Laos and Cambodia
Published January 10, 2023
I knew a great amount of pain was about to hit me. Pain has a delay to the brain. In that delay I did a lot of analysis and made a lot of decisions.
'Bad, not fatal, not critical, but severe.'
'Yes, I'm ready.'
I was melding dimensions. Jumping realities. It hurt.
The story of this pain -
I was standing on the bed and stepped over the void to the desk chair.
This is where all the fun stuff happened.
As I placed my right foot on the cushioned chair, the chair legs slipped on the slick floor and away we went. I threw my body forward in the air, sacrificing my leg to save everything else.
The wound was deep and it hurt to the bone. It was right on the bone. The tibia was hit. A long, deep slice of flesh had been scraped and stolen away.
In the coming days I would be limping past the prostitutes and other Bangkok street freaks of Sukhumvit.
It wasn't a total disaster, I always made it far enough to get the food and drink I needed to sustain me and even somehow still fucked a girl with one leg offline.
A few days later I packed up, jumped in another 3rd class train carriage and had an uncomfortable ride through the night in a Thai-stuffed train before arriving in Udon Thani the next morning.
In the morning I woke up with that MISSION feeling. I wanted the 'Special Mission' part of this 'An Asia Trip' to begin.
I had two countries left of the nine countries I had planned out for the year -
And I was sick and tired of Thailand. I needed to get out. I would make it to Laos, I would do the bullshit paperwork, I'd get the visa and cross new country nine of the year from my list.
As I walked to the train station in the early morning, the night sky was still painted in place.
Black and soon a dark blue.
I went into the 7-Eleven next to my hotel and ate some microwaved burgers outside on a bench in the warm morning air.
I stuffed some more food in my backpack for later, threw the bag over my shoulders and headed for the train station. I was content. As I walked I appreciated the long colourful stick lights lining the street beside me. I headed forward to the station, forward to Nong Khai, the border and across the river to Laos, my 37th country.
But things were about to get complicated, all thanks to a creature I usually love, and creatures that usually love me...
I saw the two dogs on the pavement ahead of me, one was wearing a colourful hippie-looking coat and facing away from me towards the train station and the other was coatless, rougher and looking straight at me with a blank, fearful suspicion.
I knew what was about to happen and then it did.
The dog shot up as I crossed the street and stepped onto the pavement, he stopped at my side, standing on its hind legs, his front legs stretched up towards me, dancing, dogaroo boxer wanting a fight.
I calmly kept walking and as I passed I felt it, sickening - sharp teeth, a quick snap at the back of my knee.
I kept walking until the dog was at a safer distance, I checked the area of the bite, no broken skin, a mark but not one I could distinguish as a dog bite. But still, it was a bite and there was a mark.
As I bought my ticket at the counter I poured hand sanitizer onto my hand and then onto my leg.
I was reassuring myself...
'It didn't break the skin!'
'I didn't touch my eyes or mouth after I washed it!'
'No salivia got inside me!'
It was no use, when you're trying to convince yourself so much of something, you already know inside you will soon be doing the opposite. I didn't want multiple vaccinations to become a feature of the rest of the trip, but knew quickly that they must. Rabies was rabies, a fucking killer and I wasn't going to take any chances with that.
I put the impending medical search aside for the afternoon and spent the rest of the sunlight ticking off some of the main sights of Vientiane. I left the bus station and walked in the sun to Patuxai, the gate of triumph against the French.
The country around me was full of life and colour and especially in the DETAILS of things.
I hadn't felt this happy in my environment since I left Malaysia weeks ago.
Later in the day, inside my room at the Vientiane Luxury Hotel, my mind refocused on the vaccine plan, I had two choices - head back to Thailand, and most likely Bangkok and get it there or find somewhere in Vientiane.
The thought of heading back to Thailand so soon wasn't appealing, but the terrible reputation when it comes to healthcare for Laos kept in on the table - most of the hospitals and clinics in the city looked dirty, dangerous vectors of disease.
But, the nation of France exists and I like the nation of France, I love the nation of France.
Not only did that weirdo hexagon birth a man who invented post-exposure prophylaxis but that weirdo hexagon just so happened to have a wonderful clinic a twenty minute walk away, that was open, that looked clean, that was just what I needed.
I discarded any thought of Thailand and Bangkok and went the following morning.
I was seen straight away by a young French doctor, and minutes later received my first shot of Speeda by the most perfect nurse in the world...
...she really was a dream, the kind of happy, sweet women you'd pay in diamonds and gold by the fucking bathtub to be your nurse.
It was now - Day 0. There would be a total of four shots needed.
I decided to stay in Vientiane a few more days to get my second shot at the same clinic, a few more days that would eat into my goals of getting Cambodia done before the end of the year and being in Vietnam for New Year's Eve, both of which I really wanted.
I bought a giant bag of mentos at the convenience store and ate fist after fist of them.
Pacing, thinking, scheduling in my mind, running through every possible iteration of the plan from here.
Ants crawled over one of the twin beds in the room, weaving in and out of the folds of the duvet, walls of fabric the size of buildings to them. They marched through my tickets and receipts, my coins and all the other mementos I had built up over the last month and a half.
