Hammock in the Grandstand
Pakse Travel Blog› entry 84 of 115 › view all entries
The woman in the motorbike hire place charges me five dollars for the broken wing mirror. No worries, I expected it to be more. I leave the bike, my reliable three-day partner in crime, with a wistful farewell pat. Then it's time to liberate my backpack from storage and get down to the VIP bus station to rendezvous with the bus that will take me across the frontier into Thailand.
I sit and chat to an Israeli couple that I met briefly at Mama's Place down in 4000 Islands. I'm distracted from the imminent border crossing by the girl. Sitting there in white vest and combats she's strikingly pretty, like many Israeli girls, with long dark hair and an amazing figure. Unfortunately, also like many Israeli girls, she's accompanied by an Israeli guy. Never mind; at least I have another future travel destination to ponder.
The bus is VIP by Laos standards only. Fittingly, on my final journey in this country of transport difficulties, there's a worrying grinding from the engine after just 15 minutes. The bus jolts to a roadside halt, we all exchange knowing looks before trooping off to sit on the grassy bank at the side of the road.
Not to worry though, for the bus driver, resplendent in his uniform: crisp white naval style shirt and slacks, is a man of action and not inconsiderable motor knowhow. Captain Fantastic checks the engine at the bus's rear, discusses a solution with a posse of passengers, and then hitches a lift from a passing motorbike. Within 20 minutes he's zooming back to the rescue with a random spare part. Five minutes of fiddling later and we're back on board with the engine purring like a salmon-stuffed feline. Brilliant.
As we continue to the border I reflect on my month in Laos. It's been thirty days of extreme weather, landslides, backpack marches, breakdowns, temples, tubing, hammocks, noodle soup and motorbiking. More than anything though, it's been thirty days of lovely people. In my journey so far, only the people of Sumatra can compare to the Lao in their consistent generosity, curiosity, patience, good humour and wide smiles.
Laos has a reputation for being a laid back traveller's dream with beautiful scenery and beautiful people. And you know what? It's true. But whisper it quiet my friends, because I'm concerned that this wonderful country, sandwiched as it is between the tourist traps of Vietnam and Thailand and with the economic giant of China looming in the North waving wads of cash around, has the potential to change dramatically, to lose its cool.
In Vietnam, I saw what unrestrained commercialism can do to a country and I didn't like it much. But I'm hopeful the Lao will not tread the same path: different country, different character. I have faith that these people will stay in touch with the sense of calm that persists here, and resist the money grabbing urge.
Because in a world that is filled with countries racing forward at F1 speeds, it's good to know that here in South East Asia there's a nation that's happier in a hammock slung up in the grandstand. They've a bowl of sticky rice and a cup of tea, and they're saying to their neighbours:
“You lot can chase each other around in circles as much as you like. We're all good right here.”
Cheers Laos - it's been a pleasure.