I took the “SUPER VIP” bus (which broke down) out of Luang Prabang at 8am this morning and arrived back in Vang Vieng in time for a late lunch. I’m overjoyed to be here; this is such a fantastic place. My arrival here was vastly different from last time; this time it seemed like everything was there to welcome me back. When I return to the same riverside bungalows, the owners wife hugs me and is ecstatic to see me. Okay! The two frenchmen are still on the porch of their bungalow smoking joints; virtually nothing has changed in the week that I’ve been gone. I have yet to visit the bar/restaurant which I went to the entire week that I was here last time – the pleasure of their surprise to see me will be mine this evening.
Shortly after my arrival I walked into town to say what’s up to Wayne, the proprietor of the internet shop which I frequented when I was last in Vang Vieng. I’ve hung out with him for most of today and I’ll spill most of what I know which is interesting.
Wayne is a 38 year old Chinese Malay entrepreneur from Singapore engaged to an 18 year old Lao girl he met a month ago. He made a boatload of cash in Taiwan selling counterfeit cell phone batteries and moved to Vang Vieng and started an internet shop, but he has wild ambitions and a good sense of business which I feel is sorely lacking in this particular corner of tropical paradise. He rents a space for $80/month and recently renovated the place for $1,200 which included new walls, furniture, ceiling, all kinds of shit. It took a month and he employed four local guys to do the work; they worked all day, hammering this or sawing that, getting paid $100 a month. Here’s where I come in, though.
A week before I arrived, he made the decision to expand his business. He offers MP3’s to travellers at the cost of $1 an album. People passing through sort through a list of albums available, pass him their iPod, and he copies whatever they want. This is a genius idea which would land you in jail in about 20 minutes in America, but is no problem over here. I saw a poster advertising this new feature in the window and walked inside to inquire and find out what the deal was. Well, this guy has a thing or two to learn about efficiently pirating intellectual property, and I was in a unique position to advise him while he offers me free internet and local insider information. I set him up with the software he needs to copy music from iPods (iTunes disallows this), so now he copies music from other peoples iPods as they pay him to add music to theirs, instead of his mainstay which has been Soulseek. (vastly inefficient by comparison). So we hang out and talk about this or that, Singapore or China, computers or music, or whatever. Today he closed the shop and took me to a local guys house for lunch; the guy is a Norwegian who sold his house in Spain and moved here, acquiring a guest house which he manages. He was joined by his son who’s a Norwegian hip hop MC and another guest house proprietor, this one Irish with an attitude. The plot of land that the Norwegian has staked for himself is unbelievable, with a flawless postcard view of vast mountains over snake-like river. We sat and talked for a few hours while he served home made ice cream made into floats; he also has a coffeeshop which serves drinks. As the sun was starting to set, his Vietnamese wife arrives, says hello, and goes straight to the kitchen. Twenty minutes later she sets a giant bowl of boiled snails onto the table, with some kind of sauce, and toothpicks to pry the snails out of the shells with. That was a first; the snails themselves have very little taste, hence the sauce that you dip them in. They were straight out of the Mekong, that afternoon.
I returned to the bungalows and spent a few hours catching up with Ellele and Jeremy on the porch of their bungalow, smoking joints with them as they also do. I’m surprised that they’re still there in the same place, but I can’t blame them for not being in a rush to leave. This place is wonderful. Thoughts of starting business here have come into my mind across the span of the last two weeks, and I’ll be keeping it in mind for a while.
The sunset was beyond words, and even the two frenchmen said they hadn’t seen one like that since they’ve been here. I went to the deck on the riverside restaurant to take some photographs and video of the sunset where I met a German couple. I spoke with them for about thirty minutes, as the girl seemed to laugh at everything I said. Either she was flirting with me, or she’s had some happy shakes. Either way, it resulted in entertaining conversation as we touched over the German election, travel in Laos, and DJ’ing in China.
Wayne is copying everything new he’s gotten onto my iPod which will soon be filled with who knows what. Apparently a lot of french and Isreal music in Hebrew. Anything new and different is good.
An hour ago a customer was here in the shop who introduced himself as Mark, from England. A few minutes of conversation reveal that he’s just been in China, Dali in Yunnan province, to be exact. I asked if he’d been to Bad Monkey, the bar owned and managed by my friend Scotty who lives half of the year in Chengdu. Turns out he was there for a week and they’d become good friends, being from the same district in London. I don’t have Scotty’s email address, so on my way back to Chengdu I’ll pay him a surprise visit.
My flight to Kunming, Yunnan province China, leaves on the 28th at 6:30am. I’ll fly there and then take a bus to Dali, and after that, find my way north to Chengdu. I can’t wait to return to China because I love that place, but I’m simultaneously grieving my departure from Laos, and most specifically, Vang Vieng.
I will be back.