Vang Vieng, Laos
Dear friends and family,
Greetings from Laos. I want to clear up a source of confusion about how to pronounce Laos. Even I have been confused about this at times, so don’t feel bad if you’re confused as well.
If you listen to the way the locals in Laos say their country’s name, it rhymes with “cow” (so, no “s” at the end). Most tourists or foreigners say “Laos”, which rhymes with “mouse.” I have heard that the locals prefer tourists in Laos to add the “s” sound at the end when speaking about the country. However, since the Laotians are some of the most chill people on the planet, I doubt they would ever say anything if you didn’t add the “s” sound.
If you are describing something in Laos, such as the people or sights, you would drop the “s” sound, such as in “lao people” or “lao villages”, etc.
The national beer in Laos is called Beer Lao, which rhymes with “cow” (and tastes GREAT).
The most important point: It really doesn’t matter how you pronounce Laos when you are in Laos… just go there! It’s still my favorite country in the world, which is saying a lot. Go see Laos! You won’t regret it.
But before I get into my highlights and adventures in Laos and Vietnam, I want to talk more about Nicolas Cage.
I have recently created a new society of people who are actively trying to put an end to Nicolas Cage’s popularity/visibility. How does this guy keep getting work?!?!?
Start Totally Ignoring Nicolas Cage! (STINC!) has one and ONLY one directive… to totally ignore Nicolas Cage. This is a not-for-profit organization. There are no membership dues. No meetings. No hidden agenda. To be a ‘member’, all we need to do is to begin ignoring Nicolas Cage in every fashion. If we see a movie on TV with him in it, we simply yell out ‘STINC!’ and switch the channel, or just walk away. We refuse to go to see any new crappy movie with Nicolas Cage in it. We don’t rent any of his crappy movies. We don’t put him in our Netflix cue. We just totally ignore Nicolas Cage. 100%. Starting right now. No gray area. If it involves Nicolas Cage in any way, just say ‘STINC!’ and walk away. Together we can do this.
This is not a 12-Step program. It’s a 1-Step Program… The 1st and only step is to ignore Nicolas Cage.
When enough of us band together and share this passion and vision, we will co-create a new reality, a reality where Nicolas Cage will slide quietly into silence and the crap-movie dustbin. A Visionary is always ahead of his time and must sometimes walk the razor’s edge of discomfort and danger. Because passionate change scares some people, and because people generally resist change, being a Visionary can be dangerous. I am willing to take that risk. The world will thank us soon enough. Seriously, how does this guy keep getting work?
And after we accomplish our goals with Nicolas Cage, we will next tackle the equally dismal and uber-narcissistic Tom Cruise. Baby steps though. First, we’ll practice on Nicolas Cage. I figure we will be done with Cage by the end of this summer. Maybe Tom Cruise by Christmas. Lofty goals, sure, but the entire world will thank us. Who’s in? I don’t wish any harm to Mr. Cage. I just want him to stop making crappy movies, which is all he is capable of making.
My eyes still stink from the last time I accidentally saw a Nicolas Cage movie a few years ago. I found this funny clip on youtube which shows Nicolas Cage painfully watching a bunch of clips from his own movies. Poor guy. No one should have to experience that agonizing torture. I think it’s definitely worth a look. The video description reads… “How do you torture Nicolas Cage? You make him watch Nicolas Cage movies.” This is the link to the video… Enjoy.
And now, back to the countdown (the hits from coast to coast…)
So I am in Vang Vieng now. I have been in Laos for about 7 days now… 3 in Vientiane, the capital, and 4 in beautiful Vang Vieng. As you will recall, Vietnam treated me very well. I loved the people, food, beer, and landscape in that great country. I said Hanoi is now my Number One Favorite City of all time. And I now believe that Laos may be my all-time favorite country.
It’s hard to call anything Number One because there are soooo many variables and subjective factors. But so far, Laos is my all-time favorite country. I have been to many countries and countless cities, villages, islands, obnoxious karaoke bars and coffee shops around the world. So I don’t toss these Number One designations around willy nilly. And since I never use the term ‘willy nilly’, you know I’m serious here.
Why is Laos Number One?
Good question. Here we go:
- Laos only has about 6 million people in the entire country, so the population density is very low. There are only about 300,000 people in the capital city, Vientiane.
- The Laos people are the about as nice as anybody I have ever met (up there with the Balinese, the Ladakhi (India), the Nepalese, the Vietnamese, and my amazing family back in Louisville.
