Twenty seven and a half hours to Laos

On a bus to Laos. Or rather, in a bus to Laos. On the bus is a selection of wicker furniture that would make a participant of the 1990s' craze of sticking a conservatory onto the back of your home weak with excitement. The contents of the bus are a number of Vietnamese and Lao people, and us. Being serenaded by sickly Thai pop music. It blasts out as soon as the engine is started. And doesn't stop. Even when the lights go out. Sometimes it is gloriously accompanied with images on the television. One particularly wonderful highlight is a Vietnamese man doing his version of Lionel Richie's 'Hello' in a perfect American accent.

Two hours into the journey, the lucky passengers are joined by dozens of piņatas and equally bizarre decorations. They are stuffed into the back seats of the bus. There's no room in the luggage compartment; that's full of boxes of chicks. As we grumpily try to shield our ears from the din of the piped music, the man responsible for loading the bus comes down to our seats for a chat. After taking his shirt off Diet-Coke-ad style for us, his apparently adoring fans, he tries to figure out if we are of potential-girlfriend vintage by requesting that we type our ages into the keypad of his mobile phone.

Initially glad of the language barrier, as it nullifies awkward conversation with said man, it becomes a little less desired twenty five hours later, when we are standing on the side of the road, surmising the reason for a two hour halt in proceedings. A friendly Lao fellow who is on day four of a trek home from China informs us that it's just a problem with the brakes. No need to worry. As we've now reached the early hours of the morning, and it's completely dark outside, we dare to ask if we are indeed on the side of a mountain as we suspect. Brakeless. Yes, we are. No need to worry.

Twenty seven hours and thirty minutes after leaving Hanoi, Vietnam, we arrive in Vientiane, Laos We decide it has been a perfectly adequate journey. That's what happens when you've been around these parts for too long. Nothing surprises, and very little disappoints. If the people of Vietnam are laid back, those in Lao are permanently horizontal. Most tasks are completed at a glacial pace. After the initial disbelieving frustration, it comes to be expected, and it's quite pleasant to be surrounded by calm. Over in the west, we have become obsessed with tiny unimportant details. We sit on our seat of self-awarded superiority and complain about bad service and other irrelevancies. We're striving for our idea of a perfect society, but who's to say that here in the Land of a Million Elephants they haven't got it sussed?

K O'Leary

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