Fortunately, a monkey wrench was instead selected and the eventually bashed the lock into submission. From there, getting in and prying the door of the bathroom open was quick work.

The man was grateful to me for summoning help and I smiled and nodded. And went straight to blogging about it.



PONDERING WHAT TO DO

Due to my unemployability in some jobs, I've decided to do the 'lie low' option Adam suggested of travel. Essentially, find a place and just sit there. This is good that I've finally come to a decision on it though I shall follow another of Adam's pieces of advice and keep an eye open for opportunities.

Right now I am in the capital (Phnom Phen) of Cambodia. I've got mixed feelings about it. I'm spending approximately 3/4 of my income per day to keep afloat. It's not great - medicine and such will probably suck up the remainder. Breaking even is much better than continuing my downward money trend, however. But I'm going to need to boost my money so that I can resume travel. I'd still like to see Angkor Wat while I'm in the area but I estimate that will take $100+ with travel and park fees. But it is the big 'bucket list' thing in Cambodia to do.

After talking to a couple of Cambodian guys (see Adam? I do talk to locals - I just normally don't write much about it) I got convinced to check out Vietnam. Frankly, they said Ho Chi Mihn City was cheaper even than here. Sold. Plus, it's a new country. So I'm going to check it out. From there, either Indonesia, back here or who knows where.



VIETNAM EMBASSY

It was a pretty good haul (3-5 KM - they aren't great at maps here and my internet is way too slow to use the internet maps) to the Vietnam embassy. I treated myself to a tuk tuk ride to get there ($3) because it was eight AM before I was ready to go and that is the time the embassy opened. [Note, Cambodia has no public bus systems. Or 'baht buses'. I have no idea why.] I wasn't sure if there would be huge lines and such. There weren't but what the heck. It was about a half hour drive or longer. It turned out they would have the passport ready by 16:30 hrs so I was kind of stuck in and around the area. It made no sense to hike back, touch the building and return. The only thing that bummed me out is that I had to leave my stuff alone for so long. After getting robbed a couple times, I must confess that I've cultivated a bit of a 'guard my shit' mentality and don't like leaving it alone for a long time. Especially not in the place I'm currently staying which has practically no security - though I keep everything locked up as best I can. There are no safes either - but I've learned that even those are not always secure.

Unlike the American embassies I'd visited, entering the Vietnamese embassy is amazingly simple. You can walk straight in from the street. Although the people are working behind the glass (not bullet proof) they are actually Vietnamese - not locals. In American embassies I've been to, you remain uncertain if there actually are any Americans around. They are hidden behind layers of locals - even if you try to talk to them on the phone. Just entering an American embassy you have to go past a lot of fortifications and baggage checks. Apparently, people aren't queuing up to toss bombs into the Vietnamese embassies.

Counting all of the countries I've been through on this trip, ?Vietnam will be my twentieth country visited. I'm uncertain as to how many countries I've been in total and many of the ones I'd count no longer exist.

I'd like to apologize to the readers that I don't have more money to go do interesting shit, write about it and take pictures of things other than piles of trash - but I can only photograph what I can see. I'm in the cheap seats for now but pretty happy with it. Better than being broke back in the ole USA.

When I get to Vietnam, I will have to question the locals to see if their postal system is any better than Thailand's 'oh they seem to have never delivered my package' one. If it is any good, I'll have to send some notebooks to Jana for her Ebay collection.



TOURIST TYPES IN ASIA

I've noticed four distinct categories of tourist that are here in Asia. I appologize if I've brought this up before but condensing it down will be the work of the underpaid and much loved editor.

Dirty hippies: Enough tattoos to make a Yakuza member raise his eyebrows. Enough piercings to make metal detectors short circuit. Dreadlocks that would not look out of place in a reggae band. Outlandish clothing that looks like it may have been saved from the late sixties or early seventies. They have taken non-conformity to such a level that when you see them you know exactly what group they fit into. Irony is pretty ironic.

Fresh faced college students: These are the ones who are either rich enough or motivated enough to go to Asia. The merchants and the especially despicable touting tuk tuk drivers look at them with the same lustful eye as a college senior casts over newly arriving freshmen girls at college. These are the ones who pack Lonely Planet guide books and carefully tick each thing off of the list. Many seem to be in too much of a hurry to do anything except get to the next tourist trap, take a couple mandatory pictures and move quickly to the next. Most are on a limited amount of time (though I suspect parents may be funding many of them) and they know they're going to do the married/family/career/die in debt thing so they've got to get what they can while they can.

Older single men traveling alone. One in six to ten is a woman. These are the people who are either retired or doing well enough they can treat themselves to a bit of a vacation. They seem to wander around, relax and soak in the atmosphere a bit. Minimum age, 40's. In Thailand they are there for a bit of the naughty (I haven't found too many that aren't), mostly absent from Lao and very few by comparison in Cambodia.

White guy, Asian lady. These are married couples, with or without children. What they're up to I have no clue. I think they are either living here, passing through or just on vacation. I have met only one white lady traveling with her Asian boyfriend. She was very nice. He seemed nice but there was quite a language barrier. So the exemption makes the rule!

Over 80% of the tourists I've observed seem (note seem - I don't go around interviewing every tourist I've seen) to fit into one of these four categories. As I may have mentioned in earlier writing, none of the camaraderie between tourists I've seen in Europe seems to be here. Instead it is almost the 'what are you doing here? You are ruining my "I'm the white explorer" experience!' They don't go to places that there is no white people because well, there isn't any tourist stuff to see there.



DOCUMENT DESTRUCTION

My unused Paypal credit card expired awhile back. I shredded it and put the pieces into the open sewer that is in Phnom Pehn. A piece here, a piece there. It will be like a fruitless treasure hunt for someone who is really motivated.





PNP GAMER MEMORYS

Warning! If you are not into PNP roleplaying games, you can choose to skip this section. If you like hearing 'old gamer stories', read on. If you want to submit one that is written up fully and not in 'd00dz speak' with a minimum of typos and bad spelling - something I can just cut and paste, I'll put it in here. If you don't want to take the time to clean it up, stick it in the comments section.


MAFIA MEMORIES by Justin Doyle

So there we were. Two 1920's mobsters who had just been made. Loaded with cash, we decide to buy a mansion in New York, when our (clearly Italian) family decides to throw a dinner party in our house. My uncle, the Don, shows up, and asks me if he can use our telephone. It suddenly dawns on Matthew Lunn and I that we don't have a telephone.

I tell the Don that someone is using it right now, can I get him a drink? He says of course. I run off and tell Matt to make the Don a drink and take his time. I then run outside, run to the neighbor's house (who is, of course, a telephone repair man). I shove a wad of hundreds into his palm and tell him to grab the longest cable he's got while I rip the telephone off his wall and sprint back to outside of our mansion.

During this, Matt has made the Don his drink and has him sitting in the study. Matt's got the window blocked while he makes small talk with the Don, just trying to buy time. It's not working too well.

The neighbor and get the phone to the study window... but the cable is too short! I can't actually get the phone through the window! The Don is getting pretty upset, why is he getting the run-around from his made man?

I hoist the phone up to the window (with the cable stretched taut all the way to the neighbor's house). I hear the Don, very icily, ask Matt where the fucking phone is. I tap the window. Matt asks the Don what he thinks of some artwork on the wall, and opens the window. By the time the Don turns around, Matt is standing there, phone receiver in hand, and asks the Don what number he'd like to call.


DUNWICH BLUES by Matthew Lunn

Same characters/campaign Justin mentioned.

We are in Dunwich, run down town, half the properties are empty. We are exploring the areas around town.

We go to bear hill, get a spot check, Justin misses it, I get it. Right behind Justin's character a massive bear comes out of a bush. I slowly start saying "Sal, whatever you do..." Too late, the bear jumps Justin and tears him a new A hole.
I run back to town, grab the Doc and two guys for the stretcher. They are running Justin back to town, first guy trips on a log and they all go down.

We finally get to the Doc's house, Justin near death. Doc does a wonder of a fix up and Justin is back up and fighting. Right, where to now? Panther gorge? Ok
Spot check, Justin misses, I get it. "Sal, whatever you do..."
I think you get the picture :)

We got our revenge on Logan however when at the end of the Mod we brought half the town up and put in plans to start building a casino. ;)



LOGAN HEALTH

Skip this if you don't want to hear about Logan's medical stuff. God knows I don't want to but I do have people asking me about this stuff so I just find it easier to put it in the blog rather than write it out for interested parties.

Well, my iritis acted up again. This time in the other eye. I tried self medicating but it got worse, not better. I decided it was time to go to the eye doctor. Amazingly, it only cost $10. It appears to be an honest one, not one with a special 'oh, you're a foreigner' price. Good deal. And he spoke English! And he instantly knew what iritis was - unlike some eye doctors I've been to in other parts of the world. Hurray! It turns out that I was self medicating with the correct stuff but just not using enough for as severe of flare up as it was. He doubled the dosage I'd been giving to myself (pred forte) and gave me a special 'now you look stoned because look how big one pupil is, go stare close at people and freak them out and have fun with it for a couple hours' eye drop and sent me on my way. I go back in 3-4 more days. Hopefully it should clear up. Fortunately, it was caught way early enough so that I don't enter the 'lying on the floor wishing for death' phase of pain. It is the kind of pain that once you've had it you immediately know if it's acting up.

I'm confident it is being treated well and so there need be no concern over this. I am actually much more worried about getting hit by an idiot in some sort of motorized vehicle driving like they are a monkey on crack than being incapacitated by this.

In other health news, my right leg is finally totally healed of bloodying up the toe by jamming it in Egypt, burning the calf on a muffler in Thailand and scraping the shin on a boat in Cambodia. I wait to see what new stuff happens to it.



FACEBOOK TRIVIA QUESTION

On Facebook, I asked the question, "In Logan's next blog he compares drivers of a SE Asia nation to "monkeys on crack". Can you guess which nation?"

This is of course a trick question. The correct answer is "all of them".



MISCELLANEOUS

The rules thus far from NCIS. Good stuff.

In order to help pass the time and who knows maybe give me some pleasure and money (it could happen) I have begun working on a book. If people want to comment on it, send me an e-mail (logan9a@yahoo.com) or Facebook private message and ask for it. I will send the outline and first couple pages. I will bug you until my fingers are sore for feedback. The genre is urban fantasy. It is a work of fiction. Some of you will say the work of fiction sentence is unnecessary when I say 'urban fantasy', others will not. I put in the last sentence for both crowds to be happy. I am not Harry Potter and don't own a wand. If it went the route my sunglasses did, it would be broken anyway.



PRICES

1.5 liter bottle of Fanta, $1.25
1.5 liter bottle of diet Pepsi or Coke, $2.50. Guess which Logan is drinking? Sad.

Cross town tuk tuk, $3

Saturday, November 26, 2011

WHINGING ABOUT VOLUNTEERING

CAMBODIA IMPRESSIONS

Found a Mexican food place in Phenom Phen Cambodia on the internet while I was trying to find a place I could volunteer at that wasn't a scam to get my money. The food at the restaurant was OK though I suffered explosive diarrhea shortly afterward. Thus far, that fully expresses my feelings on Cambodia.



TEACHING GIG

My current thinking is that I'll need to volunteer in order to get some experience teaching English. Later, I can work on getting a paying job. I am currently in the capital city of Cambodia. I am astounded at how difficult it is to get an unpaid job teaching English! Yes, I've looked on the internet but most of them are just 'orphanage tourism' where you get to pay a sizable amount of money to 'volunteer' as well as see the 'human zoo'. So, I am a bit discouraged. I thought I'd easily have a job of some sort (bad pay or volunteer) within a week. I was clearly wrong.

I got a rejection e-mail from a volunteer organization. Now that's depressing. Hell, I can't even give away my time.

After reviewing Adam's words of wisdom - and trying to figure out which jobs I am actually qualified for and/or able to do, I might just keep working at finding a place here and do the 'hole up' option for awhile. I'm not saving much money here but I'm not sure where else to go from here. At least if I stay in Cambodia for awhile, I have the possibility of working. In Thailand there are way too many rules and laws to keep you from that. I just need to get a couple months teaching experience somewhere so that I have the faintest clue what the heck I'm talking about. From there, I can stretch that out on my resume to a couple of years. I had checked into Malaysia but it appears to be a 'more developed' country. More English is spoken as well. Naturally, the prices are higher. Not scary so - I could probably break even there but in Cambodia I am at least able to save a pitiful amount per day.

Looking at the map, it appears that my only options from here are either Vietnam or Thailand. I'd also have to go through Thailand if I wanted to hit Malaysia. I suppose that if I wanted to go back to Thailand I could 'hole up' in a fairly small town and rent an apartment cheap. I know that Tonto would be happy to find me a place in Pattaya but there really isn't anything there for me. Plus, getting robbed there did put a foul taste in my mouth for the city.

So, for now, I am just in a holding pattern. For several hours every day I am walking the city of Phnom Phen and trying to find a place to volunteer to teach English at. Yes, I could go back to Mrs. $40 per month but she was looking for a computer teacher - not an English teacher. That is also a possibility.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

LOAD OF BOLLOCKS

COOKIES

I've noticed a two big differences in cookies between American and Cambodian. First, of course is the amount of sugar used. Pretty much everywhere in the world uses less sugar than Americans. This is a well documented fact. The second less documented fact is packaging. In America, when you buy a box of cookies you open the box and there is a big plastic bag which contains all of the cookies. They know the average American will eat them all in one go as we Americans tend to be fat bastards. Well, at least I am. In Cambodia, the cookies are individually wrapped. This would allow you to eat one or two and keep the rest as fresh as possible longer. Fortunately, it is still possible to eat the whole box in one go - it just requires more effort.



MORPHEUS

Listening to an audio book when you're asleep can give you some odd dreams. I was listening to a book and fell asleep. I'm guessing that either the main character in the book was named Doyle or the name Doyle was mentioned a lot. But it was not Justin Doyle that haunted my dreams - it was Travis Powell's character Doyle. [We're talking imaginary character from RPG's if you're behind the geek curve here.] Anyway, this Doyle (in my mind) looks just like Travis but add a hundred pounds of Unnecessary Muscle Mass and two scars. I don't know why just two scars but I'm guessing it is all my mind can hold. For those who listened to the old Heroic Cthulhu (RPG) stuff, you'll know Doyle was a fun loving 'kill stuff, blow it up and stab what was left with a spear' kind of fun loving psycho. Anyway, as the name Doyle got mentioned over and over in this book the world in the dream filled up with Doyle. Soon, everyone was Doyle. All of them were angry, psycho and close to snapping all of the time. You know the little kid name plates you can get to give kids a pride in their own name (as well as sickos valuable information about your child)? The store had one name only on a stand made for one name only: Doyle. They had 'Doyle the Role Playing Game' where people from this earth full of Doyle's could play Doyle. I remember stating whilst in the dream "This is one fucked up dream. I will write it down on facebook." So, beware the temptation of listening to an audio book when falling asleep! Today, I plan to listen to that book (Anubis Gate by Tim Powers). If I don't hear 'Doyle' mentioned frequently, I will suspect someone has put a hex on me. After listening to the first few chapters, I have discovered that indeed the main character is in fact named Doyle. Unfortunately, I lost interest in the book about a third of the way through it but I was grateful for the freaky dream it gave unto me.



CHILD LABOR

So, I'm wandering around in Cambodia. It is HOT. Hot like it gets in Southeast Asia. Sweat rolling down my body (well, my 'festively plump' body) hot. I see two ten year old kids working on a road crew. They were using hammers to make big rocks into little rocks. I am not kidding. Since I know the saying "Pics or it didn't happen", here's some video of it. Heck, I don't even swear in the video. Amazing. A lot of people from rich countries would look at this video and say 'isn't that terrible'. I say 'they are probably helping to support their families'. Here is the video!



EVIL BUGS

While I was writing this, I saw and killed a cockroach that was as large as my middle finger - truly! I've come to accept the small black ant problem but I'm not fond of the cockroaches. Unfortunately, I don't think that I can find a room with air conditioning, a desk, a balcony and interior bathroom for $14 per night elsewhere here. So, I might get stuck with that.



RICKY GERVAIS PODCAST

I've been listening to the Ricky Gervais podcasts. The more I've heard, the stupider Karl Pilkington gets. Some good chuckles in there.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

LOGAN THE TEACHER?

PHNOM PENH

I had decided to push on to Phnom Penh for three reasons:

1. Despite what I had read on the internet, I'd gotten a pretty short visa for Cambodia. I had asked about the business visa but the guy who was doing it for the border crossing managed to convince me that I couldn't check the 'business' box unless I had letters from the company and things like that. Later, this turned out to be a load of rubbish. The business visas are the ones that can be indefinitely extended - for money. So I will need to travel to another country - like Thailand - to re-enter this country because you can't just get that sort of thing done at a local government office. I had figured that such a government office would be in Phnom Penh. I am still planning on swinging by one to see what is up with this visa and get it straight from the horses mouth, so to speak, rather than from a border flunkie who may or may not have a clue. Word that I've thus far gotten from an expat is for a year long visa it is $273.

2. I figured teaching jobs would be easier to find there. Thus far, this does not seem to be the case but I'll have to keep working at it.

3. Hopefully they'll have better places to stay than the shithole I'd stayed at the first night here. Fortunately, they do. I found a room that is $14 per night. I'm sure that if I ever get a job I will be able to rent an apartment somewhere substantially cheaper but this place is nicely meeting my needs for now. Aside from the insect problem but it is just a minor annoyance. Ants, lots and lots of ants.



TEACHING JOB HUNT IN CAMBODIA

I am looking for a pretty low pay nothing special job of teaching in Cambodia. Other teachers have told me that I should dress nice when I am turning in applications as I normally dress like a backpacker. I should probably go get a nice button up shirt but honestly, I am sweating like a pig out in the heat. Also, the people I have been turning in the applications to seem to be the grunts rather than the bosses of the organizations. Given the small and fleeting amount of money I have, I am cautious about spending more money.

The only lady who seemed really excited to see me wanted me to teach basic computers. She seemed disappointed I couldn't teach the more advanced stuff. I told her as long as she had course outlines and such I could indeed probably muddle my way through them. She asked if I would be available for thirty hours a week of teaching and seemed ready to hire me on the spot. The only snag came when I asked her how much I'd be paid for this. Well, she explained, this was for the poor people of the outlying villages. Somehow they all made their way deep into the middle of the capital city to her school and could I do it for $40? A day? No - per month. Well, I have bills to pay as well I told her. That would last me for two days and after that, I would join the ranks of the poor. Since I didn't enjoy living on the street either I couldn't see my way clear to accepting her 'generous' offer.

I'm not sure why it has proven so difficult thus far to get a job at crappy pay in even a non-air conditioned school. I am saving a minimal amount of money up every day but I was hoping to make enough to support myself so that I could collect up some money to revive my shattered finances faster. Getting robbed twice (and western Europe) really kicked the shit out of my money. I appreciate the two offers of financial assistance I've had but - lets face it - none of my friends is in any way 'rich'. If I had a multi-millionare friend who wanted to send me around the world looking for interesting stuff and blogging about it (or collecting stuff they could stock their homes with, or checking out interesting stuff) I'd be delighted to collect a stipend from it. Since none of my friends is that well off, it would be quite a low thing to collect any money from them.

I wonder if I should have lied more creatively on my resume, claiming teaching experience. If I had enough to have a clue as to what to do I could have claimed lots - but frankly, I don't. I've never put together a lesson plan or anything like that.

So, I'm struggling forward as best I can. I may go to an orphanage to teach - this was recommended. I would also be more convinced that it is actually a charitable institution rather than the place offering me $40 per month which I am not at all convinced was.

A special notes for those saying 'why don't you just look on the internet?'. Try it. 80% of the stuff you find are the courses you can take and spend money on, afterward they claim they can get you a teaching job. The other 20% is rubbish. I got better results going through a phone book (they have them here - yea!) and making notes on all of the teaching places I could get to. About a third of them were closed or appear to have never existed. The rest took my C.V. (resume). Oddly, several asked for a picture. I'd suggest getting several pictures of yourself to pass out to these strange people. They don't seem to mind if they are black and white photocopies. I found that very odd. Especially since they don't have any cameras to take them. If I wanted a picture of applicants, I'd just take it with a camera. Maybe that is a cultural thing I am unaware of.

