The night before I had arrived in the town of Khe Sanh. The streets were packed that evening with the night market crowds and I had to weave my motorcycle through the crowd carefully before I finally found my hotel.
Getting the visa-on-arrival into Laos was a pretty straightforward process. I paid the fee in american dollars get the stamp on my visa. I was pulled over shortly before crossing the border by a Vietnamese border guard who wanted to admire my motorcycle after checking my passport I was finally able to enter Laos.
The plan was to turn around almost immediately and return to Vietnam but I felt an inexplicable urge to keep going, omens perhaps, and I was drawn into the simple but beautiful landscape of Laos. As I kept on riding, I kept thinking, “Ok I should turn around now” and then I would just keep on riding. Again, I would think “Ok maybe now I should turn around” and again I would keep riding. I felt drawn to explore this more remote side of an already remote country.
Eventually I came across a small ethnic minority village, the people were either van kieu or ka po, and it was a very poor village with little to no electricity and no running water. I was struck by the poverty of this little village and I could see a big difference between the quality of life in Vietnam and in Laos. I was quick to discover, however, that the people were not miserable.
I parked my motorcycle, took of my helmet, and began to wander around the village taking pictures. I saw the small little stilt houses that the villagers lived in.
Eventually, word went around town of a strange new visitor and the children came running. The adults eyed me with confusion but the children were adorably friendly.
All the village children gathered by the side of the road and screamed “hello” in English and enthusiastically. Apparently I was the most exciting thing to happen to this village in a long time.
The next westerner to roll through is going to be so confused when the kids start giving him the “rock on” sign.
The adult were not as friendly but when I smiled and waved at them they became much more friendly. Eventually the time came and I decided it was time to return to Khe Sanh in Vietnam. Many of the children followed me back to my motorcycle and we waved each other good bye as I rode by.
I was smiling the entire ride back to my hotel. This was a genuine experience, this was real Laos. This was real South East Asia. I have never cared for famous sites like Big Ben or the Eiffel tower, I have always preferred to experience the authentic versions of the countries I visit and in that village I experienced the real and simply beautiful side of Laos. I was also kind of sad to be leaving.
I sure hope I left a good impression on this village, because the village left a good impression on me.