Sabaidee from Laos!
After a long trip through Vietnam we took an overnight bus from Hanoi to Tha Khek in Laos. We were mules! We took this bus that not only did they fill to the brim with people, but was also chock full with chicken feed and cigarettes. At about three in the morning they asked us all to get off the bus so we could eat and use the bathroom – but as we had JUST done this a half an hour before, none of us foreigners were too inclined. Then they claimed that there were problems with the tire, so please get off anyway. So we did… all except Rob. So, the bus (that didn’t actually have any tire problems) went careening off into the night with Rob and all our stuff in tow. The rest of us were left on the curb. According to Rob, the bus drove faster than it had all night and then suddenly it stopped. They opened the door to a little hut and started stacking in the chicken feed and cigarettes. After about an hour, the bus finally returned to pick up all the passengers and we were off again, headed toward Laos. The next morning it took us about an hour to go through Laos customs and get back on the bus. We then proceeded to sit on the bus without moving for the next 2 hours while the Laos border patrol examined the cargo of the bus. The longer they stayed, the more cartons of cigarettes they received. Last but not least was the fact that everyone on the bus was headed to the capital… except us. We were headed south (in the opposite direction). At the last minute (after I called the drivers all liars, that is). They flagged down a local bus and we made it to Tha Khek within two hours. We were so happy to be done with the Vietnamese buses! We got on the local Laos bus and people were so friendly! One guy on the bus spoke English and he wanted to know everything about us – who we were, where we had just been etc. Then he told everyone else on the bus what we had told him. I think it was some kind of initiation.
We spent the next few days going south to Savanakhet and down to the Mekong Delta and along the way I feel like we met half of Laos! It was unbelievable how many people got on and off the buses we took. We even saw the same lady twice! The best part of all this was the food we saw every time we pulled into a town station. Most everything that takes a solid shape gets speared like a kabob. This includes flattened chicken (all parts included), giant bugs (just make sure you pull off the wings first) and eggs (fermented). If you buy the sticky rice, that comes in a little plastic bag and you eat it with your hand. There was also lots of stuff wrapped in banana leaves whose identity has yet to reveal itself!
Also, at our hotel there was a wedding going on outside our room. There were at least 500 guests in attendance! I should mention there was a giant field outside our room. We thought it might be fun if we hung around to see a Laos wedding, so after dinner we came back to check it out. There were a few people dancing – but nothing different than a normal wedding, so we didn’t get to see any Laos wedding traditions. Although, we did discover that it is possible to sleep right through a wedding with loud DJ and all. After so many hours on buses, we just proved we can sleep through anything!
Don Det, an island on the Mekong Delta, became home of my first experience taking a shower using a bucket instead of running water, the dollar a night bungalow, and where we found the elusive freshwater Irrawaddy dolphin. Elusive because it seems to only live in the Mekong River, and the Cambodians seem to blow them up. Apparently there are only about 50 of these little guys left… and most people who try to go see them might catch a glimpse of a fin or see a splash but we turned up in time for the equivalent of a Primetime Seaworld Show. That’s what it seemed like anyway. We saw constant dolphin action for the entire hour that we spent paddling around the Cambodian border. A total of probably ten dolphins – a pretty high turnout!
Part II from Laos coming soon..... love alison