Overall, I am extremely concerned about my financial situation and am working on remedying it. If I was more clever I'd find a way to have my own business rather than suck cock elsewhere. Sadly, I am dim.



OVERALL IMPRESSIONS ON PHNOM PENH

It's all right. It has a few interesting examples of the art and spikey bits that are pretty common all over Southeast Asia. I haven't really found the 'soul of the city' though. It doesn't have a unifying personality that - were I dropped in without it being identified I could say 'oh, I must be in Phnom Penh!'

Aside from the litter and chaotic driving which seem to mar every city in Asia, the only real downside is the dreaded tuk tuk drivers who are everywhere. You will either say 'no' to or ignore about twenty of fifty of these annoying bottom feeders as they believe you are indeed their personal ATM. You can be walking down the street minding your own business when they slow down next to you or try to flag you down from a half block away. Usually a small head shake gets rid of them or a 'no thank you' but some of them cling to you like a jellyfish. Fortunately, they don't grab you. Everything is fine until someone grabs me. I usually ignore them by appearing to be half blind and listening to an MP3 player. Sometimes they like to scream obscenities after me. That's fine, I don't think much of them either. Given that the more interesting parts of the city are fairly close together I don't really see a need to ever take a tuk tuk unless I am making a rare long journey somewhere.

Interesting thing, they use USD here. That is good and bad. Good in that it is easier to see just how fast your money is slipping away and bad for the same reason.



WINDOW LICKERS

Window lickers definition: So I smoke on the balcony. I don't want to take the cigarette butts into the hotel room when I am done and throw them in the trash because it would make the room smell rancid - and the hotels are pretty firm in Cambodia about not smoking in them. My other choices for the cigarette butts are either throwing them into the street or into the potted plant area. I decided instead to just leave them on the windowsill. I'd come up with something later for them or get a bag to put them in and leave them in the hallway. Today, I came back to my room and found the maid had come and gone as usual. When I went out onto the balcony, I found she'd lined up the cigarette butts as well - on the windowsill. Clearly, the maid is a 'window licker'.




PHILOSOPHY

I was just sitting around thinking about laws in various countries. I'm not talking about laws for the 'big stuff' - murder, rape, etc. These are pretty universal. I'm talking about the little laws. Like if you have to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle. If you have to have flags on stuff sticking past the end of your vehicle. If you can toss garbage in the street. I remember when I was in the US, a lot of people would bitch about the little laws. Bitching in many cases is probably justifiable. It seems that many of the little laws are made just because someone feels like bitching to someone who can churn a law for it. After going to fifteen plus countries recently, I have noticed that with laws, it seems to go like this:

Big laws - everyone has them. On off switch as to 'very harsh' punishment.
Little laws - some folks have them, others don't. Few countries actually enforce them unless the police would like a little bribe or something.

Personally, I'm not sure which is better. A lot of people I've spoken with have left their mother country in order to get away from such strict controls and are happy in a more 'rough' area. The downside of going to a country without the plethora of 'little laws' is that if your neighbor wants to play loud music all day and night, you get to deal with it. You can't call up the cops on a 'noise complaint'.

So it all comes down to what kind of BS you want to deal with.



VIDEOS

Cow Family

Laos, Pakse

Middle of Nowhere

Side car tuk tuks

Friday, November 18, 2011

ESCAPE FROM LAOS

ESCAPE FROM LAOS

On the bus to Vientiene, the capital of Lao. It's about a ten hour trip so I might be there by 7PM. [Note, it was actually twelve hours.] That's after I'd like to arrive but the overnight bus was full. During the trip, I don't think the bus went above forty KPH. The roads were of the twisting, hair pin turn, narrow variety. There are no shoulders, just the jungle pushing in against the sides. The road itself passed through many small villages adding to the obstacles and mobile road hazards. Children, people riding scooters (sans protection of any sort) and livestock are just some of the wonders that can be found. They call the bus I am on a VIP bus. It is different from other buses in this country as it is slightly less dirty, much more expensive and they give you a small bottle of complimentary water. There is no air conditioning and the bus has a unique and unfortunately memorable smell. Despite claims that the VIP bus is faster, it makes stops for random people. I sat next to a French girl whose name is also memorable in my mispronouncation as 'Orally'. I did my best to keep the smile from my face.

We arrived in the city of Vientiene. It appeared that the bus station was closed. There wasn't any traffic going to or from it to the actual town which was some distance away. I let myself get sucked along with the tourists - the only ones to pay the higher price of the 'VIP bus' like a leaf in a stream. The crowd went over to a waiting set of tuk-tuks. Knew the price would be high as the tuk-tuks had a complete monopoly on transport. In Lao, there are no taxis nor 'baht buses'. I regard the lack of something akin to the 'baht buses' as a huge 'fail' on the part of the Lao tourist set up. Or for the local populace.

Rather than the usual custom of letting the passengers split a fixed fare, the tuk tuk drivers merely charged everyone 20,000 KIP. Considering you can probably get one for that total, it was pretty extortionistic. I went with it though because - acording to the other tourists, it was five kilometers into town.

So, I climbed onto the tuk tuk. It was the kind of trip I tried to keep my mouth open partially during as we kept going over the kind of bumps that caused my teeth to gnash together. Fuck needing dental work, better to keep the mouth a bit open. Tuk tuks don't have shock absorbers or if they do they gave up the ghost back in the 1970's and have been hard done by since.

Part way through the trip, the tuk tuk driver pulled over in order to come back and demand the fare from all of the passengers. I asked someone who was experienced in Lao (had been here for 3+ months) what was up with that. Apparently, tourists sometimes run off to avoid paying the two or three dollars. Wowza. I'd love nothing better than to have an angry Lao national trying to chase me down and beat me over three dollars.

We eventually got to a place the experienced Lao tourist recommended for guest houses. It was two blocks of lots of different guest houses. The first fifteen (yes, fifteen) I tried were either full or the owner was taking crack when figuring out what prices he'd charge. I continued my search. From what I'd read on wiki travel, they said it was best to arrive in Vientiene early as the guest houses would fill up by nightfall. This tells me that there must be some sort of government regulation or heavy taxation on the building of new guest houses. Otherwise, they tend to get built until they have quite a few extra and this helps bring down the price.

Through a bit of luck and persistance, I eventually found a fairly dumpy place for 80,000 KIP.

After walking more blocks of Vientiene than I cared to with the pack, I determined it seemed to be a larger version of Luang Prabang. Both places didn't seem to have a lot in the way of 'personality' in them. I considered heading out in the morning for another very long bus ride to the south of the country (to Pakse) rather than fighting with the masses of tourists over the few inexpensive places to stay in a town that looked like the same crap I'd already seen elsewhere. Despite my fatigue after a twelve hour bus ride, I'm thinking I'd like to get the fuck out of Laos. It's not substantially cheaper than Thailand to live in. If you aren't going on the tourist rides (which I'm not - still very short of cash, especially after my last robbery) Laos isn't very interesting either. I don't want to go snap some pictures of the waterfall and swim about while someone has the ability to steal my stuff I've had to leave on the shore.

From what I've read on the internet (when I've had access to it) you can easily get a three month visa for Cambodia. Also, 'shitty pay' (six dollars an hour) teaching jobs are supposedly easy to come by. Assuming the prices in Cambodia are like those in Lao and Thailand, that means I could work for three or four hours a day and have my expenses met. That would allow me to save up money for several months to get out of the critical funds zone. If I decide I enjoy teaching and want to move up my rate of pay, I can look into getting the online TEFL certificate for $200. Now, some people out there (usually ones with English degrees) like to decry people teaching English who have no certificates and such. I say that there English is so horrible that I could work on just pronounciation and basic vocabulary (as could anyone) and that would be a huge help to them. They don't need to know what a subjective clause (did I just make that up?) is - they need to know how to tell the difference between the letters 'L' and 'R'. They need to move from 'Where from?' to 'Where are you from?' It's not rocket science. The native teachers of English have such bad English I have great difficulty understanding them. I don't know what their students are learning but it is probably not good. I know I can do better than that. Even if I spent three weeks on the use of the word 'fuck' it would be a huge improvement for them. Yes, it is really that bad. [Note, if someone reading this has a degree in English and isn't bound to the states by family or sedimentality, I'd suggest looking into overseas teaching.]

Despite my wanting to get more quickly to Cambodia to try to make some money, I figured if Pakse (southern Lao town) was interesting and cheap, I could wind out some more time on my visa. [Note, it is not - spent two days wandering around there and I'm really looking forward to moving on.] Although a big part of me wishes I had gone straight from Pattaya to Cambodia, there is some part of me that is glad I've got Laos crossed off my list of places I have any desire to go. Ever.

Looking back on my time in Asia, thus far the nicest place I've stayed lodging wise was in Pattaya at the property owned by Canterbury Tales bookshop. Aside from being professionally robbed there, it was nice.

After a night of pondering and sleeping in the capital, I went to visit a travel agent I'd seen on the previous night. Like other travel agents in Laos, the deal always seems to get worse the next day you go to see them. No, it wouldn't be my own bed for the price we talked about yesterday - add sixty percent for that. I said "See ya" and left. I've noticed that when I get pissed I say "See ya" to people when I am leaving. I think it comes from my childhood when the kids rhyme was 'see ya, wouldn't want ta be ya' was popular. Fortunately, I leave off the last part.

So I went to the bus station to get a ticket.

When you go to see a tuk tuk driver about a normal destination (like a bus station) they often enjoy pulling out a laminated piece of paper with various prices on it for different destination. This is called the 'are you stupid enough to pay these prices I've made up when I was in a fantasy world' paper. The prices are generally 30-300% higher than what they'll take you for. In this case, I was in somewhat of a hurry so I negotiated the driver down from 60,000 KIP to 40,000 KIP.

