Accents On The Mekong


This blog entry about the events of Saturday, December 04, 2004 was originally posted on December 08, 2004.

DAY 413:  Sue, the woman of the Phonethip Guesthouse in Pak Beng, was making the sandwiches we pre-ordered the night before, so that we could bring them on our long slow boat ride down the Mekong to Luang Prabang.  “You want banana?  Buy from me!  Ha ha!” she said in her thick Laotian accent with perhaps a bit too much energy for 7:30 in the morning.

“No, that’s okay.”

“You want pineapple?  Very good.  Buy from me, buy from me!  Cheap cheap, ha ha!”

Her daughter (I assumed) Ponti wasn’t nearly as high energy as Sue that morning as she sat nearby to see the latest round of nightly guests.  “You look very handsome,” she said.

“Thank you,” I said.

Meanwhile, Markus was buying a piece of cake from Sue since he’d been around the block and saw the same things elsewhere.  “Same same.  Very good!  You buy from me!  Ha ha!”

JUST LIKE THE DAY BEFORE, it took over an hour for the slow boat to depart after we had all boarded and settled in.  While waiting I made friends with Patty, the Canadian woman sitting next to me.  “I’m from Saskatchewan,” she said.  “Tell me you’ve been there and you’ll make me happy.”

“No, no,” I said.  “But I have heard of it.”

“That’s a step in the right direction,” Patty said.  “And you?”

“New York.  Tell me you’ve heard of it.”

Behind her in the bench next to Huyb was her husband Larry, an American originally from Chicago who had a long ZZ Top beard with the ends braided.  He was a scientist who had worked and lived in Japan for quite a while, which was where he met Patty.  Both of them had an extensive travel history together ever since — mostly off the beaten path, sometimes with just bicycles — and Larry said he had been gone from the States long enough that he no longer had the American accent he came to find so annoying.  “I really have a problem with American vowels,” he said.  “In the States it’s A-E-I-O-U.  Everywhere else it’s ah-eh-ee-oh-oo.”  He continued by saying that no one but Americans had that piercing long “A” sound.

“Oh, like hamburger,” I said in my best American accent.  I had to agree with him on his point; I remember being really embarrassed in Cerbere in southwestern France, waiting at the train station for the overnighter to Paris, overhearing two American valley girl-types (most likely right out of high school) ordering two chicken sandwiches from the station cafe:

Valley Girl #1:  Should we order in French?
Valley Girl #2:  Oh wait, I can do it.  (She turns to the Frenchman, and holds up two fingers.) Okay, dooo poolay.
(I cringe.)

THE DAY WAS A LONG ONE.  Eight hours on a slow boat down the Mekong.  Whenever a speedboat whizzed by there was a mixed feeling of jealousy and remorse.  Larry and Patty had been on a speed boat down the Mekong before and Larry said it was like when Han Solo made the jump to hyperspace; the river looks completely still and the scenery just whizzes by.  He thought it was pretty cool while his wife was pretty terrified by it.

We passed the time in different ways.  Those with MP3 portables or Discmans used them.  Others just sat around and read, wrote or slept in the cramped but bearable conditions (picture above).  At sundown the boat slowed down and docked at the port of Luang Prabang, our final destination for the night.  The first impressions of town was that it was a sleepy one, but in a good way, a subdued paradise of palm trees and laid-back people.  Not surprisingly, when we walked into town from the riverbank, touts approached us with flyers for their guesthouses.  Right away I saw the difference in Thai touts and Lao ones.  Unlike Thais, the Laotians approach you with a pitch, take “no” for an answer when you decline once, and then just go on their way. 

We all went our separate ways, Huyb one way, Markus another and me another.  Checking out the different places, I saw that Laos was a tad bit more expensive than Thailand, with most initial quotes in the $5-$8 (USD) range, as opposed to Thailand’s $2-$3. I was walking one of the streets when I was approached by one of the several touts on motor scooters, patrolling the streets for new backpacker clients wandering aimlessly in town.  The guy was a friendly Lao guy named Keo and led me to his centrally-located guesthouse, with a spotless room with shared bath for $5.  A bit steep I thought, but he said there was unlimited coffee and tea.  “Okay, you got me,” I said.  I just didn’t feel like looking around anymore.  Later I learned that Huyb paid $8 for a place with roaches and Markus paid $6 for a place with free bananas.  Supposedly the prices were higher because everyone was trying to play catch-up from the lull in tourism from the week-long border closure instated as a security measure for some national conference in the capital city of Vientiane.

LUANG PRABANG WAS ONCE THE CAPITAL CITY of Lane Xang, the “Kingdom of a Million Elephants” of the 14th to 17th centuries.  Luckily for Luang Prabangers, the capital was moved to Vientiane in 1556, leaving most of the town untainted from industrialization; it’s charm and remaining historical sites earned it the recognition as a World Heritage city by UNESCO.

