- 1 - Tha Khaek – Why Are We Here?
- 2 - Still in Tha Khaek – At Least the Mekong Was Beautiful
- 3 - Solving the Mystery of the Disappearing Gas
- 4 - Monkeying Around on the Motorbike Loop
- 5 - On the Dusty Road Again
- 6 - New Year’s Lao Style – Water Fights, Karaoke and Drinking in a River
- 7 - New Year’s Party in a Tiny Laotian Village
- 8 - Another Detour in Search of Another Nonexistent Attraction
- 9 - Exploring Gigantic Kong Lo Cave by Boat
- 10 - Finishing the Loop With a Tour of Lao Bike Repair Shops
When we got to the parking area, one of the drunkest Laotians immediately jumped on one of our bikes and insisted he drive, to show us the way. He was holding a bunch of stuff in one hand and a bunch of alcohol in his stomach, so he would be driving one handed while seeing at least two of everything. I think the only reason he wanted to drive our bike was because he was too drunk to find his own.
Luckily, I got to drive my own bike. I wasn’t nearly as drunk as any of the Laotians, so driving myself clearly offered the best chance of survival. Of course, I had no idea where to go and, while I knew how bad the road was in this area, I couldn’t actually see very much of it since the headlight on my bike was about as bright as your average match.
Given that, I figured the best course of action would be to follow the drunk on our other bike in weaving back and forth between the potholes and jagged rocks sticking up all over the road. That way I could also keep an eye on my friend as he clung to the back of the bike for dear life.
It took me a bit to realize that, rather than weaving between the potholes, we seemed to in fact be hitting many of them dead on. It appeared our guide wasn’t weaving to avoid obstacles in the road, he was doing so either to avoid the imaginary obstacles in his alcohol-soaked mind or because he was simply too drunk to drive in a straight line. I was hoping for the second.
For the rest of the seemingly endless drive I just drove in a more or less straight line. I hit a lot of holes and rocks, but really, I was just happy to stay on the road. Eventually we reached our destination, which turned out to be a little farming village with a handful of houses on stilts. Colored lights lit up the area underneath the largest house and I immediately noticed the karaoke machine and the ridiculous number of speakers on either side of it—ridiculous to me; pretty standard for Southeast Asia.
For now though, we headed away from the speakers and up the stairs into an adjacent house. Before anything else, we were taken to greet the village elder. She turned out to be a woman who looked to be in her nineties, but given the hard local lifestyle was probably 45. She said some stuff and tied a string around each of our wrists meant to bring us good luck.
My string was clearly defective, since the karaoke machine did not break down and continued to pump out horrific sounds until the early hours of the morning, but it was a nice gesture nonetheless. After the blessing it was time to eat and drink. Mostly drink.
Our hosts brought out bottle after bottle of Lao Lao, the liquor of choice for Laotians. In this case, it had been filled into plastic water bottles and was obviously homemade. Most of the bottles had various things floating in them, form plants to roots to insects to small frogs and lizards. It did not taste especially good, but it was quite strong. There was a lot of it and we drank a lot of it.
The food on the other hand was excellent. They fed us Laap (the most famous Laotian dish: usually uncooked beef, buffalo, pork, chicken or fish that is put in lemon juice and then mixed with mint and chilies) with sticky rice and some vegetables. There was a lot of it and I ate a lot of it.
After dinner, the festivities moved underneath the larger house and the karaoke machine was fired up. Despite that, we still managed to have a great time. Our hosts even brought out a drinking game of sorts. They had filled a vase with some kind of grain. One guy would slowly pour Lao Lao into the vase, while three people would drink it up through long straws as it filtered through the grain.I have no idea what that stuff was or what it added to the Lao Lao.
The object was to drink it quickly enough to keep the level of liquor in the vase constant and not let it overflow. They poured a lot of Lao Lao into the vase each time, but since three people would cooperate to drink it, it wasn’t too bad.
Except when not all three people wanted to drink. In my case, they teamed me up with two tiny women who were both only pretending to drink. I was only pretending at first, too, which led to some Lao Lao overflowing and a dirty look from the guy pouring it into the vase that said, “Seriously? You. Are a loser.” So I had to basically finish the whole vase on my own.
As the night wore on, the karaoke got worse and the dancing got worse, but I noticed it less and less. Most people were going crazy on the dance floor (really more of a dust pit than a floor) and pouring everything they had into the microphone, but a few managed to avoid showing off their complete lack of talent. I’ll let you guess which group I fell into.
It was not for lack of trying on the Laotians’ parts though. One tiny little guy in particular would not give up trying to get me to hit the dance floor with him. He was constantly spazzing out in my face, combining every dance craze to ever make it big in Laos into one horrific display of flailing limbs, all the while tugging on my arm and saying something over and over that I was never able to decipher.
At some point, people started going to bed—mostly where they were standing, but some did actually manage to drag themselves upstairs into one of the houses. We were given a bamboo mattress on a hard, wooden floor for a bed and what was apparently a large rock wrapped in cloth for a pillow. Not that we took any notice of the discomfort when going to bed, but I certainly felt it the next morning (i.e. two hours later).
At least that made it easy to get out of bed. All we wanted to do was get on our bikes and get out of there and I got the feeling our hosts, being sober for the first time since we met, wanted us gone too. Nevertheless, apparently feeling some strange sense of obligation, they wouldn’t let us go until they’d made us breakfast.
It was awkward to say the least, standing around in the cold, waiting for the food to be finished. This was also the point where our host realized that, despite being the local English teacher, he couldn’t actually understand much of what we were saying, much less make himself understood. The alcohol had done a wonderful job of hiding that from him, which made the morning even more uncomfortable for all involved.
It seemingly took forever, but eventually breakfast was served. It wasn’t especially good, but we stuffed our faces like we’d never had eggs and bread before, in an attempt to get out of there as soon as possible. This almost led to them cooking us seconds, but we managed to convince them we were in a huge hurry. Truthfully, riding motorbikes was the last thing we wanted to do at the time—well, the second to last thing. The last thing was have more breakfast.
Series continued in part 8: Another Detour in Search of Another Nonexistent Attraction