Posts Tagged ‘Vientiane’

This isn’t China

Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

Five months ago, even two weeks ago I expected to be in China, somewhere around Chengdu today. Instead I’m back in Koh Tao and starting a dive master course today.

In the last 5 days I’ve been back to Bangkok to collect the stuff I thought I wouldn’t need for just a week on Koh Tao, made a visa run to Laos and returned to Koh Tao. Expensive and time consuming running around. Last night I arranged some “long term” accommodation, paid a month in advance. This afternoon I’ll shell out at least the deposit for the dive master course. Probably within a couple of days I’ll buy a dive computer. Add in the diving I’ve already done and that’s almost two months budget spent in two weeks. Ouch. On the bright side, I won’t have to spend much on food for the next two months so when I head for China at the end of August I won’t be very much over budget.

I have stolen two months out of the rest of my trip. Two months that I was going to spend dancing tango in Buenos Aires. I figure the potential to earn money from the dive master qualification in the future (perhaps in Cambodia?) is worth delaying my return to the milongas for.

I’m not planning to return to the UK next year when my round-the-world ticket runs out. When I bought it I thought I would stay in Buenos Aires when it ran out. Now I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll stay in Buenos Aires, possibly elsewhere in South America or perhaps in Asia. In the last few years I had quite a lot of freedom to do what I wanted (outside of work) and what I wanted to do was walk, or dance, or fly. Through travelling I’m expanding the palette of things I might want to do and where I might want to do them. I would still like to stay in Buenos Aires and dance tango but there might be something I want to do more. I owe it to myself to find out and I’m having fun doing so.

I haven’t stolen time out of the rest of my trip after all; just reassigned it. That running around may have been time consuming and expensive but it was also enabling.

Nowadays I encourage everyone I meet to reject the conventions of getting a job and settling down. Instead I urge them to find a way to travel, to find and to do the things they truly enjoy. Shift the work/life balance firmly to the life end of the scale. I meet lots of people who have gone travelling. They fall into four main groups:

  1. The ex-pats who have done their travelling and settled into a new routine in a new part of the world.
  2. The (mostly) mid-lifers like me who have quit jobs, sold up and  gone travelling. Some on round-the-world tickets, some on a more casual basis. Most have no real idea of when their journey will end, or where, or what they’ll do when it does.
  3. The late twenty-something/early thirty-somethings on an extended trip who are definitely going home. Maybe to the same job they left, maybe to something new. Perhaps they’ll be starting a family but they’ll almost certainly be settling down.
  4. The gap year brigade. Already at or planning to start university. Few know what they’ll do afterwards.

Curiously I’ve met almost no two week holiday tourists. Perhaps because it’s the wrong time of year for them? To those in the third and fourth groups I say it’s not too late. Go home if you must, but don’t settle down. Reject convention, defy expectations. Explore, make real your dreams.

That was a bit of a ramble. I’m not sorry.

All places V…

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

The pick-up from our guest house to the bus station arrived on time at 08:30 but things went downhill from there. There were two partially full minivans for Vang Vieng and the dispatcher was adamant they weren’t going anywhere until they were full. Our bus had three out of eleven empty seats, the other needed just one more person. There were no solo travellers on our bus, and not three who wanted to switch together on the other. So we sat and waited. Entertainment was provided by a pot-bellied 55+ year old guy exercising and stretching shirtless in front of the buses. There was much sniggering from the girls on our bus. We could only guess what the other occupants of the second bus, or the watching Laotions thought of the show. A tuk-tuk delivered nine more recruits but they were a group who wanted to travel together and partially filled a third bus. Almost two hours after arriving at the bus station we were still waiting to depart. Eventually another tuk-tuk arrived with three people on board – Joe, Phoebe and Renee. We got Crazy Dutch and the third bus Joe and Phoebe. Shirtless stretching guy bought the empty seat in his bus and we all set off.

The road to Vang Vieng wound uphill and we swerved around potholes and slower moving traffic, or bounced through the potholes when the driver misread the road. Hannah was feeling unwell to start with and felt much worse by our lunch stop. Shortly afterwards she hung her head out the window and decorated the side of the bus with vomit. Classy! I kept an eye on the road ahead to make sure no oncoming traffic took her head off, and the driver carried on oblivious.

We travelled past lots of villages, all looking the same. A mixture of stilted and non-stilted, timber, block-built or woven bamboo walls, thatched or tin roof dwellings on both sides of the road. About 30-50% had 1.8m satellite dishes out front. Kids played at the roadside, tiny stick-thin creatures with smiling, happy faces. Mothers bathed babies and toddlers in metal bowls and hung washing from lines in front of the houses. The driver was impatient to pass anything and everything in his path, frequently overtaking on blind bends. Only luck prevented us joining the accident statistics we passed off the sides of the road. I couldn’t work out whether Laotian drivers don’t use their mirrors and don’t realise people are trying to pass them, or if they are aware and deliberately pull out to the middle of the road to make passing difficult.

At some point we reached our highest point and began descending. The villages got bigger and more prosperous looking. About 20km before Vang Vieng the potholes won the battle with the tyres and one of the rear tyres blew out. We bumped to a stop, all piled out and the driver replaced the wheel.

Vang Vieng, when we arrived really had nothing to recommend it. A town full of bars showing endless repeats of Friends, and hotels full of 19-year olds busy getting drunk and going tubing on the river. Two nights there was quite sufficient.

The bus to Vientiane picked us up on time and arrived when it was supposed to – amazing! Vientiane has slightly more to recommend it than Vang Viene. The National Museum has several galleries but only the first two had information in squiggly wiggly and English. Those two were very interesting. The remaining eighteen or so had exhibits labelled only in squiggly wiggly with a few photos having French descriptions too and and even smaller number labelled in English as well. On the wall above the comments book at the exit was a sign saying they’re working on providing multilingual exhibit labelling. The sooner the better! There are wats aplenty and a Victory Arch modelled after the Arc de Triomphe. Other than that it’s ugly concrete buildings, a multitude of bars and restaurants, and lots of construction. There are a few photos over at Flickr.

Vientiane was also a place of farewells. Yesterday was Phoebe’s birthday. A group of us went out for celebratory drinks and dinner. Today the group has dispersed to destinations across south-east Asia – Renee to Chiang Mai, Joe and Phoebe to Hanoi, Marcel and Claire will go to Vietnam tomorrow, Matt and Susie are going to Thailand in a couple of days and in a couple of hours we’ll be on an overnight bus to Pakse in Laos. We might be in Phnom Penh at the same time as Joe and Phoebe in about ten days time to trade stories about where we’ve been, where to go and where to avoid.