- Laos has only been open to tourism for a relatively short time (since 1989), so it’s still not trashed or over-developed like most of Thailand or Bali (my opinions).
- It is very cheap to travel here. I don’t stay in hostels, I usually have my own private room with private bath. It is very easy for me to eat, sleep, drink and travel here for under US$30 a day. That’s pretty cheap, and again, I am not pinching pennies. Sometimes I can even sneak in a massage for an hour for $5.00 and still stay around $30 for the day. Sweet!
- There are very few motorcycles, autos, and trucks here, which means the roads are fairly empty. And the Laos people, being the good-hearted Buddhists that they are, almost never honk the horn. Compare that to India and Vietnam, where people honk at everyone and everything up ahead. Digression… One jeep driver in northern India honked for 8 hours, even when we could not figure out what or who he was honking at. Maybe he saw ghosts or liked to honk at rocks or dust, or maybe he was honking at the breeze. Don’t know. I think he took his horn to bed with him. “Good night, my sweet horn. I love you.” “Good night, crazy honking driver. I love you too. Tomorrow we will honk again.” (Smooching sound heard in the background, then about eight minutes of light honking noises and then snoring.)
- Note: Laos people do not use or recognize bullet points. I will try to change that.
Now, where was I?
Stop Typing – Cut & Paste Pictures Please…
Here are some pictures from the past few weeks of my adventures… I believe if you click on them, a slideshow and larger photos should pop up. Check it and see.
Electrical Worker – Hanoi. This guy was working to repair some electrical wires on a utility pole near the market in the Old Quarter. Remember that game we used to play when we were kids? The kids magazine would ask, ‘How many things can you find wrong in this picture?’ Then we would have to look at the picture and say stuff like, ‘The umbrella is upside down’ or ‘Dolphins don’t play tennis’ or ‘Pelicans don’t wear sunglasses’ or ‘Female raccoons can’t drive trucks.’ So let’s dissect this one…
- He is using a non-grounded aluminum ladder, which, when touching an open electrical circuit, becomes a massive conductor of lethal electricity. Just ask my uncle Jim Hensley.
- It’s drizzling.
- The area is not roped off. People and chickens are walking under and around the ladder.
- His ladder holder/helper is looking at me instead of making sure the ladder is safe.
- His boots are too shiny and do not match his safety helmet.
- He is not an actual electrician or phone service guy… He is hot-wiring his friend’s house to get bootlegged Russian porn/cable TV.
On the plus side, if he falls, he will land on the Chicken Lady and her fresh/dead chickens, which should cushion his fall and provide life-saving protein until the ambulance arrives (45-275 minutes later.) See anything else wrong with this picture?
Green Fruit (Mystery) – Hanoi Market. Extra Credit if you can properly identify this massive mysterious green fruit that I found in the Hanoi outdoor market. Extra Extra Credit if you have actually eaten it. Bonus Round if you liked it.
Frozen Eel Ball – Hanoi Market. What’s wrong with this picture…?
- Motorcycle tracks next to frozen eel ball = extra tire taste. Not good.
- The worker did not properly wash her dirty glove or dirty un-gloved hand. Extra points though because her glove matches her socks. Deduct points because she left her rubber boots at home and had to wear her good dress shoes (with ribbons.)
- Trash and litter in general vicinity of frozen eel ball. Not good.
- The impatient delivery boy (not pictured) started beating this frozen eel ball with a metal pole right after I took this photo. Instead of waiting for the eel ball to properly thaw (they were using a dirty water hose to gently thaw it), he was furiously beating it, but to no avail. Then he resorted to trying to pry the eel ball apart with a make-shift pry-bar, which only bent the pry-bar and further damaged/aggravated the frozen eel ball.
The sad thing is that I love sushi, and Unagi (freshwater eel) is probably my favorite. I hate to think that maybe I have eaten rubber-tasting beaten eel from Vietnam at some point in my life. But what do I know? I eat dog and pig valve. See anything else wrong with this picture?
Mitch Reunion – Hanoi
When I was studying at Vanderbilt University (aka ‘Vandy’), I spent two semesters at the University of Madrid as part of the Vanderbilt-In-Spain program (Spring of ’89 and Fall of ’90.) I still consider my ‘year’ in Spain to be one of the Top 10 experiences of my life. If any of you reading this are still in college or high school, I HIGHLY recommend you spend a semester or more abroad studying the cultures and traditions of another country.