This isn’t to say Luang Prabang wasn’t influenced by outsiders.  Laos, which was once a Thai territory, was given up by the king of Thailand in a treaty when the French were expanding their Indochina territories from what is now Vietnam.  With that said, my pre-conceived notion of Lao cuisine was that it would be a lot like Thai with perhaps a French flair, but I saw that Laos boasted a unique cuisine that set itself apart from its neighboring countries or France.

I had my first real Lao meal at the place Let’s Go highly-recommended, the Indochina Spirit Restaurant, known for its international and Lao menu.  The place was a lot swankier than I thought it’d be, with nice furniture, candles and a live band in the corner playing the traditional Lao sounds of drums and a xylophone.  The clientele was primarily older tourists in package groups, but more importantly there were many locals dining there too, although I guess I can’t assume that every dark-skinned, Asian-faced person was an official Laotian.  With me was Markus, the straight-edged German who had an epiphany that afternoon staring out on the river; all his life had been spent trying to get rich quick and it dawned on him that perhaps you didn’t need a lot of money to have a fulfilling life, especially traveling in southeast Asia. 

For my introduction into Lao cuisine, I ordered the “Lao Plate,” a sampler of the different unique dishes:  chai pen (Mekong seaweed, dried and seeded), sai ua (Lao sausage), gaeng som pa (fish soup), kau niau (sticky rice), and my favorite, ua no mai sai muu (deep fried bamboo shoots stuffed with ground pork).  I washed it down with sweet Lao rice wine.

FAMILIAR FACES GREETED AND SMILED AT US as Markus and I walked the afternoon-turned-night market on the main strip.  I recommended the Indochina Spirit restaurant to Larry, who loved going out to restaurants, but ignored the part about us sitting next to a table with three Americans with their piercing accentuation of American vowels.  Markus kept on bumping into people he’d met in Thailand and in the end we bumped into Huyb at a bar.  With him was another German also named Markus, who looked like actor John Malcovich.  He laughed every time I pronounced “Ulm” in my pseudo-German accent.

“Say it again.”


“Ha ha!  Next time I need a stand-up comedian, I’ll call you.”

Hmm, which is worse, the American accent, or the American accent trying to emulate other accents?

Three young Austrians that Huyb met joined us and our first real night in Laos was a casual night of Beerlao and soccer on TV.  The bar closed at 10:30, but the owners let us stay an extra half hour while giving us subtle hints to leave:  by putting up all the chairs, taking our empty glasses away, and ultimately, turning off all but one light.  Outside in the streets, the busy night market had already disappeared, leaving nothing but a deserted sleepy town road. 

Luang Prabang wasn’t big in terms of nightlife, but at least wandering an empty street was better than being cramped on a slow boat all day.

Next entry: Pousi Galore

Previous entry: The Wrath of Khan

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Comments for “Accents On The Mekong”

  • GREETINGS FROM PHONSAVANH, LAOS!  The satellite internet here is too costly and slow for me to do a mass upload—you’ll have to wait until I get to Hanoi, Vietnam in a couple of days…

    Stay tuned for more…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  02:00 AM

  • I’lll be eagerly awaiting. In the meantime I’ve managed to read July ‘03 until Febuary ‘04.  I’m curious, if you don’t mind me asking, how much money have you gone through thus far? I figured you wouldn’t mind me asking because you put pictures of your own poop on the internet.


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  03:11 AM

  • TOM.M:  About $24K so far…

    OKAY FOLKS, I’m off… They’re sending me to Vietnam in the morning…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  10:52 AM

  • vietnam means forrest gump jokes!


    that lao sausage ain’t nothing but kielbasa…

    i can make that lao plate at home…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  01:00 PM

  • Erik .. any plans to go down south to Wat PU a UNESCO heritage site also & huge the waterfalls on the border? ... good luck in Vietnam & make a play for a club called “Apocolapse Now” I hear they charge the women to get in & not the men, which is awesome ...

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  01:03 PM

  • 24K that is amazing! looking forward to the new passages… N smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  02:30 PM

  • I think Markus is right…

    The commuter train emptied onto the platform at 8:19. I funnel into the stairwell crowded with office workers who march like a heard of zombies down each step. Silence. There is no laughter, no chatting, no one utters a single word. The eerie quiet is broken only by tinny elevator music coming from the overhead speakers.

    How could such a large group of people have so little say? Replace the elevator music with totalitarian rhetoric and presto, you have a scene from the Apple Macintosh 1984 advert.

