Life Is Like A Box Of Chocolates

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This blog entry about the events of Tuesday, December 07, 2004 was originally posted on December 11, 2004.

DAY 416:  I am going to parallel this entry to scenes and quotes from the movie Forrest Gump, a movie I will assume most of you have seen (perhaps not as often as I have), since certain elements of the day set itself up for it.  (Besides, I can’t think of another angle for the day.)  It started the night before when I saw an unexpected familiar face.

Jenny!  “Hey, I know you,” I called out to one of the two Swedish girls I met in Chiang Khong that I bumped to on the main street in Luang Prabang.

“Oh, hello!”

“I thought you were going trekking up north.”

“Yeah, but we met a journalist who told us we couldn’t because of the conference in Vientiane.”

“Oh, that’s over.”

“Yeah, now we know.”

She was like an angel with her bright Keira Knightly smile.  We chat for a bit on the sidewalk and again we went together like peas and carrots.  I almost forgot her friend Karin was standing right next to her when I asked her out for dinner.

“So what are you doing now?  Have you eaten?”

“Yeah, we just ate,” she answered.  “We are going to the internet.”

“Oh, I just came from the internet.”

“We can meet for drinks after?”

“Yeah, okay.”

“We just got here, do you know of a place?”

I thought about places in town.  “There’s the Indochina Spirit Restaurant,” I answered.  “They have live music.  Live Lao music.”

“Oh, I think I know where it is,” she said.  “Why do you say ‘Indochina?’ (pronounced indo ch-eye-na)

“Oh right.  Indochina.”  (pronounced indo ch-ee-na)  Me and my long American vowels.

“Yeah Indoch[ee]na.  You call it Indoch[eye]na?”

“Have you seen Pulp Fiction?”

“Yeah.”

“They say Indoch[eye]na.”

“I don’t remember that part.”

“We’ll just be French and say Indochine.”  (indo sheen)

We planned to meet a half hour from then, but soon two hours went by as I sat alone at a table at Indoch[ee]na Spirit with a plate of deep fried bananas and a tall Beerlao.  Jenny was a no-show, either because she couldn’t find the place (it was four blocks off the main strip), or because she simply stood me up.  Oh well, I thought without much remorse.  Out of sight, out of mind.  We never swapped e-mails so out of contact too.

The next morning I boarded the bus towards Phonsavanh, one step closer to Vietnam.  Bye bye Jenny.  They sendin’ me to Vietnam.  It’s this whole other country.


“[TAKEN,]” SAID THE MAN in Lao.

“[Taken,]” said another.

“Is anyone sitting here?” I asked a group in the back.

“Yeah.”

Taken.  I was foolish to upload a Blog entry that morning instead of getting to the bus station early as recommended.  All the seats for the bus to Phonsavanh were occupied already (picture above).

Then, a lone traveler moved his bag for me to sit next to him.  You can sit here if you want.  His name wasn’t Benjamin Beauford Blue, nor did people call him Bubba.  People called him Gakuji as he was a 23-year-old Japanese backpacker from Tokyo on his second month of a proposed year around the world.  He was quiet for the first half of the journey, hiding behind his sunglasses, but after lunch was a bit more social.

“What are you writing?” he asked me.

“Just my journal,” I said.  Eventually the proverbial floodgates were opened and I revealed my extensive travel history.  Gakuji was amazed and I became the answer to many of his questions for his onward travel.


THE ROAD TO PHONSAVANH was finally “off the beaten path” of southeast Asia.  The more common trail for a backpacker leaving Luang Prabang was to head to the popular hippie haven of Vang Vieng, a town I was told by Blogreader PC and German Michael (from the day before) that I could skip if I was looking for a more authentic Lao experience.  Although Vang Vieng did have some historical points-of-interest, primarily it was just the base for backpackers to get high on opium and go inner-tubing down the river.  Those people often skipped Phonsavanh since it was so out of the way from the other big cities of the northern Lao tourist trail, but for me, it’d take me one step closer to the Vietnamese border.

With that said, there weren’t many options to get to Phonsavanh; there was just one daily public bus that left at 8:30 a.m. promptly from Luang Prabang’s southern terminal.  My Laotian adventure continued as we drove eastbound; in a seat ahead of me, I noticed a guy concealing a rifle in a duffel bag.

Uh, what’s going on here?

When we stopped for our first pee break on the side of the mountain road in the middle of nowhere, I saw that there was nothing to worry about; the rifle belonged to the sentry who stood guard as we peed in the bushes.  It was a good thing too, because the road to Phonsavanh went across the Xieng Khouang province, a territory the US State Department had issued a travel advisory for, due to its ongoing armed rebel and bandit assaults.


BY FOUR IN THE AFTERNOON (90 minutes ahead of schedule) we arrived safely at Phonsavanh’s week-old new bus terminal, which wasn’t in the guidebooks yet and threw us off guard since it was 4 km. out of the city center where the old station used to be.  Gakuji and I met two other solo travelers, Sarah from Birmingham, UK and Werner, arguably the most distinctive looking old Austrian man I’ve seen (and I’ve seen Arnold Schwarzenegger once at a New York book signing).  I’m not quite sure what the term is for his facial hair style; but it wasn’t quite a beard, not quite a handlebar moustache.  It was a long curly white beard and moustache, but it didn’t exactly connect to his side burns.  There was a strip of skin the width of a razor exposed under his lip.

