Monday, September 15, 2014

Lao Trip 7.1c - PL2 & Khoun Ten

Once we arrived at Pak Lai’s southern bus station, I paid my driver and hired a tuk tuk to PL2. In the Pak Lai area, I have a tuk tuk driver that I normally hire. His name is Lu and if you’re ever in Pak Lai and see a samlor driver in his thirties with eyes seeming to go in different directions, that’s him and he’s a good guy. Lu wasn’t around at the bawkasaw so I just went with what was readily available.

Checking into my guest house, I returned the key that I had inadvertently taken with me the last time I was here. Everybody had a good laugh at that.

I have certain routines when I’m living in a guest house. The most important one is laundry followed by a shower. As soon as I’ve used a shirt and shorts for the better part of a day, I wash them in the bathroom sink, with soap; rinse, squeeze and hang up next to the south-facing windows. Whenever I pick a guesthouse, having south-facing windows is essential, both for light and to dry my clothes. Over the past two years, I’ve shifted to synthetic fabric sports shirts and shorts, which not only are comfortable in the heat (when cotton fabrics would just get soaked) but also dry fairly quickly. Thip says the sports clothes make me look younger and is dead-set against me wearing silk shirts and cargo pants like many other Falang wear and which I used to, too.

Why laundry followed by a shower? By the time I’m done washing my latest worn shirt and shorts, I’m in a sweat and that’s the best way to cool off and get clean at the same time.

After tending to my laundry duties, taking a shower and changing to clean clothes, I walked to the commercial area of town and bought minutes (a “top off”) for my Lao sim card, switching cards from Thai to Lao. I can’t imagine how travelers in Southeast Asia can get along without an “unlocked” phone.

At the market, I bought some small loaves of sweet bread and headed for my favorite beer bar along the Mekong. Khoun Ten always feels a little like “coming home.” In a way, it is my “Cheers” (theme song). I thanked Ae’s sister for helping me get up the muddy banks of the Mekong that rainy night, last time, and proceeded to order my usual: two 1.25 liter bottles of Beer Lao, a yellow plastic Beer Lao ice bucket of nam khaeng (ice) and an opener. My favorite table was waiting for me and all was right with The World.

(Looking downriver, towards Thailand from whence I came; 
sure wish our village sat next to The Kong!)

It wasn’t long before I was invited to a table of two Lao guys and two Lao girls. As the numbers weren’t favorable, I politely declined when encouraged to switch tables, several times.

I happened to be sitting next to a pile of empty Beer Lao bottles left from a previous group who had occupied an adjoining table. When a group of guys came in and spied the beer bottles and me, one guy in the group gave me a big thumbs-up. I laughed and shook my head, saying “mai, mai,” (no, no) letting him know they weren’t my doing.

While I was working on my own two, admiring the Mekong River and scene overall, I had a chance to greet Ae’s mother and father. This is not only the polite thing to do, but I genuinely appreciate how they run this successful business, feeding a rather large extended family and even putting Ae through law school in Vientiane (pronounced “vien-chan” or “vieng-chan”).

After my two bottles were up, I bid adieu and then walked down and around the next bend in the river to another favorite Khong-side beer bar. It was dead, dead, dead, but I was greeted warmly and the quiet and solitude alongside the mighty river, as night fell, suited me fine. Of course, it wasn’t all that quiet. TV monitors still belted out the latest favorite karaoke songs, but I definitely had the place to myself.

(Very popular Pee Saderd tune on both the Thai and Lao karaoke trails, early summer 2014).

After another two Beer Lao’s, I was ready to call it a night. On the way back to the guest house, I stopped into the restaurant I had once walked out of (due to lack of service). This time I was treated very well and served promptly. I’m still wondering if the owner remembered me from before or not. Not too many solo expats visiting this part of Lao, so I think she must have.

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