As many of you know, I spent the winter of 2011 traveling around SE Asia. I started in Thailand, where I spent 6 weeks. My mom met up with me at the end of that time in Chiang Rai, which is in the far north of Thailand and is part of the Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Laos and Burma meet.
I had learned from a friend that I could take the slow boat down the Mekong, starting in Thailand and ending in Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage site and city in Laos. My mom was up for the adventure, so once she landed in Thailand there was no time to get settled. We just picked up the next day and headed out for the boat.
My mother is an intrepid traveler. She doesn’t need all the creature comforts, and neither do I. My basic requirements are a room in a building, and indoor plumbing. I definitely had some adventures with discomfort while I was traveling through Thailand, mostly involving mosquitoes and other insects in my rooms. But my mom didn’t care about insects. She was worried about rats. She’d read stories about the town where we would be staying – Pak Beng – being infested with rats. She didn’t want to take any chances, so I made sure to book a room in advance that had high ratings and most importantly, NO RATS.
The only rat we saw in Pak Beng ended up being a stuffed toy belonging to a child in the hotel where we stayed.
But on to the meat of this particular story. In non-English speaking countries where they depend heavily on tourist dollars, I’ve encountered quite a range of facility with English, particularly in the service sectors. Most people stick to the few scripts that lubricate their business. Their English is far better than my ability to speak their languages, and for that I’m always always always grateful.
I give you this background so you will understand what happened next. Our boat pulled into Pak Beng late in the afternoon. Pak Beng exists for the sole reason of providing lodging and respite to the people riding the boats down the river. We checked in to our hotel, keeping an eye out for rats, and then went to find a place for dinner. Each spot looked the same, so I have no idea how we picked the place we did. It was filled with people, as they all were. We got a table and a young and exuberant fellow took our order. We were famished. There hadn’t been much to eat on the boat, so we were looking forward to a full dinner. After we placed our order we waited. And waited. AND WAITED …
I didn’t blame the waiter, there were large tables that were rowdy and needed more attention. But I finally got desperate and got the waiter’s attention to ask about our order. He was bopping around the restaurant amongst the tables and he glanced at me, his memory jogged. “Oh yes! Your fucking spring rolls!” he exclaimed, full of delight. My mom and I, despite our hunger, broke into laughter at the incongruity of his language with the situation and emotion.
To this day his response makes me laugh.
Here’s my mother the next morning, clutching her bag of bananas, before we boarded for the second day:
The wooden benches on day 2:
You can see a few more pictures here.