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May 15, 2007

Last Days in Asia

Bamboo Bottle Rocket


Bamboo Bottle Rocket


I had a couple of days in Pakse before I had to get going.  That gave me enough time to head up to Ban Saphai where they do weaving for the skirts that all the women do.  I asked how to get there at my guesthouse and found out that they were going to be starting their rocket festival the day I wanted to go.  The rocket festival is a pre-Buddhist tradition where the towns shoot rockets up in the air in order to anger the gods and which will cause them to make it rain.  It’s done at the start of May every year in order to provoke the rainy season into starting.  The fact that the rainy season was already beginning wasn’t going to stop them from celebrating.

Revelers at the Rocket FestivalRevelers at the Rocket Festival


Revelers at the Rocket Festival


I headed to the main market to catch a shared tuk-tuk up there.  It’s a good thing I had to go there because every time I tried to get a ride within town they just to me to the market assuming that all tourists wanted to go there whenever they didn’t understand what you were asking for.  During the wait for the tuk-tuk to fill up I got talking to a monk heading the same way and told me he would show me around the festival and take me up to his village where they were also having one.  Every ten minutes the driver would tell me would could leave now if I would pay $10, then it became $5, but after an hour or so enough people showed up and off we went for the normal $1 fee.

Everyone in town was at the festival and despite the fact I didn’t need a guide I followed my new acquaintance.  All the people there were dressed up in costumes and dancing around the temple which was in the center of the area.  They had 5 gallon buckets for drums and where singing and chanting along with them.  Once again I was the only wait face around which made me an attraction also.  I am pretty sure that if I wasn’t there with a monk I would have been pulled into the main party right away.  As it was we went around and saw the different things going on dancing, shooting rockets, traditional dances, and general celebrating.

I've Been SpottedI’ve Been Spotted


I've Been Spotted

Group at Rocket FestivalGroup at Rocket Festival


Group at Rocket Festival


Once we got to the monk’s village we found his mom and relatives quickly who all wanted their picture taken which was easy enough to take care of.  Since all the rockets are homemade and up to about 2 feet in length there were a couple of “misfires” which sent the crowds fleeing.  There was also one rocket that shot straight up and landed about 10 feet away from me.  I had my back to it talking to someone and found myself being pushed away all of sudden but had no problems with it once I saw why.

We headed up to the monks home and temple next.  I was reluctant to leave all the fun, but didn’t know what was in store next.  Turns out it wasn’t much, although I did get to take a shower (tub of water with a bucket to pour over you) which was nice because I couldn’t stop sweating from all the people around and humidity.  I took a few more pictures of the monk and relatives and got their address so I can send them some copies. 

Monk and MomMonk and Mom


Monk and Mom


We started heading back towards where the tuk-tuk dropped us off at just as it started raining.  Along the way we ran into some of the party goers whose picture I’d taken earlier and I was called in to have some whiskey and beer with them.  I ended up donating (buying) three more bottles of beer for them and wanted to keep moving knowing the tuk-tuks wouldn’t be running much longer.

When we got to town, sure enough there weren’t anymore tuk-tuks.  My new friend was quite worried, but I told him I would just start walking and someone would give me a ride.  He couldn’t quite get this concept for a while and then seemed worried when he did.  I was over 10 miles from town and it would be dark in about 40 minutes.  Eventually he said goodbye and I got on my way.  Ten minutes later a pickup pulled over and asked where I was heading.  Same as them so they squeezed me in the back and dropped me off half a mile from where I was heading.  While I was walking around the road I wasn’t worried at all about getting a ride or getting to where I needed to go, just that it would start raining again and I’d have to put on my raincoat.  My white skin was making everyone slow down to look and wonder why I was walking and I knew I’d get a ride pretty quick that way.  Thankfully the rain held off and I things worked out fine.

My last morning in Pakse I went around spending the last of my kip (Laos money) a little bit on some souvenirs I wanted, but mainly on food and junk that I was just using my money up on.  Regardless I only had $9 so I did pretty well again estimating how much I was going to need.  I took a bus to Ubon Thailand, where I first had my ear looked at, and then went to the train station to get an overnight train to Bangkok.  There were no sleeping compartments left on the train so I spent a not very comfortable or restful night sitting on the train and arrived into Bangkok 12 hours after we left at 7am.

My hostel there was able to get me in then and headed for a shower first thing.  After a call home for mother’s day it was time to get things ready to go.  I did my laundry, got a couple of books for the plane, spent the last of my Thai money (with some left for a cab the next morning) and did a fitting for a suit I’d ordered while in Bangkok for my ear infection.  The suit was ready that night and so was I.

My alarm was set for 3:45 am so I could make my 6:50 flight.  Next thing I knew one of the guys in the room was saying “Brian its 4:50”.  Oh No!  I was a 40 minute cab ride from the airport and my flight left in 2 hours.  I had about two seconds to panic and then threw on my clothes, grabbed my bag and ran downstairs.  First cab I saw said 400 Baht, I told him I wanted to go by the meter and he said no so I hopped in the next cab behind him.  I was really sweating if I was going to make it and realized I should have told the first guy ok, but 500 if your there in 30 minutes, would have been a perfect movie line.

I’d taken a cab from that hostel to the airport a couple of times and this guy was not heading the same way as all the rest had.  No way was I going to make it I figured.  We finally got onto the expressway I was expecting after both of the tollbooths.  He knew what he was doing because at 5:35 I was getting out of the cab and paid 220 with a tip!  I looked at the departure board and found my flight which was now leaving 10 minutes earlier, it just keeps getting better.  Luckily for me there was no line for check in, customs, or security and after buying a breakfast sandwich and converting my last 1000 baht to US dollars I was sitting at the gate waiting at 6am.  No way in the world would have thought possible when I woke up.  I’m just thankful that I’d talked to the guy last night so he knew I was supposed to be gone and he happened to wake up when he did.  The rest of the day went smooth, just a lot sitting on the plane until I arrived in Baltimore.  That part of the trip will have to wait for the next update though.

Back in the states,


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