With his distinct look was a distinct personality.  Once a military man (let’s say he’s Lieutenant Dan for all intents and purposes of the Forrest Gump reference), he was now a teacher in a classroom.  He had a quirky outgoing demeanor with a quirky Austrian voice like the scientist in the old Woody Woodpecker cartoon, and Gakuji and I soon learned he was quite the penny-pincher.

“How much to the guesthouse?” Werner asked a tuk-tuk driver.

“Ten thousand.”

“Oh, that’s too much!  Let’s go.”

Five thousand kip, then four thousand kip.  As we walked towards the exit of the station the tuk-tuk driver prices decreased.  “It’s too much!” he’d call out as he headed for the minivan on the end which quoted him (so he said) 1000 kip, even though I heard 2000.  The minivan took the four of us to a guesthouse in town, which unfortunately was full by the time we got there.  I paid the 2000 for the ride.  “He told me one thousand!” Werner said in his Austrian accent.  He shoved a 1000-kip note in the guy’s hands and walked off without looking back.

Gakuji, Sarah and I followed the lieutenant down the block to another guesthouse where got rooms; my Japanese “Bubba” and I shared a big one with two beds.  We all met up at the restaurant downstairs and chat with the house owner who informed us on the tour options to see the famous archaeological sites in the area.  The price depended on the amount of people, and the lowest he’d go for our international quartet was $7/person, excluding entry fees.

“Oh, it’s too much!” Werner said.  It was becoming his catch phrase.  “We have to find the Germans.”  He was referring to a German couple from the bus that went another way in town, and was determined to find them to make our group discount bigger.  He marched out into town with the determination of a hunter.


PHONSAVANH, FOR SOME REASON, reminded me of a small sleepy southern California town, with its Spanish-looking French-influenced houses, the typical kind of southern France in the 1920s and 30s.  There wasn’t much to the central part of town; it was just one main dusty road with a couple of shops and a few side streets attached to it.  After settling into our room, Gakuji and I went wandering to find an internet cafe down the road when we saw Werner walking back towards us with a grin on his face peering from behind his facial hair.  He raised five fingers.

“Five dollars,” he said.  He had negotiated a price with a different tour company and had bargained down the price as long as he got us to join that moment.  I ran off and got Sarah and we signed up with our passport numbers for the registration form.  Later on, Werner tracked down the Germans and added them to the list.

“Five dollars is a lot of money here,” Werner explained to us as we walked back to the guesthouse.  “[Laotians] are told that five dollars is nothing to us, so they say seven or eight so they can raise their standard of living.  But it’s too much!”


IN FORREST GUMP, Bubba came from a long line of shrimpers.  He knew everything there was to know about the shrimping business.  Laos is southeast Asia’s only landlocked nation, so shrimp was hard to come by in those parts for my theme of the day.  In lieu of shrimp, I ordered something else for dinner.

[Frog] is the fruit of the [swamp].  You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it.  There’s [frog]-kabobs, [frog] creole, [frog] gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple [frog], lemon [frog], coconut [frog], pepper [frog], [frog] soup…

I’ve had frog legs before, battered and fried and actually quite tasty — tastes like chicken but less salty.  I expected that the frog in my tom yam sweet and sour soup would be cut up and prepared in some way, but the cook simply just threw a frog into the pot and boiled it with the rest of my ingredients — in my bowl, a frog laid dead in a pool of broth.  I cut it up and ate it anyway, the limbs that is, leaving the head hidden under a bay leaf.  To my surprise there were two frog heads in the bowl when I finished eating, and I only had four legs. 

Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.  Sometimes it can be a chocolate with extra frog head in it, or a peculiar but sweet one like the one I picked up the next day…






Next entry: Journalists In The Minefields

Previous entry: More Misconceptions




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Comments for “Life Is Like A Box Of Chocolates”

  • STILL IN HANOI… more to come…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/11  at  01:46 AM


  • NOELLE:  The lack of night buses in Laos has killed my schedule.  I think I am going to just do Vietnam before X-mas and do Cambodia when I get back to Bangkok in January since my one-entry Cambodia visa will still be valid.  Y’interested?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/11  at  01:50 AM


  • oh, yuck on the frog… (as you well know my fear of heads and skin Erik).

    Posted by Liz  on  12/11  at  05:12 AM


  • I’ll be in the NIZ, sleeping on a boat in Halong Bay, Vietnam for a night starting tomorrow…  If I can get a new entry up before I leave in the morning I will; otherwise, you’ve been warned…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/11  at  10:55 AM


  • If you feel jumpy on the next leg of your trip, you know whom to blame. The froggies you just ate!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/11  at  04:06 PM


  • Poor Kermi

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/12  at  05:28 PM


  • would be nice if they could hide the fact its an actual frog…

    you just ate the kermit!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/12  at  05:58 PM


  • try the 3 eyed fried fish next time ... yummy .. hear it taste like chx too

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/12  at  07:59 PM


  • ditto Liz. I have no problem trying frog soup… But NOT like that!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/12  at  08:26 PM


  • Tell me more about Cambodia - and when would you be getting to Southern Thailand?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/14  at  07:52 AM


  • eeewwwww. frog soup.  i didn’t dare click on that pic. i can just hear kermit now….“its not easy, being green….”

    Loved the Gump refs tho. Good stuff.
    LBJ & FG: “So son, where were ya hit?”
    “In the buttocks sir.”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/15  at  03:35 PM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.


Next entry:
Journalists In The Minefields

Previous entry:
More Misconceptions




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Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:

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