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Tag Archives: Laos

mêlée du Laos

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After a few pleasant days among the low-key backpacker debauchery of Vang Vieng, we took a stunning bus ride to Luang Prabang on Thursday afternoon. We easily found a nice guesthouse and went out for an early dinner at a French-Laos restaurant. After dinner, we were walking down a side street and stopped to read a flyer when two guys on a motorcycle pulled up and grabbed the backpack Janelle had slung over her shoulder. Before we knew what was going on they took off, trying to snatch the bag, but what they didn’t know is that Janelle is the kind of person who is both constantly aware of the possibility of bag snatching and who will be damned if some piece of shit is going to rob her. This was the moment she had been mentally preparing for since we left Australia, and she held on tight. Unfortunately, that meant she was pulled behind the motorcycle for a short distance, maybe 10 meters. After that, the bike fell over and Jan grabbed the bag away and bolted. It was only at this point I realized what had happened to my wife. I’m not a violent person by nature, or one especially inclined to act out of emotion, but this was an affront. I very clearly remember thinking “Janelle is safe, these guys are little, they just fell off a bike and I really, really want to fuck them up.” I (very stupidly) ran at them and got a few ineffectual punches in, but they managed to knock me down, right the bike and speed off. 

The French bartender at the popular Ikon bar across the street took us in, helped us clean up and took us to the police station, which was literally on the nearest corner, maybe 30m from where this all went down. She told us we were actually the fourth bag snatching on that same side street in just the past few weeks. Presumably the same guys, but who knows. I doubt the police will be able to do much to catch these dudes, but maybe they can keep a better eye on what goes on outside their door at 7 PM. I’d like to think clocking one a few times in the face would give them pause, but realistically I suspect that if you’re in the bag-snatching business, the times you’re successful more than compensate for taking the occasional nerd-punch.

Anyway, aside from being shaken up, we are fine. Janelle has some scrapes and truly impressive bruises where the bag strap pulled her behind the bike, but that’s it. She lost her glasses in the struggle, but she has a spare pair and we didn’t lose the backpack, which happened to have all our cash and passports, as we had set out to get our Chinese visas that afternoon. 

We do both recognize the “right” thing would have been to just let the bag go, but instinct tends to kick in, and we’re kind of glad we didn’t lose our stuff. And while attacking two criminals in a foreign country is clearly idiotic and incredibly dangerous and could have ended badly, I’m not particularly ashamed of it. On a primal level, it felt more right than the “right” thing. I’d just never, ever do it again, is all.

It’s disappointing this happened in Laos, because we really love the country and it felt very safe. However, even aside from the attempted robbery, it’s clear Luang Prabang has lost quite a bit of its charm since our last visit. There were more tourists on the street right now, in May, the slowest month, than there were in 2007, when we were there in January, the busiest month for SE Asia travel, and it’s clearly bringing out the undesirable elements. We had our passports because the travel agent we went to earlier had suddenly shifted the Chinese visa wait time from two days to six after we did all the paperwork, so we grabbed the passports and walked out. Even more obnoxiously, after the mugging, the tuk-tuk driver who drove us to our guesthouse took advantage of our clearly upset and battered condition to rip us off a small amount. It’s really too bad, but the Luang Prabang we fell in love with four years ago now seems like it’s on its way to becoming a Phnom Penh with Disneyland French colonial  architecture.

This has far from spoiled travel for us, but we did decide there wasn’t much point in sticking around LP. Our planned next step had been to hop through the villages and parks of Northern Laos en route to China, but to be honest, while our injuries are minor, strapping 15-kilo backpacks to our bruises and oozing scrapes or sitting though eight-hour sweaty bus rides on bumpy roads with painfully sore backs and shoulders is probably a bit beyond poseur honeymoon flashpackers like us. So we’ve made our way back to Bangkok to rest up and recuperate for a few days in a nice little Sukhumvit hotel at off-season rates. We’ll watch a few bad movies, use the free wifi, and figure out where we’re going next.