Despite the 25 hour bus ride, and the fact that I'd be missing many beautiful places and faces along the way, after Siem Reap I was ready to head to Vientiane, Laos to find my sister. I've been away from family for a year now, and while the sights of Cambodia and South Vietnam were tempting, the pull to Vientiane was stronger. I was also looking forward to dropping my bags for a few nights and having time to adjust and reflect on moving away from Tel Aviv, and begin preparing myself for moving back to D.C.
The route to Vientiane was about the longest one that could possibly be planned. From Siem Reap we took the bus North East, all the way across Cambodia to the border of Laos. The travel was beautifully scenic though. Houses in the countryside of Cambodia are built on stilts to protect them from the floods of rainy season. The houses are usually single rooms built from unvarnished and simple planks of wood. Ramps or stairs lead up to the single doorway where women or men were often sitting escaping the heat while they're children ran through yards chasing neighborhood dogs or each other.
From then southern most border of Laos, we continued north. Around 8pm, after 13 hours, I transferred buses in Pak Se, a small bustling town that borders Thailand. The bus I was moved to was a shockingly comfortable sleeper that allowed me to nearly fully recline (head and legs touching both top and bottom of a bed meant for someone slightly smaller). Sitting in a bus for hours on end leaves you surprisingly sleepy so I was out in a manner of minutes. Around midnight I was abruptly awaken by the driver pushing me into the window. As I moved over, a small Laos girl got into bed next to me. I wanted to laugh at the hilarity of the situation - something I found so awkward, but figured it was customary bust travel there so instead I just went back to bed. I woke up a few hours later lying flat on my back with her curled into my side. I think we slept like that until morning when the bus finally stopped at the Vientiane bus station and we both got out.
I was unsure of where to head from there. I had directions from the hospital that my sister had given me but mostly included "face hospital, go left, take next right, find metal gate, apartment number ..." Fortunately, Laos people are incredibly friendly, like Thai, and eventually I was led to the right address and woke up my sleepy sister! I spent a few days in Laos doing almost nothing but walking around in the searing heat, visiting my sister in her lab (the few feet I was allowed into), feeding the lab goats banana leaves, and eating lots of noodles.
I also made it to the the
. The COPE center provides rehabilitation services for those who have been victims of the thousands of landmines that still cover parts of Laos that the U.S dropped during the Vietnam War. The Visitor Centre displays art from survivors, as well as the metal from the explosives, and information about the threat of land mines to today's society in Laos. It was an interesting experience, and was reminiscent of much of what I learned this last year in school. Particularly walking onto the premise. I was struck by the power and severity of the situation when I was confronted by a young boy sitting in a wheel chair, both legs in plaster casts. Maybe in the future, this is an area to think about focusing my work in.
On my last full day there I ventured to the market on a quest to cook some western styled tacos for my sister who was craving anything but Asian cuisine. The market was complete organized chaos. Spanning several blocks it must be nearly the size of the central bus station in South Tel Aviv. I guessed the direction of the meat and produce and found myself wading through sludge with vendors selling crickets, worms, full chickens, live ducks, eels, frogs, and was splashed by flailing fish before I made it to the vegetables. I gathered my ingredients before I headed to the import market for some taco shells.
I'm now thankful for the time I spent with Leah in Senegal, who taught me to cook with potentially gastrointestinal devastating produce. I washed all the veggies in bleach before dicing them and adding them to the rice and ground mystery meat. The tacos were not my best, but it was a fun experience and I think my sister enjoyed them.
The next evening, I headed back to the bus station to grab a 24 hour bus to Hanoi, Vietnam. Again, I was surprised by the conditions of the bus. While the seats were hardly comfortable, they nearly fully reclined with your feet straight out in front of the persons chair in front of you. But the complete awesomeness was found in the blasting techno music, strobe lights, and ultimate party bus scene that the driver was creating. I figured out early that this was going to be a long 24 hours.