The Lowdown on Laos

I had to leave Thailand again as my 30 days were up already so, pretty much at the last minute I decided to go to Laos.

I booked a ticket on Laos Airlines to the capital of Laos, Vientiane (pronounced Vien-jun) which is a 1:20 flight on Lao Airline’s prop plane or 1:05 if you take a jet on Thai Airways.

I left late for the airport and ended up having to run to catch the plane, but I just made it… but because I was late I didn’t have time to go to the bank machine so I had no cash on me.

To my surprise, upon arriving in Vientiane, they make everyone “apply” (read: pay) to get a Visa, which is quite irritating, especially because they also require a photograph, which I didn’t have… but for $1 they’ll take you to some old photocopy machine and copy it for you.

But I didn’t have any cash to pay for the visa and they don’t accept credit cards so I had to have them escort me through to the airport lobby to get some money off my visa card at a currency change shop.

The visa prices range from $20-42 USD depending on what country you are from, and the highest one was Canada, at $42, which I am starting to get used to…. I don’t like it, but I am getting used to it.

All in all, it took me about 30-45 minutes just to get cash, apply/pay for the visa and then go through customs. Even if I had the cash, it still would have taken 20+ minutes to get through the visa process and through customs, which is pretty ridiculous considering our plane was the ONLY plane on the tarmac and there was only about 40 people on my flight… many things in Laos are like this though, they are WAY behind the curve on basic things like that for the most part.

The airport was very, very small… about on par with Phnom Penh… the country of Laos is tiny in terms of population, especially compared to many of their neighbors, which include China, Vietnam and Thailand. Laos only has a population of 6 million.

Laos people speak Lao, but it is very, very similar to Thai… Jane didn’t come with me on this trip but said she has been there before and she has no problem communicating with them… there are lots of little differences though, such as hello… in Thailand it is Sawasdee, in Laos it is Sabaidee (sabaidee in Thailand means “how are you?�).

All, and I mean ALL the tv in Laos comes from Thailand… I don’t think they even have 1 tv channel of their own. Phone calls to Thailand are local calls too… and they readily accept Thai Baht, or USD…. The Laos Kip isn’t used too much because it is 10,000 kip = $1USD and I think the largest Laos bill is a 10,000 bill, so to carry $100 around would be a massive bulge in your pocket! In essence, Laos is pretty much just a province of Thailand really.

There are lots of interesting pecularities here too… for example, for some reason, they have a rule that no building can be taller than 7 stories in Laos! Don’t ask me which bored super genius came up with this bizarre rule, but it’s there. There is one hotel in Vientiane that is taller than 7 stories though, called the Don Chang Hotel, and I was told by some locals that it is owned by rich Malaysians… so, as with everywhere, if you have some cash the laws don’t apply to you… and, btw, that isn’t a jab against businesses or people with money, it is, as usual, another easy jab at governments (definition: people with guns that are the only people in the area “allowedâ€? to force you to do what they want), which are the bane of this planet.

Because the city barely has any buildings even taller than 3 stories, the view of the city from the air and on the ground likens it more to being a village than a city… it really just seems like you are in a little country town.

The pace is veeeerrry laid back… if you like places where no one is in a rush to do anything and stress levels are zero, go to Vientiane.

I had read a bit about Laos on the internet before going and was a bit worried that it would be way too quiet for my tastes. For example, the great majority of websites on Laos basically say there is hardly any nightlife and all bars are mandated to close by 11:30pm… but, things weren’t that way when I was there… maybe again, the internet was outdated! Or maybe people don’t know where to go… I stayed at the Novotel and there is a little disco in the back of the hotel called Dtec that was pumpin and packed with young Laos people, all of whom appeared to be having a great time… it was a very fun atmosphere.

I then hopped a tuk tuk to a more upscale place called Marina. It was small but very modern looking as opposed to the college-bar style at Dtec. I met some people there… in fact, everywhere I went people bought me drinks and invited me to their tables! Not that the drinks cost much, the most I paid for a drink was $2.50 for a Johnny Walker Black Label… Something about the way I look makes me very popular in Thailand and Laos apparently… I think I know what it is too… the people in this region all consider it very “high class� if you have a long straight nose. Many people here, including Jane, have quite small little noses with not much of a bridge… and they all wish they had a big nose (don’t ask me why, I always wanted a smaller one! Especially when it came to boxing and martial arts where my nose was an easy target)… many Thai’s get nose surgery for this reason… even Jane asks me every month to get it for her, but I like her nose, I think it looks perfect, so I don’t let her mess with it!

