Wednesday, March 12, 2014

a road trip.

This past weekend a few of us teachers decided to take one last road trip. Lao is only about an hour north of us so we headed that direction to get one more stamp in our passports before our time together ends. Friday night we got on a bus to go to the city of Nong Khai where we stayed in a darling guest house, Mut Mee, on the Mekong River. We wandered through a night market/festival for a couple of hours eating some delicious food, watching a volleyball/soccer game (I’ve never been able to figure out what it’s actually called) and doing some shopping. Then we went back to Mut Mee and spent a couple of hours in the floating bar getting eaten by mosquitoes and visiting with the bar keeper, a young British girl who had come on vacation a few weeks ago and ended up getting a job and staying, and enjoying the cool breeze off the river. The next morning we had a delicious breakfast overlooking the river and then set off to cross the border.

It’s always a gamble when you have to deal with various government agencies, especially when you don’t know the language and aren’t quite sure of the procedures. Things aren’t very clearly marked and I have yet to meet an Asian person who truly understands the concept of a queue. But we’d gotten some pretty specific instructions from the owner of the guest house so we made it through to Lao with very little complications. (Coming back was another story!) We stood in line to pay our fees, get our visas checked, get our pictures taken, and board the bus to cross the bridge and then do the same on the other side. We exchanged some money, found a taxi and we were off.

Our taxi took us 15 or so minutes into the county to the capital city, Vientiane. There’s not actually a lot to see but the goal of getting our passports stamped had already been accomplished so we were free to wander and explore without any real pre-conceived ideas or expectations. Lao had been colonized by the French at one point so it has the benefit of some of that influence to this day including architecture, and more importantly, food! We had some amazing bread (the Thais don’t do bread so well and oh, how I have missed it!), French pastries, a smothered baked potato with real cheese and sour cream (the Thais don’t do dairy well either, aside from ice cream), a salad with amazing feta, some pizza, crème brulee and a breakfast bagel. It was a carb-lover’s dream!

We visited the Asian Arch de Triomph (actually called Patuxai Gate and never completed but modeled after the one in Paris with a few obvious Asian touches) which was beautiful. We climbed up to the top for a pretty great view of the city, fountain and gardens in one direction, tree-lined streets in the other. Inside the building itself every corner was crammed with tables and stalls selling fabulous (dripping with sarcasm) souvenirs.

In between our bouts of eating we saw the presidential palace and a few other beautiful and huge buildings we couldn’t identify as well as a few temples and an ancient stupa. We walked along the river (which was almost non-existent in some places due to its being dry season) and through some shops and enjoyed an evening concert at the base of an illuminated fountain.

The next morning we were back across the border after our breakfast but since we hadn’t had the step by step instructions from anyone it was a little more complicated this time. But we made it with relatively little problem, just a lot of waiting in line and not having the correct forms and such to make it a little longer and more stressful than the day before.

Back in Nong Khai we made our way to a large sculpture garden, Sala Keoku, which was pretty impressive. It illustrates many of the tenants of Buddhism which I would love to explain except it was all in Thai so I’d have to just guess. But I’m sure Wikipedia can tell you more! It was all carved by the same man, who is lying in state under a glass dome in a locked room along with a host of his worldly belongings, a myriad pictures of him and even one of his bloody tissues from his final days (yep, kind of creepy.)

Then it was back to the bus station and back home where we all got together for dinner and a viewing of Frozen which none of us had seen yet (it only showed in Thai in the theaters here) but had heard a ton about. We found a DVD copy for about $1 in one of the markets and decided it was worth the splurge! What a fun show. We all laughed and sang (and maybe even cried a bit) all the way through it. It was the perfect end to a fun weekend but a bittersweet reminder that we’ll be done here soon and who knows when we’ll see each other again. I’m going to miss these faces!!!!

volleyball/soccer game
breakfast view of the Mekong

the missing Mekong on the other side
ancient stupa in the middle of the road
the arch
the view from the arch
massive loaf of bread (the two on the right are a little larger than what you'd buy at the grocery store!)
delicious coconut macaron
Sala Keoku


  1. I love living vicariously through your world travels. Thanks Amy! :)

    1. My pleasure! Thanks for reading about them! :)

  2. Looks like a fun trip! Those spontaneous road trips are the best, esp when you have stories of trouble at boarder crossings and the like.

    1. I had a set of roommates once and our mantra was "he who dies with the best stories wins." I've collected a few good stories along the way!

  3. Awesome! The sport may be called takro. I google Thai sports and found that. The pix look similar to yours. :)

    1. Some days I'm just too lazy to google. Thanks Madam Librarian! :)