Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Lao Trip 6.2 - Nakhon Phanom

Day 2 of my sixth trip to Lao [aka “Laos”] was mainly filled by the bus ride from Udon Thani to Nakhon Phanom. As usual, I was the only falang on the bus and had the two seats to myself. I had lots of time to think: mentally planning the days ahead, double-checking my itinerary and maps, and thinking back on recent conversations I had with Scotty.

Scotty’s been in Thailand longer than me and had begun visiting the country even before I met my wife, 14 years ago. Of course, we all have our own perspectives about things, but what I mean is, the longer you’re in a place, the deeper your perspective becomes.

One of our most interesting conversations was Scotty’s take on the changes that had taken place of how Westerners are treated by Thais. When he first started visiting Thailand 20 years ago, he said falang were still considered a novelty and especially Americans were well received. Now, it seemed to him that while we are still respectfully acknowledged for the most part, we have become part of the landscape and no big deal.

I’d heard this perspective before, from other expats and, while my experience in Thailand is only about 15 years old, I agree with Scotty’s and others’ assessment of this. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy travelling in Lao, actually. Americans, especially, are still somewhat rare, there, at least in the countryside, and the people much more willing and desireous of striking up a conversation. That’s not to say I don’t get that in Thailand also, but to a much lesser degree. Of course, Scotty’s and my perspectives are governed somewhat by our aging and lessening of desireability. After all, when Scotty and then I began visiting Thailand, we were younger, single, and “on the hunt.”

View NBL to Tha Khek in a larger map

The bus ride took a lot longer than I expected it to, but I’m sure it was no longer than it regularly takes; probably another reason why falang tend to travel by vans and VIP buses. Me, I love travelling with the Thais. The last time I remember being on a bus where there was another Westerner was a year ago.

That all said, our bus’s air conditioning broke down just out of Sakhon Nakhon. Everyone took it in stride and with good humor, despite it being decidedly uncomfortable; good thing the back windows of the bus slide down and there are air air vents on top.

(view from Nakhon Phanom, looking across The Khong, to Tha Khek, Lao)

In Nakhon Phanom, I checked into the Grand Hotel which isn’t so grand, but it’s relatively cheap and close to the Nam Khong. I’d come into town too late to take the Sunset Cruise, but after a shower, I got some food off the street vendors along the Mekong, enjoyed some beer, and walked around the Clock Tower section of the city on its extreme eastern banks. At one point, I had sat down to enjoy a beer and a group of teenage girls came into the outdoor restaurant – regulars who knew the owners. They respectfully noted my presence and then proceeded to ignore me, pretty much. They also seemed to have the same kind of teenage angst not uncommon to American teenagers. I can’t remember seeing the same, in Lao.

When travelling, I do not venture very far from my lodging as I am always on foot. Consequently, I most always stay near the center of transit locations and/or the major nightlife areas. In this case, I was along the Mekong (which is also my usual) and close to the ferry to Lao. After my beers, I headed back to the Grand Hotel and, that night, developed a new strategy of putting mosquito repellant on before going to sleep.

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