Monday, March 06, 2006

Falling in Love in Laos - Savannahket

After a 5 hour bus ride from Vietnam I arrive at the Laos border. The actual crossing on the Laos side consists of a small shack where a man watches over an empty dusty street filled with cows. Immediately I fall in love with Laos.

After crossing the border I am shoved onto a local Laos bus going to Savannaket. It is already full of Laos locals and along the 7 hour route we stop whenever someone waves us down from the side of the road or when someone yells that they want to get off. People strap motorcycles, cages and bags of rice to the roof. Soon the bus is overfilled. People sit in the aisles, in the stairways, on the floor. An older woman and a young child climb on the bus an hour into the trip. There is no room so they are crouching on the floor. I offer them the edge of my seat, which they eagerly accept. Along with the Laos man next to me, there are now four of us on a seat built for two. We travel this way for 6 hours.

In Savannakhet I get a small guesthouse that is a room in a Laos family home. They are lovely and friendly. They open their home to me and show me photos of their family and only charge me $2 for the room. They offer to loan me a bike for free. I am shocked after Vietnam where everything costs money and the people are not nearly as friendly.

The next morning I wake up and wander Savannakhet, a small town in the south of Laos. Two teenage boys pull up next to me in a tuk-tuk and ask if I want a ride somewhere. I say that I will walk. They shake their head and say "No charge, we just want to practice our English." I don't believe them and keep walking - nothing is ever free in SE Asia. They persist in a friendly way and something about them - something genuine and real - convinces me that they are safe to drive with. They drive me to the bank and, as promised, ask for nothing. I am left shocked.

Wandering the streets, people stop on their motorcycles every two minutes to pull up and tell me that I am beautiful and then drive away. How can you not fall in love with a country where people tell you that you are beautiful as you just walk down the street? Wandering around, cute children start to follow me. Soon I am like the Pied Piper. There are 20 children tagging along behind me. I try to ask them where the dinosaur museum is. I do my best dinosaur impression for them, which they love, but do not understand me. I take their photo. They give me flowers and candy. One tries to give me money. They are the cutest and friendliest children I have ever seen.

Walking along the river teenagers on bikes stop to talk to me. They ask to practice their English. When I ask what they want to talk about, one says "Albert Einstein." Soon more people are surrounding me. They all want to talk to me. I begin to feel like a celebrity and realize that I have not seen another Westerner all day. From across the street a man yells "I wish you much happiness as you walk around Savannakhet!" Every person I pass smiles broadly and says hello in Laos. Not a single person tries to sell me anything. I fall deeper and deeper in love with this country.

Passing a buddhist temple, a group of novice monks are carving Buddhas. They smile when they see me and motion that it is ok for me to come closer and take photos. They ask me in broken English where I am from. They ask about my religion. They ask about Switzerland for some strange reason and are very excited when I tell them that I have been there. I spend the next 2 hours being toured around the monastary where they insist on getting keys to open up all of the special temples (which I am not allowed in because I am a woman).

Watching the sunset on the river I am struck by how lovely Laos is. I have a feeling that this a love affair that might last.


Blogger Little Bro said...

Sounds like some pretty chilled out folks in Laos.Keep safe have fun!!

6:15 AM  
Anonymous mom said...

Glad you love Laos. Sounds like a special place. Take lots of pictures---- and don't forget how to find your way home.
I am shocked to see comment from little bro. Ran into him on MSN messenger last night. Left me for his laundry.(that is what he claimed.)

4:27 PM  

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