It’s a grey, drizzly, damp, morning in Vientiane. What happened to the high of 82/low of 78 that weather.com promised? Local time: 10:32 am. The king size bed is beckoning to me, “Come, come, come, just lay down for a minute…” As much as I want to abide, I know that to have any chance at all of staving off jet lag, I must stay awake until evening.
I make my way to the reception desk. As they see me approach, the two men start laughing. Yes, I already have a reputation, and I haven’t been in the country for a day yet. I smile, greet them with Sabai Dee! and ask what there is to see. They show me a map and circle the temples. I thank them and start to walk away. The one who fixed my shower asks for my key. Oh, yes. I always forget to leave my room key. I smile, hand it to him and he offers, “Because you might lose.” I simply smile.
I walk through almost deserted streets. There’s little traffic and even fewer pedestrians. I follow signs to one temple after another. I eventually end up at Pha That Luang, considered to be the landmark of Laos. As I’m about to enter the gates, a tiny, elderly Laotian woman rushes up to me and grabs my hand. She pulls me into another group of elderly women. I realize we’re posing for a picture. I smile and put my arm around her. The top of her head reaches my chest. I feel like a giant. The photographer snaps the picture and I hear lots of giggles and Khap Dais (thank yous). I make my way into the compound surrounding the massive stupa. The drizzle is heavier now, almost a mist. I pull my hood up over my hair.
I watch the faithful paying respects to Buddha, kneeling, bowing, placing garlands of brilliant orange marigolds on the altar. I continue walking. The stupa has three levels. I mount the stairs to the first. A young Laotian couple come behind me. When I turn to the side, the man offers a forceful, “HI!” I smile and say Hi, Sabai Dee. “Hey, lady, are you here alone?” I’m startled by his question. He doesn’t look dangerous. His wife/girlfriend smiles at me. How in the world would he have learned that phrase? “Yes,” I smile. “Good,” he replies and walks off.
The rest of the afternoon unwinds, I wander, I watch, I get my bearings in this city that will be my home for the next two weeks.