Since my company is still in the process of securing me a work permit, I had to go to Laos to get a new Visa (have I already been here 3 months?). Luckily, not only do they reimburse the cost of the trip and the 6-month Visa, but I also get paid days off for the days I miss. So… getting paid somewhere between $70 and $100 (depending on the quickly crashing dollar) for a Laos trip and 6 more months of Thailand. Sweet.
Laos (which was described to me by a Thai as Thailand 20 years ago, before the people started getting “mean”) is a pretty interesting place. The first Communist country I’ve visited, Laos’ capital, Vientiane, seems like a 50-yard town with a pretty mellow population. Not to say there aren’t pretty women there, they’re just farther between, don’t care to dress up like Thai girls, and more often than not wearing military drab or camouflage fatigues. When it rains, their internet doesn’t work. Beer Lao is great and cheap. Cartons of cigarettes are silly, unhealthy cheap (200 cigarettes for a few dollars?)…maybe one reason for their 50-year life expectancy or 18-19 median age? Even though a number of vendors speak French, it’s hardly a touristy place—I don’t think we saw more than 10 white people during our 3 days there. It’s also really hot.
Like I said, Vientiane is a dramatically underdeveloped capital- I’m talking dirt roads and grazing animals in their populated areas. I think their GDP is measured in ladyboy handjobs and magic mushrooms (and their ladyboys are really sort of half-assed…just some nails and a girl tshirt, and they’re done trying); really, there are literally no banks or ATMs to be found. When I finally found a private company to exchange some dollars for some 200,000 Kip, we decided to see a few of their tourist attractions. We first ate at a restaurant and picked a meal at random (since their menu was written on the wall in Laotian, which is roughly upside-down Thai, with a few differences), and for about a dollar, we got a pretty tremendous buffet, complete with snake and other mystery meat, spicy sauces, and sticky rice. It was actually very good. The lady even gave us a card with a number to call in Bangkok for….actually I have no idea what for, but I’m going to call it if I need help in a hurry…or some Laotian food.
The first real attraction was Pha That Luang, the Golden Stupa and Laotian national symbol. It was really fantastic and totally empty. I think we were the only tourists there. When we were circling the grounds, we saw nobody but a few monks and vendors. It was a great time to visit and a beautiful national treasure.
Next was the morning market, in which we saw no other foreigners. Much more manageable size than Bangkok’s Chatuchak’s 15,000 vendors, but very interesting nonetheless. Muddy, dirty aisles lined with clothing, toy, and textiles vendors were expected, but the food section was the most interesting for me.
Meat vendors, who are in the habit of standing or squatting shoeless on their tables (sometimes with infant in arm), mincing, chopping and otherwise tenderizing various sorts of meat which are loosely separated and more often than not overlapping each other with no ice or fans or anything. Live fish, turtles, frogs, chickens, etc. squirm, strain, or just dawdle oblivious, waiting for the inevitable doom. I wanted to take a picture, but I always feel bad photographing people’s eating or living conditions, moreso than other pictures I take. I ended up buying a few metal cups and plates for our kitchen.
Anyways, great country, great trip, and after 2 days, 1 night in Laos, a totally unguarded and uneventful border-crossing, 12-hour bus ride home, and 5 hours of sleep later, it’s back to work.