Seriously, there’s no better way to learn a new language or culture than to immerse yourself totally in a foreign country. You gotta learn the dirty words, drink the local beer, frequent the dark karaoke bars, study a little, and see interesting crap in museums. Kids, I am not telling you to drink beer. That’s for adults or people older than 12. Just get away from home and your comfy cocoon and try something different. You can always go home.
Anycrap, my roommate for the first semester in Madrid was Mitch. We shared a small bedroom (two beds) and lived with Concha and her family in central Madrid, near Tirso De Molina and Plaza Mayor. The 20 of us in the program had lots of great adventures in Spain and Portugal that semester, and then Mitch, Paul, Chuck and I traveled through Europe on a Eurail pass.
Mitch happened to be in Hanoi while I was there (he read about my whereabouts via Facebook), so we met up and had a 3-day reunion in Hanoi. I had not seen Mitch in about 10 years when he was passing through Phoenix, Arizona, where I lived for about 12 years. It was great re-connecting and laughing with you, Mitch!
After a tasty fish lunch one afternoon, we walked out of the restaurant and saw a clothing/purse boutique directly across the street called ‘Vandy’. What are the odds of that? Seriously, a store directly across from our restaurant, called ‘Vandy’, in Hanoi… What are the odds of THAT?
Me in front of Vandy. Wahooooooooo! Kind of a blurry picture… you can see one of Hanoi’s 3.6 million motos flying by in front of me. Seriously, there are about 6 million people in Hanoi, and there are 3.6 million motos. Crazy!
Here we are knocking back a few cold ones – glasses of local fresh beer, called ‘Bia Hoi’, at Bia Hoi Junction in the Old Quarter. Twenty cents a glass (you can see the 4,000 Dong sign behind me.) A few dollars goes a long way here. Yahooooooooo!
Dogs For Sale – Hanoi
So Mitch and I were walking near the Old Quarter market and came across a few vendors who were selling and processing dog. This was right after we were stopped by a Vietnamese midget with an eerily disfigured face (in an alley, no less) who spoke VERY good English. It was a VERY unusual midget conversation/encounter, and both Mitch and I were a bit puzzled/confused. A few minutes later, we stumbled upon the dog district. It was serious sensory overload.
I’m only going to show the tiny version of these pictures here, as some/most people might find them offensive/repulsive/inhumane. But in Hanoi and Vietnam and many other places around the world, it’s just a way of life. If you want to see the pictures in more detail, simply click on the little pictures and the larger ones should appear. But don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Doggy Style. So, at the risk of offending/nauseating you further, if you want, click here and see a picture of some dogs for sale. We’ll start with an easy one… Don’t worry, they won’t bite you (because they’re dead.)
And, if you were OK with that one, try this one. Don’t worry, even though he still has teeth, he won’t bite you… because he doesn’t have a body attached to his head. Extra Credit if you can identify the breed of dog here, and Bonus Points if you can identify the various dog organs. (Mr. Barker, my amazing biology teacher at St. Xavier High School in Louisville, Kentucky should nail this one.)
Dog Pile. How long would it take you to eat all this dog? Don’t worry, they won’t bite you, because they’re dead, and they have been de-headed. If I gave you $3,000 to eat this much dog in one week, could you do it? What about $10,000? Or two weeks? I will throw in a case of Lipitor and 7 bottles of Pepto Bismol. Are you scared?
Q. How do you eat 5 medium sized dogs?
A. One bite at a time.
Dog Lady. Extra Credit if you can identify the 23 different food health/safety violations in this picture. Dog lady was de-boning the dog for a customer (aka Dog Man) who wanted a whole dog but did not want to have to do all the dog cutting. Mitch and I watched as Dog Lady took a whole dog, opened it up, de-spined it, chopped it up, and handed it to the happy Dog Man. All in about 5 minutes.
Dog Man told us he knew how to cook it really well, and that it tasted great. He invited us to his house for dog dinner. We politely declined. Now if it had been the midget who was inviting us over for a dog dinner, I would have said, “Hells yeah!” Because eating dog with a midget in Vietnam doesn’t happen every day.
Here I am standing in the front of the dog shop. Showing my teeth, kinda like the dogs were doing, but also clenching my jaws so I didn’t puke. P.S. I am not really as fat as I look here with my six layers and polar fleece and new (imitation) Vietnamese Nike coat.
