Sunday, 31 July 2005

Road trip Laos style with a red-necked American

Apologies for the lack of blog entries over the last few days, but I've been having far too much fun to fester in front of a computer screen for any length of time. Friday night was indeed drinkies after work. Tim, Song (now correctly spelt), Shane (American friend) and myself had drinks and food on board one of the river cruises; very reasonable prices, some rather hot food, a good few Beer Laos (to stop my mouth disintegrating from the heat of the food of course) and a fabulous view of the river. We sat and watched the sunset and as it got dark, the engines began and we set off up the Mekong. The boat pootled along on a one and a half hour round trip up and down the Mekong. It was great just to sit and watch the world go by from the boat and provided a new perspective on the city.

After our nautical escapade, Tim and Song headed home and Shane and I decided to head out. I had my first experience of side saddling on the back of a motorbike as I hadn't pre-empted the need for practicality and had worn a skirt to work. I shall now pre-empt the need for practicality. I'd rather sit like a man. It is certainly not great for someone with long legs to side saddle as you have to balance both feet on one peddle or stick one foot out to prevent it dragging along the floor risking unsavoury consequences.

A quick drive round the city and we decided to head to the usual expat/ falang hangout; a rooftop bar overlooking the river. On full stomachs of Beer Lao we decided to experiment with cocktails....a pina colada, tequilla sunrise and margarita later we decided to play darts.....whether it be the alcohol or the lack of contact lenses I declare that I shall not be taking up professional darts as a chosen career.

The following day I'd arranged to meet Shane, and more importantly, his motorbike, to visit the 'spectacular' sites of Vientiane. We headed to the Morning Market, so called because it is open all day.....there is logic there somewhere! Originally Vientiane had a morning market and an evening market. The evening market closed and the morning market began staying open all day....the people in Vientiane never quite got round to changing the name.

They sell some wonderful stuff here. Really good quality antique silver, vast swathes of silk in all colours and designs and all the plastic and electronic mass produced 'quality' items you could care to dream of thanks to Laos' Chinese neighbour.

I bought some material to have a Sin made. Sins are the local traditional skirts they wear here. Fortunately, unlike many traditional costumes from around the globe, they are actually extremely smart and wearable within modern society. This will reduce the risk that I shall end up joining the 'dipstick' clan; travellers who insist on wearing their souvenirs on the streets of London in an attempt to appear 'unique' or 'well-travelled', whilst realistically attaining instant 'twit' status. My most recent experience of this phenomenon on the underground was with a white guy wearing a Balinese sun hat- worn subtly in paddy fields, yet achieving monumental 'twit' status on the Picadilly line.

So on to the road trip! Sat comfortably like a man on the back of the motorbike, Shane and I headed out of town towards the 'famous' Buddha park - the vision of a Thai artist. The journey was occasionally chaotic as we weaved around cavernous pot holes attempting to pre-empt some rather unusual driving. Thankfully everyone here drives extremely slowly- possibly due to the speed-reducing potholes- but road deaths still hit 600 year (in a population of 600,000 that is quite a few). Its not overly surprising when most motorbike riders drive one handed with an umbrella to shelter from sun/rain, families of four share a single bike and I've even seen people riding whilst holding parts of their bike together.

The Buddha Park is quite surreal with hundreds of concrete statues of Buddha in all shapes and sizes. It is also very small with a look round taking about 10mins. Our bike ride out had taken about half an hour and, despite it being overcast Shane had turned from pallid to a glorious shade of lobster red. He therefore took it upon himself to drive twice as fast on the return to get out of the sun. Thankfully, he has yet to develop Lao driving skills so we made it safe and sound to Tim and Song's.

Tim and Song have become my adoptive parents out here. They have been so generous. Song offered to cut my hair (she is a professional hairdresser) and after my hairdresser nightmares in Cricklewood, I kindly accepted her offer. She also asked her mum if she could make me a Sin. Her mum measured me up using a piece of string along which she tied strategic knots that somehow represented measurements. When Song's sister arrived from the market she then offered Shane and I three packets each of sweet dried bananas. No one can say that the Lao people are anything but generous. I did however draw the line when Song offered to do my laundry.

In the evening I met up with Shane again -yes I admit I only have one friend here- to go bowling; a favourite past time of the locals in Vientiane! We met up with Shane's best friend Sullivan and some of her friends from work. As with darts....another career crossed off the list...I didn't break 70 in any of my games!

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