Our ride on the sleeper train came and went, quite literally in the blink of an eye for us all, as once our eyes shut we did not reopen them until the morning as we approached Hanoi. The last few days of adventure in Sapa, coupled with the general gravity of months on the road, took it out of us. If a good nights sleep is what the doctor ordered, we filled that prescription dosing ourselves good and plenty! Rolling out, feeling like new men, we grab our packs, already repacked and organized from last night, and hop off the train, once again in Hanoi. From here we do what simply must be done, head off across the street from the station, in the wee hours of the morning where dawn comes in muted tones of indigo, sit down at one of the little sidewalk restaurants for a ca-phe sua da to get this day started right.
The plan is to get to Halong Bay today. Though we are all headed there Daniel (the Australian lad) and I are not sure we want to go with some tour group. In fact, we are pretty sure we do not. I haven’t done any tour group thing this whole time traveling and I have had no regrets about it at all. I generally prefer to go it alone…figure it out. Daniel is of a similar persuasion so he and I talk about going it together, DIY style. Prior to their arrival in Sapa Sergi and Florian purchased spots on a bus to a boat that will be leaving in a few hours time.
We debate on walking to the center of the city or taking a car in. Last time I came into Hanoi via train I walked but this time I am outvoted as everyone else says it’s too far. We jump in a car and do it like that. We head over to the hostel they stayed at last time they were here as it has a large lobby with wifi and food… It’s a good place to drop our gear, catch up on our individual errands, regroup and move forward from. It’s also close to the tour office where the trip to Halong Bay will originate from for Sergi and Florian and possibly Daniel and I as well.
Daniel and I decide to go with them to the tour office to hear the details, think things over. Daniel called on ahead from Sapa town to see if there were still available space for the tour they are on. He was told there were two spaces remaining that they’d be willing to hold for us so long as we promise to join. “Hmmm…meant to be?” we wonder. We’ve heard stories of doing the bay on your own, both successful and otherwise. From the bit of research I’ve done on doing it DIY, once you get to Halong City you gotta join one boat or another to go out on the bay anyway, especially if you are planning on spending the night on the water. As it’s a big source of revenue for the country as far as tourism goes, you can imagine the tour companies that are out there have done their best to get a lockdown on the market! Either way it’s a bus ride to Halong City and a boat you’re gonna have to pay for once you get there. The idea of having everything laid out, on a nice boat, meals included, with our crew intact is beginning to sound potentially nice.
We get to the tour office and see information on the trip, pictures of the boat… Daniel and I decide to go ahead and join the tour. After traveling hard and rugged for a long time now I’m a bit game to just relax for a day or two, allowing myself to relinquish control for a minute, just show up, get on the bus, get on the boat…show up when food is served. Perspective is also something I like to shake up along the way. A big factor is that we have all been rocking it together over the last few days and we got a nice vibe going. I resign to shift gears here for the interim and join the tour, keep rolling with my people a bit longer. They are great guys and a lot of fun so fuck it, lets roll!
Soon we will board our bus to bring us to Halong City where our boat is docked, board it then head out onto the bay. The bus ride is about 4.5 hours in length and unfortunately I am one of the last ones on the bus resulting in me getting the seat with the wheel well protruding up under my feet making it somewhat of a cramped affair. People begin chatting, get acquainted with one another around me. So much of the bus is filled with young people, too young for “my old ass” at this moment (or so I feel). I am hit by a sudden feeling of melancholy. I retreat into myself and put on my headphones, enjoying my solitude as I watch the landscape go by out the window. Eventually I will reemerge from my shell but for now I am content being inside.
We stop at a roadside cultural center of sorts that also has food and restrooms. The place is really big and full of handmade wares, crafted by people with one physical impairment or another. It is touted as a place that exists to plug these people into larger society as a whole, providing them with a sense of purpose and pride. There are many beautiful things on display here, both large and small, many of which are all hand embroidered “paintings”. The whole operation is exposed to the public as the wares are literally being made right in front of your eyes.
