Saturday, December 27, 2008

Racing against the clock

As soon as I left Vietnam, I knew I was in trouble.

Timewise, that is.

Though I'm not trying to complain that I didn't have enough time on my trip, trying to cram an entire country into one week, including bus travel, was quite a challenge. Turns out that time management is a crucial part of backpacking.

With one week in which to see Laos, I had only enough time to hit the highlights, so time-consuming activities like this or this were out of the question, no matter how attractive.

I took the overland bus trip to Cambodia, which sucked up two days in minivans, but did save me quite a bit of money and brought me directly to Si Phan Don.

Si Phan Don, otherwise known as the Four Thousand Islands, is a collection of tiny islands in the Mekong located at the lower border of Laos. Famous for its lazy river attitude, the place claims shore-line bungalows and electricity about three hours each day.

I got up early, and with a new friend, walked across the island on my way to the local waterfall. As we were padding over to the waterfall under the steadily warming sun, a large truck came plundering up the dusty road. Full of Thai tourists, they pulled over and rearranged themselves so that we could hop on, then we all continued down the road, over the bridge, to the waterfall.

After a stroll around the waterfall and a snack of coconut, which I shared with a stray dog nearby, my friend and I walked back towards our bungalows. On the way, we got another free lift. Those Thai tourists, so friendly and accomodating.

Once we were back on the road on our island, we passed by the bakery where we'd had a mediocre breakfast that morning. I have pretty high standards for scrambled eggs, and unfortunately, the bakery did not achieve them. That's what I get for having a grandmother who made rhubarb pies from scratch and scrambled eggs that made it easy to get up in the morning. That, and Cheerios with a spoonful of sugar, though, come to think of it, that was actually Grandpa's influence. The man loved his sugar...and slices of cheddar cheese with his apple pie, a habit I have kept up.

Speaking of sugar, my friend and I decided to stop in to the bakery on our way back. Delicious smells wafted out, drawing us in. I ordered a round little carrot cake muffin and a coffee. The cake was moist and chockful of nuts, which, in my opinion, is one of the the only baked goods in which nuts are welcome. Not in brownies and definitely not in banana bread. Is that just me?

Anyway, I got through exactly two bites of the cake before I went into sugar overdrive. It's amazing how much sugar one cuts out when traveling in Asia on a budget. My hands were literally shaking as I tried to slowly finish the cake. "Tried" being, I'm ashamed to say, the operative word.

Quickly spiraling into a sugar coma, I headed back to my bungalow's front porch. Grabbing a book, I flopped onto a hammock and spent the rest of the afternoon swinging between sleep and lazy reading.

That night I had what would become the Laotian equivalent of my fish amok obsession. Laap is a cold salad, made with minced protein (chicken and fish are my favorite) stirred up with lots of lovely spices, chilis, onion, garlic and heaps of fresh herbs.

This fateful evening, I ordered a lovely fish laap, complete with sticky rice galore. I'm not sure I did it correctly, but I scooped some of the laap into the accompanying lettuce leaves, pinched and rolled a ball full of sticky rice in my right hand (always the right!) to top it, then shoved the thing in its entirety into my mouth. Oh, and then I moaned a little bit.

Ladies and gentleman, a new addiction has been born.

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