I woke up at four in the morning to the sound of rain beating on the roof of my hotel and I cringed because in an hour or so I had to get up and walk to the bus station. I tried to sleep again, but I couldn’t. The rain had stopped and around a quarter to six I left the hotel. It was just getting light and the monks were walking through the streets to collect their alms. It is an old tradition and while I walked to the bus station I passed many women that were sitting on their knees on the pavement with baskets of rice to give the monks their due. Every now and then the monks stopped and chanted during which the women kept their heads demurely bowed.
The bus to Vientiane was a classic chicken bus, only there were no chickens on board. To compensate this we had children that were vomiting all the time, so that was alright. I was sitting close to the door which was the only reasonable seat for me because my legs wouldn’t fit anywhere else. The only thing was that every time the door opened it knocked against my knees which the Laotians thought was exceedingly funny.
I sat next to Jacky, the only Laotian who spoke a few words English.
I go to Vientiane, he said.
I go to Vientiane too, I said. The whole bus was going to Vientiane, I thought.
Then to Bangkok by flight, he said.
To Bangkok? I asked.
Yes, and then to Ho Chi Minh City. This seemed odd.
Really? I said.
He said something to the driver and then he turned back to me.
I smoke? he asked.
No, I don’t smoke, I said, you smoke?
No… he laughed as if I had made a joke.
Then we stopped and the door knocked against my knee. That sent the whole bus in a laughing fit, except for the children who were busy vomiting on their parents.
To my surprise Jacky got up to leave. He gave me a hand an jumped out of the bus. Bye…. The only person who spoke any English had left the bus. It didn’t seem to make much of a difference though.
The door closed and it hit my knee again. The other passengers were rolling with laughter.
Vientiane had changed a lot since I last visited the city and much of the charm was gone. Its quiet streets had changed into three lanes of traffic and the sleepy banks of the Mekong river were turned into a modern promenade. The ramshackle food stalls that once lined the mighty river had disappeared and had made place for a soulless night market that sold mainly Chinese junk.