I met a guy at Marina who appeared to be quite a well-to-do businessman, although he was quite young… I think his family is one of the major construction companies that do most of the work on the roads in Laos, from what I could gather.

He was really nice to me and took me to another club at the Don Chang Hotel which, he said, was open until 4am… so, again, the laws in Laos don’t appear to apply to the Don Chang Hotel!

The club there was pretty cool… a lot of fun… partly indoor and partly patio overlooking the Mekong, very nice.

All in all, I had a great few days in Laos… I really enjoyed it and if I have to do some further visa runs from Thailand in the future I think I’ll put it at the top of my list because it is so close, cheap and a lot of fun.

Kinda summing up how small the place is, is this advertisement in there largest newspaper, the Vientiane Times (run by the government, I believe… how’s that for independent media!: Wanted: Attractive Lady, Room #2551. That ad wasn’t in a “classified� ad section either, it was one of the largest ads in the newspaper, a key sponsor!

To conclude, Laos gets majorly overshadowed by every single one of its neighbors, but it is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area!

On an end note, I may be passing through Canada on my way to the Caribbean in the next month or so and thought I’d take Jane to show her Canada. We applied for a tourist visa for Canada for her and she was TURNED DOWN!!! I “sponsored� her and everything and still she was turned down. We have gotten tourists visas to Australia, China, Russia, Myanmar and more, with no problem, but of course, CommuCanada is WAAYYYY too crowded (you know, being the largest country in the world in size, and smallest in population) to allow someone like Jane to come for a visit. They told me it was because she didn’t appear to have a job in Thailand… They said they are worried she was going to come there to work… I said, look at my financial statements and our travel records… but they just got snider and snider, at one point basically telling me I am a liar!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I HATE CANADIAN BUREAUCRATS!!!!!!!! It is always the worst part of my year dealing with these judgemental, money stealing, non-backbone-having ignorant morons who will do everything to get all your money and as much as possible to impede your progress, and will use force to imprison you or kill you if you don’t listen to them. I was about to tear the office apart but figured that wouldn’t change anything and, if anything, just put me on one of their ‘watch lists’. Sigh. He basically told me that it would be easier if I applied for a permanent residency for Jane than to get a tourist visa for her (don’t even try to understand their logic), to which my response was, “why in the world would anyone want to be a permanent residence of Canada?!�… he just looked perplexed as, as most Canadians all know, they think Canada is the most amazing place ever.

Ah well, rant over. I’m just sad for Jane, she really wanted to go… I’ll figure something out though. The fight isn’t over.

So, I will decide what I will do over the next few weeks, then like I said, I most likely will pass through Korea on my way to Vancouver, then Edmonton… then likely the Caribbean (Dominican Republic specifically, plus some other stops I’m sure) and then probably over to Italy and many other European destinations for the summer.

Southern Thailand and Songkran, again!

A few weeks have passed since my last note. I’ve been in Thailand the entire time, but headed South for Songkran (Thailand’s new year) to a few new and interesting places.

I’ve taken quite a few “vacations� within Thailand over the course of the last year… often to Phuket or Koh Samui. Vacation doesn’t seem like quite the right word though… not that what I do there isn’t vacation-like, but it is the fact that I am generally leaving my vacation-like life in BKK to go on vacation elsewhere that is the strange part.

The last two times I went to Samui and Phuket, as example, I was lounging poolside in Bangkok when Jane called down to me to let me know it was time to go… yes, my life is not all that difficult!

Anyway, I had a friend in Phuket so we decided to go visit him over the Songkran holidays.

Songkran, btw, has to be one of the most interesting, fun, crazy events I have ever been a part of… I didn’t actually know which day was the exact starting day of the holiday, but as I walked downstairs with Jane around 1pm on our way to lunch in Phuket we passed a guy wearing head to toe raingear.

In Vancouver, this wouldn’t be conspicuous, but we were in Phuket and it was 33c and not a cloud in the sky.

As we got on our scooter and began to drive into the street, a little kid came from hiding behind a building to nail me, dead center in the chest and face, with an ice cold large bucket of water! It came with such surprise, and with such force, that your average person would have likely completely wiped out, which is pretty par for the course during this time of year as most of the road deaths in Thailand happen during this week, for this reason!

