ASIA DISPATCH 3 // LAOS // THE AWAKENING

Apparently, as you might have guessed, that middle of the night stop in the middle of nowhere China where those cocksucker Chinese flexers grilled me and scanned my shit, was their way of performing some sort of border shakedown sans border. (Previous to boarding the train, I was made aware of only one such stop which was to occur at the China/Vietnam border). But it sounds like I got off easy, as the Italian couple I met

got tossed of their train the night previous by the Chinese army for getting on the train a day earlier than their Vietnam visas were supposed to begin. The Chinese authorities apparently decided to take Vietnams’ border control into their own hands and the Italians were left in some random ass town in the middle of nowhere with no money (the banks were closed) and no place to stay. How nice.

Anyhoo, the Vietnamese border guards were pussycats compared to the Chinese grunts and our arrival in Hanoi at dawn happened without incident.

So we got some dong

and checked out another early bird, pseudo-communist workout… sunrise tai chi at Hoan Kiem Lake

My 1st breakfast bowl of pho was the best i’ve had in a lifetime hands down.

here, the crouching dragon worked magic on ian’s century old shoes

the coffee was dope here, but the john made the toilet in trainspotting look like a crapper in an upper east side starbucks. it was basically a moldy wall in an open-roof closet of sorts with some sort of gutter ditch thing sending the stream to god knows where

puff puff pass

after a trip to the Hanoi “fine art” museum (more on that later), i headed to the airport, decided against smuggling a feral anteater/armadillo thing out across international borders

and took mad props to Laos

I tell you, nothing makes me fee more secure, when floating 16,000 feet above rugged jungle terrain in a dodgy, Southeast Asian-run charter aircraft, than a 10 day old piece of jelly cake and a mystery meat sandwich on stale white bread.

after a short white knuckle flight, I touched down in the most bombed country in the history of the planet

more specifically in the small, scenic, former capital of the Kingdom of Laos and UNESCO World Heritage Site, Luang Prabang

A place that ended up being as close to paradise as you’ll find on earth.

A land of pretty flowers

rolling hills

dramatic mountainscapes, midday fog

jungle and palms

classic french colonial architecture


kind and gentle people


like this 10 year old who hustled me for a buddha bracelet at double the going street value before it broke 24 hours later.

of two-legged orange, umbrella-toting streaks.

who smoke and drink beer at noon

checking out 20 year old brit tourist honeys as they roll past the wat

of midafternoon naps

and seemingly random shit (like this motorcycle tire strategically attached to the concrete foundation of a leveled home)

which actually turned out to be a fairly effective advertisement for this scooter repair shop

of old people making unidentifiable objects out of bamboo

retro hair metal

and tennis soccer.

all of this being a nice surprise considering the fact that the first thing the headlights of my taxi caught as they drove me to my hotel was a dude squatting on the side of the road in the dark taking a shit.

Soon after that mobile dump spotting (the only one I witnessed in Laos thankfully), I checked into my hotel.

It was straight up “Shining” (substitute beat up French colonial mansion for Colorado Rocky Mountain hotel).

A couple of cats, a fish, some frogs and I were the only guests.




Would I like breakfast? My laundry done? A coffee? A motorcycle? An elephant ride? A massage? Would I like to eat some shrooms?

Being the sole guest, the staff was amazingly attentive, but by the 3rd day I was wondering if they actually existed at all or if they were in fact (like the bartender in the Shining) ghosts when I noticed while chatting with him, that the night manager wasn’t showing up in his area’s delegated feed from the security camera on the bank behind the desk. I was showing up in the lobby, but according to the cameras, I was carrying on a conversation with a couple of plants and a calendar.

The only proof of my specter staff theory being this photo one of them apparently snapped of me while I was col’ chillin’ in my skivvies reading Michael Herr’s “Dispatches.”

These guys are awesome.

The guy on the left is a little slow, but totally sweet and a ball of positive energy. Hung out at breakfast with me every morning asking me questions that a 10 year old would ask, the type of thing that would normally annoy the shit out of me, but for some reason, I would find myself totally happy to see him. I sense Laos has a way of de-assholing people like me. Maybe you should check it out.

The guy on the right tried to get me to go to the go-go bar out of town where the locals hang. Made a last minute decision to join him and ended up getting back to the hotel too late to join in on the filthy local Laotion fun. Bummer.

Met this guy selling ice cream.

He saw my Palladium boots and asked if I was American.

Yes.

In the Army/Marines?

No.

