lolamatopoeia: (inconceivable!)
[personal profile] lolamatopoeia
After hearing a few stories about the slow boat ride from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang (Laos), Bianca and I decided to take the overnight bus to Laos instead ... only to find out that we should have gone on the slow boat instead because it could be a heck of a lot of fun and a great opportunity for meeting people. Maybe next time ..? In any case, we made our decision and the overnight bus wasn't too bad. The tuk tuk driver who took us to the bus station was very sweet and when he found out that we were headed to Laos and we asked if he had ever been to his neighbouring country, he sighed and said 'no', but that maybe some day he would be able to go to Laos. It really hit home for me then: the privilege that I have in travelling like this.

Our bus took 12 hours, overnight to Udon Thani near the border to Laos. I didn't sleep a wink. I had my headphones on and my eyes were burning but I could not sleep the entire time. Other than paranoia I can't even full explain why I couldn't sleep. Once we got to Udon Thani, a tuk tuk overcharged us in a trip to the bus station to Vientiane where we were swarmed by taxi drivers who tried to overcharge us for our trip. We found out that we could not go directly to Vientiane but instead had to got to Nom Kai to get visas at the Friendship Bridge. The border was quite a bit of chaos, waiting outside in crowded line ups, all of us huddled on the ground with our belongings as they kept our passports behind a sliding window for hours. We got our visas though and everything was fine. I was just panicked for a good while there for what turned out to be no reason (as usual).

The bonus of the day though was that we got to meet a girl from France who had been living and teaching French in Vientiane for four months. She's just signed a contract to teach in Luang Prabang for a year. We also met Lisa, who has been in Thailand now for seven years. She has started her own organization to help and educate Burmese refugees in Thailand. This woman amazed me. She doesn't make any money doing what she is doing, relying entirely on donations from around the world and cash advances on her credit card. She does amazing work and workshops with kids that have been through such horrible things, things I can't even imagine. She has done all of this on her own. She came to Thailand after helping refugees in India for a few years. She came to Thailand and saw a problem and decided that she needed to do something about it. She didn't just hope that someone else who do it, like so many of us would (including myself). She is doing it herself. She is truly inspirational. The organization she runs is called the Thai Freedom House. Check it out if you can.

Our final bus ride up to Vang Vieng, a town we were told that we had to visit, was pretty much the best bus ride ever. An old man, originally from Vietnam, spoke to us in French and offered to share his food with us. Another man delayed the bus for nearly an hour loading it full of boxes of roofing tiles. The tiles filled the storage under the bus, filled the back of the bus, lined the isles, and was tucked under our seats. It was hilarious. Everyone on the bus was friendly and kind and we had a great time. The best part was the absolutely unforgettable views we were treated to along the way. I was hypnotized by the sights I saw and could not believe my eyes - misty mountains completely green with clouds lining their tops, winding red dirt roads through jungle, cows and water buffalo on the road stopping traffic, bamboo huts on stilts and palm trees and french inspired architecture and barenaked children, and ... I just gasped and smiled the whole time. I closed my eyes to soak it all in but would quickly open them in case I missed something.

We got to Vang Vieng in the dark and found a great guesthouse. After such a magical bus ride through the mountains, we were disappointed though to find that the town we're staying in is full of more tourists - mainly very young boorish and belligerent brits drinking and smashing bottles in the streets - than locals. This place is indescribably beautiful. It's such a shame. I will try to take as many pictures as I can, but I am telling you that this is so far the most beautiful place that I have ever seen and no pictures or description I can give here will do it justice. It's just a shame about the silly tourists.
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