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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

Hassle

Updated: Jan 18

They say one of the phenomenal advantages of traveling solo is that you really learn a lot about yourself. Now... I don't particularly know if that is true or not... it probably is... but I definitely learn more & more (every single day) about what I can and...more importantly... cannot tolerate.


Each trip tends to add more to my extensive and ever-growing list of pet peeves.


The amount of hassle involved in traveling can be overwhelming
The amount of hassle involved in traveling can be overwhelming

Hummm.... What are some of them?


Oh man... I have so many. But off the top of my head... here are a few...


~ People that shuffle their feet when they walk.

~ Meanderers who slowly saunter down the road, going side to side, forcing you to remain behind them, unable to pass.

~ Posted photos with the horizon at an angle.

~ Smoking indoors.

~ The hacking up of phlegm.

~ People that take forever moving out of your perfect shot.

~ Duck lips, peace signs and that weird leg forward pose girls do.

~ Security at airports. Especially when I have to take off my shoes. Like... seriously?


I also hate not being able to find a garbage can when I need one... which can be big here.


There is a lot of garbage, but no garbage cans. Put that together!


Oh well...


I'm sure everyone has their own list.


I think it's because of my intolerance for so many things that karma kicks my ass... so frequently. I know of no other person who is such a hassle attractant. It's true. I seem to encounter an abnormal amount.


The ATM in Luang Prabang wouldn't work for my card... three times... in three seperate machines. I knew I had the money, but the circle just kept spinning & spinning & spinning... and no money was coming out. Finally it just spat out my card and flashed an urgent message for me to 'contact my financial institution.' Fine... though quite alarming when you're halfway around the world. I eventually managed to withdraw some money using another card, at another machine... but I was debited for all of my previous attempts. Hassle.


I've had two-way authentication kick me out of banking, social media and other various (and important) websites at crucial times. Hassle.


I've had phone calls to make without a valid line to use. You wouldn't believe some of the desperate phone calls I've had to make and the frenzied emails I've had to send since being over here... or anywhere... all due to some misunderstanding or mess up! Hassle.


Power outages. No wifi. Poor connection. Construction. Traffic.


I've overpaid, gotten lost, had my visas entered incorrectly, lost things, forgotten things, broken things, had things stolen and so much more... but I guess it all makes for a good story, right?


... and yes, I am fully aware that a lot of it occurs due to my own procrastination...


Vang Vieng
The egg delivery bike

Right.


Hassle.


Instead of throwing in the towel and hitting the easy path, I prefer to look at it as 'the next bit of hassle is always right around the corner.'


Anyway... getting to the point of this rambling... and there is a point... really there is. I need government issued permission to remain in Laos until February 6th. That is the day I have booked my flight out of Vientiane and back into Bangkok, Thailand, once again.


Unfortunately my Laos visa runs out on January 17th. 


Where there is a will, there is a way... and after a little bit of online investigation, I discovered a government building in Luang Prabang that did visa renewal and extensions. This office was a 45 minute walk from the historical district.


Perfect.


It actually wasn't exactly perfect. The building sat alone in the middle of a dusty and desolate dirt field. There was nothing surrounding it, save from a few decrepit structures and a fence. Had I not followed my GPS step for step, I probably never would have ventured into the area. It looked like a bomb field. But... in I went. So brave. Once I had reached my destination, I walked right in through the wide open front doors and was greeted by... no one.  The place was empty. It was like a big, deserted vault. Completely empty.

"Hello?!" I randomly yelled out as I made my way down the corridors.

"Hello? Hello? Hello?"

My loud voice echoed off the walls.


Vang Vieng
Anyone want a game of pool?

There was no one there. I even poked my head into some offices to look around. It was like everyone had recently evacuated. Finally I came across some man who was as astonished to see me as I was him.


Did no one ever come here?


Immediately, he woke up the administrative assistant, who was curled up in a ball, sleeping on a bed of blankets, behind her front desk. No wonder I didn't see her! I was quite surprised I didn't wake her up with my bellowing. This evident naptime didn't seem to phase the man at all.  


I explained my visa predicament through Google Translation and when I was finished, the man looked at me, shook his head and pointed to his watch.


"You come 2."

"2 o'clock?"

"Yes."


It was 11am. ERRRRR....


2pm would simply not work for me. The disappointment and discontent on my face was evident. It hadn't said this on the internet!


The man then temporarily disappeared and returned with another man.


Where did he come from?


This one was the perfect model of militant... oozing self-assertiveness as he marched me down the hall. I was rushing behind him. desperate to keep up. Once we reached his office, I explained my predicament. He charged me 650,000kip (approximately $43 Canadian) and confiscated my passport for 24 hours.