From my limited experience at the time of actually writing all of this stuff down, avoiding travel agents in this country seems to be a 'win'. They change the deals or the deal gets worse. You don't seem to spend a whole bunch more by using them as opposed to the bus station directly, but I have 'trust issues' with these jokers.

Lao buses leave early in the morning - even if they aren't going all that far. They don't seem to have the 'running every hour or two' schedule down either. You need to haul your ass out of bed early if you want to go anywhere. Fortunately, I was up with plenty of time to spare.

I bought a ticket for the 'non-VIP bus'. It was pretty fucked up. Like the VIP bus, it said "King of Bus" on the front (more bad English) but I don't think it would have rated even as the 'court jester of bus'. No tourists on it as they'd all been routed to more expensive buses. They tried to scare me away from this bus by telling me that it made lots and lots of stops. Initially, this did turn out to be true but after the first few hours of the ride they just pressed on as best they could. I did ask after the VIP bus but managed to get the answer "No have."

Naturally, the bus was extremely full at the outset of the trip. After say halfway through the trip you can look for your own seat if you are so inclined.

The local buses stop for local merchants to get on and attempt to sell shit. I am not kidding. We stopped and twenty people all got on yammering and trying to sell their wares. As these weren't the sort of people who had even rudementary enough English to deal with tourists, I was ignored. Sometimes, the bus driver would just sit there and wait for the people who were selling shit to get on then back off again. Sometimes, the driver at these stops would get off the bus and disappear for awhile. I have no clue where he went or why. Most of what was for sale was food stuffs but other things were also sold. Stuff that you'd think people could just pick up elsewhere. Sometimes the bus would stop so the driver could get out and take a leak on the side of the road. There was no bathroom on this reject from the 1970's bus.

Because spending twelve hours stuffed in with other people, strange odors, uncomfortable seating and slamming over potholes and swerving around things wasn't considered enough torture to make you not ever want to ride the bus again, they also decided to put on the TV with various DVD's. Despite my trying to listen to my audio books with the sound nearly maxed (or maxed) to drown out this crap, I got to listen to more Lao music and watch more of the lame dancing than I ever wanted to see. The closest dance form we have to this in the USA is 'line dancing'. This is just about as lame. The look and feel of the videos is the bad stuff that was hopefully left in the 1980's. Well, I suppose it is newer than the bus. After softening us up with several discs of music that made me want to dismember animals messily, they put on some movies. Being that the movies were made in America they were of significantly better quality. Unfortunately, they had the worst dubbing I'd ever seen. They couldn't even make the sound effects they had to add line up to the action you'd see taking place on the screen. The sounds preceeded the action by a couple seconds. It made me want to bite the heads off of whippets. Because this didn't make the movies unwatchable enough, they also blurred out anything sexual or violent. Blurring out any bare chested females I could understand, America had this same taboo (sad) but they would also blur out some of the weapons. It make it a bit more confusing if you couldn't figure out someone was pointing a gun at someone else. Of course, children could easily figure it out. Due to the slipshod work, not all of the weapons were edited out. It was pretty sad.

After it got dark, the driver alternated between nodding off and attempting to watch the movie. He would continually attempt to move the TV (which was made not to be able to be moved) so that he could see it instead of bothering to watch the twisting obstacle filled road.

To my surprise, we didn't collide with other vehicles, people on scooters who weren't giving any thoughts to their personal safety (sometimes running on dark roads without headlights), livestock or unsupervised children. I was pretty out of it by the time we arrived in Pakse - enough so to listen to someone I shouldn't.

There was some guy who was helping to offload some of the cargo on the bus. He did the 'Where go?' which is "Where are you going?" for those who don't speak English. I told him Pakse and he managed to convince me the deserted (of people, not of buildings) stretch of road I was at was indeed Pakse. I dismounted and got my pack. It was one AM. It turned out this guy was a horrible tuk tuk driver looking for me to be his walking ATM. I felt like a complete noob. After the bus left, I convinced him I'd rather walk than give him any money. I then went and found locals and questioned them (via sign language) as to the location of guest houses or other places to sleep. After going to a couple "I can't believe you're charging that much money to sleep in a dump like this" places, I managed to find one that was only nominally wretched. For 50,000 KIP, I could have a 'fan room' with no hot water. For 70,000 KIP, I could get a room with air conditioning and hot water. I decided I could pay an extra $2.50 for a hot shower in the morning. I checked out the room but in my extremely tired state, I forgot to check on the hot water. There wasn't any. The machine on the wall absolutely failed to work. Super. The only good thing about the place is that I was able to get a cold Lao beer after ten PM when Lao pretty much closes.

Fortunately, I found that the place I'd been talked into leaving the bus at was only one KM away from the actual town center. Had I stayed with the bus, I'd have been much further away. I forgave the horrible tuk tuk driver and left off my fruitless vengence fantasies.



WELCOME TO PAKSE, BITCH

Like the rest of Laos, there are a ton of French speakers here. Whether they are from France or that odd part of Canada they come here. Nowhere else in the world have I encountered as much French. I'm not sure how many of the Laos people actually speak any French but I know that it is no longer (widely) taught in the schools here. I'm not sure where the French speakers will vacation after the older generation here dies out.

I was thinking about something Adam (my mentor) said. He said that I seemed to enjoy sitting around and talking to expats more than the locals. Upon continuing reflection, I don't believe this to be the case. I enjoy sitting around and talking to people I can actually communicate on something other than a 'Me buy this' level with. There are plenty of French speakers here who don't speak much more English than the Laos people and I have no desire to try to strike up a conversation with them. If I can communicate decently with the people (in English or German) I am happy to sit around and talk to them for a long time. That is why in Ukraine I would set up meetings via 'couch surfing' daily.

The next day, I found a decent place for 60,000 KIP. It is lacking in any sort of real (or at least illusionary) security and internet. I like places with the internet because I can get hold of more entertainment stuff and I like security after getting robbed twice. If this place had better security and internet within the rooms (so I can leave the computer downloading while I sleep) I'd probably spend several days here. Since it doesn't, I'm only spending two days wandering the city. On the good side, this is the first place I've stayed in Laos that actually insisted upon seeing my passport as opposed to allowing me to 'be creative' in filling out their documents.

As far as tourists here go, there are a lot more couples. They are usually either in the 'self absorbed' or 'smug' category as they look around and figure out why their own culture is superior to the one they have traveled thousands of miles to put down. They wander around endlessly looking at Lonely Planet guide books to make sure they can cross everything off of the list. They dart out, take a picture of a sunset and dart off somewhere else to do something else. I got to see the latter while I was sitting around on the forth floor balcony/porch typing up this blog on notepad (no internet). Some girl who had no curiousity, no conversation and no interest in the nifty view other than standing there long enough to get a picture and retreat quickly. Interesting way to do a vacation but I suppose a lot of weird stuff can go on when you're pressed for time.

Within other parts of Laos I've been in, as well as Thailand, they have a specific design for the tuk tuks. The tuk tuk is made from a motorcycle attached to a cart it pulls behind it. The cart has a metal or plastic roof over it. For children and contortionists, I'm sure it is a wonderful way to see the city. For those of us who aren't midgets (or 'little people') all of the views are blocked off by the low hanging roof. Many times, you will also get the opportunity to repeatedly bash your head against it. In Pakse, they have a different style of tuk tuk I've never seen before. Rather than pulling the passengers behind it, here they sit to one side of the driver in the manner of a side car. It is a mind bogglingly dangerous side car as there is nothing at all to keep you in it should you hit anything. You have pretty much a straight shot out of it and from there, physics take over and you go squeesh. On the upside, you do get to see a lot more of the sights. I took one to go to the bus station to check prices and I will be attempting to survive the ride in one tomorrow to go to the bus station again to leave Laos.

Yesterday, I had gone to a travel agent to find out how much a ticket to a town next to the border cost. I was quoted 70,000 KIP - a price that was confirmed by the bus station. Today, I decided I should get the ticket so I went back there. A man I'm guessing is French was working there. He is probably the owner. He denied that the destination I had spoken to the young man sitting next to him was available. The young man kept his head down, probably because he enjoyed being employed there, possibly because his English was bad enough he wasn't following the conversation. Since the destination wasn't available would I be interested in traveling an additional half an hour for double the price I was quoted yesterday? To see if he could either suggest a different destination or to see if there was a potential of bargaining, I asked if a "more economical" way to Cambodia was possible? "Swim!" he told me giving a laugh to his own joke. Nobody else laughed. I gave him my big "Well, fuck you very much!" smile, thanked him and left. I will just go to the bus station instead. It is always interesting in the vast majority of the countries I've been to how giving good service doesn't seem related to either staying in business, keeping ones job or even turning a profit.

After walking the town for a few hours (and finally getting a shave), I decided to spend the rest of the day lounging around. I figured I could listen to some audio books.

The last night I was in Laos, a wandering prostitute came to my door. I closed it it with a firm 'no thank you'. If I had a peep hole, I could have done the line from Johnny Mnemonic "If you're not expected then you're not invited so fuck off, OK?"



THE CRAZY MAN

Every now and then, I am found by mentally handicapped people who wander the streets in some of the countries I've visited. They enjoy babbling at me in their native language despite my protestations that I can't understand what the hell they are saying and my indications that my happiness increases with their increased distance from me. This happened here in Pakse, Laos. There don't seem to be any homeless or beggars here (the upside of communism) while everyone is instead kept at a uniform level of poverty.

I'm sitting in front of my hotel whiling away the time and some guy came up and sat down. At first he babbled in Lao at me until it sank into his slow brain that I didn't have a clue what he was saying. Mind you, I'm not saying he walked up and said a couple of sentences. I'm talking about long paragraphs. After his verbal diahrea subsided he kept looking at me like I owed him child support. The first ten times he did, I kept giving him my vacant open mouthed 'goofy grin'. Usually, people get the hint and leave me alone. He didn't. Eventually, I said "What?" in a rather loud voice with accompaning hand gestures. The crazy man departed to lurk at a grocery store across the street and keep an eye on me from there.

One of the tuk tuk drivers who was staking out the hotel looking for money then caught my attention and made the universal signs for 'hey, that guy is a crazy person'. I nodded my thanks.

