Nong Khai - The Pause That Refreshes

Trip Start Jan 22, 2009
Trip End Mar 19, 2009

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Thursday, February 19, 2009

Gooooood Morning Mekong River! Early morning sipping my espresso from my bungalow porch, the view extending across the expansive Mekong River and further pass, the country of Laos. Makes the two day bus journey to get here all worthwhile.
The journey was pleasant if not inspiring. Even Tropical can wither during the January/February winter months. Throughout Thailand, bleak autumnal colors embody the dry, scrubby landscape while the sky is encased in a hazy gray. Without the natural cleansing derived from wind and rain, smoke, exhaust and mist conspire together to collectively enshroud the Thai landscape, no matter city or countryside. The off the beaten path cities and towns are not particularly interesting. They do however serve as a friendly reminder why people go to the beach for their vacation.
Fortunately, for some unexplainable reason, since neither rain nor wind had arrived, the skies over Nong Khai had regained their bluish hue; a healthier sign.

Along the riverfront, Nong Khai was built for relaxing, taking pause and watching the river flow. A  boardwalk promenade extends for a good mile, great for walking, jogging, or bicycling past restaurants, a few sad bars and the occasional wat, which for its size, Nong Khai has many. I met some very friendly Laos monk kids along the path.
The busiest activity is at the pier, where guys unload heavy truckloads of goods onto rickety boats that hopefully can navigate to the Laos side.

My guesthouse was especially comfortable; shady bungalows, hammocks and big wooden tables equipped for the hi-tech world with WIFI connection. When I first arrived, everyone at a table had a laptop! It's as though people at internet cafes in wintry Chicago, London, Paris and Stockholm all wished simultaneously to be transported to a tropical locale and whoosh! Mutmee Guest House provided them with the perfect landing pad solution. No more snow falling outside their cafe window or office. Instead instantly replaced with bamboo, breadfruit and coconut trees, a lazy river and big-eyed green geckos. Conversations at the guest house were also stimulating, topics ranging from world travel to India meditation. In the evening, we gathered around the house boat bar.

 I shall dedicate this section, since I shall be leaving Thailand for awhile, to Things Typically Thai:

1. In Thailand, the Buddhist wats are more than just religious temples. They also function as a center for a variety of community services. Many Thai citizens can volunteer their time as a monk, learning the Buddhist teachings and practices for as short a duration as a month. Yes...monk for a month. Do I hear the beginnings of a new TV reality show?
Thai Buddhist monks begin their day's meditation at the early hour of 4AM because this is the moment in the day when the earth is at its quietest.

2.  When the clock strikes eight in the morning and eight in the evening, an eerie thing occurs. A novice Thailand traveler could get quite a fright when he suddenly notices that everybody around him is standing upright, completely motionless. Oh my god! says Texas Bob. Has the entire Thai population been invaded by the Pod People Body Snatchers !!! Relax Texas Bob, it's only the twice daily ritual where all Thais stand at attention for the Thailand national anthem. is a bit eerie.

After a few lazy days I finally left the hammock, threw my belongings into a motorized tuk-tuk and began the customs trek across the Friendship Bridge and over to Vientiane, Laos.

It's capital and largest city, still, Vientiane moved like a small town, and with the arrival of suffocating humidity and heat, the movement was quite sluggish. Walking seemed to exert too much effort. Struggling to make an economic comeback, Laos like Cambodia, are two of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia, if not the world. Vientiane, still had buildings graced with old world charm from its French colonial  influence, buildings that straddle the same neighborhood where the Communist Government Cultural Building and Historical Museum reside. They too look wanton for care and a fresh coat of paint.
My final hours before flying to Hanoi were my visits most poignant. An ornamental wat sat quietly vacant so I strolled around the grounds. In a corner, unchecked vegetation slightly obscuring its view, sat an ancient adobe-colored tomb; the tomb still etched with readable carvings, that also served a stray cat well as a shady resting place. It looked ancient and probably was.
Next, a visit to the history museum where a young woman charged me a mere dollar entrance fee. The museum was mine to explore. The hallway exhibits, fortunately air-conditioned,  spanned Laos's 2000 year history, bronze age, jungle kingdoms that conquered with strident elephants, French colonial occupation and American brutal intervention atrocities (Imperialist dogs I believe was the way the Communist biased placards described them) and hundreds of brave comrades fighting the imperialist dogs and great Communist accomplishment propaganda black and white photographs. Laos is still a Communist country. All very revealing and interesting exhibits so reaching the main entrance, I thanked the girl at the office desk and walked back out into the suffocating heat.

Next stop....Hanoi, Vietnam.

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