16/01/2011 – The sky had cleared up and so had our hopes. Sat and had breakfast at a little café across the road from our hostel and discussed some of our more pressing concerns. Everything from “what is the smallest living thing with a conscious” to “are there any tattoo artists who don’t have any tattoos?” to “who’s the most famous person, who remains anonymous?” We went for Andy McNab. For all three questions.
We got a Tuk Tuk to the airport. Out the Tuk Tuk. Got our bags. Walked through the automatic doors. Up to the Lao Airlines kiosk. “Have you got two tickets for the next flight to Hanoi?” “Yes, we have”. “How much are they?” “$120 each”. “Fantastic, JIMMY FUCKING GLASS!!”
To pass time sitting in the department lounge, we listed all the things we’d lost; Ben’s Dead Babies book, a Camera, a vest, dignity and the 15th of January (which was only lost in technical terms). But come to think of it, that was an experience in itself. As for all the other shit, they can be replaced. But in that we had to fend for ourselves, while also seeing the real Laos and the kindness within their hearts which made it all worth it.
We watched a few lads, the Wolverhampton boys that I had seen wasted in the Chang Mai hostess bar, playing a game of one-bounce with a football. This was popular faze back in the late 1990’s, almost as much as Ben Sherman shirts, Kickers school shoes, Nike Cortez and Hit me baby one more time. This was spurred on by the release of the famous Nike advert for the World Cup in 1998. It involved all the biggest players of that era kicking a ball around an airport, through baggage handling, through the x-ray machine etc. I even remember myself and my two brothers giving it a go on while at Heathrow airport on route to Florida that same year. Great laugh.
So we now had a list of things Laos had taken away from us. But what had it given us? Well, our time in Vang Vieng was truly good fun and we could now carry the baton of telling people just how “fucking mental” it is. We wasted no time in making use of this, by regaling a few Geordies who had just landed and wanted to know what our recommendations were. With the surprise to Lak Sao I can also join the hundreds of irritating travellers in rejoicing “Oh, I love Laos. The beautiful scenery and the people are just soooo friendly”. Overall, great country, great people, great times. But then again, you can’t judge a whole country based on just a few people and so don’t want to tar all the other Laotians I didn’t get a chance to meet. Why is it only acceptable to generalise a race of people when it’s positive?
The lads had their football deflated and searched for drugs by the customs official, while we collected our things and boarded the plane. Don’t remember seeing that happen to Roberto Carlos in the original advert.
There are very few people that annoy me. Sure I get annoyed at somebody who kicks the back of my chair on a plane, or a little baby who chooses to shit itself in my presence, or somebody on the tube who clearly hasn’t had a shower in weeks. But it takes something extra special for me to be annoyed by a person for who they are personally. In most cases those who are deemed annoying by others, I can sometimes see them as interesting characters and their aggravating tendencies as just another facet to their individuality. But the Woman behind me did annoy me. She was just berating her husband the whole flight about not paying her enough attention when she was talking to him. Although it was rather funny as the conversation went like this;
“So when did the war start in Vietnam?” She asked.
“Oh, I think it was in the 1960’s, when the Americans joined. But the French had been there a while”
“Why the French? I’ve never heard about them getting involved” She barked
“Yeah, I suppose so” He sighed
“What? That’s not an answer. I said ‘why the French?’ and you just sighed, obviously paying no attention to me”
A forced conversation at it’s very worst
Me and Ben got through it with a game of trying to list as many football players who shared names with famous bands. Below are ours, see if you can do better;
PAPA Boupa (Roach)
Alan (The) SMITH(s)
Steve STONE (Roses)
Paul PeschiSO-SOLID-o Crew
Danny (Dropkick) MURPHY(‘s)
Nigel (House) MARTIN(S)
Kieron DYER (Straits)
Rio (Franz) Ferdinand
Ji Song (Linkin) PARK
Steven (Elvis) PRESSLEY
James (Phil) COLLINS
(Alter) Wayne BRIDGE
Sylvan PETROV (Boys)
The Morris VOLTZA
(Joe Lean and the) JING JANG de Jong
Scraping the barrel to no end, I know right? But it doesn’t matter, we’ve just landed in Vietnam.
Once in Vietnam, we had more unnecessary suspicion and demands thrown our way. Once in and out of the airport, we jumped into a coach and headed to Hanoi city centre. The trip was blighted somewhat by a plethora of beeping horns, both from our driver and the outside traffic.
However once in Hanoi, the intense traffic and bubbling road rage was rather charming. Nonetheless, the roads were mayhem. Not how like the M25 can sometimes be mayhem. I mean really nuts. It probably took on average 1 minute to cross a tiny slip road, what with several bikes and cars whizzing through it. I quite liked it, this was a buzz. Especially when I saw the old woman cutting corners on her moped with a shop load of flowers and crates attached to her back. Crossing the road was an achievement in itself. This is how I kind of imagined Asia would be like before leaving Heathrow.
After finding a place, Rainbow Hostel, we ventured into town. We had just booked a 3 day boat trip on Ha Long Bay, partially forgetting we were severely due a laundry visit. As a quick fix, I bought a t-shirt with the words ‘good morning Vietnam’ sprawled over the communist star. Like most Westerners my left wing principles are only exercised through my choice of clothing, or acute ability to deface public monuments at May Day riots. I once saw a guy at school wearing a German WW2 trench coat with a picture of Che Guevara on the back. “Che who?” came his reply when I enquired about the odd combination. Although, I suppose the Nazis and Che were both far left extremists, only difference being one was a socialist movement and the other a communist. I had a feeling this country was going to be a good place to explore and challenge my negative views on left wing politics.
The night market was relatively relaxed and user friendly apart from a guy selling books. We had enough literature for the time being, but he got extremely tearful when we tried to explain this after he offered us a bumper deal on several books (5 books for the price of 3). He went from entrepreneur to charity case in under 30 seconds. If we already have enough literature, “the last thing we want is a bumper pack, mate”.
We got back to our room, watched some of the footy and then caught the end of some film about a young man and girl, whose relationship was under strain by the fact that he was a capitalist, whereas she was not, but a believer of “fairness”. He was okay with the fact that the old evil man in the girls home town was manipulating his position as the sole potato producer (a disease had killed off everybody else’s stock) and was charging extortionate amounts (2000¥ per potato it was rumoured) forcing several families to starve. He was okay with it, as the old man deserved high reward for his position, just as the guy’s dad had been when he bought up cheap housing after the Kobe earthquake in 1995 and had developed them to make millions. But the cute, innocent looking girl just could not stand for it, and after a while the Guy released how unfair capitalism was. I didn’t see the ending, but I’m guessing that’s what happened. I doubt the Guy took the girl around certain parts of Kobe to show her how with sustainable and regulated capitalism, social mobility does in fact improve, often enabling children from poorer backgrounds to succeed in sectors which would’ve been impossible before. Never mind, it was late and I needed to be up early for our 3-day boat trip around Ha Long Bay, with no fucking clean clothes.