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07 January 2006

no longer an option

today i'd be leaving luang prabang on a minivan bound for vang vieng. laos. a tuk tuk was scheduled to pick me up at 0850 and at 0845 i had to abandon the organized systematic recon repacking method which i've developed and honed over the past nine months and default to the random stuff and push method in order to get all equipment in one of the two packs in time to make my ride. i ordered a baguette from the phousi restaurant but my tuk tuk arrived before the baguette and i asked sam and rhia to apologize for me. at the bus station, we rendez-vous'd with the minivan crew, loaded all of our baggage on the roof of the van and tied it down, piled into the van, and departed luang prabang fifteen minutes ahead of schedule.

i'd envisioned a lazy drive down a long straight highway where bandits wearing zorro masks lurked behind piles of sand on the side of the road, but within a few minutes of our departure from the bus station, it became evident that the road was 01. not a highway and 02. not straight. the narrow road was some maniacal engineer's masterpiece of twists, turns, curves, loopbacks and whirlpool descents along the contours of the laotian mountains. as the mist gradually burned away over the next couple hours, the minivan traveled through one of the most staggeringly beautiful landscapes i've ever seen. i immediately began reevaluating my 'most beautiful scenery' list, juggling norway, switzerland, and laos in the top three without assigning numbers. one of the other passengers said she'd heard from a friend that this journey was hit or miss... if the weather were nice, the views would be amazing; if not, the mist would curtain the mountains and the journey would be hellish. i felt lucky that the weather was nice. i was too absorbed in the enormous landscape to be affected by the twists in the road; the man beside me wasn't as fortunate and discretely leaned down into a plastic bag two times during the trip.

i was sitting in the back row on the passenger's side of the van (in laos, vehicles drive on the right side of the road, as opposed to thailand, where they drive on the wrong side of the road. :) ) next to the window, and i broke out my camera and almost filled my 512mb card with shot after shot of giant scenery. wow. here's the gallery. the pictures don't come close. in fact, nowhere near it.

along the way we passed village after village of bamboo stilt huts hovering over the steep slopes beside the road. villagers seemed not to notice us. most were beating some type of long straight plant against a rock or against the road surface; we surmised that the plants were used as roofing material and the beating removed the seeds. hard to determine... i'd need to ask someone. i made eye contact with a young boy picking the plants... he saw my camera and gave a big wave and a loud sabaidee... couldn't catch the image in time.

we arrived in vang vieng around 1500 and i took the first room i was directed to by the smiling thamisouk woman. all set. out to explore. the town had a very 'american wild west' feel... a long dusty central khao san road which was missing two gunmen facing off while a tumbleweed rolled slowly between them. someone had mentioned to me that a number of the bars in town played 'friends' episodes all day long; as i strolled down the road i saw three bars which were playing the show while travelers lounged on cushions in front of calf high tables. canned laughter in stereo. it was time for food and so i sat down at one of the restaurants but before i orderd i spied the others of the slow boat crew across the road... they'd just arrived in a different minivan and were on searches for rooms. i walked over and hung out with rhia while sam, mike, ben and elaine went out searching.

a few hours later, we all met up near ben's guesthouse by the river shortly before sunset to get some food... then walked back up into town to get some drinks. we played pool and i downed a couple big beer lao's as well as a shot of lao lao (which i'd vowed never to do again after the fire throat experience in luang prabang). i saw the bottle _after_ i'd had the shot... more pool, more beer lao... a few hours later, pool was no longer an option. although my guesthouse was right across the street i remember a long arduous journey; when i finally arrived i couldn't unlock the door to my room. if the beer lao and lao lao had been subracted, i'd still have had a problem... the key was completely screwed up... it was one of those keys that was supposed to only go into the keyhole one way, but the keyhole was so chewed out that the key fit in either way... two israelis watching the struggle came over to assist and after hacking for what seemed like an eternity one eventually unlocked the door and i stumbled in. i asked her how to say 'thank you' in hebrew... todah.

posted by paul on Sat 07 Jan 2006 at 00:00:00 est (-05:00)

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