Eventually, I decided it was time to go to a restaurant. The restaurant is only about 20m away from the grocery store the crazy man was staking out. He followed me to the restaurant. By use of loud and unfriendly tones (which the Lao don't like) and hand gestures, I indicated that I did not appreciate him following me. He gave me a couple rapid paragraphs of what was probably insults in Lao before wandering off.

I'm glad that I'm not in this town for long. I know that I probably caused the local insane assylum escapee to lose face and I don't want to be looking over my shoulder for him to try to get his 'face' back by attacking me.



CAMBODIA, HO!

From what I've learned by talking to people, Veunkham is a town in Laos near the border. On the Cambodian side, it is about 25 KM to a town. I'll probably have to get ripped off by a taxi or dreaded tuk tuk on that side.

We'll see what it's like when I get there but for now I'm happy to be getting out of where I am.



SLEEPER BUSES

After sampling the roads here, I'm glad I didn't invest the money into a 'sleeper bus. The roads are either windey as hell or bumpy as hell. Trying to lie in either an enlarged seat or a full out bed while you're getting continually bashed and shaken doesn't really strike me as the kind of thing many people can sleep through.

Also, when you inquire about sleeper buses price, ask if this is for your own bed or if you'll be sharing it with a stranger. The price I was quoted was over fifty percent more for my own bed. I really didn't feel like sharing a bed with someone who would be continually, forcably rolled into me during the journey.



OVERALL IMPRESSION OF LAOS

Thus far, I'm thinking that Laos is the "Moldova of Asia". People go to Lao because they read that it is untapped by tourists. This is a lie/marketing. In all of the areas that have stuff worth seeing, tourists are thick on the ground. The infrastructure is 'developing' which means that although you'll get a place to stay it won't usually be that nice nor have internet - unless you want to slap down a lot more money than I can afford.

On the upside, Lao beer (named "Beerlao" - I'm not joking) is much better than the stuff served in Thailand and half or less price.

Some people (I am thinking of Adam here) might feel that I am going to be screwed in Cambodia because it may well end up being the same crap as in Laos. I am feeling that this will not be the case and here is why. Sex and visas. To elaborate - in Laos, if you are accused of having 'carnal relations' (or going to have carnal relations) with a Laos woman, both you and she get to be 'guests of the country of Laos' (ie jail) for a good long time. If you are even caught riding around in the same vehicle with a Laos woman, you might even get to go directly to jail for this. I suspect these rather draconian rules were put into place to keep the sex trade to 'non-existant' here. It works. I haven't yet met anyone who had any desire to retire here. Lets face it - old men enjoy the company of pretty young women and have the money to pay for that company. So, they end up making those countries their retirement homes. When that happens, you get a lot more people living in the area who would qualify as 'expats'. For me, that is a good thing as I see the 'expat community' as a source of information to tap into. The internet doesn't seem to really give you the good/interesting/easy to get jobs with teaching unless you have degrees and such. The vast majority of the stuff on the internet is either outdated or trying to sell you something. Hence, to find the jobs, I need to tap into the expat community. To get an expat community, the government has to be OK with their young women renting out their bodies. As to the visas, you get thirty days in Laos. More is rough to get and it appears that the visas - like many other things - are complicated and such. Cambodia you get a 90 day visa for a land crossing. And it's easily extendable. These two factors - as well as things I've read on the internet - lead me to believe it should be easier trying to get teaching jobs (and possibly other work) in Cambodia than Laos. I'd like to build up my funds so that come summer (or possibly next summer if I get involved) I can afford to go traveling some more. Naturally, it could turn out that I am very wrong and all of my plans will again go into the waste basket.



GAY SCENE AND CULTURE IN LAOS

Laos is surprisingly accepting of gays. I say surprising due to the illegality of sex with their local women. I suspect that would apply to woman on woman action as well. The only homosexuals I've seen thus far are women. Even in Amsterdam I don't recall seeing a lot of men holding hands or staring lovingly into each others eyes. Here, I've seen perhaps five pair of women holding hands. What is interesting is that they look at me either with definance or somewhat guiltily. I give them my best 'like I care' look regardless. I don't roll my eyes to emphasize it as they may get the wrong idea that I am judging them as opposed to totally not giving a shit. Either way, there are several things that are culturally frowned on in Laos that I am personally in favor of. First, there are no PDA's. Public Display of Affection. Sitting around making out and such. My opinion has always been two fold - first, if I'm not getting any, why do I need to be subjected to people who obviously are? Second, if I want to see a bit of naughty, the primary purpose of the internet has always been to provide people with lots and lots of porn. I don't need to see it walking down the street. The other thing that is against the culture here is skin. Men are expected to wear a shirt at all times. People from the Republic of Georgia who come on vacation here, beware! You will probably get hostility from the natives and possibly a ticket from the police going around exposing your belly. I like that about the Laos culture. If I never have to look at another man's belly again from now till the day I die, I'd consider that a victory. Likewise, women are not permitted to wear bikini tops. I can totally live with that. Most of the women I've seen wearing the revealing clothing they do are not models and should lose many kilos before dressing like that. There should be a weight limit and body fat limit before showing that kind of skin for either sex.



PHILOSOPHY

I can't speak for other people but I know that when Americans read that some other culture has a 'laid back lifestyle' their thoughts don't really go for much to do with reality. They are imagining themselves in a 'laid back lifestyle', taking it easy and having a nice time. They certainly do not imagine the people who they are paying to provide happiness and ambiance for them having this 'laid back lifestyle'. What 'laid back lifestyle' has begun to mean to me is 'lazy and incompetent'. Now, granted, I've only been in a couple of cultures that seem to advertise this but it's what I'm getting when I go into a hotel room and find things like it hasn't been cleaned, or hasn't been cleaned so that you'd notice. Or that the complimentary water is half gone. Yes, some wit can say "Or the water bottle is half full." Fuck you. You go drink from the bottle that someone who may have had gods know what diseases backwashing into it and you tell me it is half full. In short, when I read that a people have a 'laid back lifestyle', it is not really a selling point I look for. I'd rather hear about the 'hard working' people. Unfortunately, the only ones I know of who that label is routinely applied to are the Germans. If I went to a German guest house and reported my room wasn't clean, within an hour, I'd expect someone to be up there mucking it out as opposed to a smile and a shrug. Academic, sadly, as I can't afford Germany.

I've always been confused by the people who listen to nothing but music when audio books are available. Some people claim they have insufficient concentration for doing something like driving while listening to an audio book. I feel sorry for those people.



BOOK REVIEWS

I'm again re-listening to Roger Zelaznies' Amber series. I've heard these several times in the past and even run a campaign based on them which some of the players still remember. I'm not sure if they remember it with happy feelings because it was one in which they managed to literally destroy the universe because they made a four AM decision. Desisions made during sleep deprivation are never happy ones.

Running a prolongued campaign based on this would be very interesting indeed.

Anyway, if you've never read this series, it is one I very much enjoy. In the shadier places on the internet, you can even find the audio books. Several (but not all that I've found) are read by the author and I think he does a good job at it. Hell, I even corresponded with him a little back when he was alive. (No, I don't have the letters any more - I live out of a fucking backpack). To tell a little bit about the books, they can be loosely grouped into the 'urban fantasy' category that I love so much. The only downside of these otherwise excellent books is twofold. First, whenever someone asks someone else for information, they are inevitably put off. "I'll tell you later" and so on. It is part of the overall theme that knowledge is power and everyone wants it. The second is that a huge chunk of the books seem to be people sitting around and speculating about what the hell is going on. These problems really didn't show up for me until after I had read them a couple of times and knew what was going onl.



TRAVELER'S TIPS

Never believe anything a tuk tuk driver says about anything. Their only concern is getting you into their vehicle to take your money. If you ask them how far something is that is say 500 meters away, it will become as long of walk as they think is needed to get you into their vehicle. In fact, until you judge you need them, it is best to totally ignore (politely if possible) all tuk tuk drivers. I do this by having headphones in my ears. If they show they are upset by me ignoring them, I can always pull out the headphones and claim I couldn't hear them. If you are going down the street to a grocery store say 10m away, you will be beset by tuk tuk drivers trying to get you a ride. They don't seem to realize (or care) that if you wanted a ride you'd come to them.

Unlike about every where else in the world I've been thus far, the capital of Lao is more expensive than the outlying towns. The locals fail to understand why this is unusual.

If you're in a place that charges laundry by the piece, you either can afford too much money for stuff or you're in the wrong place. You want to get to a place that either charges by the load or by the kilo.



PRICES

Dorm in Aya Guesthouse, 40,000 KIP. Note that I've found dorms for 10,000 - 20,000 so this seems like a huge cost for a dorm. I didn't stay there.

Vientiene to Pakse bus. They claim it is only ten hours (it's not - twelve or longer), approximately 120,000 KIP.

In general, the prices of lodging is a bit cheaper than Thailand, food is substantially more expensive. Alcohol is about half price. The food isn't as good here as in Thailand. You can't do much in the way of negotiation with Laos people. In other countries (especially when the place is owned by a 'good ole boy' expat) there is room for negotiation for lodging. Here, you can usually knock off say 10,000 KIP if you are staying multiple days and such. Unfortunately, in USD, that is approximately nothing.

Sleeper bus from Vientiene (capital city of Laos) to Pakse (southern city in Laos), 165,000. Note, for this price you'll be sharing your bed with someone who may be a stranger and getting bumped into them and jounced about on a continuous and ongoing basis. Add fifty percent or more to the price to get shaken to death in your own bed.

Suspicious meat on a stick that looked a bit like a hotdog but had inedible bits on it as well as some sort of drink that tasted like a cross between cough syrup and soda, 7,000 KIP.

Use of a disgusting bathroom with a big ole turd left in it, 1000 KIP.

Shave at a place tourists haven't found, 10,000 KIP. Actually gave her a 5000 KIP tip as she did a decent job.

Pakse to Veunkham (town on the border with Cambodia), 70,000 KIP, about two hours of travel time.

Tuk tuk to the bus station (about 1KM away), 10,000 KIP (after bargaining down from 30,000 KIP).

