- 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
The next morning, our smooth, paved road soon turned into a rough, dusty gravel road and would stay that way for the next two days of the motorbike ‘loop’. It was slow going as we had to weave all over the road, picking our way between large holes, puddles, jagged rocks, patches of sand and of course oncoming traffic. Aside from the road, most of the day was uneventful. That changed in the afternoon. As we were crossing a bridge, we looked to the right and saw this:
Basically, the whole village we had just passed through was partying in a river. They had a stage with live music (in other words karaoke) flanked on each side by eight speakers. Two on each side would have been plenty, but this is Southeast Asia where the general theory on music says to turn the volume up to the absolute maximum tolerable level for human ears and then quadruple it, so they had 16 speakers.
They had also set up a few tents serving bottled Beer Lao and various snack foods and, of course, a number of tables and chairs directly in the river. That’s where most of the town hung out. They really only left the river to get another drink or to dance in front of the speakers.
This was the local New Year’s celebration. In Laos they celebrate the New Year in April, similar to Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka and Cambodia, with the Thai Songkran Festival being the most famous. Just like the Thais during Songkran, the Laotians also splash water on each other and in some cases they apparently make things even easier by just having their parties directly in a river.
We had been hoping to find some kind of New Year’s celebration, so we decided to park our bikes and check it out. It took about three seconds for a crowd to form around us and I figured it would be another three before the first buckets of water hit us, but they let us stay dry for a bit. They ushered us to one of the tents and showed us where we could keep our bags, then gave us some chairs.
That’s when the water hit us. I guess they were waiting for us to lose the backpacks, which was actually very thoughtful of them. Now that they were off our backs, it was time to thoroughly welcome—i.e. soak—us. Once the formalities were out of the way, we got some beers and began answering the standard questions you answer twenty times a day when traveling in areas like rural Laos:
“Ohhh good country?
“Yeah, Ballack. Never really liked him, but good player, I guess.”
“Yeah, I like Laos”
Usually whoever you’re talking to will leave sometime before that last sentence, proud of having had a conversation in English (and why shouldn’t they be—that’s more than most Americans could do in a second language); unfortunately we were dealing with extremely drunk people in this case, so we would keep having the exact same conversations over and over again with the exact same people. It was frustrating to say the least.
Obviously the only solution was to start drinking more ourselves, but we were somewhat worried about our bags around so many drunk people. Luckily, it didn’t take long before one of the guys talking to us declared we would come back to his little village after the river party and continue the celebration with him and his neighbors late into the night.
Naturally, we would also stay at his place. As his guest, he assured us, our bags would remain safe and untouched. We accepted, since the whole thing promised to be interesting at the very least, but most likely a lot of fun, as well. But to be honest, at this point we didn’t really have much choice.
We were still pretty far from the next town large enough to have a guest house and it was close to getting dark. We did not want to ride motorbikes in Laos after dark, especially on a night when the whole country would be drunk. Unfortunately we ended up having to do just that, but more on that later.
For now, we accepted our new friend’s invitation and were happy to no longer have to worry about our bags. The only remaining obstacle was getting permission from the village chief, which seems to be standard practice all over Laos. So we talked to the chief; or more accurately, I talked to the chief. I have no idea how I got stuck being the one to talk to him, but I did.
The chief spoke no English, but our prospective host was the town’s English teacher, so he translated. One small problem with this arrangement was the fact that the English teacher spoke very little actual English, but it appeared no one else in town knew that, since they couldn’t really speak any English at all. I didn’t want to be the one to let them know, so I played along.
I have absolutely no idea what the chief and I were discussing. Basically, we were talking about whatever the teacher decided to tell the chief I was saying. Everything he told me the chief said made absolutely no sense, so I just started saying random stuff. It didn’t really matter, since he was clearly putting some good words in my mouth; the chief was enjoying himself and was very enthusiastic in giving us permission to stay in his village.
Once that was done, we spent the next few hours drinking, listening to the horrifically bad and unbelievably loud noise they tried to pass off as music and dancing; well, in my case, watching people dance. Above all, we continued to repeat slight variations of the conversation I printed above.
While dancing, the two girls in our group got groped pretty much constantly, but only by women. We didn’t really understand that. And lest you think I was left out, a really old man felt it his duty to kiss me on the cheek……every 5 minutes……all afternoon and evening. I didn’t get that either. And then he never called; I haven’t heard from him since.
After the sun had gone down, the party was shut down. Laos is still a communist country after all, and the fun can’t last too long. Not officially, anyway. Unofficially, everyone just took the party back to their individual little villages, just as we were going to do. Apparently, we hadn’t quite understood all the details correctly, as we thought that we were staying in the nearby larger village, but it turned out we were actually going to a smaller one consisting of three houses about 10 kilometers down the road.
Naturally, that meant we would have to ride our bikes to get there—slightly drunk, in the dark on a dirt road littered with large holes, rocks and farm animals and surrounded by much, much drunker Laotians on their own bikes.
Series continued in part 7: New Year’s Party in a Tiny Laotian Village