The first bite of Laos

Trip Start Feb 20, 2012
Trip End Oct 22, 2012

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Thursday, March 8, 2012

Finally Vientiane! It took another train from Bangkok to Nong Khai (still Thailand), and one more to Thanaleng to get into Laos. It is quite strange to enter in Laos by train. There are just 3 km railway in the entire country! Just what you need to cross the border and be in Thanaleng. After paying for the Visa to a couple of hands moving behind a dark glass we took a jumbo tuk tuk to Vientiane. To a certain extent the atmosphere is the opposite of Bangkok. Vientiane, the capital of the Peoples Democratic Republic of Laos counts just 260.000 people and the life moves at a completely different rhythm: slower! Unfortunately there are a lot of tourists. I know, should not complain about it, if I can get here also others could. But still. There is a good percentage of the tourists of the worst specie down here: those that I would call bum-bum-all-party-and-life-is-so-much-fun-and-oh-my-god-it-is-so-cheap-here! Luckily, as far as I understood, this type of tourists immediately feel homesick if there is not a 7-eleven open next to the guest house, and usually decide to go back to the safe Thailand (most of the people just cross the border to get a new visa). Some will probably stop for longer in order to get some of the party-vibe of Vieng Vang (famous for the happy-pizza), but most of the other Laos regions should be hassle-free :-) (definitely if i managed to avoid this guys in Thailand 3 years ago, should be on the safe side in Laos). Anyhow, let's stop complaining! It would be unfair to Vientiane and the first bite of Laos that was indeed juicy!

After leaving the backpacks in the guest house (and after a really pleasant hot shower, the first in after 3 days) we jumped in the streets and started to walk around. Everything moves slowly, there is no rush in most of the activities and definitely after the walk in Bangkok, here it is definitely another feeling. Along the river (the infamous Mekong River) the Laotian work out in groups leaded by a guy that could be the alter ego of the gymnastic guys that sells fitness products in our televisions: hyper-active and hyper-positive. For 2 hours he jumps up and down in the warm hug of the Laotian evening. Couldn't check if the teeth were as white and shiny as those of the western alter-ego, but I verified that people were actually following his lessons and working out hard (after paying 3000 kip, 30 cents). Just behind the open-air gym, after a series of steps, an amazingly wide sand beach (the river is quite dry) with young guys playing football (not all the sports are committed to a firm butt). Couples walk up and down and there is a shy sunset. The sky is always covered with some kind of fog, coming (I read on the guide) from the the burn-and-plant farming tradition (march is the peak season of the pyromaniac farmers). It is an incredibly dense fog, transforming the horizon in a homogeneous surface that changes color during the day. After walking around a bit, looking for a night market (it is amazing how fast we can assume local habits in our daily planning) we decided to stop in a street restaurant full of Laotians eating, drinking and laughing. It seemed a good place, and definitely it was, we randomly choose some dishes from a list (no English translation) and it was delicious! A Japanese was sitting close to us at Laotian table, couple of time i tried to understand if any of the Laotian was speaking Japanese or if the Japanese was speaking Laotian: no way, I could not understand what the language was! Just couple of sumimasen and kop chai that didn't help!

The city itself doesn't take long time to be visited. One day by bike and it was done. Lot of wats (couldn't be different!) and lot of smiling people. As usual i sneaked in the garden of a wat that has also school functions. Kids all around playing. It always surprise me how the kid games could be so similar at the different corners of the world. I also believe (with no real knowledge) that the same games didn't change over last centuries. After spending some time to figure out if these games will survive to the electronic-era I decide that I don't actually have any possible answer: too much time that i don't go to a playground in Europe (not even sure if I would ever be able to seat in the middle of a school garden without any reaction from the school staff). Another randomly chosen restaurant on the street (we always choose those that are full of locals, it takes more effort to place the orders, but usually the final surprise is good!). Big guys with tattoos on one side (drinking and drinking and drinking and drinking) and some white collars on the other (drinking and drinking and drinking and drinking). As usual the white collars look much more stupid when drunk. Laotians drink "Beerlao (national beer brand) on the rocks" and actually it is a good way to postpone the numb in such a hot weather. (Should i add once more how good was the food? Yum!).

After the day of "Good Lonely Planet Tourist must do" Some Freedom!! Decided to go to Xieng Kuhan (23 km away from Vientiane) by bike :-) it would have taken 1 hour and 5000 kip by bus, but...would have been again one of the "must do". The streets were awful! As soon as you get out of the street that connects Vientiane to the Friendship Bridge (the one that you cross to enter from Thailand) everything gets dusty and with a lot of up and downs. The views were not so amazing, but even just the act of asking for directions, or smiling back to the women looking at us it gave me some really powerful feelings. I made couple of race with the kids (that probably were thinking that i was completely crazy since i was simulating a motor noise while racing). I also involuntary tested couple of times the honesty of the shopkeepers (the paper money here looks all the same!) and got back the exceeding money. Well it may sound stupid but after traveling a lot I have to say that it is rare! But really appreciated! Does it depend from the Communist ;ideology? ...hum not sure, especially after seeing a Lamborghini Diablo roaring in the streets (how the hell is possible to buy a Lamborghini Diablo in a Communist country were the average icome is close to 100 $/month?? Still don't know) What it is sure is that in the Communism-ruled country the Woman Day is a national Holiday! Meaning that offices are closed! At the Xieng Kuhan everywhere here were groups of women, kind of a picnic day! Generally it seems confirmed that the women role isn't really set on a fair base in the Laotian society looking to all those women i could just think " Things are going to change!" The 23 km back were as tough as the first. But I was happy while listening to Daniele Silvestri's Kunta Kinte:

"L'unico miracolo politico riuscito in questo secolo e' avere fatto in modo che gli schiavi si parlassero, si assomigliassero perché così faceva comodo per il mercato unico e libero. Però così succede che gli schiavi si conoscono, si riconoscono magari poi riconoscendosi succede che gli schiavi si organizzano e se si contano allora vincono.

Things, hopefully, are going to change!

Ps for those missing the pictures, I miss them too, but the camera card got corrupted while uploading: what a f@&€k! Hopefully will be able to save something and upload later on!
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