Why not continue the series?
My day in Vientiane was really an evening in Vientiane. Dennis and I left Vang Vieng this morning on the local bus–$5 compared to the VIP $15–but it took us seven hours to cover 90 miles. Let me do the math on that for you–it’s an average of about 12 mph over rocky, rough road. I had four Lao people squeezed into the seat with me that was designed to accommodate two modestly sized bums. It was fine, but long and uncomfortable, smelling like shrimp paste and hearing the wails of a baby from the backseat. The dust from the road was unbearable and the entire bus was one big hacking coughing fit by the time we finally arrived in the city. Even the green plantlife along the “highway” was caked in thick layers of brown-red dust. And again–this is the national highway we’re talking about.
Finally, Dennis and I arrived in Vientiane. Then came hunting for a place to stay–we both wanted single rooms. He insisted on having in-room wifi (I don’t want to know why), and I didn’t care. Eventually, I ended up in a $5 dorm and he found his overpriced single down the street.
Vientiane is a real city, which I didn’t expect. The rest of Laos is so rural and underdeveloped that arriving here felt simultaneously disconcerting and comforting. Unfortunately, I won’t have much time to explore the sites and palaces and so on tomorrow since my flight to Saigon leaves at noon.
I noticed a small street stand serving Western and Lao food and figured it would be a good compromise. We sat down and chatted with the owner, an American who spent the past 25 years in Thailand and came to Laos in search of less commercialism. He made Dennis a ridiculously cheesy Philly cheesesteak. I opted for the cobb salad, which came with a fabulous Danish blue cheese sprinkled on top. For a cheap street stand, the quality was incredible–he makes his own mozzarella, tahini, hummus and other treats. It was a real find. We sat chatting with a few expats–the restaurant owner, a German working in development, a few Aussie miners exploring for copper and gold in the northern mountains of the country, and a few drifter Spaniards. Dennis asked many questions, eyes shining with excitement at the idea of relocating to Laos. I realized that Laos IS a place to set up shop–the more rural areas convinced me nobody in their right mind would live here by choice–but Vientiane does indeed draw an eclectic crowd.
Dennis endeared himself to me many times, but none quite as much as when the German hopped on his baby blue fixed-gear bicycle and pedaled away. Dennis turned to me and said “What do the kids call those?” and I looked at the bike, responding “A fixie?” Dennis nodded slowly, thinking, and then said, “And what do they call the kids who ride them?” A huge grin broke out on my face, and I took great pleasure in supplying the word–“Hipsters?” It was Dennis’s turn to grin, and he laughed aloud and drawled, “That’s a new term for me.”
Aww, Dennis. Tonight I heard more about his life–his 27 years as a heroin junkie, eight stints in rehab, childhood in Guam, dropping out of high school at 15, adulthood in Texas, on-the-run years in Kentucky, and finally fleeing some debt and bad karma for Southeast Asia. He’s nuts, yes, but well-read, interesting and only half as kooky as he initially seems. We swapped info and I’ll be interested to hear what happens to him. We parted with a big hug.