As many of these works are really quite beautiful I’d like to support the efforts here. The pieces roll up quite easy, allowing them to become compact and durable for travel, making really nice gifts for friends and family back home. As the prices are really expensive compared to other wares I’ve seen throughout Vietnam, I inquire into how much the actual worker/artisan is getting paid for their hard labor. The woman I am speaking with, who’s English was just fine up until this point, now acts as though I am speaking another language entirely, one she no longer understands. She becomes uncomfortable, nervous even. She just pauses and stalls, tries to sway the conversation elsewhere, back on the work on the tables, trying to get me to buy. It becomes quite obvious to me that these people are being exploited. They probably get pennies on the dollar for this stuff. It seems to me to be some type of sweat shop for the impaired.
Not satisfied with the answers, or lack there of, I have received from my sales representative, I decide to ask for the manager. I have shed light upon something here and wish to further illuminate it. The manager comes out to greet me and is all smiles. Of course she has been briefed and you can see it all over her face. Rather than jump right in I decide to take the scenic route, throw her off-balance a bit first, psychological judo if you will. I tell her how beautiful so much of the work is and that I would love to buy some things to take back home as gifts for friends and family. She is all too pleased and points one thing out to me and another. Thinking now is a ripe time to strike I ask her about how the workers/artisans are compensated, if they get a percentage of what sells or if they are paid an hourly wage. She looks at me like a cock eyed dog. To eliminate her confusion I say, “For example, this piece is selling for $200. How much of the money from the sale goes to the artist who made the piece?” Again there is a total loss of English comprehension as she becomes animated with nervous energy, shakes her head one way or another, almost bobbing and weaving, doing her best to evade my questions. Silence once again is truly golden and as a result I must conclude that these truths seem to be self-evident. I explain to her that I would gladly buy some things if I knew the artist was getting paid their fair share for their labors, but since that is seemingly not the case, I cannot. I thank her for her time and information. Though she looks all twisted you can see the relief wash over her as I turn to walk away.
I don’t stir up the waters to cause trouble or be a pain in the ass…I do it to make people think, make us engage ourselves in dialogue over important subjects that need be addressed, regardless of ones nationality, citizenry, or societal classification. I do it because they are human issues that ultimately exploit us all one way or another. Seems like no matter where in the world you go, or under what system, people are being exploited to the profit of others. I guess the thing that really saddens and upsets me most is this place is touted as a place to reinvigorate the disenfranchised by plugging them back into society, giving them a place of worth and pride. They probably toil away like this for a few dollars a day while these pieces sell to tourists like hot cakes for really high prices.
I stroll on and come to a very large wall full of suspended gongs of various sizes. Things like this always make me happy! I grab a mallet and lightly tap upon them, moving from one to the next according to size, in order to compose the music that I am now hearing in my head. Now is one of those times where I wish I had the place to myself for a few hours. I’d love to set up the recorder and play this amazing assemblage of an “instrument”! As I tap away lightly, respecting the space, the instruments, the people around me, Sergi and Florian appear. They grab mallets and start going to town, running around swinging for the fences with the excitement of kids in a candy store. I immediately put my mallet down and back away to witness this spectacle as it rapidly unfolds. Though I know what I am watching is straight up wrong, I can’t help but chuckle to myself and then some! It’s like watching two bulls in the china shop running wild as they thrash through the isles knocking everything in sight. Within 30 seconds a staff person appears in attempts to disarm the machinery that at this point has the whole place vibrating with an intensely loud cacophony of dissonant tones. I was waiting for some of the glassware to start shattering as it became sonic warfare up in there! The fellas, grinning ear to ear like two mischievous youths caught in some grand act of sporadic, near innocent (but not at all) mayhem, reluctantly relinquish their mallets (weapons of mass destruction as it may be seen in this particular case). I can’t stop laughing as this one was written front to back and played out before it even began. Though I felt bad for the employees, that was some funny shit man!
Back on the bus now, closing the space between us and Halong Bay, I put on my headphones back on and break out my tablet to carry on with my writing that I am perpetually behind on. Every once in a while you gotta be thankful for the long journeys carrying you from one adventure to the next. If you don’t want to fall hopelessly behind in the writing of said journeys, you must use this down time to put the proverbial pen to paper and dig in! It’s not a matter of wanting to write or not, it’s simply a mater of necessity, plain and simple. Once we get to into Halong City, we make our way through, straight to the bay. Once there we unload once again, stretch our legs…use the facilities and what-have-you. We will momentarily be boarding our boat to begin our journey out onto the bay. We grab our packs and head on down to the docking area, following our guide like ducks in a row. He brings us to a fine-looking boat, one that is apparently to be our home, at least for the next couple days. We load in our packs and drop them down in one common spot.