Laundry - ranges between 8000 KIP (good price) to 10,000 KIP (normal price) on up.

Lao beer (named 'Beerlao'), 640 ML, 8000 - 10,000 KIP, depending on where you buy it. [Note for Chris C., it is like but not quite a 'forty'. Although it is legal in Laos to drink beer on the sidewalk, if you can find a brown paper bag to put it into (I can't, bring your own bags) you can pretend you are in America.]

Friday, November 11, 2011

LAOS, INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

NARRATIVE

My initial impressions of Luang Prabang (Lao): It's a fairly quiet town. By that, I mean that there are no bars, night life or any of that sort of thing in evidence. The big game that people seem to play among themselves in side alleys and such - bingo. I am not joking. They play it with the concentration normally reserved to retirees in America who have nothing better going on in their lives.

I don't really mind a quiet town, however. It gives me more time to plot and scheme.

The French influence is very apparent in the architecture as well as restaurants which offer an assortment of crapes, baguettes and sandwiches - none of which I want. Fortunately, there is enough Lao food (as well as American or generalized Western European) to keep me fed.

When I initially got here, I followed a girl off of the boat who looked like she knew where she was going. She was a bit concerned but I explained about my navigating by zen. Her concern moved from 'possible stalker' to 'weirdo'. I haven't seen her since. The place she inadvertently led me to was OK. The price was only 50,000 KIP. It did have internet but despite their claims to the contrary, it didn't quite reach into the room. Because I like downloading more shit to keep me busy, I decided the next day to look for a better place.

Neither the initial place I stayed nor the place after that bothered to look at my passport nor even get my passport number. It is tempting to begin living under an assumed name but I know that is the kind of thing to bite me in the ass later.

The second place I sought out the morning after was nearly double the first place at 80,000 KIP but that is still only $10 per night. With my own room, own bathroom, a balcony, table, a hard backed wooden chair and internet that actually reaches into the room I am happy with it.

After spending a successful night I was able to negotiate the manager down to 70,000 KIP if I paid three nights all at once. It is not a great discount but that is the problem of not being able to deal with the boss directly.

So far the Lao folk (I don't know the plural) seem OK. I am rather neutral toward them. Some seem cheerful and nice, others like that until you do something they don't like then it jumps to bitchy with no give, others seem aloof. I am pretty neutral on them overall neither harboring good nor bad feelings toward them as a whole. Actually, I can't think of a country that I am overall positively or negatively disposed toward the people as a group. Interesting. This is up from my past where I 'hated everyone equally'. I must be mellowing with age.

The level of English spoken is slightly up from what I encountered in Thailand though there are still plenty of folks who will just throw up their hands and not want to even try to understand what you are saying.

By contrast, the driving safety is well elevated from Thailand. Here, they drive American style (as opposed to British) but they seem to que instead of the 'whatever you can get away with' strategy. There are still more than enough people who are more focused on hauling packages, holding up umbrellas and talking on the cell phone (sometimes all at once) while driving a scooter to keep the population from getting out of hand.

Like Thailand, the stores in Lao confuse me. It is like someone badly printed a book on capitalism and someone else ripped out some vital pages of it. People who decided to open stores were forced to read this book and believed it. Like in Thailand, the secret to success in business is to find a successful business then open up the exact same business next door to it. You sell the same shit at the same prices. The thinking seems to be that you will then be just as successful. I don't claim to be an expert in business but even to me, this is baffling and bazaar behavior. The stores are all the same and sell approximately the same things. They have less personality and individual feel than a row of Twinkies. You won't encounter a stationary store that also sells cold drinks, as an example. Sadly, even in American business you can still find many examples of the 'do what worked for someone else' strategy. Mainly in Hollywood. And MMO's.



LOGAN THE WHAT?

I decided to give teaching English a try. I went to two different places and got results with one of them. The first place I went to was an 'English university'. It really wasn't - it was a building looking like every other that was labeled as such. I missed it the first couple times I went by. I even bought a pen (that didn't work) from the business next door. When I finally discovered it, I heard Pete H's voice in my head chuckling dryly and saying "You're just not paying attention, Logan!" I have no idea how Pete AKA Sherlock Holmes wormed his way into my subconscious but I suspect he is monitoring me from afar with some sort of strange, eldritch device. However he is doing it, I find it odd that my subconscious has an Australian accent. They have no native English teachers at the school and the teachers they do have were astonishing only in that they are allowed to teach English. The first time I made an appointment the 'big boss' blew it off as something else came up. I went by later without an appointment but was told that they didn't have any use for someone to come by for a few days or a week to help out on a volunteer basis. What they really needed was someone who already had a work permit to come by and teach. This tells me that either it is like Thailand where you need a work permit to volunteer, or that the 'big boss' is pretty brainless.

The other place I had gone to, on an impulse, was a Buddhist temple (called a Wat). I am now teaching some of the monks English for an hour a day. I don't really have a curriculum or anything - we're just jumping into it. The first thing I learned is why teachers have a curriculum. I suspect that I'll be needing to learn a lot from this.

I thought at first I would just be teaching one monk (named Phon) but other monks seem to drift in and out to see if they can pick up bits. I think I've learned more about the monks than they have learned about English from me.

Thus far, I've learned that the monks pray, build buildings, study (I'm guessing religious and schooling), and live a far more worldly life than I thought monks would live. Until the age of twenty you are a novice. As soon as you hit twenty, presto, you are a monk. I don't know if they have further ranks up the ladder or not. You are also able to give up being a monk whenever you want. The monk Phon (yes, he is over twenty) joined the priesthood because his school was too far away. Being poor farmers, his parents couldn't afford to purchase him a bike to get there. He needed to join in order to get an education. His goal is to open a restaurant some day. He seems pretty bright - though very reserved. When I first talked to him about teaching him and anyone else who wanted to learn English, he asked why I would waste my time doing that. Yes, those were his words. I was surprised at his directness. I decided to give a direct answer back and tell him it was so that I could find out if I enjoyed teaching. If I do, then I could perhaps get a TEFL certificate and do it elsewhere for money. I've only worked with him for one day as of the writing of this and so far I really don't have an opinion. I also don't think what I'm doing is teaching so much as it would be construed as 'tutoring'. I also think that any actual English teacher would shit a football at what I am teaching them. Well, at least the English teachers I had in my youth. I've met a lot of English teachers that consider themselves to be more 'hip' than that. To wit, I point out "Hey, you're a fucking English teacher. Sorry, it is not 'hip'." But what else would you do with a degree in English other than Starbucks? [Yes, I'd take even a fake degree in English right now as it would make me money but I know better than to try teaching English in the states thank you very much.] It is real English but not proper/book English. I am working on more of the 'common usage' English.



THE ANGRY FRENCHMAN

I was sitting around watching a French couple who were stupid enough to order without looking at the menu. They were an older couple - fifties or sixties. The man was absolutely outraged at being charged 5000 KIP for a small bucket of ice. He was upset at the principle of the thing. He even made a threat to close the restaurant. I'm not sure if he knew how full of shit he sounded. I don't think they have 'tourist police' here but even had this happened in Thailand, you'd just end up paying it after they arrived. Eventually they stormed off. I don't think they had to pay for the ice. In the past, I would have been irritated at such a big scene and tantrum. Now, I just pull out my notebook and think "You go in blog now."



THE SHITTY BAG

So, I decided to go try out Lao whiskey. It costs about five dollars a bottle so I figured 'why not'. I bought a bottle and had made it literally five meters away from the shop before the bottom ripped out of the plastic bag and the whiskey within its box plummeted to the ground. Naturally, the bottle immediately broke. Just before it ripped, I had an odd premonition that it would. I decided to see how it would play out. I looked back at the guy who was observing this and spread out my arms in the universal 'would you look at this fucking shit' gesture. I brought him back the bag and box of broken glass. I was more curious to see what he would do than anything. He ended up replacing it for free as well as giving me a double bag. This gave me a warm fuzzy feeling about the people of Lao. It lasted until I tasted the whiskey.



TRAVELER'S TIPS

If a place doesn't scrutinize your passport, assume the security is shit and act accordingly. Not only can your stuff be stolen but it can be stolen completely anonymously.

Never order without seeing the menu unless you have extra money to burn. Personally, I like to demand my check with the food. If something is brought to the table, ask how much it costs and send it back if you didn't order it. Otherwise, you will get stuck will bills for rice, extra sauce, ice, etc.



KEEPING TO YOURSELF

I am still struggling to follow the wise words of Adam who told me to keep my cards closer to my chest. I'm still having problems with that but every day is a new learning adventure.

If, for example, you use a towel outside of it's intended use then ask for a new towel and present the old, you must be prepared to pay for the new towel. Better just to discretely steal a towel on the drying line at some point than pay an amazing 50,000 KIP for a new one and be threatened with the police if you do not.

Also, at this hotel I am politely fending off various 'when are you going to go do tourist shit that gives this hotel more money' offers from the proprietor. I have a built in excuse for the next couple days with my quirky stomach. I don't know what I ate but oh my god - and yes, sadly it is related to what I think of as the 'towel incident'. Whenever he asks about me wanting to do any of their over priced packaged tours, I always politely tell him I will consider it. Next I will move into looking at literature and such. Eventually, I will run out of time and be forced to move on without (so sad!) being able to indulge in this shit.

Yes, Adam, I can hear you shaking your head at me...



EXPAT COMMUNITY

I have been unable to locate the expat community here, other than some stuff on the internet. Sadly, the stuff on the internet I've found really sucks ass. I need to find a bunch of old gents sitting around and drinking beer to get the inside scoop. Unfortunately, this place doesn't seem to attract them. It could be something to do with the laws stating if you have sex with a Lao girl and are not her husband you go to jail you dirty foreign devil you. Not sure. Given the short duration of the visas and things I've heard, China or Vietnam may be a better bet. I'm planning on looking up more information but honestly, I'm not in a huge hurry to do so. I am still conducting my 'teaching experiment'. Note, I won't be able to get a Vietnam visa at the border. I've looked up the consulate for Vietnam in Luang Prabang. I've got to see if I can get a visa from them so I will be paying them a visit. If I can't, then I suspect (unless Julie's contact in China suddenly gets me a contact who will get me a visa and a job) it will be off to Cambodia when I am ready to leave.

