It's a strange feeling, to be here for such a long time and leave now, knowing that it's very unlikely that I will ever come back. I think it's the first time I spent so much time in a city which I don't see myself coming back to in the future. I do hope to see South East Asia again, go through some more of Thailand and Vietnam, then move down to Malaysia, Indonesia, etc. But Vientiane is probably just a... "one month stand". And it was an excellent experience.
Tomorrow I fly to Beijing. Let's see what I'll find there.
Unfortunately, though it is a beautiful place, I learned that it is quite poor as well. As it is usual, there's the need to criticize US behaviour here as well (I wonder - will I find a land outside Europe where they haven't fucked everything up?)
During the Vietnam War, the US and Lao had a peace agreement. Which was completely ignored by the US, who carried out a "secret war". They dropped bombs in Lao like it was "bomb rain season", which helped the country in becoming the most bombarded nation in the history of warfare.
The cherry on top of it all? About 30% of these bombs, many shaped and colored to resemble pineapples, did not detonate when they were dropped. Which means that sometimes, a farmer's wife will try to grow a new rice field and will lose a leg. Or children will play between the trees, and picking up what they think are pineapples, or even metal scraps (which are worth quite some money for them), will blow up to pieces. The incomparable works of Uncle Sam.
Having suffered such atrocities in the past, the socialist government is now trying its best to not let the western world fuck their people in the ass again. Therefore, I understand the quite unique law they have here; sexual intercourse between Lao nationals and foreigners of any nationality is illegal, as is prostitution. Ironically, the age of consent is 15.
Though a great thing in my opinion, as it prevents sexual tourism from happening (which is now quite common in Thailand or Cambodia), it does discourage many of the Lao nationals from having any kind of exchange with foreigners. I had a really hard time meeting locals, and only managed to have interesting conversations with a few of them. While in other countries the ladies will look at me and giggle, and possibly approach me with the usual "Where are you from?", here in Lao they just look away; being with a foreigner can put you in jail, so they don't even want to be seen talking to one.
From what I heard, tattoos are also illegal, though that I do not understand at all.
Next stop: the capital city of Vientiane, because now my South-East Asian part of the trip is about to end, and I must arrange the details of the next part of the trip: China.
Hoi An was a very pleasant and unexpected surprise; a charming place, with a couple of pretty bridges and a great taste in clothes, music and colors. Wikipedia describes its Ancient Town as "an exceptionally well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century". The tourists area is surrounded by tailors and shoemakers, and they're good at what they do. It's easy to ride a bicycle around town, and though the sun was very punishing, the place had a certain freshness to it, with lots of trees everywhere. On a random evening I decided to go out of the hotel room and explore the city properly, taking my time to roam around. I did not know it then, but the moon was full, and they celebrate that occasion quite elegantly. The whole city center had dimmed lights, with beautiful lanterns hanging everywhere, and down by the water people were carrying candles, monks had their banners, children laughed and music was played. But not as it usually happens in such occasions. I don't know if this is common elsewhere, but it seems to me that this was the first time I heard all the shops and bars in a whole city center playing the exact same music. What bliss, this gift from socialism, that night - no ultrabass systems booming rap next to a bar that is about to explode with electronic music, and so on down every street you walk by. No! All the shops, restaurants and bars were playing lovely European classical piano music - Beethoven, Chopin, etc, on a reasonable volume.
Da Nang offered me a similar experience, at the beach; there too, between the announcements through the public speakers, vietnamese music played through the whole extension of the beach; the same song all over, in a very decent volume, which also created a beautiful delay effect as the sound brought by the winds play the exact same thing you just heard, but softer and mixed to the sounds of the pacific ocean. Da Nang is one of the biggest cities in Vietnam, and developing quite fast. I didn't really explore the city itself, as I was busy during those days, but decided to at least visit the beach before moving on to Hue. My hotel was about 5 km from the beach, and the sun was also very punishing there. To that problem, I had 3 possible solutions. Renting a bicycle was not possible, so, in order to go to the beach and return from there, I could either hire a taxi car for about 150.000 VD, hire a taxi scooter for about 120.000, or rent the scooter itself for the whole day for 100.000. As I started an automatic scooter for the first time in my life, after putting on the helmet, I heard the owner ask - "You good driver?", to which I replied "Not really. First time for me". He looked concerned, but said "Go slow". I started, and went quite slow. It wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it would be. I just hopped on and got off, enjoying the feeling of finding the balance on a new ride. Then I heard the owner of the scooter shout like crazy, and realized I was driving in the wrong direction on a one way street, with two police officers riding straight towards me. They were baffled by the situation, slowing down to witness it, but moving on to more important things, probably. Realizing my mistake, I turned around and took off, and had no more problems throughout the rest of the day, in which I enjoyed a large stretch of white sand beach, with clear, warm ocean water, mysteriously empty from 14.00 to 17.00. After that it got crowded, but during those 3 hours, I had it all for myself - I saw very few others enjoying the sea, and a small number of people people walking by or jogging. There, as well as with the sun set, one of those great moments just brought itself up, and enjoying the sea while watching the distant fishermen on their floating baskets made me feel like this trip is definitely something I should be doing right now.
As I said, I was quite busy during those days, so I ended up taking only the few photos above. Nevertheless, I add the below images, which were not captured by me, but I think is important to have here to make justice to both events, which I enjoyed thoroughly.
I then travelled to Hue, were I stayed for a bit longer and allowed myself to be more of a tourist. There, I crossed paths with the Elder Sisters for the second time, after meeting them in Siem Reap weeks ago, visited the Imperial Citadel, got really drunk, visited a nearby cave, thought about getting a tattoo, worked quite some and moved on further north.
The work was carried forward thanks to Google Hotel's Internet. Something else they offered was free beer from 17.00 to midnight. That, combined with the presence of the powerful Elder Sisters meant a great time and a great hangover the next day. They're rarer and rarer, but they still happen sometimes.
The Imperial Citadel was ok, but I was not very impressed. The tattoo was postponed to Hanoi. Phong Nha caves, a few hours north of Hue, however, were beautiful, and travelling on little boats through it was a very comfortable and enjoyable experience. After enough time in this mildly enjoyable city (which unfortunately had none of that beautiful harmony of music of Hue or Da Nang), I moved on to Hanoi, where I am at now, after having one of those great moments. Despite the heat, which was a big problem at the beginning, I have definitely fallen in love with Vietnam.