Around mid-day I packed my things and caught a local tuk tuk from the Rivertime Resort back to Vientiane. The tuk tuks in Lao are larger than the two-person affairs found in Thailand, and are actually small Diahatsu or similar pick-up trucks with a canopy and bench seats in the rear tray. Although they are found on every street corner in Vientiane, they also serve the villages as buses, ferrying people and goods to and from town. If you ask when the next one leaves, you’ll be told “when you want”, and if you ask where it will leave from, you’ll be told “from here”, regardless of where you are.
Once I was ready to head back to town, the assistant manager jumped on a scooter and soon returned with a tuk tuk in tow. It seems likely that the local villages might not get the same door-to-door service provided to the well-paying falang, so it didn’t take any particular linguistic skill to recognise the disappointment on the driver’s face as the assistant manager informed him that I would be paying a fare more in line with that asked of the locals. Even more impressively, she was able to talk him into taking me to my hotel in Vientiane rather than leaving me at the main bus station at Thalat Sao (“thalat” meaning “market”). Regardless, he agreed, and we set off after he enthusiastically threw my bags up onto the tuk tuk’s roof and dismissed with a wave my enquiry as to his thoughts regarding the, to my mind, fairly well-established convention of tying down such a load.
Not long after we set off, we took on several local passengers, and shortly after that we encountered an extremely strong smell of cattle and their dung. Not wanting to appear unaccustomed to such natural things, I grinned and bore it, fighting back the tears that were slowly but surely welling. Much to my satisfaction, however, the locals quickly covered their own noses, and we all breathed a sigh of relief as we passed the offending livestock. As someone who doesn’t handle the various aromas of farm-life well, it was nice to know that I’m not so different from the average Lao villager, at least in this regard.
As we turned on to the main road south to Vientiane, I suddenly noticed the assistant manager from the resort drawing alongside on her scooter and waving for the driver to stop. “The gi!”, she shouted, “The gi!”. Puzzling as this was, I thought of how friendly she and the other staff had been over the last two days, and quickly put two and two together and realized that she must have forgotten to give me a gift as a thank you for visiting their resort. The Lao people have a strong tradition of hospitality.
As it turned out, she wanted the room key that I still had in my pocket. How she managed to catch us I do not know, as my GPS suggested we were travelling at around 60 km/h and I don’t recall ever seeing a scooter overtake a car before.
The rest of the trip back to Vientiane was uneventful, if dusty. A lot of construction is being rushed to be ready in time the South-East Asian Games, and that includes paving a long section of the main north road; in the mean time, it is a wide bumpy ribbon of red dirt. I arrived at my hotel quite proud of the tan I’d managed to collect over the last few days, until it all washed off in the shower.