Honestly, I'm beginning to think I made a big mistake in working my way through the north of Thailand and into Lao. I should have pushed east instead toward Cambodia. Well, I guess it's another country I've visited...



PRICES

Dark beer (not bad), 10,000 KIP.

Non functional ballpoint pen, 5000 KIP.

Vegetables with fried rice, not very good, 10,000 KIP.

1.5 liter bottle of water, 6000 KIP.

Trip from where I am (front door service) on an overnight sleeper bus to Vietnam. This bus supposedly has beds but I'm not sure if that is really true. 350,000 KIP (about $43). [Hell, yeah I am going to the bus station first to see if I can find it cheaper.] This bus supposedly goes all the way to Ha Noi.

Meals - generally 10,000 KIP (cold food in the night market, no meat, not very good) to 40,000 KIP + for restaurant dishes. Pretty much everything seems to be 10,000 KIP or 20,000 KIP.

Monday, November 7, 2011

OFF TO LAO

FORBIDDEN THAILAND LORE

OK - there were some things I found out which seem fairly mello to me, but had I published them while I was still in Thailand, it is possible that I could be a 'guest of the Thai government' indefinitely. Hence, I decided to wait until I got to Lao to pop these up. To me they seem fairly innocuous but to Thais, they are little landmines of unhappiness. So now you get to seem them. Without further delay we give you 'Forbidden Thailand Lore'!

When I was on the bus ride from Chaing Mei to Chaing Rei, I was fortunate enough to sit next to an old (80) man who could speak English. We talked over many things but something of interest went like this:

Logan: "I heard that the king (pause) is in the hospital? Is that true?"

During the pause, the old guy had the same expression as if you had said to someone from the Republic of Georgia,

"I heard your mother (pause) is a good cook?"

During the pause, they get the look in their eyes like "If the next thing out your gab isn't positive, we're throwing down right here and now."

This is an example of the type of nationalism in Thailand.

I was curious as to why the Thais LOVE their king so I decided to question one about it...very diplomatically.


I found a Thai who had lived in the states for many years and carefully questioned him about why the Thai people love their king so much.

All of this information is from my source who asked not to be identified. Logan's thoughts are in []'s. I have withheld publishing this information until I was out of Thailand because - despite my not being critical of the Thai government - talking about this stuff (just talking about it!) can get you landed in jail. While a year of free food and lodging is in some ways appealing, I am sure I can get better accommodations in some other way.

The current king of Thailand is beloved by his people due to his hard work for the Thai people.

The king is currently 84 years old and stuck in a hospital.

The king's son and heir to the throne is not respected due to his philandering. [Yes, that does strike me as odd in Thailand but like the Netherlands, Thailand is actually quite conservative despite it's huge number of hookers.]

The king also has a daughter but she has publicly said in the past that she has no interest in ruling.

Between Thais not liking the son and the daughter not wishing to rule, should the king die, calamity will follow.

In Thailand, like in England, the king is more of a figurehead than a day to day ruler.

The head of the kings council was accused of trying to have a Coup d'├ętat a couple years ago. Either before this existed - or following this became in existence two 'power groups' - 'red shirt group' and 'yellow shirt group'. The reds apparently want 'pure democracy' whereas the yellow is the military.

Last year (2010) 91 people were gunned down in red vs yellow. [Not red vs blue - that is a whole different battle.] During this, a thousand red shirts were tossed in jail. They are still there despite a red shirt being the current prime minister. This is due to the huge amount of separation of power - the PM can't pardon the people. That is a whole different part of the government.

All of this (red vs yellow and the continuation of the monarchy) continues to cause a lot of tension in Thais, but the effects are not generally felt in their daily lives.

Discussion of the king (at all, including questions like 'how much money does he have') were - and apparently continue to be a jail-able offense. [I had asked why discussing the monarch's finances was 'verbotten' (forbidden) and was told that if he had X amount of money then people would ask questions like 'why is he so rich and the country so poor'. I myself don't care how much money he has because I know he's not planning on mailing me any. Plus, I guarantee that if I were king, I'd have a nice nest egg.]

If you say anything negative about the king, you can get landed in jail for eight years.



OFF TO LAO

Please forgive the rambling nature of this narrative. I blame my editor who has not yet stepped forward to bear their heavy, heavy cross.

I was toying with the idea of winding out some of my time left on my visa in Thailand at the border but I decided there was nothing which interested me in the one street town. I said 'fuck it' and decided o push on.

After reading the horror stories on the internet, I bought a pillow. I briefly toyed with the idea of earplugs as it was suggested. Now, after being on the boat for a time, I have to wonder what kind of pussy would suggest ear plugs. It's bad near the engine but not really worse than nightclubs people subject themselves to for as long as the boat ride. As to pillows and their reports of hard wooden benches, those seem sadly out of date. It seems that seats ripped from god knows where are on all of the boats I've seen. They are as comfortable as bus seats you are stuck on for eight hours at a shot. I ended up ditching my pillow when I got to Luang Prabang.

I had some munchies for the trip via the 'long tailed boat'. I tried to find dried fruits but unless you want 'dried, disgusting sea monster' you are pretty much out of fucking luck in that area. Things like boxes of rasins and such are totally unavailable in both Thailand and Lao at the shops I've been to. Unless they were sea monster shaped and I just missed them.

There were stores open to buy munchies and such at but I recommend getting your currency exchanged the day before you leave. The currency exchange places don't open early and you want to be at the border crossing at eight AM.

It may be because their own money is so horribly inflated you could knock three zeros off of it and have it still work but the Thai Baht seems to be pretty widely accepted in Lao.

We were told that the boat leaves prompty at nine AM but the truth is that they will delay the departure as long as possible in order to fill the boat. They want all one hundred plus people on there. We ended up leaving closer to 11:30AM.

While we were still docked, I went exploring the boat and failed to follow one of my own rules of 'look at your feet'. It may have been partially because I was worried about the ceiling having repeatedly bashed my head against it and it's 'unusual' construction. I fell into the bildge and scraped up my leg pretty well. By a sad coincidence, it turned out to be the same leg as I'd gotten the burn from the muffler of the scooter on. I'm not sure why so much abuse gets heaped on that particular leg.

The boat was as packed with tourists as Snickers are suppose to be packed with peanuts - though I've found an actual pack of peanuts seems to have more in it. The tourists seemed absolutely horrified at the way the Lao boat crew not only stood on their luggage but would occasionally jump up and down on it in order to get it to fit within the bilge. I tried to tell the other tourists that the crew was just experiencing 'high spirits' and not attempting to destroy their luggage but they did not believe me.

There were a handfull of Lao folks on the boat but over one hundred tourists. That does bring up an interesting thing. One of the things constantly said about Lao is that it is 'forgotten'. It even says it on Wikitravel. This is utter bullshit. The places I've been are crawling with tourists. It's a marketing ploy to make you think 'oh, no tourists are here - it's virgin. Somehow, I will see something interesting that few others get to see'. Wrong. If you want to go to some place few others get to see you can do that in almost any country - but it won't be 'interesting'. People might say "Well, Logan, you are in the tourist areas." No shit. So are all of the tourists. I could go out to some remote uninteresting village here, Ukraine, Canada - where ever and not see any other tourists. But they go to where the interesting stuff is. Assuming these boats pump in say half (split the rest up between the buses and speed boats) of all of the tourists, this part of the country alone gets a hundred a day. Simple math says that's...uh...many. Every year. So, be advised that tourists seem very common. There are the couples of all ages, out to see the world with their spouse. There are the college age people. I've run into several that are 'adventurous' as well as several who believe they are or will form the next 'upper crust' in the 'new world order' (read as arrogant little pricks who have rich parents, go to the right schools and will be on the 'fast track' to career success. My only consolation is they will probably have a mid life crisis.) There are also the forty something men who have just begun to realize that after half a life or more of hard work they really have nothing of value. They've spent their life going for the school/career/family/stuff route. They hate their jobs, their family has left them - usually in a divorce - and they found they no longer care about material goods. They have just started to take their first steps into a new, bigger world. I had a long conversation with one such guy from Quebec. Well, to be fair, he talked, I listened. But I thought it was worth hearing. There were plenty of friendly college age people as well and some travelers that I considered extremely seasoned. All sorts in the boat. People seem to bring their women to Lao. They don't to Thailand - usually they seem to be there looking for a woman. Or they read 'exciting night life' for Pattaya and didn't realize what it meant and mistakenly brought their spouse or girlfriend. Or maybe they are there for more creative sinning with them.

Their infrastructure for the tourists is still building though. While there are plenty of grocery stores and pharmacies (ill stocked, glad I grabbed medicine in Thailand) there aren't any 7-11's yet. Yet. I'm sure those will spread like a rash as soon as the government permits it. No real night life I've seen either. If you are wanting loud discos and dancing, this isn't the place. I'm happy for that myself. This is more of a 'go drink beer and stare at the Mekong' type of place. Beer is cheaper than Thailand by about half. (7000 KIP to 10,000 KIP which is at the high end about $1.25. In Thailand, the average beer was like 70-80 BHT which is $2.61 on the high end. Better in Lao. Plus, the Lao beer tastes about the same (mediocre) though I don't mind their dark beer.

Back to the slow boat. I'm not sure how fast it moves in knots (I feel so nautical) but in KPH, I'm guessing 40-60. Not a bad clip. From all accounts I've read indicating that if they don't offer life vests and crash helmets for the speed boat, I'm thinking the words 'death trap' apply. Additionally, they cost more. Let's face it - I have the time. The slow boat makes you happiest when you get off it. As I suspected, at first it is fine but eventually being packed in there wears you down. I've heard the roads are worse. So, infrastructure-wise, no - Lao isn't there yet. But I think it's working on it.

After an hour of traveling in the severely crowded boat we stopped to take on a load of leaky propane tanks. No matter how bad you think things are they can always get more interesting. I could clearly smell the gas escaping.

