17 September 2009

Laos Reconsidered Or, Thanks to Anthony Bourdain, as always

Dark, brooding mysterious Laos.

Okay, if I had to name my favourite places in Asia they would be Hanoi and Ninh Binh in Vietnam, Pashupatinath in Nepal and Mandalay in Burma. Laos isn't even on there. But as S and I watched a downloaded episode of Anthony Bourdain's “No Reservations – Laos” I was flooded with memories of what a magical and haunting country it was.

I hadn't thought that much about Laos since leaving in early April until watching Bourdain's take on the place, his usual swagger and bravado replaced with the calm, quiet humbleness that the country inspires in all of us, the Western barbarians who helped place it at the bottom of the UN development scale. He visited the same places that S and I went, experienced a lot of the same amazing things and honestly I think that he felt the way that I did in a lot of ways. It was nice to watch.

Being blessed by a Buddhist nun.

The problem now is that I can't stop thinking about Laos. Taking the slow boat for 2 days up the muddy banks of the Mekong from Huay Xiao to Luang Prabang. The baffling Plain of Jars near Phonsavanh. The baci ceremony and alms-giving in Savannakhet. The memories of the cities and small hilltribe villages are swirling through my brain mixed with the mist coming off of the mountains and rolling across the rice paddies. Laos felt to me like an ancient secret – one that I do not understand.

Perhaps because Laos was the first stop for us back in Southeast Asia after five and a half oft-grueling months in tiring India and 3 days in bright shiny Bangkok we didn't really appreciate how different Laos is to the rest of it's neighbours – Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam – to all of which it is unfairly compared. The food was strange and wonderful, the Buddhism pervasive and tinged with animism, the people sweet (sometimes to their detriment) and shy, their poverty hidden – almost quiet. After India it was a delighfully easy place to travel (except for this) and I am ashamed to admit that I did not fully appreciate my month there as I looked ahead to 6 more months of Asia.

So as much as I love Northern Vietnam, as much as I want to trek the Annapurnas in Nepal and as many Indonesian islands as I am leaving unexplored – Northern Laos will be my first trip back to South Asia. There isn't much tourism there – it will be hard and dirty and difficult – but the best places always are.

The places that reach into our hearts and minds and tug (and sometimes rip) them open.

Wading into Laos.


Teresa said...

Your writing is beautiful and your photos are always just stunning. Just thought I'd let you know how much I'm enjoying your blog. (Except for the part where I'm sitting at my desk really, really wanting to travel!)

An Open Heart said...

I love your blog. It is a place to visit that takes me away....I hate to admit it, but, I would NEVER be brave enough to travel the way you do, but, I am green with envy that you do travel the way you do! What a glorious life you have...and I am sorry about the loss of your friend....I cried when I read the post about him.

Anyway, thank you for your stories, I wish that I could visit Laos, it sounds hauntingly amazing and spiritually compelling.


Pat said...

You have a lifetime of memories in these 6 months or so of traveling. Wow. Unbelievable.

Violet Dear said...

@Pat - it's been over a year! Phew!