We experience a distinctly different slice of the SE Asian cultural and geological experience. Luang Prabang is far more rural, rustic, and quaint, than Chiang Mai, a town rather than a small city. And Laos is not Thailand, its total population less than the population of Bangkok, and there are no obvious sex workers to be seen, no high heels, no open bars, and no short skirts. There are more people riding bicycles, more monks, more children playing in the streets, more mountains, and dirt roads everywhere. The Mekong River and the Nam Khan River are visible boundaries to the town. The markets are smaller. You can find fresh French bread and pastries. The prices are slightly higher. The area surrounding the town is comprised of subsistence agricultural villages.
Joy’s son Loren meets us at the one runway airport in LPB and we drink a Lao beer to celebrate our trio’s unlikely connection. We take a cab into LPB and mark our arrival with a group photo as the sun settles over the Mekong. We drink a Lao beer (one beyond my usual quota). The guesthouse we choose to stay in has a very family-like feel to it, with pictures of kids, and weddings, and an old black and white of Uncle Ho Chi Minh in 1925 standing with a group of other men, some of whom the guesthouse owner names for us, but whose names and faces I do not recognize. In town some older buildings bear fading red hammer and sickles on their facades. A quite adequate room for the three of us in the guesthouse costs 20$ a night, with free bananas and Nescafe in the morning. We take off our shoes on entering all buildings except the post office and a coffee shop named Joma’s. We go out for dinner and drink a beer.
When I reflect on these first two full weeks - only two weeks?! – of travel I cannot find an integrated sense of what I am doing or seeing. I am “in” the experience for sure, but I cannot describe what it is other than “travel,” or why I am doing it, or what it is doing me. The long overnight fourteen hour train ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, for example, an experience I had anticipated and focused on for at least a year because of the psychic and symbolic significance I ascribed to it, and that in fact absolutely thrilled and enthralled me, is now as if but a memory. The mountains in the mist brought my tears have passed. The company of my son, emerging ever more fully from his chrysalis, and the many, many gifts I have been given are all present and real, but also somewhat intangible and occasionally surreal, feelings and sensations more than things that can be possessed. In LPB Sam finds yet another engaging basketball game, Loren a massage, and I start reading The Alchemy of Desire, whose imaginary main character compels me.