Newsflash: Following a brief sojourn in the world's most populous nation, local sources have informed us that backpacking badger has entered the warmer climes of South East Asia through Laos. After some doubt as to whether she was actually moving at all, our radar informs us that her speed of travel has now reached an unprecedented low.
After an ardous (!) 5 months (what happened to the time?) I have finally hit the intense heat and soporific humidity of South East Asia... and I'm finding Laos a pretty darn cool place to hang the boots for a while - so here's why Laos is my kind of country:
- Sleeping is a national pastime - infact - if you want to get anything done in the afternoon - it's not uncommon to have to literally shake the shopkeeper / mechanic / tuktuk driver out of their deep slumber.
- Much of the North of Laos is carpeted in thick, pristine, verdant forests which are peppered with beautiful flowers and sweet scents - perfect for a few days of trekking and visiting hilltribes (so much for hanging up the trekking boots...)
- Lao people love to drink - whether it's the national treasure BeerLao, or the localrice whisky known as lao-lao - so much so that on one trek, we found ourselves completely sloshed at 12midday, only to be presented with more whisky on our arrival at the next village, and then again at 8am the next morning....
- An '8 hour' bus journey takes 14 hours, following not one but two breakdowns, and the people are STILL smiling and laughing at the end of it
- I had to wait at the Lao immigration post for 1 and a half hours because the guy who issues the visas was still in bed (see #1). Brilliant.
So I left behind the beautiful Li river in Yangshuo and headed north into Guizhou, a province home to a plethora of colourful ethnic minorities. My favourite were the Dong, a warm and welcoming minority who build some pretty spectacular 'Wind and Rain bridges' (photos to follow) and cook up some pretty mean fiery pickled vegetables (MUCH better than it sounds - trust me).
Crossing the border from China to Laos was like stepping into a parallel universe; modern shiny glass-fronted buildings gave way to humble wood and bamboo huts, multi-lane highways became dusty dirt roads and Chinese efficiency metamorphosised into a more relaxed, almost horizontal, Lao way of doing things.
One of my favourite Lao experiences so far has to be #4 - the bus ride. So having waited nearly 2 hours on the side of the road for our replacement bus, I was wondering why the normally somnolent locals were frenziedly gathering their many sacks of rice, chickens and children and rushing onto it. The reason was apparent as I moved towards the back of the bus: Some genius had ripped out the seats and replaced them with what can only be described as teeny-tiny chairs which belonged in a psychedelic doll's house - so small that not even the Lao women could fit their modest behinds on them. So the remaining 6 hours of the bus journey were spent being thrown from left to right, deperately trying not to kick / headbutt / crash into some poor Lao family as the bus careered round corners. Everyone on the bus thought this was hilarious, and the sense of fun was contagious as we happily bumped along the road...
It's definitely all about the journey here in Laos... In Lovely Luang Prabang now - and heading south... I think I can see a well-deserved beach in Thailand close on the horizon...xxx