I’m writing this from a hammock. I know it must be just about the douchiest sentence to utter, and I apologize for anyone reading it after a hard day’s work. It’s the blogging equivalent to that facebook friend posting selfies at the beach in the Carribean in the middle of February. Well for once, I get to be just that instead of the one reading about it at home, and boy do I enjoy it! I’m not at the beach – some things don’t change – I’m in a bungalow on a small Island on the Mekong river, in South Laos. It is just about how it sounds, probaly the most laid back place on Earth.
We’ve been in Laos for almost two weeks, now, and after Myanmar, it’s been refreshingly…quiet. We arrived in Vientiane, the capital city, on a sunday at noon, and thought we had just wandered into a ghost town. And this is not only according to South-East-Asia-Capital-Cities standards, it would even be considered quiet if it were a small provincial southern French town, on a sunday afternoon when everyone is napping. So compared to Yangon or Bangkok, you could talk of a culture shock. But Vientiane has the charm of a half-forgotten colonial post along the Mekong river, with its white villas and bushes of colorful bougainvillea, its small french cafes (with real, good coffee, can you imagine?, after two weeks of diluted filter coffee in Myanmar, we might have reached nirvana at our first stop in a Boulangerie that afternoon), and, when the Vientiane population comes out of their nap on sunday evening and go for a stroll on the river banks to explore the stalls of chinese clothes and lao street food at the night market, it also looks like a very leisurely town. Of course, it can’t be that simple, and there is more to it than just a pleasant apathy. There are new investors, modern supermarkets just opening, even some (small) trafic jams when it gets busy. In short, and despite our first impression, for Lao standards, this isn’t a quiet town, rather a busy metropole, as we discovered shortly after.
From Vientiane, we went to Luang Prabang – an former capital city (as capital cities tend to change with every new king or government, in the region, we tend to visit a lot of “former capital cities”), with the faithfull help of the night bus, our eternal friend here (which has the two major advantage of sparing one hotel night and gaining one day for visiting, with just the minor drawbacks of not getting the best sleep ever, but in a country with good coffee, who cares?), and realize you can do an even quieter version of Vientiane, with magnificient temples, all of it surrounded by a lush jungle of hills and muddy waterfalls. There too, the spirit is that of a refined art of farniente in which it is very easy to slip into: why would you do so much in one day? it is either too hot, or too rainy anyway, just have a break in a cafe and then maybe go to see a temple, if you’re not tired, in which case, well, you could have a lao-style-salad or a fruit shake at the market stalls, or a nap, there’s really no need to rush.
And somehow, for us, who usually fill every minute of the day with occupations, to make sure we’ve enjoyed it, or that it was worth it, it is the easiest thing in the world to do nothing sometimes, or very little. Slowly, we have come to the South of the country (with the help of other night buses, all of which had engine problems that enable interesting stops in the middle of nowhere for a couple of hours, enough to enjoy a stretch of dusty road and the sound of the driver and its helper making stomp-like concerto somewhere underneath the bus – how that managed to get the bus going for another 200 kms we might never know, better not to wonder too much, those things have their own rules). It is – if possible – even quieter. Only this morning, as we were on a boat to reach this small Island on the Mekong – did we get a reason to get our blood worked up a bit, as the boat driver drove us to another Island and tried to ask for more money to go to the right one. While arguing (it did only take about ten minutes, and once he realized we wouldn’t give him any money, he quickly gave up with the sort of half smile that said “well, I’ve got to try, it’s only fair game”, we realized how uncommon it had been – in fact, it was the first time in this trip (though it was the 3rd time for a girl next to us, for whom it was beginning to be quite annoying), and had becomed so unlikely we almost didn’t know how to get angry anymore. A good sign for a country, surely, that it is so laid-back you don’t remember how to work up a temper. And now, in a hammock with my book, watching the reflection of the sun on the Mekong, I think about how easy it is, in fact, to naturally do nothing, and how natural it would be to just let the days slip in this small Island.
Well, (un)fortunately, we still have Cambodia to discover and a few things to do, so we will have to leave and come back to the frenesy of our normal days. But a bit of Laos, the gold and red of its temples, the slow progression of the Mekong and its peace will stay with me.