If you read the previous entry, you know that I made an unscheduled overnight stop at Raffles Le Royal in Phnom Penh. The next morning, I grabbed a tuk-tuk back to River 108. I didn’t have a key with me as E had taken it from the FCC the previous night, so I asked someone from the desk to let me into the room.
I hadn’t slept much, so once they let me in and I found the room empty, I flopped down on the bed. I figured E had finally taken my advice and gone to see the museum at Tuol Sleng.
After perhaps 20 or 30 minutes, I rolled over and it occurred to me…not only was E not in the room, his bags were not in the room. This was disconcerting, as we had booked hotels for the next two months or so, and I made these bookings predicated on us splitting the room costs.
I went down to the desk and asked if they knew where the other person from my room was. They said he had paid half of the bill earlier that morning and left, they “thought” he had gone to Siem Reap, but couldn’t be sure. No heads up, no note, not even a txt message. Just vanished from the city like a ghost.
I sent txt messages asking E where he was and what the deal was, but heard nothing back. Weird things happen on the road.
There was nothing to be done, so I took a nap, grabbed some quick lunch along the river, then got a massage before meeting my tuk-tuk back to PNH.
I was flying Vietnam Airlines from Phnom Penh to Vientiane, because for some reason, they have a direct flight between Cambodia and Laos. It was only marginally more expensive to book Business Class, and after enough of these mileage award tickets you get rather used to the airlines coddling you and letting you cut lines. It’s hard to go back to coach once you’ve become accustomed to the pointy end of the plane.
Some German businessmen were ahead of me at check-in, but I quickly had my boarding pass and was on my way upstairs to immigration. I looked at my boarding pass “From: Phnom Penh, To: Vientiane” one of my more interesting city pairs. Immigration took ages. When you enter Cambodia, they do the biometric fingerprint scans. I can understand wanting to keep tabs on people entering your country. However, Cambodia also does this when you are on the way out. Who cares about all this nonsense if people are already LEAVING your country…they aren’t your problem anymore.
Vietnam Airlines Business Class passengers are entitled to the use of the only lounge at PNH.
There was free wifi, cold drinks and ample seating. Some food was laid out, but it looked rather stale and unhygienic. As I was looking at a flight, followed by a 3+ hour van ride into the central Laotian wilderness, the idea of food poisoning was none too appealing and I gave the lounge fare a miss.
Boarding was never called in the lounge. By the time I got to the gate it was already underway. There was no priority lane for business or status passengers (shocking as were flying Vietnam Airlines out of Phnom Penh right…).
The seats on the VN Airbus A321 are 2-2 in business, and they are comfy recliners. I settled in for the flight, got my book out and was fairly relaxed when my seatmate boarded the plane. This guy was a walking caricature. He must have been 350 pounds, perhaps pushing 400. Dripping sweat as he entered the plane (from the air conditioned terminal). Thick gold chain around his neck, both hands festooned with large, gaudy gold rings, dark sunglasses, the works. In the 90’s, Phnom Penh was a much more dangerous town, organized crime had shootouts in the street, it was pretty lawless. If I would have imagined a fat Cambodian crime boss from the 90’s, it would be this guy. He would even be wearing the same clothes in my mental image, because I guess corpulent Cambodian crime lords aren’t fashion mavens, and his gear was looking a little dated.
Boarding went on and on, still the business cabin remained empty, and still Asian Fat Marlon Brando continued to sweat. Finally the doors closed and I noticed there were only eight passengers for the 16 business class seats. This was perfect, other passengers began to reseat themselves so everyone would have their own block of two seats. I expected this guy to move to another block of seats (he was in the aisle, I was window), but instead he kept sweating, called the stewardess over and demanded something from her.
She returned with a tea glass, but the contents smelled strongly like beef broth. I guess he needed something to get him through takeoff and couldn’t wait for the meal service. There was so way I could navigate my way past this beast, and he clearly had no interest in relocating to one of the now vacant 2-packs of seats. I was stuck next to this sweating, filthy mass of humanity for the duration.
I tried to look out the window and ignore him as best I could. The stewardesses who look very fetching in their traditional Ao Dai’s came around with a full meal service on a tray (1 hour flight to VTE), and the scenery was stunning. As we neared the approach to VTE, the clouds were arrayed in such a way as to trap the sunlight and the sky was brilliant gold, yellow, red and pink. It was by leaps and bounds the prettiest approach I can remember, and it would prepare me for the epic sunsets of Laos.
After touch down, we pulled up to a jetway at the surprisingly nice Vientiane Wattay Airport (VTE). I had asked the Vietnam Airline stewardesses numerous times if I had ALL the forms I would need for visa on arrival and they told me countless times that I was all set. Once off the aircraft and into the immigration “hall” I was of course informed that I needed to fill out another lengthy document. I ripped through it, eager to beat the rush from the back of the plane and got my paperwork and $35 to the clerk before most of the passengers had deplaned.
Laos is a communist country, and I got the expected dour looks from the immigration officers as I waited for them to paste my visa and return my passport. With everything finally settled, I entered the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos and went searching for my driver so that we could get going up the hardscrabble highway, through the unlit night and into the wilds of Laos.