Boarder Towns, Boarder Crossings, Bored Towns

A lost post… intermittent wifi, and a reliance on technology. Things on this trip abroad that are so very different than past ones. Typically to be in contact with home you’d pay to sit in an internet cafe with a slow connection to write a quick email or two, maybe upload a photo. But, with changing times, comes changing habits.

Just as I was about to hit submit on this very post my wifi connection at my hotel went down, and my post was lost. Now, as the cool Lao morning turns to a sweltering afternoon heat on the Mekong, I start over, more succinct, as a day of wandering awaits.

When you set out on a travel journey you start by looking at how much time you’ve set aside. On this particular trip I have two months, the longest continuous travel I’ve had aside from living in South Korea. However, as soon as that first day passes, you start to see the time slipping, and the hour glass as half empty, wanting to see more, and more.

10 days was spent in Bangkok, long early morning walks, late nights with Sangsom whiskey (rum) in hand, afternoon beers on ice, musicians met, local Thai friends made, questionable car rides to parts of the city previously unknown. It was starting to feel very comfortable, and it would have been easy to spend the entire two months there, making friends, getting gigs, relaxing. But, the x’ed out days of that calendar made my legs itchy with anticipation of cities to see, places to go.

On Monday my girlfriend and I boarded a night train to Nong Khai from Bangkok. Night trains are great as you don’t “lose” any time to travel, instead setting up camp on a bunk in a train car only to arrive at your destination the next morning.

Nong Khai is a boarder town on the Mekong river, and most often just a stop over for travelers extending their Thai visas, or people traveling on to Laos on their circuit of southeast Asia travel (which I guess is where I fall). We decided to stay a day/night in Nong Khai to see a less traveled Thai town.

A sleepy destination, it looks like it formerly had, or expects more tourism traffic. Bars line the Mekong river, and street carts and night markets dot the side streets, however, upon night wandering we only saw empty restaurants and dark streets. It was, however, a Tuesday night. During the day we walked to Sala Keoku, an interesting nod to the regions religions and concrete sculpture. Aside from that landmark, there was not much more to see in this town.

After an early evening, and cold sleep (believe it or not) we headed to the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, got our exit stamps from Thailand, boarded a bus, and paid $35 for a Lao visa on the other side.

A short tuk-tuk ride later, and we were in Vientiane, the Lao capital.

My girlfriend first came here in 1994, when it was more of a provincial colonial town with very few cars on the roads, and full of colonial architecture. Now, sadly, the little wood huts that formerly dotted the riverside (as I’ve been told) and served beer are gone, and in it’s place a new road, big plaza, and a contrived night market. It seems like every corner I turn there are giant modern buildings being built, shopping complexes advertising “Hermes” coming soon, and a feeling like I missed something, or that something is missing here.

Yesterday I borrowed a bike from my hotel and rode through the city for a few hours. Odes to communism, capitalism, vast empty plazas, your standard temples, and a smattering of backpackers were the real highlights.

The real beauty of this city so far, is being able to lounge the day away with a cold beer, watch the slow flow of the Mekong, and let your mind wander.

Tonight is Friday night, however, so I’m not losing hope that I’ll be able to get in some trouble with my saxophone somewhere (other than my hotel, where the young man at the check in desk, and who runs everything here at Villa Manoly will serenade you with his guitar and Beatles tunes).

Tomorrow we’re off from Laos, and Vientiane via plane to Cambodia.

I’m still having difficulties uploading pictures to my website with slow internet speeds, so I’ll add as I can.

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