- Karma and relaxed -

17th October '11

You can pretty much disregard anything that I've said about Vientiane up until this point. Because void of the festival this is an equally likable, but very different city.

Very forceful prostitutes line the streets (they'll grab you by the wrist and you literally have to fight them off again). A girl got robbed. And where the Hell did all of the vendors go?

Yep, Vientiane outside of festival time bears little reseblence to the city that I fell in love with when I arrived here... but it's just as good now. Seriously. Love this place!

(And not because of the hookers before someone says it.)

Some days, and by some days I mean hangover days, I'll get up. Probably go and sit in a chair for a while. Then maybe I'll go and lay down. Then maybe sniff out a bit of food somewhere before laying back down to sleep it off. Then I'll probably sit in a chair a bit more.

I think this must be what it's like to be retired. This is my perfect life.

One problem with doing fuck-all all day is that it makes it very tricky trying to keep a travel blog. And after a night accidentally clubbing at some place in the hotel coincidentally already in my Vientiane photo album in this picture (and don't ask me to recollect the events of this night. I do remember the small group of us getting harrassed by a homosexual though), that was my day yesterday.

Luckily today I had a day slightly more strenuous.

This was the day that I'd earmarked to go to the appartently first and only "Western gym" here in Vientiane, complete with pool, sauna, steam room, jacuzzi, and spa (massage parlour).

Yep, this one was going to be a bitch of a day.

And after dragging myself out of bed at about 9:30am (I'd only gone to bed at 11pm, so this was big) to be greeted by a hostel breakfast that not only included the usual heart-shaped fried egg and toast as well as fresh Laos fruits, there was also a chicken curry prepared for this morning.

Chicken curry for breakfast is a good way to start the day. We should do it more at home.

Eventually though, after laying down for a bit and sitting in a chair, I manage to pluck-up the energy to start the long and treacherous walk in search of saunas and jacuzzi's and massages. Although very quickly running into a girl who gave me 50,000 kip.

(She owed it to me, which I'll get into a bit later. But still. Even so it still feels like someone's giving me 50,000 kip. This was a tough day.)

Another, I don't know, 30-minutes of leisurely strolling down the streets in my flip-flops later, I'm eventually able to locate this gym that I'm looking for.

Day pass, 45,000 kip. Day pass with massage, 65,000 kip.

I've never had a professional massage in my life. I've barely had a massage in my life. Where else in the world might I find one for 20,000 kip (£1.59)? I'll take the 65,000.

You have to book the time you want it as you go in. And right now was 1pm. And I remember when I used to work out all the time, a cardio, weights, sauna and steam room workout would take a while. Plus there would have to be extra time factored in here for lazing around next to the pool. So I book for 5pm.

They looked at me a bit funny when I booked that far ahead. But I couldn't tell if that was a look of curiosity or just their weird eyes. But 5pm it was. Now... weights.

Fuck me. Fuck me. How do I get so fucking weak and out of shape in such a short space of time?

Thought I could do this for three hours did I? Good luck.

I managed an hour. An hour. Before my body just started to shut-down on me. And fuck getting on a treadmill feeling like this. Sauna and steam room for the next three hours it is.

I know that I've got out of shape whilst I've been travelling. And remedying it is always something that I put off for another time.

Moments like this though, they kind of make you realise that it is time to implement some changes to your lifestyle whilst you're out on the road.

Not major things. But I carry around these stupid resistance cables for fucks sake. Use them once in a while. And just eat better. It's easy in this continent.

I hope that this show of patheticness will finally be the catalyst for me to get off my fat-ass and sort myself out. Because taking a holiday once in a while and letting yourself slide, that's one thing. But when your holiday lasts for months or years (as mine tend to do), then that's something else. That's getting into the territory of affecting your long-term health. So hopefully this demonstration of quite how bad things have got will get me to shift into gear.

For now though, may as well make the most of this sauna and steam room.

Well actually I tried to swim in the pool first. Loosen myself out and work all those places that I'd missed in the weight-room. But quickly realising the potent levels of chlorine in this pool, goggleless, I opted to pass.

So sauna, cold shower, steam room, cold shower, sauna, cold shower, steam room, cold shower it was then.

And my God you have not sauna'd until you've sauna'd in Asia. These people like it hot.

Maybe that's why they're always squinting.

