Vientiane, Laos travel writing and photos, including sleeping at the airport in Bangkok, Thailand and crossing the land border from Udon Thani to Vientiane.
A flamboyant, royal sunset, as can only been seen from the skies, welcomes us into the Kingdom of Thailand.
When I open my eyes again the wing flaps are humming as they are lowered in preparation for landing : outside, the black skies of a pitch dark night breathe out suffusedly when my eye is caught by a whimsical spectacle below.
Thousands – or so it seems – of yellowish and green lights, scintillating down below, such that in that instant we are caught between two starry nights of equal splendor, and restored to the nakedness of the cosmos.
They’re fishing boats, or huts (but to which do I refer, the sparkles of below, or the dwellers of the above?). The white crests of the waves soon appear too, dimly, cradled within the lulling rest of night.
I reminisce upon a similar sight, as we were flying over (into? Away?) Manila, seen by day. It is strange, three months now since we have been away.
The memories of past and present are beginning to weave together in an exhilarating, spectral quilt.
We resolve to sleep at the airport.
A portrait of the King and Queen gazes at us steadily, from the main road into Bangkok.
We’re here simply to transit on our way to Udon Thani, and then from there by land, through the border, to Vientiane and Laos. The official reason is to save some costs. The officious reason is to further prepare us for the hardships and challenges of travels that await.
From Indonesia, we overflew Singapore, Malaysia, and now Thailand, thus breaking the cultural continuity proffered by geographic proximity – one of the reasons I insist to travel by land as much as permitted – but we shall return.
After a night spent in a dark corner of the terminal, clutching our bags, and in the morning slurping a mediocre bowl or soup or something to that effect, and munching on a roll of Oreo cookies (for some reason I’ve been prone to consume the homey junk food since we arrived in Bali, as a way to compensate for stress I suppose) and another short flight, Coco’s family – her mother, aunt and cousins – greets us in Udon Thani, far north of Thailand.
Coco is ecstatic. She’s been longing to meet with her parents, to share with them the news of our travels – to reassure them too, their adventurous baby girl – to get some rest, comfort, and nurturing.
I have too, though I’m more loath to admit it.
The family takes the opportunity to shop at some of the Thai malls and parse through their Western heaps of offerings – as I gather, this kind of international outing is not unusual for people from the Laotian capital, situated close enough to the border to warrant the effort. I purchase an extra hard drive.
These are my first hours in Southeast Asia and already I have a chance to witness some of its sub-tropical microclimates. One minute torrential rain thunders above as we make our way to the car; a minute later, half a mile away, the downpour has left no trace whatsoever on the spotless pavement.
A long line of pick-up trucks, jeeps and SUVs snakes to the border gates. Coco’s cousin grabs our passports and leads us to the booth, helping to expedite the process. Within minutes, we’re in Laos.
I’m happy to discover Coco’s second homeland, which can only help to better understand who she is. Her smile says it all. She hasn’t been here in some years now. She looks eagerly out the window – despite the night and lingering rain – enthused by every sight.
“Look! I remember this road. We must be…”
“Wow! I can’t believe it’s changed so much. Look at all these buildings! When I was last here this was all countryside!”
“This is it. This is Vientiane. Look, just a few more blocks and we’ll be there!”
Her father grins as he hugs us both.
After a night at the airport and nearly a full-day of traveling, we’re both eager to settle down. Coco shows me proudly around the house, home to many of her childhood summer memories.
She leads me to a bedroom upstairs, where we find a large, comfortable bed, a TV set, a shower and fridge. The room even has an air-conditioning unit – a luxury which wouldn’t usually win me over, but we’re in the middle of April, the hottest month of the year, and I reckon this here heat is no heat to be messed around with.
Her thoughtful parents have placed tropical fruit and coconut water, and other soothing, healthy goodies in the fridge. We both fall asleep like moss-covered logs.
The next day, Coco drags me into the courtyard as soon as I awake.
“Banh Cuanh! My favorite dish!”
I discover – with much pleasure – the typical Laotian crepe stuffed with minced pork and smothered in fried shallots.
The midday heat quickly dissuades us from venturing too far outdoors during the day. I appreciate this laidback rhythm, for a change. Plan on catching up on some reading and writing. Coco’s happy to spend time with her parents and family.
After being constantly on top of each other and in each other’s hair – sometimes very literally – for the past months, it feels good to take a breather.
I think we both need it. And I’m inclined to believe that she needs it more than I do.
Besides, Coco’s parents have generously offered to soon take us to Luang Prabang, one of the country’s most popular destinations. But for the time being, let me put this pen down and cuddle into the coolness of the clean white sheets.