As we will be spending the next couple of days together in this contained environment people begin to further get acquainted with one another. After introducing myself around, engaging in the usual question and answer game, “Where you from, how long you been traveling and where…?” While in conversation I notice the jade colored water moving by through the windows as we are now obviously in motion. I respectfully remove myself from further conversation with anyone, sliding out unnoticed I make my way up onto the upper deck, get my first real glimpse into the magic land I am entering into. I am delighted to find myself alone for this moment, as we wind our way through the majestic limestone spires that jut out from these glowing jade colored waters. The sun is beaming, matching my inner state of being. I have the deck to myself for about 30 minutes before another person gets hip and comes to bear witness.
Halong Bay is one of those places, as a photographer, where you just kinda look around you at the world abounding, look down at your camera, take some photos…repeat the process a few times before you begrudgingly admit defeat, laughing in humorous frustration as you contemplate chucking your camera overboard without regret (other than polluting this amazing environment) and walk away. Halong Bay is simply just too big and majestic to capture in a photo, period, end of story! One would need a 360 degree, spherical lens of mad quality…and even then, good luck! This place is listed as one of the ten most beautiful places on planet Earth for God’s sake! Good luck capturing that with a point-and-shoot baby!
That said, I did the best I could with it all. Trust me though, this is one place you should come and witness for yourself! Being here makes me wonder what I was possibly thinking when I thought of not coming. As mentioned, the fact of it being a very heavy tourist destination was putting me off. Some places are heavy tourist destinations for good reason though and this is definitely one of them! Truth is, once you are on your boat with your crew, you’re out on the bay from there on “alone”. Sure you see other boats on the bay…but it’s really not a big crowd spoiler, much to my pleasant surprise and relief.
When we are called to lunch, we are all pleasantly surprised by the amount of food that is served us. There is a wide variety of options as well which is really nice! One thing’s for sure, no one will leave the table with an empty stomach. If by chance you do, you have real issues!
At the table we enjoy the food and the conversation as our journey together for the next 24 hours is officially on. Rooms are drawn by number out of a jar, interesting approach I guess. People quickly scamper off to check their rooms and get settled in… Daniel and I decided to share a room as Sergi and Florian are ol’ school buds. I sit and kick it a little longer, in no rush. Eventually I grab my pack and head down to get settled in, check the room. It’s totally pimped the fuck out! A couple of girls peak in and are super jealous, “Oh my god, look at his room!” They disappear.
Daniel comes down and having not seen our room, informs me he just offered to trade rooms with a couple of girls. “Hmmmm,” I think to myself, “could it possibly be the ones just mentioned?” He is holding the key to their room. He was all too happy and willing to exchange keys, being the nice guy…pretty girls and shit. Can’t fault him for that, specially not being aware he was getting hoodwinked and all. I inform him that they were just in our room, all envious. I tell him kindly, “Um…no fucking way!” I grab the key from his hand and go search out those scheming ass motherfuckers. The boat ain’t that big so it only takes a moment before I spot them. Their faces go from smiling, thinking they swindled us out, themselves into our digs, to flat because they could see the writing on the wall as I approached. I hand them their keys back and say, “Nope, nice try!” then simply walk away. Grow the fuck up and deal bitches! I never cease to be amazed by the bullshit of the human being.
We have a full day ahead of us of scheduled events that are part of the tour we purchased into. It all sounds exciting though so I’m committed. We have some down time to relax, get settled in, further acquainted as the boat winds its way through the passing maze of limestone spires jutting up out the sea in route to the caves we are scheduled to explore next. I am told it’s quite a breathtaking experience. After the caves we are to return to the boat, head back out onto the bay to another place where we are allowed to kayak for a few hours, followed by a swim in the bay for those so inclined. Dinner will conclude the scheduled events for the day, leaving us the evening to kick it amongst ourselves till morning.
Once docked at the base of these caves, we pile out and promptly begin our ascent up and then into one of these crags. I can’t lie, this is definitely one of the more crowded moments as far as being with people are concerned, we are definitely on a tour. Regardless though, even if you came alone, this is one of those places where it’s impossible not to be in the crowd. It’s is an enclosed space with only one point of entry and exit with daily hours of operation of course…the people quickly amass. As this place, a UNESCO National Heritage site, is listed as one of the 10 national wonders of the world, people naturally and rightfully show up. Sure we all wish we could have our secret little wonderland all to ourselves, as though we were the first to discover it…but, that’s not the reality. Once you resign to that fact and accept where you are, the whole thing becomes transformational. What an amazing thing that exists on the planet…how fortunate are we to be able to witness it!
