2009-Entry 1: Return to Savanakhet, Laos

When the afternoon sun starts to fry your brain to the point where you can’t think, it is time to get yourself to an airconditioned anyplace! That is where I am now.. well, airconditioned meaning it is marginally cooler than you’d be with a fan going!

The flight to Thailand continues to amaze me. It seems like the 23 hours it takes in all literally fly by. Plenty of good movies on the flight. I spent the last leg from Tokyo to Bangkok sitting next to a guy from New York. The conversation started out innocuous enough, exchanging pleasantries about life in New York and the joy of just getting away from it all. He had a lot of questions about Thailand, but obviously hadn’t cracked the Lonely Planet Guide to SE Asia that weighed down his carry-on bag. He started talking about going to the Moon Festival on an island in southern Thailand. I assumed this was some interesting cultural event, which I guess in a way it is! Seems like it is an off-the-curcuit party– 4-days of sex and drugs for that certain set of travelers! He showed me his schedule for the month jotted on a paper no bigger than a post-it, and there writ large was the Moon Festival! As the plane landed he actually asked me if Thai immigration would mind if he brought the left over brownie his friend gave him before departure into the country. He thought again and wisely decided to consume it. After I declined half, he told me it was laced with opiated hash. Bon Voyage……..

I spent a few lazy days in Bangkok just getting used to being in SE Asia and calling and visiting friends. It was nice to just relax before this journey started. The overnight bus to Savanakhet was wonderful.. plenty of leg room on the VIP bus! The never-smiling hostess looked as if she had surrendered this life to the pain and suffering of having to put up with this job until she joyfully passes on to the next life which should at least be one of wealth if not fame. She nearly tossed me a box containing our snack—- a small bottle of water and a soggy bun filled with a non-descript cream. We got to the Mukdahan bus station at 5 am and had to wait for the bus to Laos at 8am. Had a breakfast of rice and fried mixed vegetables with pork and generally mellowed out.

We passed though the Thai side quickly enough. There were only two of us Westerners on the bus who needed visas to get into Laos. By the time I got mine, the bus had left me at the border (on a schedule) and I had to get a tuk-tuk into Savanakhet itself. I’m just in such a “boh-pen-yang” (Lao for “never mind”) mode that I just couldn’t get excited about it. Checked in to the Savanbanho Hotel, where I stayed two years ago when I passed this way. Some of you will remember this is the place that had that gloriously incomprehensible rules of the hotel. It’s still there. I can’t figure out the half of it, but my favorite is still “visitors will not be laundered, cooked in the room, smoke cigaretles in the bed, and made noise another visitors.” And the equally wonderful ” All forms of gambling are not prohibited in the hotel…” I also love that incredibly polite new word that tells you that you are a thoughtless dope, “carefulless” as in “In case of loss or domage by your carefulless…”

It was nice wandering though the old French quarter again. St Theresa’s Church still stands majestic, if not occupied, over the Talat Yen Plaza. I take refuge there as a downpour erupts…. wonderful to just sit there, eyes closed,meditating to the pounding rain give way to the gentle drips and drops of the downpour subsiding. It is an afternoon spend visiting old locations and running into new people. A Frenchman in his 70’s drives up on his motor cycle. He is married to a Lao woman and has lived here for 10 years. He can’t speak any English, and his French is harder to understand when it is delivered though what has to be the most ill-fitting pair of dentures I have ever seen. We chatted in Thai/ Lao for a bit and then off he went zooming down the plaza. Stopped in the Tourist Association Office,barren walls with scant few brochures about. The ever-smiling assistant, Boon, filled me in on the Khao Pansaa festival which is today. This is the time before the start of the rainy season for men to enter the monkhood, if only for a short time, to make merit for their parents.

Also stopped by the bocce ball (“bawn”) pits along the river to watch the players. These guys were good! And have obviously been playing with, or rather against, each other for a long time. Then across the street to the oldest temple in Savanakhet (400 years), Wat Xaiyaphoum. I confirmed with a monk there that the festival starts with a 6am offering by the faithful followed by a sermon. At night there will be a  candle ceremony, wian tian, as the people walk around the temple three times. Should make for some good photos! As I was leaving I ran into a jolly teacher on holiday from Nebraska. He’s been here for three weeks traveling the road from Vientiane in the north to here. He seemed so freshly out of the midwest in outlook and appearance that it seemed almost as surreal as the huge butterfly that appeared out of nowhere and alighted on his shoulder. “That’s good luck,” I told him. He disappeared so fast that I wondered if that was really an hallucination from the anti-malaria medication! ( I did see him later on the street. That assured me somewhat!)


Woke up this morning to some strange sense of reality! Had some pretty intense, off-the-wall dreams that I attributed to the anti-malaria medication I have started to take. Did not feel well-rested, so I passed on the morning visit to the temple. But, as my doctor told me about the alternative, possibly getting malaria,  could be a lot less fun! All in all glad I’m taking it… lot of mosquitoes here now. Two years ago the weather was hot and dry… this time it is hot and wet– perfect for the little “yoong”! Fortunately, I only have to take the medication once a week.

When I finally went out, I wandered about and ended up sitting in the shade of a banyon tree at Watanarangsri Temple teaching phrases to the 5 novice monks eager to learn more English. It was the perfect way to spend the rest of the morning that was fast giving way to the thickening heated air. We laughed a lot. When I caught two of them ogling a passing beauty, I asked them if monks could do that! They laughed and shyly told me with terrifically broad grins, “It OK . We only novices!” Accompanied to a lot more laughter by one and all.

Tomorrow on to Hue, Vietnam…. I’ll try to send Savanakhet pictures when I get somewhere to reliably download my photos!

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