Eventually, we unloaded the propane tanks at the town we were suppose to stay in during the first night. I forgot the name of it but it was a very forgettable town. Later notes showed it is Prabang - but it is still forgettable. It is also not as advertised on the internet. I've read it is a 'shithole'. I'm not sure how old those articles are but I absolutely failed to discover anything bad or horrible there. It was just not very interesting.

I ignored the twenty or so touts who showed up at the docks to show faded pictures of what the rooms may have looked like twenty years ago and clean and just hiked onto the dock and passed them to go into the town itself. There were a lot of them offering free transport to an out of the way place you could be stranded at if you announced the rat infested accommodations weren't what you had in mind. I am really not sure why people talk to the touts at all. Accommodations are also more expensive when they bring you as you are paying their cut. I don't get it. I probably walked for about one hundred meters until I got to the first place and checked on the room there. It was run by a harried girl who spoke less English than I do Arabic. They had no touts I knew of. I got the room for 50,000 KIP (about $6.25). It wasn't the kind of place I'd want to live but for one night it was no problem. Getting a receipt was like pulling teeth. I didn't want them to think 'oh, fat boy no pay'. She was unwilling to understand the concept so I bullied her into it. Nicely. If you give someone money, get a fucking receipt! The room was clean. The plugs did spark a bit when I stuck something in them but after the initial bit of grumbling they seemed to calm down and work fine. I'm guessing if a professional electrician from the states got a look at the wiring he'd burn the building down and start over.

There were not even any wifi connections showing up on my computer to taunt me with their lack of availability.

It was interesting to sleep that night as I could still feel the rocking of the boat. It seemed to gently rock me to sleep. Others didn't report that and looked at me strangely when I mentioned it. Yeah, I get looked at like that a lot.

When I went out on the town, I found an unusual thing here. Getting 50,000 KIP bills (horribly inflated money) is pretty bloody easy. Beer costs 10,000 KIP. OK. So a 50,000 KIP bill is $6.25. A 10,000 KIP beer is $1.25. Fine. But the people look absolutely stricken when you offer them a 50,000 KIP bill and ask if you have anything smaller. That's like going to dollar beer night and trying to pay with a five dollar bill and the bar tender demanding smaller change. What the fuck? Also, this currency is suffering from even more inflation than the Russian ruble. Time to knock some zeros off the end if you ask me but whatever. I'm not sure about the rest of the country but they do accept Thai Baht in places near the border.

I didn't wander too far around town. My leg was hurting from my most recent self inflicted injury. Also, I dislike going around a new place at night. Night is when worse things happen. That's why terms like 'broad daylight robbery' still seep into the headlines. It's unusual.

So I kept within about two blocks of the hotel and ignored my ever incessant need to wander about. While I was sitting eating some rather bland food and drinking a beer, an undercover policeman (?) wandered by and asked me if I'd like to buy some marijuana. Although I am sure that there are no end of tourists who enjoy being in a strange, communist foreign country stoned out of their mind on their first night there on what could be oregano, I do not want that. Nor, do I wish to be a long term 'guest of the Lao government' by force. I politely declined and he went on. I thought that would be the end of it but later at a restaurant I was offered both pot and opium. Mixed, if I wanted it. By the owner of a restaurant no less. I declined that as well. Sorry I'm not more insanely adventurous for the sake of a wild story in the blog but typing with handcuffs on does not make Logan happy.

After the initial frantic check in the hotel I stayed at seemed to be deserted of any staff. I presume they fled.

The town pretty much closes everything about 10 PM.

The way on and off the docks was a pretty rough climb for the people who brought the roller bags or packed way too much shit. I was very curious to see if one would scream and fall into the river but sadly, none did. It was tempting to film the people getting into the boat but by then I was in the 'traveler's funk' and couldn't be bothered.

We had been told that the boat would leave at 9 AM. I'm not sure if the people believed that when they said it. We waited till the slowest, stupidest, most oversleeping person had finally managed to board the boat before leaving closer to 10:30 AM. There is a reason that countries in South East Asia are not held up before the world as models of 'leaving on time'. Had this trip been run by Germans and a German company, late folks would have been presented with the sight of the boat leaving and an offer to sell them new tickets for the next boat. That would have made me happy.

That being said, it is worth it to get there early. Unlike the first day, there are no assigned seats on the second. Catch as catch can. Someone eventually did come by to collect our tickets. I wasn't sure if they ever would. If they didn't, it would be a good way to smuggle yourself through. You really don't need a ticket if you have the cash, however. Despite how packed it was, they are always willing to accept more passengers.

I was sitting amidships that day. Although my bulk filled most of the seat, a thin girl drew the short straw and had to perch on the edge of it. Our seat turned out to be one of the better ones as water leaked through holes in the roof or just ran down at random onto others. Many people apparently didn't pack umbrella hats in preparation for the trip. The passengers attempted crude repairs with duct tape and plastic bags to stop an impromptu version of the Chinese water torture that was being done to them.

During day two of the journey it rained almost incessantly. At first, people raised the boat flaps because they wanted air and to see. People then got wet. The boat flaps were again lowered. People bitched. Eventually the rain decreased slightly and the boat flaps were again raised. There wasn't anything out there which required observation. It was more of the same stuff we had seen the previous day. Yea. Too much natural beauty all at once just tends to upset me anyhow.

The state of the bathrooms on board made me very happy I had eaten very little and was able to pee standing up.

Despite the boat being slightly smaller (or was that my imagination?), despite all of the people who were on before coming back as well as new people paying in cash we (you guessed it) stopped for yet more supplies en route.

There is always room for more shit.

I also discovered the boat acts as a taxi. If someone wants on, they simply flag down the boat from the shore and can get dropped off en route.

Occasionally, we were passed by boats headed back from whence we had come. Without exception they were empty.

The 'traveler's funk' I mentioned earlier is a state I (and possibly others - I don't know) tend to slip into when doing long range travel. You're sometimes lightly dozing, sometimes staring into the distance. You no longer really pay attention to things - you're just enduring and waiting for it to end. I listened to my audio book though I doubt I would pass a test on what it was about as I nodded off a couple of times. As our bags were simply stacked in the back room adjacent to the engine room, I was able to retrieve my sweater to combat the cold brought on by the rain and our speed.

We chugged down the Mekong, the mist laden jungled hills bounding the muddy waters. The mists crowning the hills lent the area a primeval look. Signs of extreme poverty - and habitation - dotted the river irregularly in the form of nets and poles.

Eventually, we reached Luang Prabang.



PRICES

Lao Visa $35 USD or 1500 BHT

Boat from border to Luang Prabang, $20

Thai pillow (extra hard) 100 BHT

Getting some yahoo to carry your bag for you (in Lao) 50 BHT (screw that).



MOVIE REVIEW

In Time. 3/10. Dull. What the fuck is that shit? Hell, I even went to the end and that looked dull. Bah.



VIDEOS

Bike Rickshaw

Chaing Khong

Leaving for Luang Prabang

Along the Mekong

Charley on the Mekong

Jaws Redoux

What is outside my mutherfucking balcony - YOU WIN TJ

PICTURES

{{2011}} London, GB | Rail N Sail | Amsterdam, Netherlands | Prague, Czech Republic | Budapest, Hungary | Sarajevo, Bosnia | Romania | Chisinau, Moldova | Ukraine: Odessa - Sevastopol | Crossed Black Sea by ship | Georgia: Batumi - Tbilisi - Telavi - Sighnaghi - Chabukiani | Turkey: Kars - Lost City of Ani - Goreme - Istanbul | Jordan: Amman - Wadi Rum | Israel | Egypt: Neweiba - Luxor - Karnak - Cairo | Thailand: Bangkok - Pattaya - Chaing Mai - Chaing Rei | Laos: Luang Prabang - Pakse | Cambodia: Phnom Penh | Vietnam: Vung Tau - Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City

{{2012}} Cambodia: Kampot - Sihanoukville - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat | Thailand: Bangkok | India: Rishikesh - Ajmer - Pushkar - Bundi - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jasalmer - Bikaner - Jaipur - Agra - Varanasi | Nepal: Kathmandu - Chitwan - Pokhara - Bhaktapur - (Rafting) - Dharan | India: Darjeeling - Calcutta Panaji | Thailand: Bangkok - again - Krabi Town | Malaysia, Malaka | Indonesia: Dumas - Bukittinggi - Kuta - Ubud - 'Full Throttle' - Gili Islands - Senggigi | Cambodia: Siem Reap | Thailand: Trat | Turkey: Istanbul | Georgia: Tbilisi

{{2013}} Latvia: Riga | Germany: Berlin | Spain: Malaga - Grenada | Morocco: Marrakech - Essauira - Casablanca - Chefchawen - Fes | Germany: Frankfurt | Logan's Home Invasion USA: Virginia - Michigan - Indiana - Illinois - Illinois - Colorado | Guatemala: Antigua - San Pedro | Honduras: Copan Ruinas - Utila | Nicaragua: Granada | Colombia: Cartagena | Ecuador: Otavalo - Quito - Banos - Samari (a spa outside of Banos) - Puyo - Mera

{{2014}} Peru: Lima - Nasca - Cusco | Dominican Republic | Ukraine: Odessa | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje - Bitola - Ohrid - Struga | Albania: Berat - Sarande | Greece: Athens | Italy: Naples - Pompeii - Salerno | Tunisia: Hammamet 1

{{2015}} Hammamet 2 | South Africa: Johnnesburg | Thailand: Hua Hin - Hat Yai | Malaysia: Georgetown | Thailand: Krabi Town | Indonesia:
Sabang Island | Bulgaria: Plovdiv | Romania: Ploiesti - Targu Mures | Poland: Warsaw | Czech Republic: Prague | Germany: Munich | Netherlands: Groningen | England: Slough | Thailand: Ayutthaya - Khon Kaen - Vang Vieng | Cambodia: Siem Reap

{{2016}} Thailand: Kanchanaburi - Chumphon | Malaysia: Ipoh - Kuala Lumpur - Kuching - Miri | Ukraine: Kiev | Romania: Targu Mures - Barsov | Morocco: Tetouan

{{2017}} Portugal: Faro | USA: Virginia - Michigan - Illinois - Colorado | England: Slough - Lancaster

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