Just in case you think we’re the only M21s still bumming around in southeast Asia, look who we ran into:
We met up with some buds once we got back to Luang Prabang, and then later we met another bud in Vientiane, and not a moment too soon! We’ve had some good conversations with other travelers on this trip (mostly with people over 40; what this says about us, I don’t want to know) but it sure was nice to see some familiar faces, especially ones who are jobless hobos like us.
We spent a couple days in Luang Prabang with Pecaut and Sarah (a kindred lady M21 bloggin’ her way across Southeast Asia! Read it, love it) before the four of us headed out on a two-day trek. But it turns out I forgot to take any pictures of us virtuously slogging our way through the jungle; all I have are pictures of us being buttheads in the city the day before. Oh well.
My other picture from karaoke will remain unpublished, for leverage.
Here are some of the kiddos from the Khmu village we passed through on our first day:
I asked these girls for their photo, and they giggled and obliged. Now we can all breathe easy because my entitled little scavenger hunt – “Types of Laotians I Want Photos Of” – has come to an end. Basically I just wanted to take a picture of schoolgirls before we left. I like how they wear blingy silver belts with their sarongs, like the girl on the left. I was tempted to get a pencil skirt made out of similar fabric when we were in Luang Prabang, but my previous misadventures with tailored clothes stopped me. And could any white girl pull off something like that back in the states? I mean if I walked into a room people would definitely go, “Oh good, here comes Katie in her fucking ethnic skirt again.” I would think that, anyway. And everybody else in the world is just as small-minded as me, I’m pretty sure.
Here is Mr. Hot Stuff, who, after an initial period of wide-eyed shyness, was posin’ up a storm the whole time our group was in the village:
He knew the drill for sure.
Sarah mentioned this in her post, too, but: This trek was a tad weird, for two reasons. One is the simple fact that there were other people there. There was one Irish lady and three other Americans, a couple of whom were particularly photo-snappy. There is nothing quite so awkward and guilt-inducing as walking through a village with a group of other foreigners and seeing your own behavior reflected in them (they were sometimes jerks about it, dancing right on that razor-thin dividing line between “zealous but friendly and engaging tourist photographer, who smiles and asks and tries to be human” and “robotic, dead-eyed picture-taking machine who sneaks photos of bathing villagers”).
We stayed the night at another Khmu village, and our guides walked the eight of us around before dinner, pointing out various things: Boys playing sepak takraw, a volleyball-like game using feet, heads, and a rattan ball; old ladies chewing betel nuts; a blacksmith, hammering out a small scythe (when he saw us coming, one of the blacksmith’s buds laughed and told our guide to thank the foreigners for all the free, high-quality metal we sent down from the sky) . The other shutterbugs went in for the kill each time, and I had to wander away from the paparazzi brigade before I felt comfortable enough to ask anybody for photos (there is a whole other blog post where I dissect the feelings of privilege and entitlement that go with my desire to not be part of a “paparazzi brigade” when I’m on the hunt for photos in the mountain villages of Laos, but let’s just let it be for now and proceed under the assumption that I know I’m a jerk).
This guy was making a new roof for his house. According to our guide, they have to be replaced every couple of years.
I kept these in color only because you can see a hint of betel nut red around Mom’s mouth. We played a game where Mom would have me toggle back and forth between the photos and have the little girl shout out everyone’s name. She shouted hers the loudest, obvs.
The second reason this trek was weird is that the other Americans were maybe the most joyless group of people we’ve ever encountered. The less said about them the better, but man. They just kind of clumped together and glowered the whole time. They didn’t even really talk with either of our guides, which, I mean, look at this guy:
When BK the Tour Guide breaks out the homemade lao-lao, you drink it, and you listen to him ramble on about his time in the corrupt monk education system, and you like it. Duh.
Anyway, on day two there were some elephants:
And some waterfalls:
(Guess who we saw there, guiding some other poor saps? Hint: Although the rocks were really slippery, he did not tell us to be careful, which was disappointing)
And finally, some kayaking:
Which Ryan and I did not do, because we are lazy, and because I can’t even remember the last time I paddled a boat.
So that was that! We said our farewells and made our move into Thailand, picking up our pal Aaron along the way. Here is another gif for you, of Aaron and me crossing the Lao-Thai border, and it is a small work of art methinks:
I hereby pledge to have at least one gif per post for the rest of our trip. Why did I not start making these things sooner? They are SO EASY! Hooray!
Oh what the heck, here’s one more:
Okay, so, wrapping this up, jesus. Aaron, Ryan and I went straight from Vientiane to Bangkok. We stayed for one night in Chinatown, in a large, empty, scary crap palace of a hotel. Then we spent the day wandering around the packed alleyways, congratulating ourselves on our choice of neighborhood. No Western tourists anywhere! Crazy-ass Chinese commerce as far as the eye could see! Delicious street food, e’erywhere!
Alas, there was one thing missing from Chinatown: An air-conditioned place for us to sit and have a beer and use the internet.
And so we immediately decamped for Banglamphu, otherwise known as Ground Zero for Assclowns.
We spent a week in the city, mostly indulging in first-world kind of stuff: Seeing a 3-D movie, stuffing our faces in mall food courts, riding the air-conditioned Skytrain, making fun of white people with dreadlocks. I think most traveling RPCVs think of our vacations as a transition, a way to ease back into life in the states; what’s strange about Bangkok is that a lot of the city makes a lot of the US seem shabby by comparison. After experiencing the polished splendor of Siam Paragon I know that as soon as I walk into a mall back home, my first thought will not be, “Ah yes! Back in America,” but rather, “ew, what a dump.”
We also indulged in THE BEST PAD THAI IN BANGKOK, according to the Lonely Planet anyway:
We kept being amazed at how many tourists there are in Bangkok, and yet how easy it is to leave them behind. This restaurant isn’t any secret; it’s right there in the guidebook, and only a 15-minute walk from Backpacker Central. And yet we were the only foreigners there. Can imagine how smug we felt, strolling back to our guesthouse that evening, having eaten these delicious goddamned noodles? Can you? I bet you can.
And then, finally, speaking of indulgences, somebody had his one millionth three-piece suit tailor-made:
Lookin’ good, pal.
And so! The three of us parted ways; Aaron back to the motherland, and us here to Yangon, which is like nothing we’ve ever seen before. Here’s hoping the internet holds out!