December 24, 2012 (Christmas Eve)
Current Location: Pakse, Laos
Goodbye: flat, dry, hot Cambodia! Hello: leafy, mountainous Laos!
Laos is a pretty mystical place. The jungles are so dense and unexplored that it leaves a lot of room for stories about hidden monsters and magical beings. Our local guide told us about 40 meter anacondas that will kill you just by looking at you, and 8 meter dragons (snakes, I think?) in the Mekong. The walk up the road to Vat Phou was definitely magical. This ancient, crumbling road with white trees bending overhead felt a lot like walking up the yellow brick road to Oz. Or like the city of the Wheelers in Return to Oz.
Vat Phou, Laos
We’ve reached the midpoint of the group tour. Half the group has food poisoning, and stress is getting higher. Since Angkor Wat, accommodations have gotten progressively rougher as we’ve journeyed deeper into Cambodia and Laos. The water & food has become less safe, the power less reliable, the showers worse, and the mosquitoes more evil and malaria-ridden. We all signed up for this, of course, and will all love the memories, I’m sure, but it’s a bit draining in the moment.
That said, I love the group. I love sitting for hours at a restaurant on the Mekong River drinking Beerlao with 7 other women from around the world, playing MASH and laughing, as we tell each others’ fortunes with the silly schoolyard game. (We all swear to update each other on facebook when those fortunes obviously come true!) The group is generally pretty respectful and well-behaved as we travel around, so I don’t think we draw more attention than necessary as “tourists”, but people are certainly interested in finding out the story behind this mixed group.
The tour group consists of 15 people:
- 8 women traveling alone (2 Americans, 1 Canadian, 2 British, 2 Australian, 1 Swedish), 21-42 years old.
- 1 married Australian couple
- 1 German couple in their 20s/30s traveling together
- 1 older Canadian guy traveling alone
- 1 British guy traveling alone
- Our tour guide is an amazing Thai woman.
Thank goodness for Facebook! There is actually a teeny, tiny chance that I won’t completely lose track of all of them when the tour is over.
We hit our first real snag on the trip yesterday. A storm on the Mekong River was causing waves and a dust storm. We were supposed to cross the river via rickety ferry to get to our overnight homestay in a village on one of the Lao islands. We all prepared for no running water, no power, and were ready for our authentic Lao experience. But no one felt safe getting on that ferry. We watched skeptically as other boats really struggled to make it, remembered all the news stories about ferries sinking with tourists onboard, and we counted the life jackets on the ferry (count: zero). So we turned back to Pakse. They put us in one of the only hotels that could accommodate our group, the Pakse Hotel, and it turned out to be the nicest hotel we’ve stayed at so far. Steady Internet, modern showers, and $5 60-minute massages next door was EXACTLY what we all needed.
I’m on Day 5 of food poisoning. We all spend a lot of time trying to figure out which meal caused it, but then we all happily keep eating everything my doctor told us not to — any ice, fruit that we didn’t peel ourselves, food that isn’t broiling hot when we receive it. Carrying my backpack became really hard when all I’d eaten for 3 days was white rice. Luckily, we are all walking First Aid kits, and most people take care of each other.
A few random photos from the past few days:
Royal Palace, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Rickshaws in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Having a hard time not snuggling the probably-rabid feral cats. My roommate swears to hit me if I get too close. She’s tough, she’ll probably do it!
Dolphin watching on the Mekong River at sunset