Ok, confession time. If I had to choose one TV miniseries that is my favorite, it would without question be BBC’s Planet Earth! So, being inside these caves right now for me is sheer majesty! It’s one of those things where the whole adds up to so much more than the sum of its parts. You know it’s just time and water that creates this otherworldly landscape of stalactites and stalagmites…but how can it result in it all coming out to look like this? How can rock no longer look like rock? How can the whole thing look like an alien planet, or a world of fantasy carved by the worlds premier sculptor? Once again nature wins, perpetually pointing the way to what the experience can be about, what the experience should be about, what the experience actually is about for those with eyes to see and souls to dare.
A few hours later we find ourselves back in the open air, upon our boat, heading back into the emerald waters of this bay. I’m excited to get into a kayak here and paddle off to find some solitude amongst these sandstone beauties. Kayaking in these waters will be another dream come true!
As the kayaks are doubles Daniel and I will be going it together. He is my partner for this trip it seems. It’s great that we have had the few days in Sapa prior to this to bond. When you travel in such a way you live hard and fast. Things happen intensely. It’s one of those things where you could go years without seeing one another again but then link up some place in the world and say one thing, “Poppa Chu” for example (read my previous entry on Sapa to understand this reference) and it’s on, immediately in the cut! I mention this only to say that family can form really intensely and quickly on the road. It’s somewhat analogous to volcanic eruptions where fiery liquid transforms itself into solid earth in a very short period of intense time.
D and I get changed into our swim gear and head off to jump into one of the available kayaks, paddle off. Of course we accept the challenges of a race here and there with Sergi and Florian as well as other rivals. Soon we all kinda head off on our separate ways to explore amongst these magnificent limestone crags, these gentle giants jutting out from sea floor to sky right before our bewildered eyes. We are both just floored by the omnipotent beauty of where we are. We both look at each other, relieved that we made the choice to come along on this trip as we were both on the fence about it, leaning the other way. We laugh at ourselves like, “What could we possibly have been thinking to almost miss out on this?”
We continue to explore cove after cove in this wonderland we are steeped in. With not another kayak in site, we have the feeling of being fully alone here, aside from the occasional bird of one variety or another that fly over head. As I never heard how much time we were given for our kayaking I default to Daniel. He says we have plenty of time left, a couple of hours worth anyway. Cool, further we go! Soon we come to inhabit the waters with a small boat full of locals seen off in the distance. They are drinking beers and fishing for crab it seems. Daniel yells something to them in Vietnamese, “xin chao.” No, he doesn’t speak Vietnamese but whatever he said seemed to work like a charm as it makes them smile and raise their beers to us, yelling back to us the same phrase. Impressed, I ask him, “Yo Daniel, what the fuck did you just say?” “Good afternoon.” he replies. We smile back at them and hold our hands in the air as though we are toasting them back. They wave us over to them. Oh shit, here we go, another unknown experience about to come to fruition. We paddle over… Once we arrive they grab our kayak and tie it to their boat. Now, you don’t have to be an Einstein to know this is gonna go one of two ways, either good or bad, this much I know!
Greeted by huge warm smiles, we are instructed, through gestures, to hop into their boat. Being steeped in the experience as we are we figure we might as well. We hop in to their boat and are immediately handed cans of ice-cold beer. As the sun has been beaming directly on us for the last couple of hours these beers feel and taste a bit too good. There is two men and one woman (completely gorgeous, as a side note) aboard. The woman is the only one not drinking. She appears to be designated driver. Drinking in this fashion here is also “a man’s thing” of course.
The men grab their beers and open them with ours, hold them high and scream something to the air, looking at us with big smiles. They are obviously three sheets to the wind on their way to four. They keep their hands raised in the air, obviously waiting for us to do likewise, meeting their screams with equal zeal. We raise our beers and scream the phrase back, fuck it! They then pound their beers from top to bottom in all of about 7 seconds, look our way grinning again. “Oh man, here we go!” We are obviously, in so many words, expected to keep pace with these guys as casually sipping is not an option and would seemingly be met with ridicule. That said, we are off to the races! In this heat it does not take long before the beer hits the bloodstream “acclimating” us to our new surroundings. Cans empty, we are handed another fresh set where the ritual is repeated verbatim.
