February 4, 2013 · 20:17
Sunset on the Mekong
The party began already at the train station. Huge stacks of Beer Lao were being loaded into the train. The Lao association of Civil Engineers and Architects was sharing the night train to Bangkok with us and they made sure they’d travel in style – Lao style. Within minutes from departure the beer cans and bags of chips were being distributed to everyone within reach, including conductors and Thai border guards.
Morning alms in Luang Prabang
Communication with the increasingly drunken engineers and their secretaries (Lao professional associations travel as real communists – all or none) was somewhat difficult. Until one of the engineers started apologized for his poor English and sighed: “if only someone could speak Russian…”. To which I could only reply by saying “Так что ж ты раньше молчал?” (“why didn’t you just say so before?”). Seldom have I seen a person become happier at the sound of the Russian language. Apparently, he has studied in Kiev in the 80’s and was rather proficient in my native tongue. Although his Russian was a bit rusty after two decades, several beers and a bit of practice made wonders and we were soon singing Russian songs together as the night train rolled through the Thai countryside.
A solar panel in front of every hut in every village
Unfortunately for him, the beer and the constant switching from Russian to English to Lao also made him lose focus. In a slip of the tongue he has mentioned his wife. Before we could blink, one of the women in the party was beating him on the head with her purse. She was kind enough to explain to us what we already understood: “The bastard told me – he not married!” Apparently, he was working his charms on her the whole evening, and was making considerable progress. Until that fatal slip of the tongue. Fortunately, Lao are laid-back, cheerful people, and the whole incident was over in seconds and cheered to by another round of Bee Lao. For all I know, they might have ended up in the same bed after all. I didn’t stay awake long enough to find out – we’ve had a busy schedule in Bangkok for the next day.
P.S. Apparently, the “tubing” party in Vang Vieng has been shut down – hurray!
Filed under Round-the-world trip, Travel
Tagged as Asia, Bangkok, Beer, beer lao, Kiev, laos, Mekong, Russian, sex, solar panel, train
December 7, 2012 · 20:06
While travelling, I’ve read quite a few books. Usually I was able to swap them in hostels or buy cheaply at second-hand book stores. As a reader I am not very picky, and will go for anything printed. Especially when on the road for months on end. So not everything I’ve read was of high grade. However, every now and then I was able to get some quality books. Like “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations”, a book that discusses the burning topic of Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor. The main point of the book is that climate, natural resources or luck are just not enough to answer that question. Culture, ethics and science are all involved as well. Of course, all the basic principles that contribute to the wealth of nations apply to businesses as well. The main factor in success is knowing your customers, and being ready to go the extra mile to provide quality service. Here’s an example of how it should be done.
We stayed in Bangkok for just a few days, before embarking on a classical SE-Asia tour through Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. From Laos we went back to Thailand, for a couple of weeks of diving at Ko Phi Phi, but not before we’ve spent a day on Khao San Road, getting massages and doing some shopping. We’ve arrived on a night train from Laos, and were rather dirty and tired.
We went to Donna Guesthouse, where we’ve stayed two months before, hoping we’d be able to rent a room for the day, just to store our bags and use the shower. We never got the chance to ask. The owner immediately recognized us (mind you we were there more than two months before, for just 3 or 4 nights, and its in Khao San Road, the most touristy place in Thailand!), asked how our trip was, and for how long we were going to be in Bangkok.
When he heard we were leaving the same evening, he offered us to store the bags at the place and use the shower, refused to receive money for such a minor service and insisted to provide us with towels as well. In essence, he treated us as friends rather than as a chance to earn a couple of coins. Its been almost two years since, but I remember that small encounter as one of the most positive things I’ve experienced while travelling and if anybody asks me about a tip for a good place to stay in Bangkok I say without hesitation – Donna Guesthouse.