We hijack one of the elephants just as it is about to leave it’s fencing area and get washed in the river nearby, stealthily all my wonderful biker clowns sneaks up and pose in front of it, and it’s a perfect finish of our clown shoot in Tad Lo that I for a while thought would never happen.
I first mentioned my clown shooting project during our motorbike trip from Pakse to Tad Lo in southern Laos (our little gang consisting of Renate (that I met up with again in Savannakhet) and Ingrid from Norway, Corinna from Austria, Kaleb from the states and Matt and Dugie from England). But we arrived there after dark, and the next day the others (Matt, Ingrid and I had decided to stay one more day) wanted to get going as early as possible and get poor Corinna, laying in bed with a fever, to a doctor. We said our goodbyes at a nice little waterfall, and we decided to have a small photoshoot with just Matt and Ingrid instead.
After a massive rain storm Dugie suddenly came walking down the wet street. Apparently it started raining before they got going, so they decided to stay another night as well, so I gathered all the forces and convinced them to join my project. Corinna was still laying sick in bed, but the guys had met another girl at their new hotel, Alexia from Canada, who gladly joined in.
After an almost 12 hour long bus ride I reach Vientiane, in the dark. I’ve spent the last couple of hours trying not to notice the bus’ risky takeovers, though it’s hard when you have the front seat at the top floor of a double decker. The bus takes a lot of extra stops along the way, it seems like they need to fix something – which wouldn’t surprise me the least – but we get no information (And even if we did, not a single passenger on the bus seems to speak English. The very old Lao man sitting next to me and I keep nodding and smiling to each other throughout the bus ride though. And at one point I think I agree with him that our bums hurt, though I might have agreed on coming to his house and spend the night with him, for all I know).
The closest jar site is located about 3km out of town my Rough Guide nicely put it. I’ve been walking for about 40 minutes and I’m not sure if I’ve even out of the city yet – it seemed like such a small place, but appearances lie, obviously. The sun is getting warmer as well, my camera and clown-makeup laden backpack makes my top stick wetly to the skin. An hour ago the temperature was almost cool, perfect for a little walk, and 3-5km didn’t seem too daunting, but that was an hour, and probably almost five kilometers ago. But I continue on, and the roadside gets gradually less populated.
People in passing cars, motorbikes and trucks eye me strangely or laugh – crazy farang, only a farang would think of walking along the dusty road in this heat – I smile, and they smile back. I get loads of Sabai dees, smiles and waves from kids, women and men along the road. A group of kids yell good evening after me, I say Sabai dee back, they giggle. The road continues on, I walk, time passes and I see no sign of any jars. When I’m starting to wonder if I’m even on the right track – I do have a horrible sense of direction, after all – two Japanese girls bike past me, they are probably heading to the same place, there’s not much else of interest around Phonsavan, especially not that’s reachable by bike.
I had just spray painted the side of the minivan with the acidy insides of my stomach and was now hanging with my head out of the window, like a proper car sick Lao woman. The car was speeding way too fast on windy bumpy roads, passing some massively beautiful landscapes with rising limestone mountains – like the rest of northern Lao and Thailand it was covered in thick smoke, and I was too preoccupied trying, unsuccessfully, not to throw up (or at least trying to throw up at the right kind of turns, so that the vomit would hit the asphalt instead of the white side of the car), so I didn’t really notice. I’ve seen pictures taken on a clear day though, and it’s breathtaking – the perfect setting for getting carsick. But my problem didn’t originate from the driver’s senseless approach to the hairpin turns (though it definitely didn’t help), but a nasty little food poisoning picked up from an unbeknownst to me source in Luang Prabang.
We wake up way past sunrise, again. My little plan of getting up to see the monk’s alms procession continue to fail. Generally we don’t do much in Luang Prabang. The infamous sightseeing fatigue has got us long ago, just another temple, another city, another street. The cameras stay in the room most of the time, so do we. Catching up on some blogging, skyping, post-card writing (the postcards are still not sent, and are pressed nicely between the pages in my almost unwritten journal). The city is nice and charming though, and when the horrible midday heat has finished it’s ravaging we venture out, eat at the buffets in the night market, walk through the various stalls.
One day we go to a little theater, we have a faint recollection of someone recommending us to go. There are only a few other spectators there, all tourists. The set-up seems slightly amateurish, but the costumes are cool. They do some dancing, and some kind of singing, we don’t understand a word, but from the pamphlet written in English, we kind of maybe get the story; the dancers squatting on the scene, scratching their armpits, heads, necks and throats now and then are the monkeys. In the end we settle on the term interesting to describe the show. The lukewarm applause from the small audience makes me feel intensely sorry for the dancers.
As we walk down through the different stalls of the night market in Luang Prabang we meet two nice middle aged guys travelling together (names long forgotten) yet again. We first met them on the slow boat (or was it the shuttle from the guest house in Chiang Khong to the border?), and keep bumping into them in the colonial streets of Luang Prabang.
“Have you been to the waterfalls yet?” one of them asks. We haven’t but we sure plan to go there, everyone keeps telling us how beautiful they are. The American guy brings out his camera and shows us some pictures, they are mesmerizing. The turquoise blue color of the water seems unreal. I haven’t taken any clown pictures since the beginning of my trip, in Auckland, New Zealand, and Renate and I had just been talking about having a shoot with her as a clown – as we see the pictures on the camera we both know that this is the place.
We arrive at the border in Chiang Khong in the middle of the Pai-arrivals morning rush. Our plan of going to the border from Pai independently – to cross the border in the afternoon and avoid the worst rush – failed completely as we arrived way past border closing time, resulting in one extra night in Thailand and some longer queues on the frontier. But it still doesn’t take too long, and as soon as we reach the counter we’re stamped out and given back the passport in less than 10 seconds – one nice little perk of being a Norwegian citizen.
Same same, but different
We cross the river to Houay Xai – from where we could hear some nice loud, out of tune, karaoke singing, travelling all the way across the water and over to our guesthouse the previous night when we were trying to sleep – in some small long tail boats, and then we’re in Laos. Getting out of Thailand was easy, getting our Visas to Laos end up being slightly more strenuous. After filling out the Visa-forms, pressing our way through to the counter (if you don’t press, you’ll never reach it) and handing in the passports, we have to wait with a big bunch of people for our passports to get ready. If you stand in the front you might be able to see the passports as the border woman shows them one at a time and sometimes calls out a name, if you are in the back you just have to hope someone closer recognize you and then somehow get to the front and get it (or let the people train carry it to you). We get our passports and even the right change (absolutely no extra “fees”) and make our way to the pier from where the slow boat leaves.