But breaking only for a very reasonably priced bacon sandwich and fries, this was how I filled my three hours.

I don't know if you've ever followed such a routine. But I used to do it everyday when I went to the gym. And... well let's just say that it's about as relaxed as you can ever feel. You aren't ever going to get more relaxed than that.

Oh well. Time for my massage.

I've never had a massage before. So I didn't really know how to do it. Like, what do I wear when I go in there? Do I go in swim shorts? In normal clothes? In a towel?

After a lot of deliberation throughout my three hours of saunaing, I opted for swim shorts, a t-shirt, carrying a towel. That way all bases were covered.

Turns out they give you clothes when you get in there.

I don't really know how to describe a massage outfit.

I'd imagine seeing as most people have got professional massages before, then you know what I'm talking about. But just imagine the kind of clothes that you'd see a leprechaun wearing. And then make them in gay colours.

The ankle-swinging, loose pants that they gave me were pink.

Oh and even better, there was a hole in the crotch. I hadn't banked on that. Because coming in sopping wet swim shorts, I didn't have any underwear. And now I was commando in pink leprechaun pants with a hole in the crotch.

Not like a massive, massive tear. But a big enough hole that my... man could pop out if he really wanted to. So this was kind of playing on my mind for a while as this girl was rubbing my legs.

The other problem of these pants and no underwear, and I know this probably isn't the best thing to say out loud, but what if you get a boner?

However you want to mask it, a massage is quite a sensual thing. I would not want a guy with his hands all over me. And you have a young girl with her hands on you. Semi-straddling you at times (this was a Laos-massage... kind of like a Thai massage, but less well known). Rubbing you.

This wasn't a seedy Thai massage parlour. This was an upstanding place in a Western gym. And there was a guy getting a massage right beside me (French... ugh). So there was no risk of a happy ending or anything (which is why I finally felt comfortable to get a massage here). But that doesn't mean that when a young Laoser girl is rubbing all over you, it's not nice.

Was I supposed to be wearing underwear? Because what happens if I enjoy this too much? There's going to be no hiding me pitching a tent, particularly in these pixie pants. And particularly these pink pixie pants with a hole in the crotch.

That was the main thing that I was focussed on for the first half of this massage. I was just concerned that I might enjoy it too much.

Thankfully I was able to relax myself eventually and it stopped being a worry.

Maybe that's why they make you wear these pants. So they can see if you get a boner and they can go and get a guy to massage you instead. I don't see what other advantage these stupid things played.

And seeing as there is something very sensual about having a girls hands all over you, how is this not almost prositution?

Even without the happy ending.

Like I said, I would not want a guy giving me a massage. Which must indicate that there's some level of sexual enjoyment from it. No genital action or anything, but it's about the closest you can get without it.

I'm just saying. If me and Lilach were still together, I don't know that I'd like here getting a massage from a guy.

A girl would be hot, but a guy? That'd just be weird. Or am I being uptight and living in the 50's.

I was praying that it wouldn't be a guy when I went in there. And I'd been past the spa many times and only seen girls in there. So when there was a guy waiting when I went in a 5pm, my heart kind of stopped. Thank fuck I didn't get him.

A ladyboy maybe I could make my peace with. At least then I could trick myself into thinking that it's a girl. But a full-fledged man...

That'd just be way too homo-erotic for my liking.

Thankfully it wasn't though, and I got this nice yound Lao girl instead. And if anyone tells you that you can't ever be more relaxed that swapping between saunas, steam rooms and cold showers for three hours, they're lying shits.

Honestly, I have not felt that good since... probably since I saw Lilach last. Just, every ache, pain and worry from my life had gone. There was not a thing you could have said to bring me down from floating on the clouds right now.

I was on drugs. But without the drugs. This was like my perfect feeling. My perfect feeling to end my perfect day. I just need to get a good dinner inside me and I'll be in heaven.

So where do you go for perfect dining?

The Taj Mahal.

Not the big palace in India. The little Indian restaurant on the side-street with all the hookers on that I went to the other night.

And man, it was just as good as last time.

No. It was better than last time. I definitely came out this time happier than when I came out last time. Probably nothing to do with the food. But what a fucking amazing day.

I thought that my usual day of chair, bed, food, chair, bed was as good as it gets. But then I had today. And even as I write this blog I'm still floating on air.

