We went looking for Laos. And couldn't find it anywhere...

 

Driving through the Vietnam Highlands on a Cold War era Honda together, hair blowing in the wind, packs on the back, weaving through old-fashioned Indochine bicycles and fruit-laden villagers is not as romantic as it sounds. The mystery and romance that had once brought us together could have fit in the gap between our pelvises.

“Yeah but when your tone is fucking hostile, it doesn’t matter what you say. I’m going to disagree.”

We were driving along the Cambodian border, aimed at Laos with plans to hit up an obscure hot spring on the way. We were, yes that’s right, off the beaten track. There was some grey area though like, you can’t actually drive bikes across the borders here, or sometimes you can but you need documents like licenses and registration. But it was Asia, right, impoverished South East Asia. And we were rich powerful neo-imperial tourists conquering all with our weekendly-budget. We’d bought the bike from a Vietnamese man in a sports jacket for 500 bucks. At the time we’d been in a nauseating beach town full of stiff Eurotrash in freaky beachwear – pink hotpants circa Lane Beachley- and the Vietnamese dude sensed our desperation. His horse-hair moustache had twitched when we told him our plans: No, no, you not need license. No, all the time I go over to Laos. And with that he had a deal and we strapped our two laptops, four pairs of shoes, two smart phones and other utterly useless crap to the bike and made for the track which was not beaten.

We peeled off at a small roadside café a few hours north of Buon Ma Thuot to drink some caffeinated sludge and consult the map. We were sitting at a low stone table enjoying our break when a man pulled up and made right for us.

"Not go this way," he said, reaching into his pocket and pulls out his wallet.

And who the fuck might you be? I could see written on Liam’s face. He was in one of his coffee-downer sways of unbearable intolerance and irritability only slightly more understandable knowing we’d been dodging death by cement truck all morning.

 He showed us a laminated card. "Police, police, you not go this way."

"Okay, where’s that fucking phrase book." "You had it." "Yeah, I know but I’m asking where it is now, fucken." "Ummmmm." "Fucksake," Liam ripped off the straps and rifled through our packs shrouded in clear plastic bags.

A bribe was on the cards but negotiations got off to a shaky start when he refused our first offer – a bottle of peach green tea. A small crowd gathered. The nark was stern with us. A farmer sat grinning to the side of him, trying hard to stifle his mirth…

 

Full version published in I-Mag, May 2012