Saturday, January 29, 2011

goodbye, laos

my flight out of here is in a few hours, and i must say, i'm not unhappy to be leaving. this was the first time i'd ever attempted something like this, by something i mean book flight tickets and book nothing else, plan absolutely nothing, have absolutely no itenerary except for a vague idea that i'd like to check out luang prabang. and check it out i did! it was so much excitement living from day to day. waking up in the morning, and thinking, 'so what shall i do today? shall i leave? shall i stay another day?' and then going ahead and just doing i what i felt like doing without having to think of anyone else was extremely liberating. it's fun, but i'm exhausted, and i'm down with a bad case of food poisoning, from eating overpriced food i didn't even enjoy in the first place (so not worth it!). except for lao coffee, of course, it's so awesome that even i love it. i don't usually drink coffee in the first place but a nice big packet of lao coffee is leaving the country with me!

next, moving on to a small island country, let's hope the cuisine there is more enticing.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

hello, laos!

So i'm finally here in Ventiane!

After such a boring flight, I walked out of the airport to find myself a tuktuk ride to the guesthouse I had in mind. According to the lonelyplanet, there are supposed to be lots of tuktuks outside just waiting for business.  Well, that would be the first of many instances that the lonelyplanet proves itself wrong. In fact, it was completely deserted outside the airport. I walked a little and there was this tuktuk with the driver resting in it, staring into space with his feet propped up. I smiled at him walking past, wondering if he would offer me a ride, he smiled back and went back to his activity of staring into space. I walked a bit more and couldn't find any other tuktuk so I went back to him and found out that he can't speak English and has no clue about my guesthouse. With lots of sign language, he understood that I wanted to be dropped off near the riverside and told me to wait 10 minutes. Alright, since he wanted only 2 USD, I waited that 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, I realized that he was waiting for more passengers from the airport. I tried to walk off because I was tired of waiting but he convinced me to wait another 10 minutes while he goes into the airport to find passengers. So I wait and wait and wait and while waiting wondered if i should take the tuktuk and drive off by myself.

mean machine's all mineee... complete with two coconuts.

Meanwhile, a policeman who was hanging around the airport approached me and started interrogating me in Lao as to what exactly am I doing with the tuktuk all alone. More fancy sign language got across the message that the driver had gone off into the airport and he too goes off into the airport to search for the driver. The driver then comes back alone, and asks me to wait another 20 minutes. I had had enough and started walking off towards the direction of the town, he chases me down and says that if i wait, the price goes down to 1USD. Tempting, but it was peak season and I didn't have a guesthouse booked. Luckily, just a few minutes later these 2 Aussies came walking out of the airport and the driver finally drove us all to the riverside.

I walked up a lane and found so many guesthouses just right next to each other. There were guesthouses everywhere and surprisingly most of them were full when it was only 4 PM!

At last, after walking around for what seemed like ages, I ended up shacking up in a dorm for 25000 kip at Sabaidy Guesthouse. It was cheapest I could find but I got what I paid for. On the positive side, the dorm itself was clean and they give you a locker to keep your things. But there are quite a few things that are not very nice with the place. The people at the reception aren't exactly the friendliest in town, the bed felt like a slab of granite and the pillow could have been made from steel for all i know. The shared bathroom was filthy. Once, i dropped a piece of tissue on the floor, and picked it up only to see that the tissue had turned dark brown. So i open the dustbin (which thankfully had a foot pedal) to throw the tissue away and a whole group of flies come buzzing out at me from the bin that was too full. Water was ice cold, but that's something I can deal with. What i couldn't deal with was when someone who used the loo previously didn't bother to flush.

It was cheap, but i hardly got any sleep and unless desperate, i wouldn't stay here again.

a blur picture of one section of the dorm

I walked around Ventiane that evening and ended up in a Wat with extremely friendly monks who spoke excellent English and were eager to have a conversation with any traveler that walks by, just to practice their English. I got my fortune read at the temple but too bad that I have forgotten what exactly my fortune was. I vaguely remember something about how i'm going to start a business and how it's going to be good until someone comes and takes all my money away, or something along those lines. I still have the paper where my Lao fortune is written, but it is all in Lao script.

souvenir stalls
Towards the evening, the night market consisting of souvenir stalls started setting up along the riverside. Everything was so pretty and so colourful, I had to resist the temptation to completely blow my budget at this place! Still walked away with 2 small paintings for 25000 kip.

These are the food stalls set up along the riverside. There are so many to choose from and its quite touristy, hardly any Lao people eat here and the prices reflect that. The food is cooked in the tented area and you typically dine where those red plastic chairs are, closer to the river. There wasn't much of a river when I was there in January.


Dinner was laap with fish (30000 kip) and beer lao (8000 kip for a large bottle, which was the only size they had). Laap is a kind of meat salad, it is purely Lao food and its said that if you hadn't had laap, you haven't been to Laos. To be honest, I didn't enjoy my laap. I personally felt that it was the wrong kind of spicy and everything on that plate was just too damn raw. This was the only laap dish I tried for the one week i was there. A few days later I spoke to a guy who told me that he has had some real bad laap but there are good ones too and many people seem to like laap so maybe it was just my bad luck that night to get laap that i didn't like.

My impression of the people is that they are generally very chilled out and nice. No touts here, unlike india and cambodia but i gotta say, some part of me missed those touts. I dragged my tired feet back to the hostel after that to try and get some sleep since i had a bus to catch at 7 am the next day to Luang Prabang.