So, the most intriguingly dangerous part of this whole trip is this: in Thailand, people drive on the left (mostly)...but in Laos, they drive on the right (mostly). Crossing that border every day must lead the airconditioned minibus drivers into more than one traffic accident, although presumably none so impressive as the semi truck we saw overturned and jack-knifed on the side of the road between Si Phan Don and Pake yesterday. Since I was traveling by local bus (which is essentially a Daihatsu pickup truck with benches welded into the bed), everyone made sure everyone else got a good look, even if we didn't speak the same language. "Oh my god, will you look at that," seems to be universal, as does "Holy crap, something to divert me from the jostling and diesel fumes and bumpiness of the past two hours."
The French sisters told me a story back on Don Khon about how they had been walking along and saw a tourist woman come flying by on her bicycle, which then caught on something and tipped up, sending her headfirst into the ground. When she sat up, she was pouring blood down her face, and the sisters said they could see a huge gash on her scalp, with a glimpse of bone (ew). They mopped her up with their little portable medical kit which they brought because they are good European girls who get all their vaccinations and travel with more pills than most Asian pharmacies. She kept protesting that she was fine, and they kept telling her she needed stitches, but finally she got on her bike and rode off. However, when they were done wiping the blood off her, they looked up to find themselves completely surrounded by uniformed Laos schoolchildren, gaping in wonderment. Schadenfreude: better than television.
This morning, my last day in Laos, I woke up later than usual (7:15am, yes i have become an old woman and I go to bed at 10pm and wake up with the roosters and the Laos) and walked out into the cool sunny day. In the market, I bought two baguettes for the bus and train later, and a small bunch of bananas, and three steamed pork buns, and took them down through the wat to the wall by the river. The Laos and Thai have a much more cavalier view of their religious buildings than we do; while we might consider it the height of irreverence to cut through churches or sleep in their backyards, most useful paths in Laos and Thailand cut through the back of a wat and people just ride their motorcycles right on in.
Eating my buns in the shade and watching the local secondary school students poking each other and giggling and stripping leaves off the nearby plants before class started in the building at the base of the wat, it was very peaceful. The Mekong was in front of me and the traffic bridge that connects downtown (such as it is) with where everyone lives to my right. The bridge is pretty funny, actually: it's only wide enough for one lane of traffic, so everyone spurs across it in a flurry of motorbikes and tuktuks and then the stream ebbs and dies and there's utter silence for about a minute. Then it happens again in the other direction. Again and again, all day.
It makes one want a motorbike, that's for sure. Just to blend in with the crowd.