That girl in there, she must have magic hands or something. And I kind of feel like I should have given her a tip. But I was a bit worried that all the other masseurs would think that I was paying her for a blowjob or something. And I'm tight.

But wow.

That whole day for 65,000 kip (£5.17). Fucking love Vientiane. Why do people only ever stay here a night?

You know it is a good idea that, happy endings.

Like, no one really wants to sleep with a stranger right. But once you've been talking to someone, been touching them for an hour, you don't exactly feel like strangers. And you're so relaxed that there's probably only one thing that can happen to make you feel even better. So if they just slip in a little "sucky, sucky. Five dollar." I can see how that'd work.

I'm glad that there was a French person nearby so that I didn't feel too horny. Because if not and she'd said that to me feeling as good as I was feeling right then, that would be hard to say no to.

I felt amazing though. What a great day today was. There's not even going to be any point trying to beat it tomorrow, so I'm not going to bother.

I've had the best day. At least the funnest and most relaxing. And seeing as I won't be able to come even close to matching that tomorrow, I need to have a meaningful and depressing day instead. So on probably my last full day in Vientiante, I'm going to finally have the guts to visit the 'COPE centre'. Which from what I understand is basically a centre that works with all the people that have suffered significant injury and amputation thanks to the thousands and thousands of cluster bombs that were dropped on Laos by America during the Vietnam war (fuck America).

And I don't know too much about this. And being here over a week now, I sadly haven't met anyone else who's even been. But what I can gather from the research that I've done is that this is a really moving; depressing but moving insight into the traumas that people in this country suffer from thanks to America. And another of their unjust and illegal wars.

So seeing as I can't have a day anymore fun and relaxing than I had today, tomorrow I'm going to have a day that can't be any more moving and meaningful.

Fuck I love Vientiane though. I cannot fathom why people fast-track through here in order to rush up to Vang Vieng in order to sit drunk in a rubber ring floating down a river with a load of other white people.

Where's the logic? Tell me where the logic is for that? Fucking white people.

There's only one person that I can feel has just reason for disliking Vientiane since I arrived here. And that was the girl that gave me 50,000 kip on the way to the gym earlier.

And the reason that I'd lent her 50,000 kip, was that she'd been robbed and had all of her credit cards and money (about US$800) stolen.

First day of backpacking alone, ever. So I can kind of give her a bye on why she was carrying everything of value on her person in one place. But she learnt a very hard lesson of why you don't do that. And another one of why you don't trust anyone. But basically she'd been deceived into letting someone that she thought that she could trust, hold her things whilst she went into a temple to pray. And before she knew what was going on, he was gone.

Even the muggers here have some conscience and he'd left her camera and passport. But the US$800 and credit cards, he took those. And she walked into the hostel last night clearly in shock. Understandably.

First day backpacking alone ever, and this happens to you. She was borderline hysterical.

What I didn't like though, was that out of the queue of people willing to put their arm around her and comfort her, not one person was willing to dip into her pockets and help her out so that she could afford to eat dinner and have a bed to sleep in.

That bothered me.

It's kind of fruitless comforting isn't it, when you're saying 'there, there, it'll be ok,' but you aren't willing to lend 50,000 kip (£3.96) to someone so that they can sleep and eat, is it not?

Half the people in this place are English. That's barely a bus fare or a beer back home. And you aren't willing to lend, not give but lend an equivilant amount of money to someone so that they can sleep and eat when they're clearly traumatised.

It kind of bothered me that there wasn't one other person in this hostel that was willing to do that. And when I gave her this money she was so thankful, because she said the exact same thing.

As much as everyone had been nice to her, no one was willing to actually help her. And it did kind of sicken me a little if I'm honest.

I know that I have an ulterior motive in that I'm trying to buy karma credits for Lilach for when she starts travelling. But even if not, how can I really let a girl go hungry just so there's £3.96 that's not in my pocket for what turned out to be around 15-hours. Like, where was the pain in me for that, when it meant for her that she could eat.

It just kind of sickened me that people are like that.

I don't see myself as a good person by any means. In my eyes I'm quite black-hearted. But then I come to a place like here and see the white people in action, and I realise that I'm not quite so much of a shit afterall.

Particularly when you consider that most of the people here are just on extended drinking holidays. Even if she doesn't pay it back it's a couple of beers. So what?

I'll say it before and I'll say it again. I'm embarrassed to be white in this part of the world, I really am. Fucking pigs some of these people.

