I almost made a mistake in Savannakhet, Laos. It was one of those “I know better but my just-say-yes policy always wins in the name of cultural experience” situations.
I spent the first day recuperating from a rather miserable series of bus rides from Khong Lor Cave in the central part of the country while I caught up on laundry and sleep. I spent the second walking through the city, photographing the crumbling buildings that line the sidewalks of this seemingly ancient town.
I enjoyed a delicious som tam (spicy papaya salad) lunch on the banks of the Mekong while looking across at Thailand. Even the Northeast looked highly developed in comparison to Savannakhet, or anywhere else in Laos, really.
The next day, another rather long, sticky walk in 104 degree temps (plus humidity), led me to a stadium where a city league soccer game was in full swing. I sat down to catch a break from the sweltering sun and take in a game of Laos football.
A nice man approached me, in awe that a foreigner was staying in Savannakhet and even more so that I was interested in watching the game (I was more into the shade from the stadium, but I went with it). He was a teacher and he wanted to practice his English, which was rather good in comparison to the rest of the town and it’s always nice to have a conversation after two weeks of traveling solo.
Later, he offered to show me the market I hadn’t yet found and give me a motorbike tour of the city. Of course I obliged. He made a point of driving down all seven major roads, so I could see each one. “This road is how you go to the airport,” he said, and “This one has all the restaurants, let’s count!”
After a full tour, which didn’t take long (Savannakhet is not much bigger than Suwannaphum, where I taught English), we stopped at a very nice, outdoor karaoke restaurant for dinner. He ordered several dishes and more beer than I could think about drinking. When he started asking if I was drunk yet, I began to see where the night was headed. My best approach was to tell him I didn’t feel well and needed to go home. Now.
“But I order another beer. Can we stay little longer?”
“No, I really feel sick. Mai sabai,” I said in Thai because I knew he would understand (the languages are very similar).
When he dropped me at my hostel, he kindly asked if he could accompany me to my room “just for a bit.”
“No. I need to go to bed. Alone.”
I gave him a random email address and from a dark corner in the opposite direction of my rented room, I watched him sit in the driveway for several minutes, hopeful I might return, before he finally rode away. Poor guy.
Though he was a great tour guide, he should probably stick to teaching. I, on the other hand, should probably stop accepting motorcycle rides from strangers in foreign countries, but I probably won’t. It was still a great experience – a fun story to tell – and I was able to see Savannakhet through a local’s eyes.