They say that in Laos, you can expect your pulse rate to drop significantly, and remain at steady, slow, resting pace for the duration of your stay in the country.

I don’t know how the next couple of weeks will go, but it feels already that my pace has changed from constant fight or flight mode to peaceful laziness. It’s just wonderful.  If this is going to last through my whole time in Laos, I will be delighted.

Kate and I braved the border crossing into Southern Laos, where, of course, we were ripped off for $4 of “stamping fees” and almost left behind by our bus in Kampuchea. We were hardly surprised, and actually we had spent the evening prior reading horror stories of scams on the trip from Siem Reap to Laos, so we were in fact expecting it. When we watched the bus leave behind a Spanish couple because the previous bus driver had taken their tickets and given them phony ones instead, we were appalled at how heartless the scamming is.
We had gotten off of our first bus for an apparent toilet break. I came back from the toilet, and Kate was lugging her bag off the bus.

“What are you doing? Are we changing buses?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said, “we’re changing here. The pregnant lady said so.” She nodded towards a food stand where a pregnant lady stood selling potato chips and something that looked like mashed up chicken. I couldn’t quite see the connection between the pregnant lady and our bus arrangements, but I’ve learned not to ask questions in Southeast Asia. I grabbed my backpack found a tree to sit under for some shade.

As we went to board the next bus, that’s when the scam hit. It easily could have been us left behind in the middle of absolute nowhere, Cambodia; it only wasn’t us because they by chance gave us the “right” ticket (I have saved this ticket stub, and I will frame it when I get home). How are you ever supposed to know what ticket the next bus driver is going to ask for? They could hand you a purple slip with scribble on it, and you’d have to take it and hope it’s a bus ticket. In the case of a Spanish couple in line behind us, they wanted them to pay $20 each (which was the cost of the ticket they already paid for). As they (and I) protested and begged the ticket man on our new bus, the bus started to drive away. Without saying goodbye, Kate and I jumped on the bus, and spent the next 2 hours replaying what had just happened to those two poor people, who spoke very little English, and were stuck in the middle of nowhere.

We crossed the border with great relief to be out of Cambodia. I’m sure it’s a lovely country, once you get out of the touristy areas, but without time or patience–both of which are running low for me–I didn’t get to find out.

Stopping along the road for some tasty Cambodian treats, my last hurrah in Cambodia was creepy and crawly:

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When the bus finally dropped us off across the border, we took a boat to a nearby island on the Mekong river, called Don Det.  We spent three nights in a lovely riverside bungalow, laying in hammocks and watching the peaceful sunsets. Pulse rate immediately plummets into quiet calm, and the face can’t help but smile.

On the bus that took us across the border, we met a guy from the U.S., a guy from Germany, and a woman from Germany. The five of us formed a small group of friends, spending our days together tubing on the river and kayaking on overpriced tours that promised fresh-water dolphin sightings. We saw the dolphins, but the high-speed kayak guides hardly made the trip enjoyable. Either way, the friendships made and laughter shared made it just another day in paradise.

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The first day, Leif (pronounced “Life”) and I drank a “happy shake,” which tasted like heaven: oreos, ovaltine, whole milk, banana, ganja and ice. We laid on tubes in the river and just smiled, not saying anything, but soaking in the sun. It was too nice.

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(don’t worry, Mom, the “happy shakes” are safe and mild.  Everything in moderation, right?)

The island was incredible. It was just what I needed after Cambodia–to lay back and do nothing at all besides watch the pink sun going down and laugh at the fact that our shower was home to a colony of ants and used river water. The only tourists on the island are burnt out hippies, who smile and nod quietly when you walk on by.

I think the only thing that did manage to increase my heart rate, and probably the heart-rate of the other restaurant patrons around me, was when I reached for my mojito last night to find a gecko poking it’s head through the mint leaves and ice and looking at me from over the rim of the glass. I let out a scream that Kate describes by telling me she closed her eyes and couldn’t hear anything for 30 seconds afterwards.

Besides that and the praying mantis on the table the night before, the mood was calm. Sometimes, I’d go into a restaurant with Kate and feel like we shouldn’t talk at all because everyone was laying on mats on the floor reading books in silence and sipping their fruit shakes. It is a place where internet is unnecessary, and time seems to warp in a completely irrelevant fashion.  When I woke Kate up this morning at 9 to catch the 11 am bus, it was only because I knew that if we didn’t leave today, we probably wouldn’t leave tomorrow…or the next day…or the next.

But we’re on our way to more lovely places in Laos, and part of traveling involves not getting stuck on islands with siren songs of enchantment.

But hey, you know what?  I’m typing this and trying to concentrate on the blissful past couple of days, but I’m having a hard time focusing because we are now in the midst of another ridiculous episode of the Adventures of Anoush and Kate while on a bus in Southern Laos.

We boarded the bus to the next town North, and found our seats. Just as the bus was filled nearly to capacity and ready to take off down the road, three horribly smelly, atrociously dressed (or actually, one was just in his spandex underpants, so I can’t really say “dressed”) men boarded the bus.

“CZECHOSLOVAKIA!” the oldest, shirtless man yelled, as he cheers’d up to the ceiling of the bus, spilling foam on unprepared tourists.

“Oh my God,” Kate said, in horror, as they sat down in the only remaining open seats beside and behind us.

It wasn’t long before Kate was fighting with them in Czech, after they had decided to start touching us with their cold wet hands that they repeatedly used to fish beers out of the cooler.  They had no boundaries or respect for anyone on the bus, and it was clear that this was going to be an uncomfortable ride.  At first, Kate tried to ignore them, and didn’t let on that she speaks their language.  But after they crossed multiple lines, including taking a photo of me and zooming in on my chest as they gave me the thumbs up, Kate blew her cover and tried to reason with them.  Currently, this guy is stroking my hair as I ignore him and try to continue typing…

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It turns out that they’re the most appalling people in the universe.

They parked their giant red cooler filled with beer and whisky in the aisle of the bus, and proceeded to drink heavily for the next two hours while singing songs in Czech about sex and prostitutes. They explained to Kate that they have been drunk every day for the past 2 months in SE Asia, having sex with 15-year old prostitutes. One man explained that he didn’t know what happened to his pants, but that the must have fallen off.  The other said that he had been having relations with a young prostitute who he thinks was very ill–she was covered in a skin rash.  He thought this was funny.

Another guy on this bus had a coconut that he spoke to, almost exclusively. I’m not surprised by much anymore. It’s things like these that make me getting thrown out of a hotel sound pretty reasonable.

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Our laid-back days on Don Det significantly improved my attitude.  I have put the Cambodian absurdities behind me and I’m making my way through Laos smiling and enjoying the lack of tuk-tuk drivers.  Actually, I haven’t seen a tuk-tuk yet in Laos.  What more could I ask for?

I love it here, even as I sit next to the smelly and inappropriately clad Czech men.  It could always be worse, right?