Tuesday, March 24, 2009

SE Asia Adventures- #1: Breaking ground (Part I of II)

Thieves, bandits and innocents,

I’m writing to you now from Luang Prabang in Northern Laos, a charming town of 26,000 that will serve as my home base while in Laos. This is the first travel email I’ve written in almost 2 years, so I’ll do my best to Shake off the Dust and Arise. Be aware that these will be laced with obscure musical references (e.g. capitalized phrase above), overly detailed stories, and are essentially the anti-Twitter. They represent how I see the experiences on the road in full, which means that in a world of morsel-sized information, I’ll be serving up 5-course meals. They’re not written with Blackberry-screens in mind, so I’d suggest you print them up for a read on your morning commute… But enough qualifications, let’s dig into the guts and bones of this Freewheelin’ yarn.

As many of you may have seen, I’ve never worked harder in my entire life than the past six months in order to get everything in a position so that I could comfortably leave the normal life behind. This trip is about advancing Pencils of Promise on the ground in Laos and additionally getting back to my soul by backpacking SE Asia for an extended period of time. Fortunately the hard work paid off and everything was in line, but I found myself still awake at 4:30am on Tuesday morning handling final responsibilities without having a packed bag for my 8am flight. So in that sleep-deprived state of delirium when the world seems to have fallen through its own back pocket and you understand how Dr. Frankenstein created his monster, I packed four months of gear into the trusty backpack that’s now rested on my shoulders through 40+ countries over the past few years.

At the Cathay Pacific check-in counter at JFK, I was told I didn’t have a seat on my flight. Too tired to be annoyed, I just stood and waited. It turns out that my booking was listed under Braun Adam, not Adam Braun. Thanks Vayama.com. As described in my previous email, the flight itself was apparently an insulated baby convention with monk-chanting fathers. The flight was also 95% Asian, which made it even funnier when the massive Soviet guy (yes it still exists… as long as Rocky IV can be purchased the Soviet Union is alive and a serious threat to the American way of life) who was sitting directly behind me in his Muscle Beach tank top at one point said aloud “You cannot be facking seereeuus!”

After a brief layover in Hong Kong I arrived in the Grand Central Station of SE Asia, Bangkok Airport. As most travelers will attest, Bangkok is the hub to access the gems of the region but it can offer a few ephemeral delights itself… most of which can be found in the backpacker equivalent of Times Square, Koh San Road. If you want a tailored suit, the world’s best knockoffs, cheap accommodations, Thai cover bands in Irish pubs, ping pong shows or a ZJ (if you don’t know what that is you’re not ready for it), that’s the place to go. Having been through Bangkok probably 5-10 times in the travels thus far, I quickly made my way to Koh San on a local bus (it’s the only part of Bangkok I’m familiar with) but was way too tired to do anything but find a decent bed, take a warm shower and eat some delicious pad thai. Sorry but no Bangkok adventures to tell of, my focus was on getting to Laos and that’s where it stayed.

The next morning I hopped the bus back to the airport and flew into Luang Prabang Airport in a small airplane painted with ridiculous boats and clown fish. Upon touching down at the airport I gave the new U2 album its first listen. The opening lick to the cover track “No Line on the Horizon” seemed to perfectly fit the mood of the country I was entering. That fine separation between the tangible and the unknown is shaded in grey here; some days it seems as though the sun isn't sure whether it's supposed to rise or set. The next tune, “Magnificent”, forced a “hell yes” smile across my face as I stepped onto the terrestrial goodness of the land I’d been craving to return to since my first visit in November. As I applied for my entry visa and they reviewed my passport, the third track, ironically titled “Moment of Surrender” began… touché Bono. Then I exchanged money and hit the jackpot. I changed $200, and immediately became a millionaire. Literally. In my pocket was $1.7M Lao kip, I was fucking loaded. I hopped a tuk-tuk towards town and “Breathe” exploded into my eardrums as wind whipped my face and blood and electricity and a hard rain surged through my veins. It was go time.

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