countin' the days

Thursday, September 13, 2007

How Now, Pow Wow, No More Mao, Laos

Last stop in Thailand was Nong Khai, a peaceful little town right on the banks of the Mekong. Since I'd extended my stay in Khorat a little bit, I had literally one day left to explore the place before my one-month tourist visa was up for Thailand. After playing an unusually active tourist role in the last few days, and enjoying the heck out of it, I decided why not see what kind of things little Nong Khai has to offer. It turned out to have one of the strangest tourist attractions I've ever seen: a park filled with several dozen absolutely ginormous Hindu and Buddhist sculptures. And it was awesome! I'm still not quite sure what the point was, other than to exhibit the oh-so-much-larger-than-life qualities of Asia's most revered deities. I was cool with the gigantic smiling Buddha, but it was pretty frightening to see Shiva 3 stories up surrounded by 7 huge angry serpent heads... glad I wasn't on any substances for that excursion.

The next day I caught a bus across the Mekong and, pow!: welcome to Laos. The border was pretty mellow, but slightly frustrating. I ended up paying for my Laos visa in Thai Baht because I didn't have any American dollars on me, and then walked 5 feet and saw an exchange bureau where I easily could have bought some dollars and saved myself 10 bucks. Thanks for letting me know, Sneaky Immigration Man. After getting my passport stamped, I was warmly welcomed into Laos once again by the Entry Fee booth, kindly requesting that I dish out yet some more Baht before officially crossing over. Quite the exercise in patience, but I've come to learn that every border crossing has its share of demons, and this one wasn't so bad. Thankfully we dodged the tuk-tuk drivers and caught a $.70 bus to Laos' capital city of Vientiane immediately...

In case you're reading this and wondering 'Where is Laos?', well you're not the only one. Here's the rundown. It's Southeast Asia's least visited country, and famous for being one of the most bombed nations on the PLANET. Hard to believe, considering its neighbors are China, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Thailand... Officially, it's the People's Democratic Republic of Laos, having arrived there are decades of disgraceful French colonial control, shameful carpet bombings by the US during the Vietnam War, and frightening communist revolutions and civil uprisings. The history is a sad and depressing one, but Laos (silent 's' ... you can thank the French for adding it on) is a beautiful place with fantastic people. The vibe is so relaxed, and I'm still kicking it in Vientiane. It's Laos' biggest city but, to me, barely feels like a city at all. So far I've managed only to visit one lovely old Wat (temple) and tramp around in the mud of the delightful shantytown everything market, and -- you guessed it -- eat my way through the vegetarian delights of the city.

No comments: