Laos: Third Time’s a Charm, Just Like the First Two Times

Warning: this post is mostly an excuse to upload a few pictures that I really like.

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Did I ever tell you the story about the time my horde of cyclist friends and I spent too much time dilly-dallying around Vietnam?  Lazy days in national parks, post-lunch draught beers that put an early end to our riding, one day to rest up before sightseeing, one day to sightsee, an extra day or two in town to check out one more vegetarian restaurant…before I knew it, my visa was finished and we were hardly halfway down the coast.  Good thing that in Southeast Asia you’re never more than a few days’ ride away from a border.  Thus it was that we gave up on the remaining 1000ish km to Saigon and instead to enter Laos – for me, this was the third time in six months.

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Some useful information posted on the Laos side of the border.  We had plenty of time to read it, since the official who was supposed to take our money and prepare our visas (by hand) was off napping somewhere.  We waited for about an hour for someone to track him down, chatting in the meantime with some other civil servants who apparently didn’t have the authority to help us out.  They did offer us sour mangoes, sweet rambutans, and a refresher course on the Lao language.

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Laos and Vietnam felt like entirely different worlds.  No more honking cars, no more stinking fumes, no more noisy markets, no more pesky clouds, and friendlier locals – not long after we had plopped down at a restaurant just on the other side of the border, our well-rested immigration officer friend came down and bought us some beers!  It was only then that I realized that, though we had made friends with quite a few Vietnamese along the way, none of them had ever invited us over to their table for an impromptu drink.

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After the first night, we had a 100% camping success rate.  Found some bleachers by an astroturf soccer field behind the bus station.

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Oh my lord is this country splendid!

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My back rack is getting a little fancy!  On the left, the third or fourth iteration of my bamboo flag pole, which keeps getting lost here and there.  On the right, my new little friend: once a bamboo root, now a happy dude with a massive beard.  I aspire to resemble him on both fronts.  In the middle, a can of gasoline.  More on that later.

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I’m not sure that we ever had more than ten minutes’ worth of car-free riding while in Vietnam, with the exception of inside national parks and a few times when dirt-road “shortcuts” wound up taking us several hours.

In Laos, it was so quiet that I was able to hear a single, solitary dried leave as it tumbled down this embankment.

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Mark and Claire!  Mark’s terrible allergic to meat, so he and Claire do a lot of cooking on the road.  I myself have been carrying around a camping stove ever since Beijing but never bothered to use it, half because I was able to get by with raw salads and precooked stuff from the markets, and half because I was afraid I’d blow myself up.

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No worries now that I’ve had a few lessons, though!  I figure this doesn’t violate my “no gas” rule, since cooking this way doesn’t use any more gas than would normally be used at a restaurant for a similar meal.   Not much, anyhow.

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Yeah!  Noodle salad.  Not bad for my first roadcooked meal, right?

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If you stop to smell the roses for long enough, you may also start to hear a particular little jingle.  The icecream man cometh!

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The beginning of the end: my first taste of fresh sugar cane juice.

In many parts of Southeast Asia, locals use the word “farang” to refer to any foreigner who looks like he’s from Europe or North America.  Thus, it applies to Me and Chris (USA), Katya and Mirko (Eastern Europe), Mark and Claire (England), but not to Mingyu and Minseong (Korean).  It’s descended from their words for “France” or “French,” but many of the locals don’t seem to recognize that France and America and the rest of the Europeanized world are all different places.  We’re just from farang land.  (Fair enough, I guess I probably have a similar lack of understanding about Africa and India.)

Thus, it was adorable when this lady asked me oh-so-kindly, “Hey, how do you say “thank you” in the farang language?”

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It’s not donuts, but it’ll do.

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No, these are not two halves of the same sweet potato.

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While we’re on the theme of street foods, how about these powders?

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Not exactly a source of high-quality nutrition, but they taste perty good when blended with ice, sugar syrup, and condensed milk.  When you need something cold, it’s often either this or a beer.  One wakes me up, then makes me tired.  The other just makes me tired.

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Merry Christmas!  Our heinous holiday excursion has already been documented here:

Over the River and Through the Woods (The Christmas Post)

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Five bikes on a tiny boat?  There had better be a good reason for this.

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Spending a week around New Years at “4,000 Islands,” a little traveler’s oasis in the midst of the Mekong.  I put my camera down for just about the whole week and focused instead on hammocking, napping, napping while hammocking, tanning, reading, reading while tanning, scoping out Southeast Asia’s hugest most voluminous waterfalls, floating down the river in an inner tube (making sure to land well before said waterfalls), and eating Indian food.  Chris’ version has photos.

To be honest, though, we didn’t find this beach until the very last day.

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A little village on Doh Khon Island.  Or was it Don Khong?

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Sorry to say it, but there aren’t really any other interesting stories to report on.  Just kick back and enjoy a few photos from what has probably been the most photogenic morning of my trip.  (Coincidentally, it was also the morning I discovered the white balance function on the camera.)

If for some reason you prefer things I’ve written to pictures I’ve taken, then there are plenty of entries about Laos here.

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We came, we hammocked, we hammocked some more. Then we got on a boat again and left.  2014, here we come!

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