Laos Now Brown Cow

Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam – Muong Khua, Laos – Nong Khiaw, Laos
October 23-24, 2013

We woke up at 5am and made our way to the bus station. A time when the streets are asleep and the bus yards are buzzing. The 5:25 just pulled in and a line of stretchy bodies unwind down the stairs. The street vendors lick their lips at the hustle. Whistles blow. Long buses with TO and FROM are written in huge block letters along the sides like names on a jersey. We hand our packs to the man on the roof of our bus – he’s on a mission and shouts next all before the sun even blinks an eye.

Yawn!

Yawn!

We’re off to Laos. The second leg of our journey, but not our last leg. Ohh No! We have 8 ½ hours before we are no longer welcome in Vietnam and I am damn sure we had made the most of our three months. We’ll miss you Vietnam. Thanks for the good times.

We loaded into the bus. Eight of us. All foreigners. The two Argentinians Bruno and Jimena, and four others with sleep in their eyes. We had barely eked out of the station before we pulled over to pick up a band of Vietnamese. And with a swift foot, our man had climbed back on the roof and bags were being flung into his arms. He shimmied down and the whole gang loaded in filling all the empty seats. All of us, united, travellers of the sunrise, heading to the border for one last hoorah.

Travel Laos border bus

We passed through two offices. One to have our Vietnam Visa exit stamp and the next to receive our Laos Visas. There was a list posted on the office window of the prices for visas for the following countries. If it was an Olympic standings sheet we would have made Canada proud. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
Visa Fee’s per Country:
1.    Canada           $42
2.   Afghanistan      $40
3.   Bangladesh     $40
4.   India                $40
5.   Nipal               $40 (They spelt Afghanistan right, but Nepal?)

Even Al- Queda gets a better prices than us. This list ran all the way down to Norway or something and then had a little paragraph on the side that read all other countries $30. Canada wins again! We all board the bus and the clock starts ticking on our 30 day visas.

Ain't it tha TRUTH

Ain’t it tha TRUTH, thanks Germany!

Our destination is the dusty gateway town of Muang Khua and when we get there our connecting boat has already set sail for the day so we ended up getting a room.

Travel Lao bocce ball

They shared their beer with us while we cheered them on

The town was quiet aside from outbursts of locals at play. We ate breakfast while two Travel Laos KT animalsroosters fought each other inside of a circle of children along the riverside. When the cocks became lethargic they brought them to the water and hand washed them before throwing them back in a circle and they were back at it with furious beef. We couldn’t make out a winner. Then we walked around the town and  ended up with puppies throwing back free beers bench side bocce ball. Then I somehow ended up in a badminton game.

Travel Laos Lou puppies

Hey babe, nice puppies ;)

Travel Laos badmintonDAY 2

We woke up, bought our ticket and cast off down the river in a boat long and blue like Gonzo’s nose and as wide as a Chocolate Labrador. I don’t really have a clue where we are going. I took off my watch and fixed it to my pack. It’ll be nice not to worry about the days, just going, going, going. In the thick of the boat, satchelled smack against a roaring  motor is a chicken, maybe a rooster and I know this because the bag is flapping its wings and pecking about.

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The world is beautiful. We all know this whether we have traveled it via web or foot. But when you open yourself up to it you begin to see a lot of practices that just don’t seem morally humane or ethical. The world isn’t all eggs, baguettes and local pricing- it’s dirty, filthy and two timing, but unless you open yourself up to the evils there is no way for the beauty to filter in. I accept the chicken in the bag against the motor and get back to the unbelievable views around me.

The river is much like the road. It has its oxen and goats along the banks. Villages hang onto cliffs. We pass other vehicles and wave and smile. There are obstacles too; but instead of buses and animals and rain, there are rocks and waves and low tides. Garbage still litters the banks and city noise is played by the rumbling motor. And most importantly they both share the same soul bursting surreal and spectacular landscapes.

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We keep floating downstream for five hours while picking up nautical hitchhikers and passing these beastly machines that look as though they collect rocks from the riverbed and shimmy them along a giant conveyor belt washing each one before spitting it back to the river below. A wonderful invention to mankind this machine is- and all this time I wondered how rocks got so clean. We continued downstream and docked at our new village of Nong Khiaw.

