-Steinbeck “Travels with Charley”
I’ve never been a planner. I scheme and I dream, but I’m not a planner.
My head cooks something up, but it skips the steps in between, assuming those details will work themselves out one way or another. And they always do. One way or another.
Sam and I had planned to go from Thailand to Cambodia, thus catapulting us into the counter-clockwise tour of the Banana Pancake (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos — Named for the banana pancake stands that are as ubiquitous in each country as rice-fields). But just as we were about to leave Thailand, skirmishes broke out on the Thai-Cambodia border over the possession of a Buddhist monastery sitting on a few acres of land.
This was not sanctioned by our agenda, and we were a little disappointed they didn’t send us a memo beforehand.
So we changed our plans — and went clockwise.
But before we did, we had an extra few days to while away in Bangkok, which amounted to eating street food (mostly $1 soup) that was so damn good it angered me, walking around Khao San Road ignoring salespeople then escaping to a cafe, drinking coffee and reading until the promise of night fell darkly on the horizon. We’d pack up our netbook, drain the third cup of coffee and be on our way to drop off our stuff and find what we dubbed the “fire bar”.
The bar was a van named Gypsy Lips, parked against the wall of a back-alley, and as night fell they would throw a little corrugated sheet of metal on the ground and build a small fire on it. Around the fire were stools and chairs and random piles of scraps to feed the flames, as well as an ever-changing lineup of interesting people.
One guy from the US was going to a four-week cooking school, and his Chinese wife would show up later most nights and never say a word. Both of them were heavily tattooed, with flocks of black birds lining their arms and torso. He hoped to start a Thai restaurant in Hong Kong.
Another girl was from Estonia. She had moved to Finland to become a citizen and collect unemployment checks to fund her travels. She had started her trip with her boyfriend, but they split ways soon after they failed the “Great Relationship Stress Test” that is travel. Now she was bouncing around from place to place, and was eventually going to have to meet up with her ex-boyfriend because they had purchased their round-trip tickets together.
The Thai guys that ran the bar were nearly indistinguishable from its patrons, and would float around the fire stoking the conversations, keeping everyone well-fueled with Chang.
Beside our favorite night spot, here are some photos from our wanderings.
-Chuang Tzu "Wandering on the Way"
It was dark as we plodded along the dirty lanes of Vang Vieng, the path before us illuminated by the flickering bulb of the nearest banana pancake stand.
The grid was down, and our receptionist told us the power would be back by 6 PM. It was now 8, and the only power in the 10-block radius came from the one bar clever enough to invest in a generator.
It was packed, the squeaky voice of Ross and the laugh track from “Friends” barely audible over the whir of the generator and the hum of its lounging patrons.
As we passed, I wondered why everyone liked Friends so much.
My thoughts turned quickly to the next stretch of darkness. Ahead, more sandwich and pancake carts dotted the roadside like welcoming beacons of safety, promising culinary ecstasy for the stoned and stumbling crowd that wandered around bleary-eyed and shell-shocked, having survived another day of tubing and heavy drinking.
A group of Dutch girls emerged from the night, laughing at an unknown joke, or maybe at the shirtless Aussie dude in drunken fetal on our left — my head swiveled sub-consciously after the girls. Bad head.
Meanwhile, we climbed steadily up the slope, the unvoiced destination looming ahead of us at last. The bucket about to be ours.
– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
There are choices in life, many of them. And it’s easy to get stuck at the beginning of the fork in the road, looking down both paths, both choices seem like good ones, then boom. You’re dead. You were hit by a bus. Or trampled by draft horses charioteered by a mad carriage-driver in Central Park. Either way, you spent too much time doing nothing, when either choice would have been doing something, and something generally has more to offer than nothing.
I’ve obviously been having difficulty making decisions lately, I mean, the decision of whether to cut my hair or not has kept me up at nights.
So here’s to taking that step.