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Date : 19th March, 2015
Time : ?58’?
Total distance run to date : 510 km
Run map and details : Garmin data lost
Neil was different from me in a number of ways. Practical, good with his hands and built like a rugby player. Whereas I’m impractical, was lucky to come last in my woodwork exams, and am not built for any sport yet invented. Didn’t stop us being great mates, though, and I eventually became his best man.
When his Mum moved to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, about 20 years ago I naturally went to stay. I remember sundowners by the Mekong, temples, beautiful Luang Prabang and going to the only night club in town. The club was run by a dwarf bearing an uncanny resemblance to Oddjob in the Bond movies (or is that just my memory playing up?). Anyway, as I recall, later on that night, he and I put on a pretty good show together. There’s nothing quite like a 6ft 4 skinny white guy and a 3ft 6 burly Asian guy dancing together on a stage. The punters loved it.
I also recall a poor and hungry country which was still using parachutes from the war for shelter and cover. And, while most people in the West will know a bit about the Vietnam War, and Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, I’m not sure how much awareness there is of simultaneous events in Laos.
Laos was part of France’s Indochina colony and, when France left, fighting broke out between the Royal Lao army and the Pathet Lao – communist guerrillas backed by the North Vietnamese. The US joined the war, partly to support the then government and partly to prevent the use of the Ho Chi Minh trail where it ran through Laos. It is claimed that Laos became the most heavily bombed country in the world with US forces unloading more ordnance over Laos than was used in the whole of WWII.
The Hmong tribe also got involved in the fighting against the Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese – fighting which continued after the Pathet Lao came to power in 1975. The Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese have subsequently been accused of genocide after killing up to 100 000 Hmong.
The situation had calmed down by the time I visited Neil but the country was suffering greatly from the after-effects of the war. Infrastructure such as street lighting had been basic to non-existent and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure about my plan to run in Vientiane at night after my evening flight.
In the event, I needn’t have worried. Laos may still be a one party state under the complete control of the ‘communist’ party but that party has changed with the times. Vientiane has also moved on a lot and there’s plenty of street lightning, lots of restaurants and the ubiquitous night market. (Though I understand conditions in rural areas can still be very tough.)
I mostly ran by the mighty Mekong – the river that runs from the Tibetan plateau through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and the Mekong delta into the South China Sea. With a stop to have my picture taken in front of the statue of Chao Fa Ngum – please see below. There are many stories about Chao Fa Ngum but he is generally credited with being the founder of modern Laos – ‘The Realm of a Million Elephants and a White Parasol” – and having brought Buddhism to the country.
I finished my run round the night market and through town with a bit of banter from some tall women who may just have been boys. Overall, an excellent run though still hot and very humid at 9.30pm.
The route by the Mekong had been recommended by the British Embassy and the following morning I headed there for a quick sporty photo shoot – please see above – and to meet Philip Malone, the British Ambassador to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. As I’ve frequently said before in these blogs, I really do appreciate the support I get from our Embassies and High Commissions all over the world. Thank you Tracy and Alexandra for all the help!