However, Katlijn and I were determined not to succumb to the comforting dystopia of a Thai fat cat. After a night out bowling with Geert's friends, a spicy dinner with some money boys, and a much-needed appointment with their hair-dresser, we were once again ready to head off into the big-backpacked, dingy-hotelled, noodles-for-breakfast universe that is budget travelling in Indochina.
The Htin tribal people are particularly skilled at manipulating bamboo to make everything needed around the house.
A tattooed elderly of the Mlabri tribe: probably the most primitive people we visited in Asia. The Mlabri are still mostly hunter-gatherers living deep in the jungle of North Thailand. It is hard to imagine such a primitive people only a day's drive from Bangkok.
The slash-and-burn agricultural practices of the other tribes in the area have destroyed much of the habitat needed to sustain hunter-gatherers, and the Mlabri people are in decline. As their lifestyle is not conducive to a Thailand embracing the future, the government is trying to encourage the nearby Hmong and Htin tribes to teach them how to build thatched huts so they stay in one place. Many of the Mlabri are having difficulty adjusting to this sedentary lifestyle and come across quite depressed.
But how does Lao food taste ? Who lives there ? What is the capital of Laos, anyway ? Like us, you probably never bothered to ask these questions, but are doing so now. And so, as we stepped off the bus and settled ourselves into a sheltered long boat destined for the far side of the Mekong river, Katlijn nudged me in the ribs and whispered eagerly,
"Look, just across the river. THAT'S LAOS !"
My god, she was right. In an instant, the overwhelming feeling of cynicism that Thailand always seems to bring out in me, vanished. I couldn't have been more thrilled. We were going to Laos.