|Old domestic terminal of Vientiane's Wattay Airport|
Overall it’s been an enlightening visit, and I regret that I’m leaving. I only had one close call in Laos. That was the unfortunate encounter between my trousers and a knife, which happened while I was riding on the back of an elephant!
Walking around the shops and restaurants of the international departure terminal, I find it more modern than expected. The domestic terminal is a relic, (more like a bus station) but the air conditioned international terminal is an oddity of advanced development for such a poor country. Foreign diplomats always fly in and out of here, and just like in other third world capital airports, diplomats hate to be uncomfortable. So they were more than happy to provide foreign aid money to build this new international terminal, to make their own airport experiences smooth and comfy.
Before I bid adieu to Laos, I stare out the departure gate window across the tarmac. Once again, Laos surprises me!
|Will an elephant from Laos survive in North Korea?|
Farther down to my left, I see a Russian built cargo jet. What surprises me, is the large starred flag painted across the tail. My eyes widen. There’s no mistaking that flag, this bulky jet is from another communist country. It’s flown all the way here, from North Korea!
Straining my eyes to see what’s going on, I can see that the rear cargo doors are swung open, and a large truck has been backed up to the tail end.
What could they be loading? This wasn’t any secret cargo. If there was, they would have loaded the jet over in the military area of the airport, out of sight from foreigners like me. What were they loading exactly?
TWO ELEPHANTS !
Reported in the media, this pair of departing pachyderms were a gift from the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos, to their communist brothers in the People’s Democratic Republic of North Korea. (Those are strange titles for both, since neither country has any real democracy.)
Never mind that Laos isn’t really communist anymore, as capitalism abounds. There is still oppression here, but it’s nowhere near as bad as in North Korea today. But since the cold war is over and the reds lost, the North Koreans will take all the friends that they can get, even a poor landlocked friend like Laos.
It makes sense that they have to fly the elephants there on a cargo jet; they might not survive an overland trip in trucks, followed by a long sea voyage in a cargo ship.
|Leaving Laos. I'll miss this place.|
Then again, I wonder about the wisdom of sending Asian elephants to North Korea at all. Elephants have enormous appetites, and North Korea is prone to food shortages. I don’t expect that those Laotian elephants will be eating very well after they arrive. And how well will these elephants survive those cold North Korean winters, when they come from a tropical climate?
I’ll miss the simple charms of this warm locale, but now I have to leave this lovely country. My visa has already been extended, and it runs out tomorrow. My time in Laos is up. I will have to cross borders to avoid fines, or risk trouble with the authorities.
Today I fly back to Saigon in Vietnam, but I won’t be there long either. Traveling on, I will make my way to the final country on my Southeast Asian odyssey.
**NOTE** The old international airport for Vientiane has been closed. The new airport has opened, across the street.