So no one understands it, but it is a thing. To receive my Non-B immigrant blah blah blah 90 day visa, we have to cross the border into Laos and go to the Thai Embassy. Two days paid off of school and a weekend getaway. I’m down.
At first I was being pissy because we had to take an overnight, 12 hour bus to and from Vientiane. Poor teacha probs.
Our first bus was not going to lie, kindddd of terrible. It had these weird like Winnie the Pooh baby blankets that looked at though they hadn’t been washed since 1997. Also, there was mini cockroaches everywhere. Once again, I’m dramatic, I know but I killed five on my own. We got “upgraded” to “VIP” aka the lower dungeon layer. Which was totally fine because it was only us and one other Asian girl, who decided to talk on Facetime almost the entire first four hours with no headphones. We were getting, in lack of better terms, PISSED. We kept shhhhhs-ing her and tell her to lower the volume. To me it seems like common courtesy when everyone is lights out trying to snooze, but the cultural norms are just different in Asia.
After watching a movie on Netflix, I passed out the whole ride until light rose again that morning. We had to get off the bus to stamp out of Thailand, then we had to get off the bus to get a Visa for Laos, then back on the bus and back off again. It was a process. No long lines or anything, pretty simple and quick.
All the other teachers at school kept telling us you literally have to “run”. When we got to the Thai Embassy, it took a maximum of 30 minutes to get through the line and on our way to the hostel. No craziness, no “running”. We were lucky. We craziest part was trying to get off the bus once we arrived. Tuk-tuk drivers were literally storming our bus. Some even walked on the bus trying to get us to come with them. Absolute insanity. We had to be back the next day between 1-4 to pick up our passports. We hoped in a tuk-tuk, joined by a random, lost (and pissed) Brit backpacker attempting to find his embassy. I call that free entertainment.
Our hostel was bare bones, but for $5 a night with warm breakfast in the morning, it was good for me. This is a luxury I will truly hate not having back in the US. The neat thing about this place was all the walls were covered in art and quotes from people who had stayed there from all over the world. I could’ve spent the entire weekend reading it all. It ranged everywhere from true inspiration to drunken thoughts, quick doodles to sharpie murals. The lady at the front desk was really nice and helped us to set up our van to go explore Buddha Park the next day.
The A/C in the dorm room didn’t cut on until night, but when it did it almost froze me out of the room. They had free vodka every night from 8pm-10pm and we coerced them into giving us the entire bottle instead of just filling up our cup. You could tell the place was owned by one family as they would all be hanging out throughout the night and day. It was super funny because each night they’d change into their “pjs” right around the time the booze started.
Since we figured we’d be sitting at immigration all day exhausted from our “sprint” that didn’t happen, we didn’t have any set plans for the day. There was several temples right out our doorstep, so we grabbed a quick lunch at this cute mediterranean restaurant. Here I finally found a dark beer. Beer Lao Dark Lager, I truly miss you already. Can Dark Chang become a thing here in Thailand? I could go to a million temples and never get tired of it. The colors, the art, it is like sensory overload. You can stare at the same wall for 30 minutes and not get tired of it because there is so much intricacy.
We left for Buddha Park around 10am the next morning. The first time I didn’t have to be up early as hell! But yall know me, I still was up at 7am. The bus was comfy and the driver played Top 40 pop hits the entire ride. And yes, I did enjoy the music choice. ****Disclaimer: if you really know me, you know I someone can sing every word to most mainstream radio hits and I love it. I mean whatever, they’re popular for a reason. I indulge in enough great music, I think this one flaw is excusable.*** The final stretch got pretttttty bumpy because there wasn’t a road… at all. I remember we all looked ahead and said to each other “Oh shit, we’re driving through this?”.
It is basically just a plot of land filled with with Hindu and Buddhist sculptures. Unlike most tourist attractions in Southeast Asia that are really old, the park wasn’t started until the 1950s. As you stroll through the park and admire the various installations, you can tell each piece relates to a religious story or god. What the stories actually were, I have no idea. The two largest are the Buddha Head and Reclining Buddha. The Buddha Head is crazy. You can climb all inside until you reach the top where you have a 180 view of the park. The entire place felt like an adult playground and the Buddha Head was the jungle gym. There was a monk that sat in the stand at the park. To everyone who walked by he’d say, “Hello. I love you. I miss you.”
It was so hot and sunny, that we were quickly wore out, but we had to be dropped back off at the embassy to get our passports. When we arrived, we were surprised to see they were calling the numbers in order. We were in the 400s and they were only in the hundreds. They failed to mention to us the day before that while you can come during these hours that the tickets would be called in order. Not the best process, but we only ended up waiting a little over an hour.
After we arrived back to the hostel, I grabbed by book and headed to the coffee shop nearby for an cold, iced green tea. The shop played a steady stream of 90s angst music including Nirvana and The Cranberries. No complaints in that department. This wasn’t surprising since Vientiane is essentially just a stopping point for backpackers or expats on a visa run, so it is very much geared toward western culture.
The next day we went to the COPE Museum. COPE stands for Cooperative Orthotic & Prosthetic Enterprise. I’m not going to lie, at first I was super not into it. I don’t want to go hear about all the pain we caused a country. I won’t harp on this too much, but here are the biggest takeaway I received from my visit.
- There were more bombs dropped in Laos than people living there.
- Unlike with Vietnam, the United States explicitly stated they weren’t bombing Laos, therefore the same rules weren’t in place. For example, in Vietnam you couldn’t bomb within a certain distance of a temple. This allowed Laos to be a free for all. (I saw a video where word for word JFK and Nixon said we have no one in Laos. Hmm…)
- People are still constantly dying and being affected by cluster bombs all over the country which leads me to a powerful statement I heard that will stick with me forever. “There is still a war going on without a reason and without a resolution.”
It is moments such as this that remind me how important it is to travel. I grew up with a one-sided view on the Vietnam War. Now I have an added perspective. Traveling makes for a well-rounded human being.
Finally, the journey home. One thing about Asian culture there is a fine line between business/job and personal life. Teachers at our school give medicine to the kids and treat them in more of a “family” way than teachers in the US ever would be able to.
Same goes with our journey home. We were part of a family operation. We waited at a restaurant for a guy. He came and said he would be back at 5 PM to pick us up. We forgot what he looked like other than that he was really sweaty. So he picked us up in a van to take us to the Laos/Thailand Friendship bridge. On the way, we picked up his wife and kid. We then got on a bus to the next immigration stop. At this stop, he placed orange stickers on us and said “Do not lose”. From there we got on another bus, where we met a woman. We got in this woman’s personal pick up truck with a man, who took us to the bus station about 20 minutes down the road. From here we got on our actual bus. Like what the hell? Strange, but everyone was nice and helpful. Not to mention our bus home was SO NICE. Hannah and I had the best seats and were able to lean on the way back. They gave us a good, clean blanket. I was freaking out because I was so happy to spend 12 hours on this ride.
All in all Laos was a good time. A few days off of school with some peace away from the craziness of Nonthaburi was much needed. Downfalls, lost my travel pillow and my sandals magically disappeared from the hostel, but these are things that can be replaced.
In honor of the nostalgic vibes the Laos coffee shop gave me, here is some 90s tunes to cure that “holy shit it is almost 2018, I’m old and miss the 90s” feeling.