Today, as I sit on the wooden table gobbling my scrambled eggs and toast breaky at my hostel’s reception area in the romantic and charming little town of Luang Prabang, Laos, there’s a crushing feeling making me extremely emotional. It is a mixed feeling of finishing my first month of the two month travels. I’ve just covered through my journey the fast-paced and humble Vietnam, moved across the brave and spiritual Cambodia, and then the untouched and naturally enchanting Laos. In another few hours, it’ll be time to leave the subcontinent. Nepal is calling, and with it is my love of trekking, this time at the foot of Everest. It has been a travel unlike any in the past, and such an eye-opener. Every place had its own identity and learning to deliver, ample to embibe, horizons to be broadened, short-time pals and acquaintances to be made. Vietnam taught the respect for history and individuality. Cambodia was a lesson in humility through its tortures in the past ,yet the happiness and warmth people carried, the courage it takes, and the internal struggles they are all going through at that same very moment they are smiling and waving at you. Laos is just down right humble. It shows compassion and adulation through its natural beauty in Pangsong, Vang Vieng, and Luang Prabang. The little pleasures of life hidden where you thought you’d find disappointment but it alters your perspective. Ah, what a beautiful amalgamation of experiences.
The chaos of Hanoi, to the caves of Phong Nha, the historic beauty of Hue, to the charming and adorable Hoi An, and the rather international and vivacious Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam in itself was a remarkable journey. The food and its creators have a magical touch and feel to them. It is the kind of life you can live, with the pleasures and comforts you need but with some daily struggles to win over, and then natural beauty to retire to from time to time. Its war museum at HCMC tore my heart and made me weep like a toddler. My key takeaway from Vietnam was the value and essence of IndependenceI and why it should never be lost, why people fight and lay down its generations for, and what courage it takes to live through the tortures, the after, and then get up with a broken heart and soul and build a model nation for its future generations, with a subtle remembrance of those who fought for it and what they suffered.
Cambodia has altered me in a big way. Its heart wrenching S-21 killing fields and Choeung Ek centre were an eye opener to the atrocities the parents of the current generations have been through. Wiping off half the population, by its own people, in mere four years just for the fact that they were educated, had a talent, or even as less as that they had a banana in their bag, or because they cried when being electrocuted, or more. There were mothers whose babies were snatched and hung upside down to swing them head first into the trunk of a tree and be killed and thrown in a mass grave in front of them, some only three months old, and then them be stripped naked, rapped in that mindset, next to their little one’s body, then be partly killed by a smack on their heads, a hit so hard that tooth fell off on it’s impact, only to be left under a coating of DDT to execute the rest. Yes, this was just 35 years ago, chances are you’re talking to the kids who were first hand survivors, or have lost their parents to such tortures. How do you meet their eyes? How can they still be happy and deliver TLC? All for money? Or because life’s hard and you gotta make ends meet? Not really, not always. Battambang and Kampot, dipped in the pool of natural allure were relaxing, soothing, and yet thought-provoking in their own simple way. Siem Reap and its unreal temples, the rising sun over what is now a concrete mess from wars and its destructions, the ride in soothing cool jungles to reach another mess, was endearing, and a good end to the experience.
Laos was my last stop amongst the three countries, the one I thought would be the least impressive, but how wrong was I. Such simple people, such warm smiles, so giving, and genuine at it, there’s calm everywhere, even at bus stops and shops. No one pushes to make a sale, no one shoves themselves into you, nature runs the country, its hills and caves, uncountable waterfalls, calm lagoons and rivers, almost always the clouds hugging the top of the mountain, a retrospective meeting of the generator and the operator, mother land meeting its kid in the clouds, and the culmination of religious belief in everything, and the wholehearted regard for it. Vientiane’s night market turned into a street so clean the next morning that to believe that there was such chaos there the night before was impossible, and the neatness could easily be tricked for an OT at a maternity hospital. The tubing experience at Vang Vieng will forever be amongst the most special one for me, that too for a person who doesn’t like partying, water, or laziness, and was hungover to begin with. The old kayakers splashing water on the rather helpless tubers as they pass by, laugh and wave, everyone being happy and playful, all in the lap of nature, it was one hell of a way to be. Comes Luang Prabang and its charm of time-arrested lanes from the Franco-colonial era, Wats everywhere, respected and regarded, modern cafes, winebars, and villas, and then the handicrafts of the villagers nearby, setup of the morning and night market, but the most humbling of all, the Alms giving ceremony.
Southeast Asia is a humble bunch, even with a recent and rather intense history of brutality in its shadow, very fresh in the daily lives of the now habitants. I’m in awe of what it is, let alone how it is. Travels always teach you a lot, more from a moral perspective than strictly practical one. I await these learnings it brings, and thus return to traveling at every opportunity it brings. What Laos has taught me this morning, at the Alms Giving Ceremony, I could’ve travelled just for this. But the past month has brought a daily new fix. I’m not sure if I’m really ready to leave this emotion yet, let alone the country, and this romantic affair I’ve had in the past four weeks, but I know I’ll return here for sure, almost daily, or a part of me will exist in every bylane of these three great nations. I strive to keep these emotions, humility, and simplicity alive in my work and living once back in to the dense of India, but at times I stab them too. I wish it stays this time and reminders of it knock my door every now and then, because I’ll be home awaiting.
Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia – A man is in love with you and your being. Stay alive, and giving, as you were to me to those who are coming unaware to your lands. Bless us young foreigners with your untainted adulation, we need it.