Along with the beer we are handed some beautiful fresh crab to eat with them which apparently they are cooking right there on the boat! So, here we are now, in the middle of paradise, on some “by chance” meeting, feasting on fresh caught crab and iced cold beers with some really generous locals. Daniel is getting way into the party and is now 3 sheets to the wind as well, going on 4, as 3 beers are pounded within about 5 minutes time. I again begin to wonder about time and us meeting back at the boat properly. Daniel again says we have plenty of time, at least another hour or so. I figure at this point there is nothing to be done here but roll with it. The guys in the boat ask us what boat is ours. Again, this is all done more through body language and broken communication than through vernacular as they don’t speak English nor us Vietnamese. Can you image an hour in their boat getting pissed with them like this, eating crab the whole time? My only regret is not having a camera to document this whole happening! Kayaking with electronics is a bad idea as I unfortunately do not have a water proof housing for my camera. For the gods, this one is!
As they are locals they know the routine of all the boats in the area… They have no problem finding our boat and bringing us to it. As we approach, we come to see the whole crew, along with all the passengers, standing on the upper deck watching us. Most are in their swim suits. We are still drinking beers and eating crabs. We all raise our drinks to them and shout the Vietnamese phrase we have been yelling over and over for the last hour, along with our local hero’s of course. Sergi and Florian are smiling from ear to ear as is most everyone else. You can just see the bewilderment all over everyone’s faces, like “What the fuck, how the fuck…? God I wish that were me!” Daniel and I are living it up and by chance found ourselves in the cut where a good experience is further transformed into a great one.
As we hitch up to our ship and jump in, trying not to spill our beers we pull our kayaks in with us, along with the help of the crew. We shake hands and exchange thank you’s with our “captors” who bid us farewell before they head back off into the open waters to continue their party feast. Daniel and I are in amazement and we are both a bit blissed out, having our day turned golden like this. People are coming up to us like, “WTF was that? How did that happen?” It is in this moment that we learned that we have been missing and that the captain and crew are a bit upset, not knowing what the fuck happened to us. It is also in this moment that we learned, as a result of our disappearance, the swim session was called off. Those people standing around on the deck in their swim suits never got to get in the water. Oops! How we doing on time now Daniel???
We apologized to everyone for holding up the ship and messing up the swim. Here’s the thing though, at least with these particular travelers, on this particular day, people were so in awe of our experience and the eminent joy we were having that no one could even get mad at us for blowing their swim trip, they were all just smiles and curiosity, everyone just straight up wanted to be us! As far as the captain and crew were concerned they were just relieved that we returned. I suppose they were thinking the worst, lost or drowned… So, us returning in party mode was somehow, though annoying, a blessing to them.
Daniel and I enjoy our laughter, as the moment we just lived together continues to residually shine upon us. Though I am admittedly a bit pissed (meaning tipsy), Daniel is further down the road, so to speak. We have a couple of hours before the sun will begin to set. D decides to lay down and catch a nap before dinner is served. I go up to kick it with the folks up top, see what’s what. Everybody wants the further story upon our escapade and someones gotta tell it, so I guess that’s me. Confirming my suspicions, people tell me they wanted to be mad at us but couldn’t because they could see how much fun we were having. Chatting quickly gnaws away at the time and before I know it dinner is to be served. I head back down to see if I can rouse D to come and eat as I figured the food would aid to revive him and re-engage him into the upcoming events of the evening before us, whatever they may be. Also, if you miss out on dinner you miss out on eating for the night! After some prompting I finally get him to comply. He pulls himself to his feet and readies himself for dinner.
As he and I are now looked on upon as somewhat of characters, due to our recent kayak excursion, I tell him we should further play the role by rolling up to dinner in our traditional clothing we purchased from our host family in Sapa. He is of course game and that is exactly what we do. See, I am definitely the type to ride the wave as long as it will carry me. High’s sometimes are far and few between. When you are on one, it is my opinion that you should ride that fucker out!!! Besides, it’s dinner time on the emerald bay…time to put on our finery and step to the occasion in proper attire. I am not an actor by trade…but I sure do enjoy wearing hats and playing characters from time to time.