I really should have done a little bit more research into the visa extension thing-a-ma-bobby because apparently they charge 20,000kip per day you would like to extend. I told the officer I needed it until February 6th, which was 33 days away.... when in reality, I only needed it from the 17th until the 6th. 


Too late, smart...



When he had originally mentioned the 650... I mistook the amount for American dollars and I almost went into cardiac arrest. As soon as I said the words, "American money," I piqued his interest. Now... I DO have a little bit of American currency, but it is purely for emergency use only. It is NOT to pay off immigration... well... not this time, anyway.


No.


I don't have a lot. Maybe $100? Not much more or less.

NOT $650.


I suspect he might have seen it while I was scrambling around for my passport, as he kept insisting that he would trade my American money for Laos currency. No. No. No. I wasn't prepared to hand over my emergency wad.


"I'm Canadian," I kept insisting. "I don't have any American money."


The look on his face confirmed his disbelief and he continued to pressure me for it. It was awkward. Bloody awkward. Finally I relented, somewhat, and confessed to having $1. But that was it. I wasn't budging past one dollar.


Basically I left feeling gutted. I'd abandoned my passport with an officer who I'd denied a currency exchange. I realize I was in an official government building and I was in possession of a stamped and dated receipt confirming my kip payment, but there was something unsettling about walking away.



I was told to come back the following day at 3pm.


I agreed.


It wasn't until I was outside and walking away did it occur to me...

Did he mean 3pm on the dot?

OR anytime after 3pm? I had no idea.


Uh oh...


The following day, I made my way back to my favourite mausoleum in the middle of dirt acreage, ever hopeful that my passport would be stamped appropriately and I would not be required to pay any additional American funds to get it back into my grubby little fingers.


I had been praying for 24 hours.


Heading to immigration, I figured I would walk one way and take a taxi the other... or vice versa.


While we are on the topic of irritation... (are we? I think so...) another one of my pet peeves is attempting to explain where it is that I want/need to go to taxi and tuk tuk drivers. I know that I don't speak Laotian and their English is fairly non-existent, but Google Maps is universal!! We all have phones and everyone uses them... especially those who make a living in TRANSPORTATION. I just do NOT get it. I have handed over my phone with the GPS route clearly marked. I have pulled up street signs and identifiable monuments & landmarks nearby. I have used Google Translate, word association... hell, I've even acted out where I need to go.


Nothing works. It just adds to their confusion and to my frustration.


Anyway...


Luang Prabang
Dining down by the Mekong River

One tuk tuk driver pulled over to inquire as to whether or not I needed a ride. I was still about a 30 minute walk away, so I agreed to get in.


Where was I going?


~ I showed him on my phone exactly where I needed to go.

~ I showed him a picture of the building.

~ I used words like government, immigration and visa.

~ I pointed in the direction I needed to go.

~ I did everything except  literally drive the contraption to the government building. 


Eventually it all clicked and he smiled in agreement, finally understanding where I needed to go. He quoted me 10,000kip and I almost threw my arms around him in delight.


AT LAST... a tuk tuk driver that wasn't out to rip me off for a mere 4 minute drive! It was unbelievable. I jumped in the back and off we went...


Wait for it...


Wait for it...


Wait for it...


WE WENT TEN FEET... and he stopped.

TEN FEET.

He pulled over to the side of the road, pointed at some random house and said, "Here?"


I repeat... TEN FEET.

Ya... that's it.


Here? HERE?


Oh ya...


For a destination ONLY ten feet away, I had to go through the entire rigmarole of explaining where I need to go IN A TUK TUK... cuz I couldn't walk TEN FEET.


Luang Prabang
Beautiful Blue House

I leapt out of the back, shook my head in disbelief, threw my hands up in complete exasperation... and just continued walking down the road.


Laos is tough.


It's not cheap. Not cheap at all. I think perhaps it was once very reasonable for visitors, and still maintains that reputation... but it's since boomed. Locals can and do everything in their power to drain tourists of their money. As I have mentioned, I have not purchased anything here at all... You just get to a point where you get tired of the battle.


As I was almost finished my walk, another tuk tuk driver pulled over and offered to take me the rest of the way for 400,000kip. ($25)


Beat it...


I made it to the Immigration office at exactly 3:01pm and was surprised to find that there was a roomful of travelers waiting for the same thing. We all sat there, waiting to be called up... and as we were, each one of us was given back our passport.


Thank goodness.


So there's my hassle story of the day. Can't wait to see what happens tomorrow!

I'll keep you posted ❤️

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