OK. That’s enough dog. When I left Sapa in northern Vietnam, I took the long way back. 3 days of rickety, crowded public buses, 4 to 8 hours a day. Passed through a nice city called Moc Chau, where the people were super nice, the beer was cold, and the sidewalk barbecued duck was very tasty.
Down the street from my guesthouse, the nice lady who ran a small store was weighing herself on a scale. She invited me to weigh myself.
Here I am doing a bad yoga pose and weighing more than I should. The people in the street were laughing (that’s just how I roll…) I don’t know if they were impressed by my amazing balance, finesse, charisma and humility… or maybe they were laughing because I had had just set a new scale record for fat people in that skinny village. I’m just glad you can’t read the scale in this picture. Do my two jackets and baggy jeans make me look fat? And a special ‘sorry, please forgive me’ to Kristi and Holly, my two favorite yoga teachers… you taught me better than this!)
OK. This took way too long once again. I really wish I had more time to write more posts for “The Lexpedition”, but my days are very, very full. Seriously. I don’t just sit around all day drinking coffee and typing crap. How do I spend my days? Good question? Let’s ask Mister Bullet Points to provide some examples of my possible daily activities that keep me from writing and responding more often…
- Drinking inordinately bizarre quantities of coffee
- Planning my next bus ride or train ride or city/village/island/country to visit
- Meeting awesome people from around the world who are crossing paths with me because we share the same passion… travel adventures!
- Drinking beer. Mmmmmmmm, beer!
- Singing Karaoke with complete strangers
- Making Bullet Point Lists
- Eating Street Meat
- Eating Dog (once)
- Eating pig valve (once.) Details and pictures to follow.
- Packing/unpacking my backpack
- Getting rejected by women
- Washing the pepper spray from my eyes (see preceding bullet point)
- Making people laugh
- Making kids smile
- Missing my amazing family and friends
As my father (Rockbox) always reminds me, “No matter where you go… there you are.” Right now I am exactly where I want to be. I would not trade this experience for anything. There is no place I would rather be right now. I am living my passion. I am doing exactly what I want to do. No regrets. No missed opportunities. How could it be any other way?
I seriously consider myself to be the luckiest man on the planet. I am sincerely grateful to all of you amazing people who have helped me get here. Who helped me finish and sell my house. Who supported me and cheered me on. Who loved me and let me go. There is absolutely no way that I could be ‘here’ without your help, support and love. I didn’t do this alone. And I am not doing this alone. I have NEVER been alone. Seriously, thank you.
Now please excuse me. I was just invited to go to a wedding party by my trekking guide, and there is no way that I can pass up an opportunity to meet the local Laos people, eat crazy foods, dance like a crazy white boy, drink the local ‘hooch’, and maybe make a few more people smile and/or laugh. That’s just how I roll!
Peace & Love from Muong Long, Laos
Inventor of Pasta
Bullet Point Abuser
Director of This
Vice President of That
Original Member of The Village People (* not pictured – see note below)
* I got kicked out of the Village People because they said I wasn’t ‘gay enough.’ “Lex, you have a bright future with us. Your falsetto and stage presence are unrivaled. And you are unbelievably witty, handsome and humble. Can you just turn your ‘Gay’ up a notch or two?” “No can do, Village People”, I replied. It’s true. And by that I mean I am not gay at all. Zero percent gay. True story. The photo above was taken just after I left The Village People. The guy in front (I don’t remember his name or what he was dressed up as) was very bummed out about my departure. (a tear)
P.S. I wrote most of this about 10 days ago in Vang Vieng, Laos. Then one thing lead to another, and blah blah blah… I was ‘finishing’ it in amazing Muong Long after a 3-day trek through remote jungle villages in NW Laos near the Thailand/Burma/China borders. But I don’t have access to a wifi connection very often in these obscure parts of the world, which I need in order to upload this crap from my iPad (thanks Joe Luber) to my blog. So by the time I (finally) upload this and send it out tonight (February 12th) in Nong Khiaw, I will have had another 253 amazing encounters/experiences, which I can never keep track of or put into words. I’m doing the best I can. Thanks for your patience and support. Lexicon
P.P.S. Now it is February 17th, I am now back in Luang Prabang, and I have wifi in my guest house. I hope this gets out today.
P.P.P.S. I need to learn how to be more succinct.
P.P.P.P.S. I need to stop apologizing so much.
P.P.P.P.P.S. There is actually no such thing as P.P.P.P.P.S. Sorry.
P.P.P.P.P.P.S. This is the last sentence on this page.
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