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We found a bungalow right beside two Indian restaurants and I made a deal with myself that I would eat nothing else for the three days. Lucky Katie!
KT: Yeah, lucky me!

Day 41 & 42- End of an Era! Bring on Laos!

Sapa, Vietnam
October 21-22, 2013

I guess we’ve known it all along. I mean, we weren’t hiding from the fact. We did the same thing back in Canada. I’m talking about being creatures of habit. We find a restaurant or Travel Vietnam Sapa Bookstorecafé and we shut the place down night after night like your Uncle does the all-you-can-eat breadsticks at the Olive Garden. So it’s no mistake that we went back to the same place for breakfast and then waltzed back through the market, sans le chien, and back onto the couch, and back to the same pho xao restaurant for dinner we’d been at the night of last three nights. We had seen all the Sapa we were going to see. The same fog hung in the air. The same cool drizzle. The same women were on the hunt. We had already bought a ticket for a sleeper bus to take us to Dien Bien, which was a drop off point for our venture into Laos.

the likeness is uncanny!

the likeness is uncanny!

Waiting in front of the station the 7pm bus was right on time. So much on time that we watched the bus roll right passed us.

“Was that our bus?” We said. We were both pretty sure it was even though we had been sitting around for the last hour saying that about every bus.

I jumped up and ran to the guy in the booth and motioned that I think our bus just passed. And it had. He made a call while the two of us threw on our bags and hustled down the street while the guy motorcycled ahead. We caught up to it beside the lake we woke up to just three days before.

This mist never let up - but we embraced it

This mist never let up – but we embraced it

We slung ourselves into our own single beds, Vietnamese size beds. Actually Vietnamese children sized beds. Behind us sat the only other foreign couple. Two Argentinians, Jimena and Bruno, whose leg hung off the sides like flapping chicken wings. It was going to be a long ride.

Travel Vietnam Sapa Sleeper 2

while we still thought the tight quarters was “funny”

I threw on Dumb and Dumber and rattled around for a couple hours; listening to Vietnamese phone calls underneath a flood of disco lights while a woman covered up like a hygienic ninja outstared me in a contest. The whole time stopping to pick up fruit and motorcycles and midnight trailblazers which are all shoved into the buses compartments or tied on the roof and off we roll thumpiddy thump thump through the night.

KT chillin' with Lloyd and Harry. & L's knee

KT chillin’ with Lloyd and Harry. & L’s knee

Katie, on the other hand, clung to her pillow for safety. Not being able to sleep, she was forced to endure the treacherous battles of the eroding and rutted cliff-side midnight hustle, fourteen hours of it in total. I heard it was actually used as a torture method to scare information out of prisoners of war. Now it’s turning a profit in the tourist racket.

DAY 42- Our Last Day In Vietnam

We woke up to find out our connecting bus had already left. We were four hours late. Now I understand why they operate on a sliding scale – we have seen plaques that read such and such bus ride 6-10 hours. That’s no stop-to-fill-up-gas-and-a-smoke-break. That’s more of a take-your-lady-out-to-dinner-and-dancing kind of break.  So, alongside the Argentinians, we walked into town and found a couple of rooms with big windows and comfy beds. Then we went and bought bus tickets for the next morning and rented motorcycles to explore Dien Bien. Which was the only thing really to do.

The cursed sleeper bus

The cursed sleeper bus

So Katie and I took off 50km down the road towards the next town that was popping up on the little stone placards that sit in the grass like mini tombstones. I can’t recall the next towns name, but we passed a rickety suspension bridge, a million oblong rice paddies, women with long black hair coiled on top of their heads like a sleeping snake, fuzzy Travel Vietnam Dien Bien KTpatchwork mountains that looked as though the range was draped in an oversized plaid thrift store jacket and everyone holding something; whether it be logs or buckets or kindle or fruit or children or tethered gerbil. The countryside was as peaceful and refreshing as it gets after being trapped inside a rolling deathtrap commissioned by a junked up madman, which truly are the only people in the world capable of operating buses through all hours of the night.

Travel Vietnam Dien Bien bridge lou

Drive-by shirt sales

Drive-by shirt sales

Travel Vietnam Dien Bien riding oxen