The hose of the showerhead danced by itself in the bathroom, the swinging motion looking like a ghost teasing me... 'yeah sure, it could just be the water pressure, or it could be ME
, the ancient Laotian ghost moving it with my ancient Laotian ghost hands'
The communist capital outside my windows was silent.
At some point The Plan, that best of all iterations formed.
I had my plan. It knew it could work. But it would require my body take a beating. And, I would have to control time perfectly.
In the morning, I walked to the clinic and got my Day 3 vaccination, went back to the guesthouse, packed up and walked to the main bus station. I jumped on the old bus and headed for the Buddha Park - the last Laotian landmark I wanted to see.
These statues were anothers obsession. Not mine.
I felt no connection to any of it. I spent thirty minutes there before leaving, crossing the road and catching the bus back up the road to the Friendship Bridge.
Back on the Thai side of the border I filled up my backpack with 7-Eleven food and walked the dusty streets to the station avoiding street dogs along the way.
At the station I sat on a wall and watched the sky turn pink, from this spot, Thailand looked beautiful.
I still hadn't connected to it though, the natural beauty was obvious but with the exception of the trains and the streets and beach of Hua Hin and maybe Sukhumvit I still felt nothing but indifference towards the country.
The journey to Bangkok went by quickly, it was all the same at this point. The trains of Thailand I now knew well - the dark night, the odd flash of lights, a railway crossing somewhere, the annoying sounds of feckless people yacking away, the shrieking rumble underneath, the agony scream of metal when going over a bridge, the beauty when the sun comes up... all the same.
I spent the last Thailand hours of this trip between the airport and a hotel near it. I had a day before I would be on a plane to Cambodia. I had another one of my battles with two hotel workers over money, I was right, I won, no need to get into it.
I was tired, I washed my clothes in the tiny bathroom sink and then finished them off with the showerhead. I hung them up to dry and then slept.
In the early morning hours I woke, the room now the blackness of night. I shook off my clothes, got dressed, put my bag on my back, and walked to the airport. I ate some 7-Eleven food, got some USD, had a large meal and then flew off to Phnom Penh.
I made it to Cambodia. New country NINE of the year, DONE! Country 38 - DONE!
My plan was working, my best of all iterations was proving itself.
I was in Cambodia but also another country, a unique floating realm, a nation within a nation, a place called Scambodia.
"No, no, that price was long time ago."
"That was before."
I knew the price. It was 12 dollars and I wanted a 12 dollar ride.
"Okay, I will call my friend and he will take you for 12 dollars."
We sped through the capital towards the bus station where I jumped on a van heading to Siem Reap.
The country outside the window was Cambodia, but as some countries shrink from the imagined reality, Cambodia was expanding, more real, colourful, bolder than the image of it had been in my mind.
In the late afternoon I arrived at my hotel in the center of the city, the room was all dark wood and orange curtains, it looked like a Cambodian hotel room, a copy of The Killing Fields and some tourist video sat beside the TV just in case there was any doubt.
I went out to get some food and bought it back to the room. I could have relaxed next, I could have slept.
I should have been relaxing, I should have been sleeping, not balls deep in some Tinder slut, but I was balls deep in some Tinder slut.
It was mucho extreme. A pure night of hardcore sex.
I was tired anyway. But now, I was more tired. I kicked her out in the middle of the night and focused on getting atleast three or four hours of sleep before before another long day.
In the morning I picked up the phone next to my fluid-drenched bed and arranged a tour with the front desk and was off to Angkor Wat for $16.
Angkor Wat was the only thing I wanted to see, I had no interest in anything else. I didn't want to see the Killing Fields, something I had come to see as exploitative to the many millions killed during the Pol Pot regime, no matter how they dressed it up, stacking human skulls into the air for western tourists to gawk at is fucking tasteless.
Angkor Wat was what Cambodia had to offer me and Angkor Wat is what I wanted.
What. Wat. What. Wat.
The temple itself was smaller, quite smaller than it looked in photos. But, it had a force, a dark, knowing force. Walking across the bridge, clearing the moat was going through a tangled and twisted quantum field. There was something here. A feeling I hadn't felt anywhere else.
It actually felt like sacred ground.
Some bright orange flames, torches illuminating shadows on the walls, black robes and hoods, masks and haunting chants, sacrificial virgin chained atop the central tower. A full moon. Clear skies. Diamond stars watching.
It was my kind of place.
My tuktuk driver waited, I wandered the ruins of Angkor, we sped off to another ancient remnant disappearing into the forest.
After the tour, I packed up, checked out and headed for the bus station. Back in Phnom Penh I slept in a hostel bed for one night and woke up the next morning to catch the bus to Vietnam.
I booked the bus to Ho Chi Min City from my hostel bunk. I had to be at the pickup point in less than an hour. I loaded the location into maps and went speed walking across Phnom Penh towards it.
As I walked along the the main road I saw the pickup bus turn the corner of the street and speed off, the street was a long one and it would stop towards the end of it. FUCK.
I grabbed the straps of my backpack, held them tightly, and started moving my legs. I was running, I rarely run
, but here I was, early morning Phnom Penh, hungry, tired, running towards my dreams. I WOULD GET TO VIETNAM BY NEW YEARS. I WOULD FINISH THIS FUCKING THING. MY BEST OF ALL ITERATIONS.
I'll write more about it in my next post.