Regardless of my civilian status, he was excited to hear I was from the States and told me proudly about his part in the not-so-secret US/CIA war against the North Vietnamese in Laos, in which he became a member of the American Army in 1957. So when America’s Laotian campaign failed and they bolted, this guy fled for fear of prosecution from communist forces, and only returned to his native home recently where he now sells coconut ice cream bars to stay alive. (Way to take care of your outsourced vets US Armed Forces). Yet still his sense of borrowed American pride appears to overwhelm him when talking about his time in the service. Weird.

Some monks started rolling past and the proud vet encouraged me to follow them and check out where they were headed.

So I did and ended up hanging for a while at their chill spot down on the Mekong.


After some odd silent conversation with the boys in orange I followed this power line into the jungle

and happened upon a small village where some locals greeted me.

their hood was a hodgepodge of rudimentary tin and bamboo shacks

converted, wood-plank shanties

abandoned french colonial mansions

and the occasional newly-built mcshanty

with hot import cars in the driveway

I saw some kids and dogs eating ice cream and watching TV together

and found a nature trail

that led past a local fishery


to a wat hidden in the trees

where they had a wide variety of offerings for purchase

a sleeping monk

and a bunch of dead ones.

On the way back I found a place to get my hair did

and do my laundry

this lady invited me into her house for water and then we had a charade conversation about the coming storm. I offered to help her tie down the canopy roof over her patio and she wouldn’t let me.

instead she gussied herself up and wooed me with her loom skills.

“Thong” here offered to get me drunk on rice whiskey and take me on his boat up river to Pak Ou caves. After, he told me his old lady (pictured here showing off her milk duds) would make us dinner, but suspecting some sort of Inuk of the North, “laugh with my wife,” hidden agenda, I decided to take a rain check.

Instead, I climbed five billion dragon-wrapped stairs in 100 degree heat to check out Wat Chom Si




killer view up there, peaceful as a motherfucker

even the buddha’s take naps here.

At the top, you can check out the Supreme one’s footprint. It’s like the size of a small tuk-tuk (So you can imagine the size of his dong.)


Found this artillery cannon at the peak and saw this flower (prepare yourself for sophmoric war analogy), like Laos itself, caught in the machinery of war


and tears filled my eyes as I took in the beauty of Luang Prabang, wondering how anybody could litter in this country


let alone drop *260 million bombs on it. (note: Unlike the rest of the country, Luang Prabang was actually spared much of the devastation caused by U.S. bombs during the not-so-secret part of the Vietnam War).

After my mini-breakdown, I took a picture and accidentally bumped the swivel on the artillery gun so it swung around and jacked me in the gut. I nearly fell down the mountain and then spent a good ten minutes trying to get it to stay in place again, all the while wondering who was going to catch me in the act of totally fucking up this historical monument.

And then this monk started banging a drum inside this screened room behind me, ominously, as if to tell me Siddhārtha Gautama himself was witness to my foul.

Luang Prabang, Laos // Artillery and Monk drum from Sleep Never on Vimeo.

can I get another wat wat?



why sure you can. they’re everywhere, along with buddhas, dragons, monks… sitting…

and snarling…

and reading Danielle Steele romance novels down by the river.

This town is such a Buddhist hot spot in fact that celebrity guest monks even drop by on occasion!

Feeling my inner Buddha, I took a boat trip down the Mekong to the Pak Ou Caves


with this dude, Sam.

Sam’s studying neuroscience and stem cell regeneration at Cambridge next semester, but all he could seem to talk about was the fact that his girlfriend shaved her head that morning. He was freaking the fuck out and I don’t blame him.

It wasn’t so much about the fact that she would be considerably less attractive. He could handle that (at least until it grew into some sort of cuteish pixie cut.) And it wasn’t so much the idea that he’d have to lie through his teeth and tell her that it looked good in order to keep the peace and continue to get sexy.

His fear was based, and I think reasonably so, on the fact that maybe this rash act of beauty suicide was just a glimpse of things to come, that this seemingly innocent attention-getting tactic was in actuality the thread in that goofy ass Weezer song, a turtle head of insanity, the precursor to what would be a long series of bat shit crazy “prove to me the depth of your love” testing gags.

They’ve only been together eight months. Four of which he’s spent traveling the world. When I found that out, I told him he was more than just a little bent himself for getting into a serious relationship at his age, especially four months prior to what could easily become the sexual adventure of his life.

Traveling Southeast Asia single and solo at 22! Come the fuck on, man! What is wrong with you?! Now I’m not your typical, borderline gay, American white dude with a bad case of yellow fever. I mean I dig Asian chicks, but I also dig white ones and black and mocha ones too. But Southeast Asia’s cookoo, a total booty wonderland and the babes over here, especially in Laos, are some of the hottest on the planet, hands down.