We continued to weave in and out of traffic, dodging and trying to avoid water guns, other people, many of them very cute Thai girls wearing bikinis on scooters with water guns, the streets lined with people with hoses and buckets of water, in a country-wide 3 day water fight… Everyone is smiling and laughing as they do it and it is really something I highly recommend everyone try to get to, at least once, just for the experience. I am rarely into anything which is traditional, but I’d have to say, this is one of the funnest things I’ve been a part of… And, as a sidenote, it really helps to ease any tensions that the public has in general, if for a few days of the year you can go around and just dunk people with water, no matter who, where, when or why! It is really a special event… add it to your Life To-Do-List along with Running of the Bulls in Spain etc…

Anyway, we were pretty much soaked for those entire days… the ones you really got to watch out for are the 4-8 year old Thai boys.. I think they consider getting farangs double-points… and these kids are incredibly precise and accurate and they take intense glee at trying to hit you as hard as they can with their buckets of water! I can’t blame them too… as a little boy I woulda taken Songkran over Christmas every year! Toys are fun but nothing beats clobbering random people in the street with water!

…..As I mentioned, we were in Phuket to visit a friend who is taking his Master Diver scuba course… we went out on a daytrip with him and I went scuba diving. I’ve dived once before, in LA, in the frigid Pacific Ocean… it was so nice to dive in the nice bathtub water warmth of the ocean here. When I dove in LA I had to wear headgear, footies, full wetsuit and it was still too cold for most people… in Thailand we wore a half-wetsuit and that was all, and I didn’t even see the need for that, the water was so warm…. Although the deeper you dive the colder it gets, but we didn’t dive very deep.

For anyone who hasn’t scuba dived, I would also highly recommend it… it is an entire different world under the water and to be able to swim with the thousands of different fish that populate the oceans is really an amazing sensation… it is such a different world down there that I would almost compare it to going to outer space… it is that different! Ok, I have now given you 2 must-do things, if you haven’t already, that’s enough for today.

After Phuket, we took a 2 hour ferry to Phi Phi Island.

Phi Phi was kinda cool. For those that saw the Leonardo deCaprio movie, “The Beach�, it was filmed around here. The landscape is amazing with big cliffs running down to the turquoise green ocean.

Phi Phi is cool because there are no cars, or even motorcycles on the island… you just walk around, it is great… the vibe is different than any other place I’ve been in Thailand… most of the island are backpackers, so it has a very hippy, young vibe. We went to one of the main bars there, called the Reggae Bar. It has something I had never seen before… they have a Muay Thai Boxing Ring IN the bar!!!!!!!!!! And they offer free buckets of beer (worth about $2) if you are willing to go in the ring and fight!! Numerous farangs (white people) get in and it is an all-out slugfest! They also have some real Thai Muay Thai fighters there… I saw some of the hardest hits I’ve ever seen there, it was pretty crazy! The Thai Muay Thai fighter guys were some of the toughest fighters I have seen…. Twice I saw guys get knocked out, woken up, and then continued fighting!?!

I actually think more nightclubs should have boxing rings in them! Especially in Canada and the US, the home of the drunken bar fights (I’ve been to nightclubs around the world and never seen bar fights anywhere but in Canada and the US, mostly Canada)… why not let these drunken idiots fight it out in an organized, non-broken-beer-bottle-smashing way? I considered getting in the ring as I’ve always wanted to get back into boxing but after watching numerous people getting knocked out I decided to pass. 😛

After Phi Phi, we took a 2 hour ferry ride to Krabi. The ferry from Phuket to PP had A/C but the one from PP to Krabi did not… the difference was night & day! 2 hours in the blazing sun on a packed ferry without A/C is NOT fun… I recommend that you check to see if they offer ferries with A/C… if they don’t, take one of the privately hired speedboats on offer and save yourself from the free sauna/steamroom treatment… I must’ve lost 5 lbs sweating on that trip!

Krabi was really, really nice. Again, it was different from anywhere I’ve been in Thailand. Krabi is part of southern Thailand and is really relaxed and cool. The people are a bit different down there too, getting some mixture of muslims and darker skinned people originally from the Indian region.

The food was amazing… even Jane found all the Thai food there to be better than in Bangkok, which is saying a lot! And while it is quite small and quiet there, there is just enough nightlife to keep it interesting, including a cool Thai nightclub called Ibark which had a pretty cool Thai crowd.

I have been in Bangkok now for the last week and have less than a week left until my 30 day visa runs out again… I am not sure what I am going to do yet. I may go to Nepal or Laos for a bit… or even possibly to Australia to get a 1 year visa here. And I may also go up through Korea to Vancouver and spend some time in Canada (Vancouver, Edmonton) and maybe down to Las Vegas and LA for a while… if I do that, then I’ll likely continue on after that to the Caribbean… Dominican Republic specifically, for business reasons… after that it’ll likely be Europe for much of June and July.

As usual, everything is up in the air, but will figure it out over the coming days…