Highs and Laos

I arrived in Laos yesterday, flying AirAsia’s flagship sardine can from Kuala Lumpur. For some reason, the earlier a flight is in the morning, the later I find myself up until the night before. Presumably at some point there is a convergance and this correlation breaks, but it seems I’ve not yet found the limit.

Like Cambodia, the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos allows most foreigners to apply for and purchase an entry visa on arrival at Wattay Airport. Unlike Cambodia, the customs officers in their Red Army-styled uniforms are friendly and helpful – in fact, at all times one member of the shift is required to forego actually working and instead amuse and distract the others with a constant stream of apparently quite humourous jokes and comments. This goes a long way toward alleviating the nervousness that can accompany waiting in line to attempt to buy entry to a country, if not toward speeding the process.

The cab driver who carried me to my hotel spoke more English than I speak of any other language, so I subjected him to rigourous questioning about the state of the Laos education system, a topic he seemed happy to be paid to talk about. His two sons are working in the Ministry of Finance, which I later found is housed next to the Ministries of Information, Culture and Education, and the Presidential Palace. It’s clearly a street of power, as indicated by the hundred or so Toyota Hilux trucks parked outside. The Lao people definitely make up for their relatively small stature by never driving anything smaller than an oversized pick-up truck.

So far, the climate, food and even language are to me almost indistinguishable from that of Thailand. Vientiane feels very much like Chiang Mai. Something I hadn’t noticed in Thailand, though, is how similar to Chinese the numbers sound – I have almost been able to understand spoken prices by imagining them to be Cantonese.

I’m sitting in the courtyard of my hotel now at breakfast on my second day here, with a steady flow of rain that has cooled the air significantly. The rain started last night while sitting for dinner on the bank of the Mekong, looking over into neighbouring Thailand. The rain got slowly heavier, until everyone was forced to relocate to canopies a little further from the river’s edge. It was comforting as a foreigner to see locals eating and drinking at the same stall I chose – it would be very easy here to eat and drink only in cafes and bars that cater directly to foreigners. Well, that’s done it – I’m hungry again, and the rain has eased, so I guess it’s time to head out again.

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