From the eve before…the nightbus leaves around 7:30 pm from the south station in Luang Prabang. As the 8:30 pm sleeper seat bus is full we have the capacity to condition ourselves for vertical snoozing, a feat I have learned to find astoundingly possible with the assistance of Benedryl. I am shamefully still attached to Western medicine for some uses.
I pop a pill and snuggle next to my Japanese mate to my left who has so kindly gifted me the window seat for the windy and unpaved 10 hour ride. It is gorgeous nonetheless, catching the rustic scenery with the tail end of the daylight. We stop a bunch of times and I recall being mildly conscious for some, hopping off to squat in the woods and joining the collective group stop around 1 am where we were fed traditional Lao noodle soup. I share a table with two Lao girls and immediately one gets up to fetch me a spoon for I have been neglectful and only grabbed chopsticks. The kind sister demonstrates how to eat the soup properly with the pile of fresh mint leaves and limes, showily taking a large munch out of a raw chile. OK. I know I could take her one-on-one for a spice challenge but being that my gut is still a bit raw I decline to copy her manner. She chuckles and asks my name. Her name is Name. She giggles again. Our conversation is incredibly short but sweet, mostly with hand gestures and cheerful smiles. Compassionate souls and soup make this pit-stop one of the most memorable. I return to a state of mild slumber until we arrive in Vientiene after 7am, the ride hours longer as one could expect. Lao time takes even Thai time to a heightened level of relaxed, there is no urgency. Ever. Buses leave and arrive as they feel, food comes out of restaurant kitchens in pieces, lunch breaks are relished, shops close with irregularity…I can’t even imagine how a true New Yorker would fare.
Checkout is not until noon it seems in most hostels/hotels but I prepay at a desired location hoping that they will hold a single room for me as I go to explore. Many boulangeries filled with patrons enjoying cigarettes, pastries, and espresso smell distinctly of France, the gray heaviness of the city air also complementing the feeling. I sit in one and enjoy breakfast of a baguette tartine with jam, the chewiness of the bread nearly perfect to those I have indulged in their true homeland. I imagine the chef here too wears a baret. Cruise the city some more. Ground. Love.
I return to the hotel and alas there is an opening, a room with no external windows but white sheets. It is a blessing here to have such items. I shower and return to the sunshine, taking a bike as my steed to discover a new and splendid city. I pass a massive black stupa called That Dam, a masculine and robust monument with legend of being the home of a dormant seven-headed dragon that came to life during the 1828 Siamese-Lao war and protected the local people. It feels powerful for sure!
Biking farther I cross through the Victory Gate, Patuxai, a memorial from the 1950’s inspired by the Arc de Triomphe. Indeed. Many tourists and locals (and monks) alike sit around the statue in the manicured gardens, some under umbrellas shading themselves from the heat of the afternoon others lapping up the light as I do. Sounds of French sing on the streets.
In the evening I coast around a bit more, passing through the night market with its unique flavor…roasted meats and fish on skewers, noodles, cockles by weight, Lao/Thai (they do it the same!) green papaya salad made in a mortar and pestle, crepes filled with chocolate spread or fruit jells, brightly colored sweet milks, tons of carnival rides, balloons, some clothing items. All good fun.
I vaguely consider sitting on a bar stool but decide it is best to head to bed. Dream time is calling…interestingly I have had a strong male presence in my dreams recently, a feeling that I have some good guys protecting me on my path. Thank you boys. I appreciate.