Thursday, May 15, 2014

Spa Days in Vieng Thong

We took a bus west from Sam Neua, on our journey out of Laos. The first stopover was Vieng Thong, where we took our first shower in five days. Yes, it had been too cold to shower.

Vieng Thong has this hot spring, and it was a miracle after the frigid north. All we really did was flop around in the warm water and soft-boil our eggs in the hot springs, which emitted sulfurous burps every once in an odd while. Might have been because everyone and their three adorable sons cooked their eggs in the spring. Those three boys, no older then ten, came jumping over the rocks with a plastic bag of eggs on a stick, which they stuck into the water entire and waited for impatiently, asking every once in a while with a poke whether it was done yet (no). I asked them whether they came every day to cook, and they said yes; their mother followed not far behind with an enormous basket of greens and long green eggplants. It must be such a blessing to have a free source of cooking heat.

The view from the bridge.

Look at how much algae grows here! And how green!
The road to the hot spring is dotted with open-air shacks on one side, selling papaya salads and roasted tidbits, and both times we passed it we were invited to have a beer with a group of young Laos. (Frankly everyone was much nicer in Vieng Thong than in frigid Sam Neua, with the exception of our favorite Jeep-driving furniture dealer, and I think it has to do with the year-round presence of warm water. It made me so much happier to be warmer, and I was just there for two days). The second time, this young man invited us to play petang, the local spin on p├ętanque, with his sister. We'd played the night before, at a beer place that definitely didn't sell food but had four petang courts. We suspected it was a drinking game. I would like to remind you that this is a game where you throw lead balls underhand.

When we played the second night, we knew. These are the rules: you take a drink of beer every time you don't get your ball closer to the little orange ball than your opponent's ball. This happens pretty often when you are bad at petang. We... have been soberer.

Our petang sponsor.

Possibly the dweebiest sport, when Phil plays.

My team won. Phil's lost.
The last place I want to mention in Laos before we leave this fair country for Northern Thailand (again) is Nong Khiaw, where we didn't really do anything besides meet a very cute, very little, very mouthy puppy; take pictures from the huge bridge; and catch a hilarious minivan. It was parked in front of our guesthouse, and the driver looked like he'd been waiting for us. "You're going to Udomxai?" he said. "We are, how did you..." It turns out his friends at the bus station had told him some farang were looking for a ride to Udomxai; he said he was the only vehicle heading that way today. "No bus." It sounded suspicious, but as soon as we hopped into the beautiful, new leather seats, and our driver turned on the speakers to the dulcet sounds of N*SYNC, we knew that fate had brought him to us.

Also, twenty minutes out of town we picked up a Vietnamese guy, who sat behind us, and then apropos of nothing, stopped playing loud Bejeweled and told Phil that he saw him yesterday in Nong Khiaw. "At the restaurant," he said, and showed us his phone. Indeed, there was a photo of Phil, at the restaurant, sitting in front of his laptop. It was a little weird, but all over Laos people were asking to take our pictures. These three girls at the hot springs asked to take a picture with me and then rotated through all three phones and all three of them. We felt like STARS.

The very cute, very little, very mouthy puppy.
"Wha... what did I do? Mai khao jai."

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