In early December 2014, my oldest son Das shared with us his and his wife’s plans to visit us, from the
United States, at the end of the
month. This coincided with my quarterly travel permit renewal, so I upped the
schedule on that and took time out of Thailand a couple of weeks ahead of
schedule, returning to my favorite PL2.
Every time I’m about to leave
Thailand, I get both a little
excited and a little jittery. This time, my jitters were compounded the night
before I left, after I sent Nuey
an SMS letting her know I was coming back to Lao for a few days.
To my surprise, she called me back quickly and I had a hell of a hard time trying to figure out what she was saying. I subsequently received some SMS messages back from her saying: “Kay Noi want money,” which helped me grok what she had been saying. Whether the message came from her or her mom or her brother, sister or boy friend, I have no idea.
But, it got my hopes up, none-the-less, that I might get to see her again, this trip.
I was surprised she called back so quickly because after I had met her a half year before, I had made efforts to stay in contact with her. Part of the reason I went to a smart phone, after dissing them not more than nine months before, was so I could improve my English-Lao/Lao-English translations. I tried using it on Nuey and didn’t get much of a bounce-back. I attributed it to the machine translation software, but also feared I was as much work for her as she was for me and that determination would be the only thing to see us through.
Next day, after a light breakfast and coffee, Thip drove me on her motosai to the bawkasaw where I grabbed a second class bus to Muang Loei. En route, a late twenties-ish woman made some overtures to me, but I didn’t respond much besides being polite. I had heard her talking on her cellphone earlier and didn’t like the tone of her voice; figured she was being nice to me only on good behavior.
On the sawngtheaw from Loei to Tha Li, there were some teenage girls talking a lot about me, but not out of interest. I was more like a curiosity. After I watched them for a while, I got to reminiscing about the route I was on; first time had been with Thip; then there was the excitement of my first trip alone; then the time trying to figure out how to become friends with that Lao country girl; then, last time, that weird guy pocketing the Kopiko’s…
At the Nam Heuang border crossing, I met a Lao guy who had been living in the
for forty years and now was coming back to his homeland for the first time, unannounced in order to surprise his family. I wonder how things went with that and him.
This being the weekend of the Thai king’s birthday, there were many Thai travelers in small groups and large. The tour groups tended to slow things down, but I wasn’t in a rush. The Lao army guys and tuk-tuk drivers seemed impressed that I knew a little of the Lao language.
At the Ken Thao “bus station,” I once again found myself without public transport headed for Pak Lai. So, I had to hire my own. This has become my biggest travelling extravagance: nearly $30 USD for a two hour drive from Ken Thao to Pak Lai. At least this time it was in a van with moderate air conditioning.
Along the way, I again noted the many Thai license plates and asked my driver about them.
“Khon Thai pai Luang Prabang,” he said, having seen it often; Thai people going to Luang Prabang by way of Nam Heuang, Pak Lai and Xayabuli.