The past months have been defined more or less by travels. Trips to Thailand, the south of Laos, Cambodia, Malaysian Borneo, and the north of Laos. Some for work but mostly for fun. Here’s what I have learned about travelling in South East Asia.
Re: Air travel
1. Security and immigration queus are not the only reasons why you should be at the airport two hours before departure. The plane may also be leaving up to one hour early. I had heard of this happening on occasions with domestic flights within Laos, before it happened to me on an international flight out of Pakse in the south of Laos.
2. If a flight is cancelled, it may be a good idea to hang around at the airport as there’s a fair chance that the flight has merely been postponed. Happened to me yesterday on my way back from a work trip to the north of Laos. Good thing we decided to have a late lunch at the little bamboo hut restaurant next to the terminal building, so we could get on the plane a few hours later after a guy ran from the airport to announce that there is a flight after all that day.
Re: Travel by bus/minivan
Bus travel in Lao PDR
1. Seat numbers are meaningless. Worst case scenario, you insist on your assigned seat and find yourself tucked between the driver and another passenger on the front seat of a minivan for six hours; with no leg space to speak of, no seatbelt but with a front row view of the road and all its horrors. Best case scenario, you find your assigned seat occupied but smile at the toothless guy in your seat and continue along the aisle to find a half empty back row of seats. Enjoy the trip (as much as reasonably possible given that the bus is from the 1960s and the road conditions are appalling) in what is probably the best seat in the whole bus with a properly opening window, ample leg space and plenty of space above your head too.
2. Avoid travelling on popular travel days e.g. first and last days of public holidays. Thankfully these words of wisdom spring not from my own experience, but that of a good friend of mine who spent 18 hours on a bus that was meant to take 4-5 hours. With double the amount of passengers allowed on the bus. All of whom had their luggage and at least one big bag of rice. Which naturally were stacked up on the aisle so windows were the only possible exit when the bus stopped for toilet breaks. Or when the bus just broke down (which it did on multiple occasions). Oh joy.
3. Always, always pack travel sickness tablets. Not just for you but also for those silly fellow passengers who are yet unaware of this simple but effective way to take the edge off hours of windy mountain roads. Even if your medicated stomach can take the roads, it’s very difficult to handle a coinciding case of people vomiting around you and sometimes directly on to you. Fact.
Whilst writing this: President Obama has just announced his support for same sex marriage. Apparently this will become a major issue in the presidential elections with roughly half of the American people opposed to gay marriage. This may be a stupid question, but since when did the US President have any say in marriage issues that do not fall under federal legislation? Surely the American people are more intelligent than allowing the election to be defined by single issues like this that are not even part of their president’s job. (For the record I support gay marriage.)
Currently reading: I was quite worried after having finished Shantaram that I will be disappointed with whatever I read next. For a moment I was, when I started to read A Scandalous Man by Gavin Esler. Half way through, I was reasonably happy again. And then I started reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I’d heard about a movie coming out but didn’t really have much of an idea of what I was getting myself into. Honestly the last time I found a book that gripping was when I read the Harry Potter books in my teens (the only time I ever skipped a full day of school to finish reading a book). This time I nearly skipped three consecutive night’s sleep as I was sucked into the world of Panem and had an uncontrollable need to finish the trilogy. How I wish more books would be like this…