A splendid day. First a trip to Laos across the immense, lazy Mekong River. Laos an expected and excellent time warp , with super cute Laoettes. all in their tribal costumes of black sarongs with silk borders, French colonial buildings and almost no ATMs. The local currency is the "kip", worth 1/270th of the Thai money and 1/8000th of a dollar. People accept it like you are offering them used toilet paper. Capitalism rocks.
I get to ride vile Tuk-Tuks that keep breaking down ( it took a relay to get me back to the bridge later on). Am interviwed by a Uni student on his "English Languarge" (as the check sheet says) practise assignment - complete amazement from this hardened travel warrior that there is no come-on or rip-off. His Task? " Interwiev One Forgneir in One Day".
Usual and expected Communist poverty - spot a Merc 230 SL obviously driven by the relative of a Politburo member. Who else could possibly afford one in Laos?
Stop in at the East-West Restaurant for lunch to discover Sri Lankan lady owner and her quasi-European partner ( all the white folks in this part of the world are so utterly wasted by Indo-China you can't tell their ages or nationalities - suffice to say they are always florid, perspiring, unkempt and more than a little mad) going through the wringer with a People's Workers Party of Laos grande dame. For a Lao she is enormous, well over 5 ft 8, with a beehive hairdo, pancake make-up and an assortment of Party insignia. Am not quite sure what a Sri Lankan is doing running a resto this far up the Mekong, but through the interpreter I can here her pleading ,
" But this man my husband he is not allowed to verking here", as she unfolds endless permits and documents.
The Laoettes are so utterly sweet. I fall in love every time I talk to one. I simply have not met any women like this in 20 years. They seem not from another planet but an entirely different galaxy.
Back to Nong Khai in the late afternoon of my final day. I attend the "Western Cowboy Club" where acres of Thaiboppers jump up and down to the bizarre strains of a Thai rock band, whilst waiters with bowties dump huge ice-cubes into your beer.
To Brendan's Place for the mandatory drunken local Irish publican's visit. I bump into Teak Pete, the pony-tailed ex Vietnam vet who has lived here since 1970. We have a great chat and afterwards I end up across the road (I should point out Nong Khai is a very conservative city with zero of Bangkok's glittering nightlife) at "Nongs Place." In this tiny pub I fall into animated conversation with a public school educated Burmese lad and Mark, a raving drunk who spent 6 years in the 4th Batallion, Kings African Rifles based in Jinja, Uganda.
Meanwhile Dao, a singularly worn out ladyboy, attaches herself to me with the subtltey of a giant squid in feeding mode. After a full discussion of the Greek influence on Afghan architecture, the U.S. Marine and Japanese army casualty rates on Saipan and if Speke the Nile explorer was undone by spending a month in the Queen Mother of Buganda's school for sex slaves, Dao unwinds herself to retire rebuffed and the rest of us stagger off to our hotels.
It's taken two weeks. This is why I came here, this is why I return. I honestly wonder if I should be leaving tomorrow and feel vaguely sad.