Day 1,233: Shot Down Over Bangkok

Thu 17.05.12: The bus got into Vientiane even earlier than expected – at around 3am. Nothing to do but wait in the tatty old bus station until the border opens. I tried to get some shut-eye, but ended up chatting with a backpacker called Arin. She asked me if I could guess where she was from and my first guess was South Korea… which was right! Oh yeah! Slam dunk! Man of the World, you better believe it! Arin joined me in a taxi from the main bus station to where the buses leave for the Thai border, but she got out at the airport from where she was flying home to Singapore. I wish I could bloody well fly… The buses to the border didn’t start until 7.30am, so I took a shared Tuk-Tuk, which was so painfully slow it was painful. He even stopped…

Continue Reading Day 1,233: Shot Down Over Bangkok

Day 1,232: All We Have is Laos

Wed 16.05.12: Attention novice backpackers! The country of Laos is pronounced ‘Lao’!! Just so you know. I crossed the border at Boten at first light, a golden temple welcoming me into the land of a million elephants. Laos is the unsung hero of South-East Asia, a shooting star-shaped country that straddles the Mekong River all the way down to Cambodia. Like Afghanistan, Laos is an artificial construct, a buffer zone between two empires – Laos being invented to keep the French at arm’s length from the Kingdom of Siam (now Thailand). It didn’t work, and before long the French had annexed the country and the various tribes (including the Hmong, the people next door in Clint Eastwood’s excellent film Gran Torino) fell under the tyranny of The Tricolor. Although in the grander scheme of things that was nothing compared to the suffering meted out by the…

Continue Reading Day 1,232: All We Have is Laos

Day 648: The Golden L-Shape

10.10.10: BANG! Before my brain could register where I was and what was going on, the front of the bus bounced a good foot off the ground, jolting my fellow passengers awake.  I braced myself for the bounce to hit the back of the bus, which it duly did, throwing me up in the air. We had hit something. Statistically, I was possibly due a crash, so I’m glad this was a tremendously minor affair.  The strange thing was that the driver kept driving – and driving fast.  Maybe it was a hit and run.  But passenger discontent forced the driver to pull over and a group of us shuffled off the bus to inspect the damage. The panel near the left headlight was a bit smashed up, but aside from that, there was no damage worth writing home about. “What did we hit?” I asked.…

Continue Reading Day 648: The Golden L-Shape