    Are these people happy? Are they living fulfilling lives? How long have they been this way, silent without any display of emotion? Is this how I?ll be after working 9-5 for x number years?

    I think a similar scene must have lead Markus to his epiphany. I know this scene has lead me to mine.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  02:33 PM

  • why do i get the feeling that the club simf2p mentioned charges women cause they probably assume the women are prostitutes? kind of like that club that wouldn’t let erik in cause they thought he was a local. i dunno why all these asian places love to discriminate against their own and kiss foreigners’ asses. though i guess it is more refreshing than getting scammed all the time if you are the traveler. why can’t we all just get along…..

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  02:37 PM

  • mark, make me a lao plate when i get home. 

    rik, lemme get some of those big ass rugs so i can sell em on 1-9

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  02:47 PM

  • 24K, is that including your flights?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  04:48 PM

  • alice: after all these years of us males paying $$$ to oogle at unattainable & unapproacable women @ clubs, bars & louges I think its well deserving to see it reversed for once, I think all guys can agree? not to start a sex war here but we derseve 1 battle ...  NOMA"A’m rules !!! hahaha

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  05:39 PM

  • At least the annoying valley girls TRIED to speak french.

    I think the most annoying American accent is mine, the midwestern.  Nobody pronounces that “A” like a midwesterner!  When I’ve been away for awhile I really notice it.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  06:29 PM

  • TDOT - did you work on that from 9 to 1130 when you posted it?

    WHEAT - i can’t right now, i’m too busy doing laundry.. hahaha..lookers b?

    SIM - girls unattainable…that means you just don’t have any game….or you don’t buy them enuff drinks grin

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  09:14 PM

  • I try to tone down my midwestern american accent also, and to speak at a reasonable volume. 

    Erik! Had the time of my life in the freezer! we didn’t go to Port Lockroy, so I couldn’t check for your name in the log book!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/09  at  01:35 AM

  • 24K?! That’s around $60/day! That doesn’t sound too encouraging. Which country was the most expensive?

    Posted by Anthony  on  12/09  at  07:26 AM

  • Markyt: You know how I do….

    Erik: Does that 24K include the EBC rescue?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/09  at  01:59 PM

  • Sounds like the $24K has to include everything. Flights, rescues, replacing the spy cam (2x or 3x?), entry visas, trains across siberia, the works. I mean if he’s talking about $5 for a night’s lodgings being steep I’d say that his daily expenses are small—the distance-travelling and special extras are more. Heck he’s crashed on people’s couches to save $. If I remember right South America was really inexpensive, Africa too. Europe, Japan, & maybe China have been pricey. I think the $24K is a great deal when you consider all he’s done and where he’s been.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/09  at  04:07 PM

  • simf2p: yeah, i guess you’re right. though personally, i think everyone should just pay the same. what is the purpose of letting women get in for free at clubs and bars anyways? plenty of women who go out make a good enough living. low income people can’t afford to go out to the bars to begin with. is it a way to lure more females to the clubs? like there aren’t enough of them partying on the weekends. i say if they are gonna charge cover to a place, charge everyone, or charge no one at all. equality for all.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/09  at  04:44 PM

  • 24k sounds like a huge amount of money, but for what erik has done, it really isn’t all that much. if you are planning a week’s vacation, you see a lot of package deals for 3 nights, 5 days, etc, start at 400 bucks to 1000s. and that is only for a week. and that is the basic stuff, not including tours and activities. he’s been on his trip for over 400 days. i would say that is a very good price. and he has gone to places and done things that you wouldn’t be able to on any package deal.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/09  at  04:55 PM

  • equality in clubs??? yeah, right…...that will NEVER happen….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/09  at  05:05 PM

  • I agree with alice and markyt!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/09  at  05:48 PM

  • Haven’t read this one yet - but…


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/09  at  09:35 PM

  • 24Gs eh? Not bad for a year abroad thus far…

    See ya in The Nam!

    Tally Ho,

    The Six Dollar and Thirty Nine Cent MOMAN!!

    Posted by Supreme Moman  on  12/09  at  10:26 PM

  • Okay, something really funny:

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/09  at  10:55 PM

  • GREETINGS FROM HANOI:  New entries to come soon… Right now I’m off for a beer with my platoon…

    $24K included flights, but not the helicopter over the Himalayas…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/10  at  07:50 AM

  • what language is that??


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/10  at  01:21 PM

  • ERIK - if you run into any gulliver’s tavern type assholes in vietnam…just say this and run:

    Hom qua tao choi me may do

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/10  at  01:28 PM

  • Markyt - it’s SWEDISH CHEF!!! I love it, but you can also do different languages. Gotta love it.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/11  at  01:43 AM

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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 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.

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Pousi Galore

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The Wrath of Khan


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