Mist hangs over the hills that flank the Mekong.
Caribbean colored longtails blare their horns and travelers weighed by backpacks and bags of baguettes rush to the dock.
We drift down the mighty river that hypnotizes like a never-ending spiral.
Barely legal bracelet wrapped Brits play drinking games at the bow of the boat while I drown them with my headphones beside retired Thai businessmen in the back.
I am in Laos.
This is a country where karsts tower over rice fields and rushing rivers bisect forest covered hills.
Where butterflies flutter beyond my window in trees dripping with yellow and orange buds.
Where gushing waterfalls descend into milky blue pools.
Where fishermen float in canoes, children bathe in muddy water, and buffalo bake in the sun.
This is a country quilted with myriad languages and traditions. Where textiles tell stories and costumes convey culture.
Where delicate herbs and organic vegetables glisten like jewels in the morning markets.
Where towns center around gilded temples and orange robed monks collect alms at dawn.
The streets are vacant of litter and people move and engage slowly without worry or concern for the time.
Tuk tuk drivers hardly hassle me and haggling happens with little pressure. Children wave and shout “sa ba dee” while their elders smile shyly.
In this world blanketed in softness I am consumed with the sound of quiet.
In fact it is so quiet here that often I wonder what Laos is actually “about”.
Could it be that Thailand, who parades itself at a deafening volume, and Cambodia, who bares its scars like an exotic dancer in a roadside bar, have desensitized me from seeing the subtleties here?
Is it that Laos, a country comprised of dozens of minority groups, each with their own beliefs and traditions, lacks a cohesive personality for me to even get to know?
Or I am I burned out from travel, distracted by my past and my future, struggling to find myself here in the present to absorb my surroundings?
I may sleep in Laos, eat in Laos, ride buses and tuk tuks and bicycles in Laos, but I read about Cambodia, I talk about Cambodia, I write about Cambodia, I anticipate my return to Cambodia.
Then I dream and I fantasize about home; confused where home even is.
But here I am, now, in Laos.
A place that despite nine years of incessant illegal bombings from the country I once called home, appears to still be pristine.
A place where people die daily from unexploded ordinance, yet I see happiness and harmony.
A place that twenty years ago lacked vehicles and telephones landlocked by borders, but today carries travelers in VIP buses down paved roads.
A place where drunken backpackers shot gun beers in the river while village children innocently bathe in the most tranquil setting I’ve ever seen.
A place that still seems unsure of who it is and who it wants to become.
A place that is still innocent.
A place that may not challenge me like Vietnam, excite me like Thailand, speak to me like Indonesia, or shake me like Cambodia, but after living in the motorbike traffic, the blatant corruption, and the natural destruction throughout Indochina these past seven months
with its slow paced way that requires the patience of the land of Pura Vida
perhaps Laos is the place nearing the end of my journey in Southeast Asia, so close to where I began in Hanoi seven months ago, to finally find some peace.