Dynargh dhe'n Blogofrob

Thursday 9th September 2004

After lazily lying in on Tuesday I visited Wat Xieng Thang, the largest Wat in Luang Prabang. Steps lead to its entrance from the river, but I entered halfway up, at the level of the road, where the steps are flanked by two effigies of giant white cats, with sharp, fierce looking teeth. On reflection, perhaps they are meant to be tigers. The Wat is an enjoyable assembly of ornate buildings covered in mosaics of coloured glass, between which children run and shout, monks look pensive and chickens roost in trees.

Later on in the day, after pacing the streets once more (I felt I could do it forever) I wound up back at L'Estranger and drank tea and read again. Suddenly the shrill accent of an American announced she had been given a clutch of DVDs and the few of us sitting around had to choose which film we wanted to watch, and 21 Grams was duly played. After the film I briefly popped next door to The Hive, Luang Prabang's 'trendiest' bar and eventually wound up having a late supper in a restaurant, chatting to the waiter, who had come from the countryside after his studies to earn money so he could go back and marry his girlfriend.

The next morning I had a pleasant final breakfast by the river, and then got on a tuk-tuk to the tiny airport. And there the problems began. At the check-in desk, they had a record that said my flight to Vientiane had been cancelled, back on the 2nd September. As this was long before any required re-confirmation date, I could only assume that a mistake had been made somewhere. However, they also added that my connecting flight from Vientiane to Hanoi, did not technically exist. Neither did my flight in a week's time to Cambodia. Luckily there was space on the plane and I made it to Vientiane, where, with three hours to spare I had difficult conversations with Lao Aviation and Vietnam Airlines. I summoned my Hong Kong training, remembering that getting angry and openly frustrated is akin to losing face, and it helped me get some answers, and also, again with luck, onto the plane to Hanoi. They told me at Vientiane airport that my ticket was wrong - it said I was flying to Vietnam and Cambodia by Lao Aviation. They made no such flights on the date concerned - my ticket should have had me on flights with Vietnam Airlines, and I was told to try and change my ticket in Hanoi. Having sorted things out to some extent, I sat outside the quiet airport waiting for my flight, composing in my head an angry letter to whoever was responsible.

As the plane flew out of Laos, I looked down on the endless paddy fields, forest and villages and thought about the country. From the mere 6 days I spent there I found the people overwhelmingly friendly, and the atmosphere beautifully laid back and gentle. But most of the country is crippingly poor, nowadays partly because Laos tragically carries the mantle of The Most Bombed Country in the World (by the US Government, naturally). Many of the bombs failed to detonate, making over a quarter of the land unworkable. I tried to imagine the bombed villages, full of people not knowing who was bombing them or why, but of course, for me it is almost inconceivable.

The plane arrived in Hanoi and almost immediately I was whisked into a taxi, which, despite my instructions, took me to a random hotel, although it was, luckily in the Old Quarter where I was planning to stay. The driver was obviously working on a commission from the owner, who greeted me as I emerged from the car. He tried to tell me that the hotel we were at was in fact the one I had asked to go to. But I was already orientated enough to know that it wasn't even on the same street. I pointed out to him that the name on the door was completely different. He sneered and said that that was the Vietnamese name, a brazen lie given that, on top of the difference of streets, Vietnam adopted a Romanized script over a hundred years ago, and the names as written in guidebooks are the same as in the country. The hotel may have been good, but on principle I walked away. The owner looked very disappointed. I walked a hundred or so metres up the road and checked into another hotel.

Later in the evening I went for a walk around some of the streets of the Old Quarter, which after the calm of Luang Prabang seemed like some mad visceral hell. The narrow streets are crowded with a constant stream of motorbikes, cyclos and the odd car, but the pavements are also crammed with motorbikes, meaning the pedestrian has to deftly weave through the traffic. The buildings are multi-coloured and noisy, hordes of people walk, sit and eat on the streets and motorbike taxis and restaurants continually hawk for trade.

I collapsed into bed, exhausted but excited - although also a little daunted by the prospect of having to sort out my ticket troubles.

59 - posted at 14:49:48


Damm Jonny Foreigner!

1: MJ (SE12) - 21:19:29 on Thursday 9th September 2004 (permalink)

MJ - thanks v. much for sending the picture of Edward Elizabeth Hitler hitting Richard Richard in the bollocks. It gives me the inspiration to carry on.

2: Rob (Hanoi) - 13:19:38 on Friday 10th September 2004 (permalink)

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