Well, it’s been about a week or so since I posted, so it’s time for another. Overdue, actually, but internet access is a pain in the ass here, so… bear with me.
I know the photo I started this entry with is less than exciting, but a few people have asked to see my new house, so… there it is. I signed my contract 12 days ago, and moved into the apartment unit next door while I waited for them to finish fixing up the house for me. I was assured that it would be ready in 2 or 3 days, and 12 days later it’s finally ready! Now, this is Laos, so I wasn’t expecting it to be ready on time. But my patience was starting to wear thin. I wouldn’t have even been getting too concerned yet, except for the fact that tomorrow I’m taking off for Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang in the early morning, and won’t be back until the day before Hans, my friend, will be arriving and moving in with me. I’m not positive, but my gut feeling tells me that Hans wouldn’t be too happy if he arrived and I told him that we would be sharing a bed until the house was ready. In fact, I’d be a hell of a lot more concerned if he wasn’t upset about that.
Anyhow, I don’t know what in the hell they’ve been doing in here for the last 12 days. In fact, I’m not convinced they were doing anything at all. I mean, there were a couple of guys in here every day watching TV and smoking cigarettes, but I didn’t notice any other significant activity. I’ve been over to check out the house every day – not difficult to get in, seeing how they’ve left the door not only unlocked, but wide open, all night long, with the TV, refrigerator, etc. sitting inside – and I swear to God, nothing was being done at all. I came over the first day, looked around and thought to myself “okay, there’s a couple hours worth of cleaning and picking up to do, then I’m in!”.
Har dee har har. I tried coming over and standing in the doorway and staring at the guys “working” inside to try and “motivate” them a bit, but they just smiled, and then offered me a seat and a shot of whiskey. Finally I made it abundantly clear to my landlady yesterday that I absolutely needed the place tonight. So, she did the wise (and predictable, if you’ve been in Asia long enough…) thing and told the men to get the hell out of the house and did the work herself. Once she was finished, it took me 10 whole minutes to move all my stuff over here from the adjoining apartment unit. 12 days… 10 minutes. Call it cultural differences if you will.
My house is $300 a month, has two bedrooms, and one great, large room that serves as kitchen, dining room and living room all in one. Want to see an oh-so-exciting picture of it? Here it is!
Looks bare and boring? Wank off, I’ve been inside for an hour. Want to see the inside of my bedroom? Well then… come over and get real friendly. It’s basically illegal to have a Lao girlfriend, so you might find I’m very receptive.
So anyhow, it dawned on me the other day that while there is a body of work I need to produce inside Vientiane, a certain amount of stock photography I need to compile, really it’s not a very exciting town to shoot in, and the work will be slow going. In fact, the majority of the work I need to do in Laos is in Luang Prabang and the countryside. Vientiane is a very pleasant town, it’s relaxed and easygoing, the people are sweet and quite funny, great to talk to. There’s basically no stress here. And if your job is to sit around and hope for weather decent enough to work with during the few hours a day it’s worthwhile to shoot here, you’ll be bored out of your friggin’ mind. It’s the only sensible place to be based in Laos, and I’ll need to be here about a week out of each month to sort through and optimize my work. I need to be here to shoot Thaat Luang festival coming up, which will be great… but it’s time for me to get the hell out and do some real work. So, I rented a motorbike with the intention of going out of town and scouting for spots to work in. So that’s what I did. I went out of town, and started traveling down dirt side streets (they’re all dirt… besides streets inside of larger towns and highways, the entire country’s infrastructure is comprised of rutted dirt tracks) looking for good spots. I found a really lame waterfall, especially for Lao standards, and I found some dusty, inactive villages with a few people sitting beneath their stilt houses, wondering what in the hell I was doing. I almost dumped my bike in a stream I had to ride across. I knew that if I kept going on the highway I would eventually meet mountains, so I kept going. And wound up taking a 160km detour to Vang Vieng district. I wanted to scout for spots, and so I got my wish! My rental contract, by the way, had a clause that said I wasn’t allowed to take the bike more than 20km from the center of Vientiane. Bah!
If you don’t know about Vang Vieng, it’s basically a pit-stop on the highway between Vientiane and Luang Prabang that has become a hippy hellhole. The bars in the town have opium and pot on their menus, and lots of backpackers go there, sleep all day, and then party like idiots all night. Inside the actual village itself, there are now rows of bars/restaurants with padded lounge seats all facing large-screen TVs that they show DVDs of the TV show “Friends” on, ad nauseum. I’m not even kind of exaggerating. They show “Friends” all damn day, and the worst thing is that the places are completely packed. Young, adventuresome types fly halfway across the world to come to Vang Vieng and sit on their asses eating crappy Western food, smoking weed and watching American TV.
And let’s hope God keeps them there because Vang Vieng district is one of the most stunningly beautiful places I’ve ever been, and I don’t want to be bothered by those people while I’m out photographing the sites that they’re too baked to enjoy. I was only there for one afternoon and one morning, but that afternoon I went around and scouted for sites to shoot the next morning. I woke up the next morning, went out and “bang, bang, bang”, hit each spot methodically and got some of the best landscape photos I’ve ever taken. Here’s one for you to check out.
Sorry, but the early morning shots with color in the sky and warm, golden light get to go on my marketing site the next time I’m in Vientiane long enough to do some optimizing. Even with the hazy sky I think this shot came out fantastic, and it looks really great full size. I love the grayscale effect of the staggered mountains in the background.
Not all the shots I took that morning were of the quality I’m after, but most importantly I was able to look at my material and figure out exactly where I want to go next time, and how I want to crop my shots. I’m itching to get back out there and knock out more work. On my way back I made notes of some other great spots along the highway with fantastic views, jotting down the kilometer numbers on the highway markers so I know exactly where to go back to.
So I’m off tomorrow. I’ll be gone for about 10 days, then back here for 2 days, then back out for a few days. So, it might be a little bit before I write again, please forgive me. I’ll try to write while I’m gone, but since I won’t have a decent monitor I won’t be able to work on accompanying photos ‘til I’m back here in Vientiane. A couple people have commented that my posts are great, but the internet generation doesn’t have more than a 5 minute attention span. Well, I’m verbose, and my lack of ability to make frequent posts means the ones I make will be lengthier. Hope you can make it through them. Next time, no crappy shots of my house, I promise! In the meantime, if you want to find me, try kilometer 144 on Lao national highway 13 at about 6am, approximately 15km out of Vang Vieng. I just might be there. Bring your own tripod, mine is being used.