The night turned into card games, drinking, and jokes. Though I again have the sensations of feeling a little awkward with such young company, doing young things such as drinking games, I accept my fate and carry gamely on. Besides, aside from Sergi, Florian, and Daniel, no one knows my age. When people do find out the truth of the matter they are always shocked with disbelief anyway so…no sense spoiling a good thing. Pass me a beer and shuffle them cards folk! The best part about this is it brought together people who were not in our crew, so to speak. We had a nice multigenerational (yes, there were even folks older than I), multicultural card game filled with laughter and drinking which included our guide and some of the off duty crew. Good people and laughs a plenty indeed help to while away these evening hours. Life is a precious thing and staying young at heart is a valuable key to making a long healthy go of it!
The icing on the cake of the evening in my opinion was when a handful of us went up onto the deck to sit underneath the stars and talk the remainder of the night away, sipping on our beers and/or casually smoking our cheap Vietnamese cigarettes. Another game was introduced here. Play moves around from person to person, one at a time we take turns bringing up some deed or subject. Those not initiating the subject are to point at the person most likely to have done said thing in their life. The one who gets the most fingers pointed their way must either tell their story of said deed or defend against it. Pretty fun. Of course the game quickly moves into sexual escapades and fetishes of one kind or another. Good thing I never got any fingers pointing my way;) Anyway, it was just a chill conclusion to a fantastic day. I feel sorry for my boy D who decided to seek the refuge of his mattress for the rest of the evening, as he was never quite able to recover from our extensive kayaking excursion.
The next morning began bright and early with Sergi and Florian bursting into the room all amped to jump from the upper deck of the boat into the bay. They’ve come to gather more recruits and wanna know if we are game. Sure, why not? I pull my ass outta bed and into a swimsuit, head on up to the deck to see what’s what. Apparently the Captain has nixed the idea of jumping from the upper deck due to past injuries that have occurred as a result of said activity. Instead we all jump in off the back of the boat for a morning swim. The water feels great and is a wonderful way to awake to another fine day! Sergi and Florian, refusing to accept defeat and surrender to the order not to jump from the upper deck, head up to do it anyway. The crew recommends against this as it is their job to listen to the captain…but to no avail. They quickly make the leap and plummet down to the water like human missiles. They emerge unscathed and victorious with beaming cheshire grin smiles. The captain emerges to show his scowling face, obviously he is not pleased that his command has been broken. He let’s us all know that there will be no more of said activity on his boat, end of story. Fair enough, he is the captain after-all. If shit goes wrong it falls on his shoulders…so, I don’t blame the guy.
While some people will remain on the boat for another day, bringing them to a neighboring island called Cat Ba, where they will spend the night in a bungalow on the beach. As tempting as this is the fellas and I have to get a move on as we have individual things that are pressing upon us with time. Florian has a bus booked to bring him across the border someplace further south into Laos. I am heading to Laos next as well but I’m not sure exactly to where and when. I know it must be soon as my visa only has two days left on it. I’ve been loving Vietnam so much I am contemplating extending it. Whichever way I decide I need to be in a place to make that happen. Cat Ba island will have to wait another day for me to happily step upon it.
We have a nice hardy breakfast followed by a demonstration (somewhat oddly enough) on how to make proper spring rolls. It felt like, “We need another activity for the morning. Hmmm…fuck it, let’s show em how to make spring rolls!” Cool, let’s make spring rolls then! We all get a go at it, some of us faring better than others. After this, those of us that will not be continuing on to Cat Ba are told to ready our things to dock shortly where we will once again disembark, re-board the bus and take the same trip we came in on, in reverse. When I say the same that includes Surgi and Florian beating the shit out the gongs again at that arts and crafts center.
I again listen to music and write the whole way back to Hanoi where we are all dropped at various points of our choosing along the way. Everything happens suddenly as stops are made and people hustle off. It’s one of those really melancholy feelings as a traveler. Friendships are formed so fast, so intensely…then just as quickly as they form, they dismantle…leaving one wondering if and when you will ever see one another again in this life. It’s beautiful and tragic at once! Florian begins to stress missing his bus to Laos that is scheduled to leave in 10 minutes time. Talk about cutting it close! Fortunately he makes it just in the nick of time. As the four of us are all heading off into separate directions I decide to head back to my little guesthouse I stayed at last time.