We had these little passport photos taken for us in Chiang Khong for when we crossed the Mekong and had to deal with the Lao authorities. It took about five minutes by slow boat, followed by the most chill border crossing we’d likely ever experience in Asia.
It cost about $40 to get a tourist visa which lasted for a month, I believe. Other than that, it was just a brief wait for them to stamp our passports and let us continue on our merry way into one of the most beautiful, humble countries I’ve ever been to, one that has suffered unfairly simply due to its proximity to neighboring Vietnam and thus horribly affected by the war that broke out in the ‘60s.
One thing that struck me about the mostly-outdoor office of the border authorities were the posters denouncing the sex slave trade, and the apparent consequences for anyone caught taking advantage of children (although it’s arguable that many governments in the region could do more to stamp out this disgusting industry). In addition, the poster gave clear indications through cartoon imagery regarding the customs of the Lao people when it came to photography, food, and even the taboo act of using your feet to point or placing them anywhere but on the ground they were meant to walk. Contrarily, it is considered rude to touch people on the head, a part of the human body considered most respectable. Personally, I appreciated the upfront conveyance of these messages; it wasn’t anything new to us as we’d done our research prior, but I saw it as a welcome attempt to bridge some of the cultural gaps that may exist between locals and visitors.
Teresa still ranks Laos as her favorite country, when taken in context, out of the entire trip, and for good reason. The people are some of the friendliest we’ve ever met, despite our difficulty in communicating. English is less prevalent compared to Thailand, but that didn’t stop us from interacting with locals. As I mentioned in my last post, our first stop was a tiny little village called Huay Xi. There wasn’t too much to do here, and it was mainly a jumping off point, but it didn’t disappoint nonetheless.
Right away we noticed a difference in the cuisine. There’s still some crossover with Thai food, of course, there couldn’t not be considering their proximity. The one basic staple that stands out, though, is sticky rice. Often served in little palm-sized wooden or wicker baskets, it’s a side dish that goes with just about everything and is also used as a utensil in substitution for a spoon or fork. You can mop us sauces, pick up handfuls of sautéed vegetables and grilled meats, and do just about everything else with a handful of sticky rice.
It was blistering hot and as we walked around exploring the town, I was sweating buckets. We couldn’t wait for nightfall to bring on some cooler weather. Once the sun set, walking the streets was far more comfortable and vendors were out along the river and in the town in full force, serving up a variety of Lao deliciousness. We found this noodle soup bowl with pork that hit the spot; it’s funny how in some of the hottest places in the world, spicy food prevails to the extent that it does. Despite the draining humidity, these dishes are no less enjoyable…somehow, they’re more so to me.
The nights were the best in Asia, especially in the small towns. That night, the stars dotting the pitch black sky numbered in the hundreds, at least. The air was peaceful and quiet. Sitting out on the porch of our comfortable, French-colonial style guesthouse, I could really envision the small place in the universe our Earth exists. To me, it’s amazing that a place that truly is so small can be so diverse and so significant at the same time. This was really still the beginning of our trip, less than three weeks in. We were fully immersed at this point and honestly, I didn’t really miss home too much. This was where I needed to be…mind alert and excited at the fresh memories of adventures passed, and the exhilarating knowledge that there was still so much more to come. Being at home now, one of the only things that keeps me going is the knowledge that I will do something like this again, and continue to do it for the rest of my life. I love my home, but that’s really beside the point. It’s literally the lack of movement, knowing that, for the most part, I’ve been in the same square-kilometers vicinity for months on end now. I don’t know if there’s any one place on this Earth, or even beyond it, that could tie me down for too long a period of time, not without the gut wrenching desire to move on. And that’s cool, I wouldn’t have it any other way.