Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Travel Tips: The Mighty Mekong

When I say Mekong, you say "quagmire". Mekong!

Yes kids, I finally made it happen. I, Veronica Montebellucci managed to travel to my spiritual home, a place of rash decisions and destruction: the Mighty Mekong!

* This is how I left it...

For those new to my weblog, I spent this summer on a "working holiday" (as my mother so hopefully put it) in Thailand, but along the way went rogue many a time.

One such instance was when my wife (as the youth of today call their close female friends) and I decided, on the spur of the moment, to go to Laos. We both thought that it would be fun to go rogue in the roguiest place of all. And so, after packing up our bindles and taking our dust baths we left the delights of Northern Siam, including our elephant friends:

and my jeans (prompting me to finally figure out the title of my future autobiography: I Left My Jeans in Chiang Mai - The Veronica Montebellucci Story. Don't judge, everyone should decide on one. Manimal's is Showstoppin': The Manimal Chronicles) and took a bus filled with moronic see-through-skinned Irish people to the border of Thailand and Laos. 

It was here that we paid our bribes and took a tiny wooden boat across a swath of the Mekong as brown as my beloved "upside down river", the meandering Yarra of Melbourne, Australia.

* an aside: The Yarra is the world's greatest river. Why? It routinely holds baccanalias known as "para (as in paralytic) on the Yarra" in which high school seniors celebrate living until 18 by attempt to drink as much as is humanly possible while "cruising" down the Yarra on a flimsy boat for 2 hours. 

I attempted to terrify my boat mates by seizing the wheel and laughing maniacally:

much to the amusement of my wife (and no-one else):

*Note: annoying pasty Irish couple in background, and also soon to be discussed "most boring -but also most judgey- people in the world".

We summarily disembarked at our first port-of-call, Huay Xai.

Huay Xai:
We arrived at Huay Xai which will forever be imprinted in my mind as my go-to reference as what will happen if the world goes to shit. This is a borderless, motherless town imagined by Philip K Dick in our nightmares. It's worse than Brooklyn's Atlantic Avenue Target on a Saturday morning. Our "tour guide" walked us up a 90 degree hill and deposited us at the so-called "Frienship House"[sic]. These were the lodgings we had been so enthusiastically sold by a woman in Chiang Mai. We should have been clued in by the fact that it was free, but we hadn't spent enough time in the Orient yet.

What can one say about a place like Frienship House? I mean, really, they just think of everything. From the complimentary squished bug on your pillow to the delicious "lunch" shown below:

Frienship House has got it all! Enjoy the video we made - i think it really sells the place (as soon as Laos Yelp gets its act together I will post a glowing review):

Needless to say, we found ourselves absconding in the middle of the night, our sizable rucksacks proving treacherous impediments on the rickety old stairs which were, inexplicably, all different sizes and heights. Once we reached the bottom, the creepy Downs Syndrome owner was waiting for us. It was 2 am but there he was in all his shirtless nipple-haired glory asking us in Laotian where we were going, or maybe if he could eat our brains. I don't know, my Laotian is super rusty.

Before this midnight run, we checked out the town.

We were still full from "lunch" so we decided to kill time by visiting the local internet cafe. You can't tell from the photo above, but Huay Xai has TWO internet cafes. No running water or laws about incest, but internet aplenty!

The first place we went to did not seem to fit our essence. Their sign was, quite frankly, rude:

* I don't have many life rules, except that I will not be lied to or about, I will not be stolen from and I will not be laid hand upon but if I had to add another it would be that I like to say "F_ck" and impolite words at my leisure.

And so we moved on to the second internet cafe. Rousing the owner from his snake-whiskey induced slumber, we learned that his place was cheaper and he seemed to allow unlimited minutes as long as we did not disturb him.

My wife promptly logged on to YouTube and proceeded to watch the opening scenes from Apocalypse Now on repeat to "psyche herself up" for the next morning's slow boat ride down the Mekong. I busied myself googling "Colonel Kurtz" and "child armies". We were having a grand old time, my wife humming "The End", me taking copious notes and our drunk friend battling for consciousness on the floor when the stupid Belgian couple from our mini-bus odyssey walked in. Readers, I am not joking when I say that the judge-o-meter went off the charts!

