Leaving Pai resulted in three nervous breakdowns and an almost fist fight between a Thai woman and a Turkish woman. We watched a bus come and people start getting on it, and thought that our tickets reserved our spot. Rookie mistake. We didn’t realize that we were supposed to check-in and double check in to reserve our spot on the bus. So, while the bus was full and sitting there we were pleading our case about all the connections we had to make and then one woman said the next bus was coming at 4:00. Since it was currently 2:00 and the three of us had connections with the hour upon arriving in Chiang Mai we were all slightly stressed out. After the time miscommunication and some frantic screaming, we were assured that there was a bus coming within 20 minutes.
After finally getting on the bus and getting to Chiang Mai, I narrowly avoided a possibly very public and very emotional goodbye and we plopped down our bags, checked our watch and headed off for dinner.
Notice a step missing?
We didn’t check in at the desk. So for the second time that day, we didn’t check in. Not until we noticed another large group of people with their passports at the desk did we realize that we were going to miss another bus, so we went up and handed our passports over and got our names on the list for the next bus.
Eventually the bus left, what was supposed to be 7:00 turned into 8:30, but we were on the road.
Driving down a Thai highway is a lot like driving down any highway unless you see the road signs. We could have been anywhere in the world. So we just cuddled up and tried to sleep through countless 7-11 bathroom stops and 4 loud girls from New Zealand in the back.
The border was uneventful; we filled out our departure cards, got our passports stamped and Visa’s issued and we were on our way. We were surprised at how pricey the Visa was since we had read on the internet that it was $35US, but we had to pay 1,800 Baht. We took a Songthaew into Vientienne where we waited for a big bus to take us on to Vang Vieng. This time we were prepared to jump on that bus as soon as it arrived to ensure our spot.
The ride into Vang Vieng was beautiful, through villages and up and down mountain sides. Many times the driver had to stop and honk at cows and goats to move out of the road. In many places the paved road gave out to gravel and I learned later that it’s because the roads are new, but they’re not paved properly, so every time there is a big rainfall, it washes out the road.
Arriving was such a relief, we had picked a place to stay out of Melisa’s book and grabbed our bags and headed out in search of it. However, since Vang Vieng is known as a party town because of the tubing down the river and bucket drinks, everything that was remotely cheap and clean seemed booked so we just grabbed a room at an upper class place with the most wonderful view in the world.
After hitting the bank machine to get some KIP ($1 = 7,800 KIP! I’m a millionaire!!) and dropping off some laundry, we proceeded to grab something to eat and drink. And so the night begins. Almost immediately, we met one of the adopted locals, an American who has been coming back here for 9 years to teach English, give Chiropractic care to the people here and run a restaurant in town. They actually completed an adoption ceremony to accept him into the family that consisted of the sacrifice of a couple chickens, a lot of candles and a shaman, and n ow most of the town calls him “poppa.” Him and his partner fed us Lao Lao, essentially Laotian moonshine, and we were able to ask him all our questions and they took us on a tour of the towns best bars. We were thoroughly upset by the 19-year old crowd (or younger?!?!) and called it an early night. Also, exhaustion and drinking hard liquor don’t mix very well. The crowd here seem to be as rowdy and reckless as the Haad Rin crowd that we constantly made fun of at Haad Tien, except that here there is a constant stream of people coming and going and the party continues every day of the week.
The weirdest thing about this town is that every other restaurant plays Friends on the big screens. So they have the low tables and mattresses on the ground with pillows for relaxing, as one would expect at a truly Lao restaurant, but restaurants side by side play continuous episodes day in and day out. On a day like today, with the rain coming down so hard that you don’t really want to be anywhere else, it was a simple comfort to sit on the internet, beer by my side and an episode of Friends for background noise.
Popa told us that the reason for this is that one bar started playing it one year, and everyone flocked to it because it was so random. Other business owners saw their success and followed suit and started doing it to the point that if you’re sitting on the patio, you can hear three different episodes playing simultaneously. Some have swayed a little and started playing Family Guy or South Park, but for the most part Friends is the staple.
One of the things I love about Melisa is that she absolutely loves animals. Of all kinds. But today we saw a poor dog that had a limp and her heart just broke. Heading over to cuddle it and give it some love the poor thing whimpered while it was trying to sit down. The owner kind of shrugs and says that it got hit by a mini-bus. So for the next half hour, she’s asking everyone around if there’s a vet or animal clinic around somewhere that she can take the dog to so that his leg could get fixed. Alas, there is nothing close at all, and most people tried to send us to the hospital, so I had to take her mind off of it before she broke down into tears. Sometimes animal culture shock can be the hardest reality there is to face. (Popa also told us that if the people here have a particularly bad year as far as tourism goes, the dogs are the first thing that they turn to for food… And I thought they didn’t do that here!!)
Since the rain started today instead of a trek that we had planned to do in the mountains, we’re going to head into Luang Prabang tomorrow, where we’re hoping to trek and spend a night in a Northern village. I’ve come to learn that planning and expecting things while traveling can really only be done from each location you’re at. So I’ll have to book my ticket back to Bangkok, but until then we’re going to take every day as it comes and play by ear.