She just needed enough to get by until she could get her family to Western Union some more up to her. And then this morning I see her actively walking the streets looking for me to pay me back.

Is that a bad person? Does she deserve to go hungry and homeless so you can safeguard a future beer?

I don't like a lot of the white people that I encounter down here. And I really do hope for some of them that they find themselves in a similar situation so they know what it feels like to need someone elses help.

Not everyone. I'm not saying everyone's bad. And perhaps I'm buoyed more by my traveller mentality that has in the past included things such as hitch-hiking and couch-surfing where you are wholly reliant on the kindness of others. But what do you have to risk to help someone? £3.96?

Is that not money worth paying just to feel good about yourself? I would be willing to pay that money just to go to bed with a clear conscience. And this was a loan, no more.

The Hell is wrong with some people?

That'd be all that I change about Vientiane. Get rid of all the fucking white people.

Like I say, there's not too many whom choose to reside here for more than a night. But get rid of them anyway. Ethnically cleanse this place. That's what Vientiane needs. That'd make this city even more perfect.

I do take comfort in hearing from a lot of these people who weren't willing to help this girl out, that a large number of them got robbed recently on their first-class bus North from Bangkok.

As seems typical with Asia, robberies are deceptive rather than forceful. And apparently there's been someone stowed in the baggage-hold of these buses, who proceeds to go through all the bags whilst it's in transit and remove all the valuables. Of which of course are unrecoverable.

Well you don't get that in third-class, I can tell you. And maybe that's karma pre-empting you all acting like dicks when you get up here.

I feel bad for people losing things and I probably shouldn't jinx it because it'll happen to me next. But it does bring a rye smile to my face hearing such stories from such people, I must say.

I'm probably jinxing myself to Hell right now. But in reading back over a couple more of my Bolivia blogs, one thing that I kept on repeating is that I felt that my luck must have been about to run out. That I was about to get mugged or my bus held-up or something.

Still hasn't happened.

Is that because I'm inadvertantly a good person? Is that because I'm lucky? Is that because I'm vigilant?

This girl was on her first day of backpacking ever. US$800. Gone. Dumb English people on their dumb first-class sleeper buses. Money, cards, cameras, iPods. Gone.

Me... nothing. All my travelling and nothing.

Jinxed it now so I will get shot in the face tomorrow. But is that karma because I'm not as much of a shit as some of the people here? Is that my never-ending luck continuing? Is that my savvy and vigilence?

I (hopefully) get my China visa in a couple of days, and although I'd love to, I don't plan on hanging-around Vientiane any longer. So I might just get to find out.

The previous plan I know, was Vang Vieng. And I still might do that, I'm not sure. It's just that I don't want to.

Every fucking white person in this continent goes to Vang Vieng to slide down the river on a rubber ring. And I feel that I should do it just because everyone else does. Even though it sounds my idea of a personal Hell.

Will I or won't I?

I'll probably decide on Wednesday.

After there though, I've been incredibly, incredibly organised for me. And perhaps aided by all of my chair time, I've planned out all of the places that I want to go in Laos en route to China.

If I don't go to Vang Vieng, my next stop will be Luang Prabang. And after that I have Nong Khiaw, Muang Ngoi Neua and Udoxmai to Boten on my list (the last two as necessary transit stops).

But wow. When have I ever been that organised?

I was going to write today about what I expect from China as well. But maybe it'll be best to wait until I actually have my visa until I'm willing to exert such energy.

And by that I mean a couple of girls just went to the shop to buy me a beer. And how do you make this day any better?

Add beer.

Assuming that I don't do any writing tomorrow, this will most likely be my last blog in Vientiane (yeah right). So Wednesday will likely consist of a morning bus to Vang Vieng once I've picked up my passport. Or a night-bus to Luang Prabang, depending on if I decide to torture myself with Vang Vieng or not.

And if this really is the end of Vientiane...

I'm going to be a little choked up to leave this magical city.

Even without the festival this still reminds me of a La Paz of Asia. And I love La Paz and I live La Paz. And it's such to the detriment of the others that come here (or much to my advantage that there's less of them) that every other white person only stays a night.

This is my eighth and I don't want to leave.

Ah well. Hopefully their bus gets robbed and they become homeless anorexics on the streets on Vang Vieng. There'll be some poetic justice right there.