Many years ago, I found a text file of "things to do when you’re bored", one of which was "Make up a language and ask people for directions in it." I got a taste of how that might go today.
Robin and I decided to visit the Buddha Park, which is apparently a quirky ferro-concrete tourist attraction built in the 60s. It’s in Tha Deua, 27km from Laos, so the cheapest sensible way to get there is by bus. The bus station is 2km from the city centre, so we rented bikes for the day and I bought a map.
By the time we reached the bus station, I had decided I’d like to ride to the park, so I set off. The first half (or so) of the ride was uneventful. Traffic in Laos is slow, patient, and used to dealing with slower 2-wheeled vehicles since some of the locals ride bikes and many more ride motos.
Then I reached a fork in the road, labeled only with the names of a few temples that were not on my map. The fork also wasn’t on my map, but neither was a roundabout a few km back (which was labeled with Tha Deua so OK.) I took the paved side of the fork, and the paved side of another fork a few km later.
It was a pleasant ride, and definitely off the beaten track. I was the only white person in sight. People waved from streetside shops and restaurants and yelled "hello!" I saw people of all ages riding motos and bicycles, including school children and monks. There were many schools and temples along the road, the only structures that didn’t appear grey and run down.
I was beginning to worry if I was going the right way, so I asked a man at a roadside shop for directions to Tha Deua or the Friendship Bridge (to Thailand, on the way to Tha Deua.) He was completely unable to understand what I meant, and the same held for everyone else I asked. I rode along the road some more but without much hope – I had ridden far enough that I definitely should have reached the Friendship Bridge by now if not Tha Deua.
When the pavement ran out, I turned around. Shortly thereafter, a 12 year old on a Honda Wave pulled alongside me and asked "where you going?" I again tried to ask for directions to Tha Deua or the Friendship Bridge but he only looked at me blankly and said "sorry." He rode alongside a bit longer, then said goodbye and pulled away.
On the way back, I stopped at a stand selling pressed sugarcane. This is a green/yellow drink served in a bag of ice with a straw, produced by running sugarcane pieces through a motor-driven press. It has a strange taste that I didn’t really like, as well as being very sweet (instant sugar rush, moreso than I’ve had with any cola or sports drink.) It was worth a try though, especially since it cost me the equivalent of 25Â¢.
So oh well. Robin phoned me from the park, wondering where I was. We’re meeting up at the guesthouse when she gets back, and if she recommends seeing the park, I’ll take the bus out there early tomorrow. If not, it was still a fun ride so no loss!
(Entry written March 18, 2010)