So I told Sam to buy a box of rubbers and dump his chick ASAP.

And I think it was good advice, as there are many fish in the sea… or river…

and half naked monks too (if you’re into that sort of thing)

The Pak Ou caves contain over 4,000 Buddhas




placed there throughout the centuries by locals and pilgrims and crunchy, new age white tourists.

Got back from the caves just in time for a Mekong sunset dinner

where the Mekong jesus next to me systematically downed every vegetarian dish on the menu, all the while have an animated conversation with the imaginary dinner guest seated across from him.

here’s my dinner guest…

smelled the fried amok as it hit my table and came out to join me, which was better than having dinner with these girls

who like many foreign girlfriends roaming in packs of two to five, apparently traveled half way around the world to get drunk on wine and bitch about guy friends that have no interest in dating in them but might someday make great husbands if they’d just settle down and commit. Huh?

but these whiny, lonely chicks weren’t nearly as lame as the multiple couples I encountered that apparently traveled half way around the planet to bicker over everyfuckingthing. like this couple…

it started with them arguing over the location of the table the host picked for them, then over the drink order, the food order, whether the restaurant itself was too dark to eat in or not, and the more they drank the more personal it got. I was about five seconds from going over and telling them to end it for the sake of everybody else trying to digest their food.

Dear fighting couples, if you think a vacation, buying a puppy, putting a “ring on it,” or popping out babies is going to save your failing relationship. TRUST ME, IT WON’T. How the fuck old are you?!

Check the stats. Break up, rebound and if you’re still listless and lonely, attach yourself like a barnacle to the next passing ship in the night and see how long you can hang on.

Did I tell happen to mention how paradise-like Laos is?!

I rode a fucking elephant while I was there. Her name is Mae Cot

and she happens to be 61 years old and half blind in one eye. (I suspected something was up when Mae Cot chose to stroll within centimeters along an exposed stretch of razorwire down to the river instead of traveling the safer path a few feet up the trail.)

She was rendered this way while working in the logging industry. The place I rode at basically takes private and government investment in order to pay loggers off and acquire their aging female elephants (male’s are too aggressive) so they can spend the rest of their days chilling in a beautiful natural setting and giving a couple of rides a day to sucker tourists like me who want to feel like they’re getting in touch with mother earth.


Luang Prabang, Laos // Elephant Ride from Sleep Never on Vimeo.

Another day I ordered a “motorcycle” from the slow kid at my hotel, “a big one,” I explained and illustrated the size by climbing high up onto the imaginary seat and gunning the throttle, “enduro, 250cc or higher.” I was going to ride to the Plain of Jars, but what showed up was a brand spanking new scooter

so I made lemonade and rode through rural Laos


out to the Kuang Si waterfalls instead




where I climbed them shirtless like I was a character in the “Blue Lagoon”

jumped off while strangers took pictures of me for you

shot video of strangers jumping off

Kuang Si Waterfall Jump // Luang Prabang, Laos from Sleep Never on Vimeo.

had close encounters with wild bears


penned in behind unsuitably short fences

with a sleepy dog

more emo farmers

and sex tourists in matching his-and-his Venice gondolier shirts

On the way back I went shopping for a retirement home

and found a place that just might work

with convenient access to the main highway

and chill neighbors

Just watch out for packs of roaming water buffalo when driving any vehicle. (I nearly ended my life on the horns of various herds like four times.)


Luang Prabang, Laos // Water Buffalo Crossing from Sleep Never on Vimeo.

later, got a $6 massage (not the best, but worth every penny)

and some grub at my usual spot…

bumped into the Brits, the Swede and the Canadian I met at the waterfalls there. this guy, Rob, studied physics in college, and formerly worked writing code, but what you don’t know is that he spins travel shit yarns like nobody’s bizzo. watch closely as he captivates the UN dinner council…

the nights are quiet here.

the whole town seems to go to sleep at 11:30

except for hair salons workers, internet/video game cafe patrons and rookie tuk-tuk hustlers who roam the streets after midnight propositioning wandering whiteys with marijuana, hash, speed and “boom boom.”

the city itself has a sedating effect. it definitely mellowed me out, to the point where I literally lost track of the days and ended up at the airport for my flight back to Hanoi a day early.

where I encountered dwellers of a lonely planet

and a hippie chick masquerading as a grape

before my tiny prop plane, loaded with jelly cakes and white bread, growled and clawed its way above the bomb-scarred mountains into the milky blue Laotian sky destined for Hanoi.

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