I'm talking judgier than than a card-carrying Park Slope food co-op member at a Walmart. I mean, come on. If I can't sit in an abandoned internet cafe in an impoverished town on the Mekong with my wife and watch this:

without fear of reprimand, then what is this world coming to?

Because we are both of Anglo stock, rather than standing up for ourselves we scurried out of there and in to a "pizza" restaurant.
Things quickly went from bad to worse as the nasal tones of a young man opining on world "issues" with the captive woman at his table started to infiltrate our ears. He was a skinny, rat-faced young lad with the casual insouciance born of too much parental love. Parents, you are not helping your children by telling them that they are beautiful snowflakes capable of being anything they want!
No! Tell them if they don't shape up they will work in the Big W electronics department. This way, they'll think they're awesome when they work their way up to being a grown up with a job that doesn't make them want to blast themselves. What a wizard idea!

*An Aside: I am not judging - I myself have toiled in this very same circle of Hell. I too have been draped in the blue nylon blouse of shame and plastered on a "smile" as I endorsed the latest Now! That's What I Call Music compilation CD. What's more I did it in the most bogany suburb of South Eastern Australia. A suburb in which they play loud classical music at the train station to ward off miscreants. Big W is these people's Elysian Fields. To them, heavily discounted Now! That's What I Call Music CDs sound like Gabriel's Horn itself, beckoning them to the divine).

This man in Huay Xai, unfortunately, had none of the self-doubt and crippling insecurity which comes of a standard Antipoedian upbringing and so assaulted our aural canals with a never-ending stream of observations, assertions and rhetorical questions. As a topical and apropos nod to our locale we dubbed him the Unquiet Canadian.

*At first when my wife told me about her hatred of Canadians I was skeptical. Canada, after all, is seemingly innocuous. If Florida is America's wang, then Canada is its hat, a mere accessory. However, think about how annoying some hats can be. Like when they're on hipsters. Canadians are like that: pretending to be cool and interesting (but also casual and breezy) when all the while they are a useless and pretentious addition to life.

Not wanting to go back to Frienship House, we were forced to listen to "A Brief History of Time" as envisioned by the Unquiet Canadian, followed by a moving retelling of his brush with the draft ("My Mom told me I could go to school in America, but that there was the chance I could be drafted. That's just the risk I took"- so brave!). He ended up with a spirited discussion of the sexual depravity of various countries ("Do you know the rape and molestation statistics of Canada?") and his position on birth control ("I always ask, 'Is this kosher?', but usually after").

Blessedly, at this point a group of ragtag three year olds walked past us with the single greatest thing I have ever seen - an electrified tennis racket bug zapper. I promptly spent the next three weeks searching for one until my prayers were answered and this beauty was mine:

Who would have thought that technology could bring us this far?

*I like the psychotic air it lends me as I dispense my own brand of vigilante justice on those skeeters. Also, I don't think you'll be surprised to discover that I placed this shot in my "photos-I-want-released-of-me-to-the-media-if-anything-ever-happens" folder post haste along with this one:

and this one...

And so, we left the Unquiet Canadian and the 4 year old children who sold my wife some cigarettes and trudged over to our new lodgings, Sabadee Hotel, to catch some shut-eye. We had a big day ahead as we still had to collect up our tear stained love letters from home, cue up some Rolling Stones, and drape our ammo belts just so before embarking on the next leg of our slow boat trek down the Mighty Mekong....


  1. My dad took that trip down the Mekong back in '68. He didn't have an electrified tennis racket bug zapper though. But hey, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have. So I suspect that this crucial piece of equipment will make all the difference.

  2. Well as Mao Tse-Tung said, “Weapons are an important factor in war, but not the decisive one; it is man and not materials that counts”

    I'm sure the mosquito-shaped killing coil is no match to your Pops' iron will.

  3. Hi, sorry i found this post on Google, and I already got the wine from but i am now looking for wine or liquor with tarantula or other creatures, do you know where to find ? Thanks a lot.