Top RR, sir. Hope you'll permit a reminiscence...
Exactly 22 years ago today, I was in Lao, for the second time in a year. The first was a week after the Berlin Wall had come down in '89, when Vientiane was still crawling with CIA and KGB, there were no cars or even motorcycles to speak of. Everyone had pushbikes or hoofed it, and there were a few Soviet and one or two Japanese transport trucks around. I had been travelling for two years (S Pac, NZ, OZ, Indo, Mal, Thai) and was a bit jaded. But all of that melted away when I crossed the Mekong in a little bum boat to the Lao immig. checkpoint. The only guy on earth who could get you a Lao visa owned the Mut Mee Resort on Nong Kai.
My first trip I hitchhiked Vientiane to Luang Prabang, stayed at the Hotel Phousi, ate rat, cat, dog, bird, pangolin, christ knows what else along the way. It was all very tasty -- though the split dog-skull soup I'd call an acquired taste.
Second trip I hitched all the way to Xam Neua, via Ponsavan. Still have a .50 cal bullet on my desk that I found out at the Plain of Jars. Then the road NE to Xam Neua -- with those 6-man caves carved into the cliffs by Pathet Lao to avoid the US air attacks as they marched south. The scenery was so out there -- that karst, the 4,000 ft vertical walls of Swiss cheese over jungle. The Xam Neua police chief joined me and a Yank anthropologist on assignment whom I was travelling with -- told me I was the first tourist to make it there since the French had left. Not sure how true that might've been, but it wasn't too hard to believe at the time.
Lao was so extreme every minute and to every sense... getting super drunk with 7 Russian filmmakers, having a Viet trucker in Vientiane try to sell me uranium he said he had in a briefcase downstairs in my hotel, discovering by accident the crazy-potent sticky weed avail in the morning mkt for a buck an oz, getting shot at by anti-communist rebels near Muang Kasi, hearing rumours of MIAs, drinking Beer Lao every night, eating sticky rice with aged fermented fish paste (that looked, smelled and tasted like fresh dogshit) while getting drunk on lau lao whisky at 6am with truckers who'd picked me up, seeing a wrecked US fighter in a village a few hours south of XN, a guy in Kasi trying to sell me his 12 yr old daughter...
Sorry, lost in memories. Always thought it would be great to do the place up on a 125 dirtbike, much as you are, but in those days, too many bombees, etc. to go offroad safely.
Loved The Ravens, Air America, and Backfire. Met an ex-Raven in Changi Sailing Club in S'pore once. He told me much stuff the books don't.
Ok, enough stealing of thunder here. Back to you...