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Wilds of Laos, 23rd January 2012:

Travelling on the hideously uncomfortable bus from Luang Prabang to Sam Neua (Vieng Xai), a 14-hour-long colossus packed with skeletal seats and bony elbows, our steam is running out. Stephen Fry’s Harry Potter is losing its charm and our stomachs used up their last offering long ago. Finally our seemingly indestructible bus driver halts his steed.

At one time or other in our driver’s youth he must have been asked by his fellow Laotian friends, “If you were a superhero, what superpower would you choose?” And he must have replied in that same strange tonal language, “I would choose to never need food and, consequently, never need the loo too. Armed thus I would be capable of uninterrupted travel over significantly far-reaching distances. Legendary leaders who commanded great armies, and who a man from Laos such as myself may, or may not have heard of, would be rotten to the core with jealousy upon hearing of my power. Think of Alexander the Great who had to climb off and back on to his Great elephant every time he needed a waz! Think of Richard the Lionheart who, travelling to-and-from the crusades literally lost his portable lavatory a total of five seperate times and was forced, in front of his Christian knights, to shit in passing bushes! Think of Joan d’Arc, who, posing as a man, had to pee standing up!

“I will forever appear godlike in the eyes of others and if, in some unknown future circumstance, I choose to become a bus driver, my passengers will be forced to pluck supplies from passing trees and let loose through back-seat windows.”

A Pause.

Friend One, “I’d choose flight.” and Friend Two: “No way man! I’d choose invisibility.”

Many years later and our driver has laughed enough at our inadequacy. He needs us alive so we can pay him. He stops the bus and lets us off. Food! We search around for fried rice. Two metres later we give up. No luck. We settle for whatever this lady is displaying in her various cauldrons. Ah, what’s this? Rats on sticks? Haha! No thanks! I wouldn’t be caught dead with rat-on-a-stick. Our fellow German travellers obviously feel the same and steer well clear. We all go for the safer option: a meaty salad and sticky rice. Mark and I sit down with an English-speaking Laotian and the Germans sit behind him. We manage some pleasantries through the overwhelming urge to eat. Our superhuman driver passes by, disdain clearly visible on his face.

The meat we’re eating is intriguing Mark. It tastes thick like liver, rough like elderly sheep, dirty with overtones of soil. We ask our Laotian friend who tells us the Lao name. Well it’s definitely not beef, chicken or pork then. Those names I do know.

“Do you know it in English?” I ask.

“Ah… No. Sorry!”

“Well is it yaiy [big] or nid noi [tiny]?” I use my arms to demonstrate.

“Yes! It’s nid noi.”

I pause. “Like rat?”

“Yes. That’s the name!” He grins, pleased to be of assistance.

“Mmm. Thanks.” I try a smile. Mark nods soberly. The Germans, who have been listening with interest put down their forks of the stuff abruptly. One of them stands up, and leaving the table, walks quickly away. The other leans back in his chair and stares into the distance as if remembering a time, long ago, when his life was good and his journeys easy.

Check out Benjamin’s personal website for more interesting words and pictures.

Rat Story Lao Laos Benjamin Lindley Travel Writer

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a pun for a pun

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Shimla, India, 4th November 2011:

We meet Anil Kumar, head of Captivate Adventure Travels. He needs two girls (white, backpacker types) for a scene in a Bollywood film. We find two such girls in our hostel and I go knock on their door. There’s a long wait and then the door’s opened and a white backpacker type pokes her head out – “Hello?”

“Hi,” I start, trying not to sound like an Indian salesman. Although “Hi” gathers as much dust as your average inanimate object, at least I didn’t colour it with “Where you from my friend? … Whereabouts?” Boring but at least unthreatening I thought. Boring but at least unthreatening: “Hi, er there’s a guy downstairs from a Bollywood movie and, well, they’re looking for two white girls to film in a little scene tomorrow. I thought you two might be interested.” The word Bollywood strikes happiness and joviality into the hearts and minds of all Westerners. They would flood to Bollywood, given half the chance. Much the opposite of the effect the word “inquisition” would have had on inhabitants of late medieval Spain.

But her response, so gaily enthusiastic: “Oh.” She turns back into the room, mutterings in German, very efficient. “No, I don’t think we’re interested.” she’s talking to me now. “Thank you. Good night.” Her face shows that I should take no comfort in the goodwill that is usually inherent in these final remarks. I still feel duty-bound to sweeten the deal even more by informing them of the financial reward.

“I am told you’ll be paid two thousand Rupees for your trouble.” I try mustering a weak smile. She turns away before it reaches its climax. Never trust a German girl. (Ja, ja, neuberechnung ja…) She doesn’t want to turn back. She doesn’t want to see me standing at her door offering her the opportunity of an Indian holiday’s lifetime. She HATES Bollywood.

“Ah, a what time tomorrow?” Her English is pristine, like mouthwash that hurts.

“Eight in the morning. But I’m sure -”

She cuts in like a freshly-autoclaved scalpel: “And when would it end?”

Damn! She’s got me. I’m no match for her sledgehammer logic. As soon as she’d said those fateful opening words, “And when…” I could see my chariot of fire being shot down in flames (somewhere over France). I stutter, stammer, “Er, I- I- I’m not too sure.” That’s it. All I could manage. More Deutsch. (Nein! Nein! Zis mann: he is such a willy!) “Er no thank you, we are not interested. Goodnight.” And with a final look of absolute loathing at my unkempt arsenal of blackheads she shuts the door on a Bolly good invitation.

Check out Benjamin’s personal website for more interesting words and pictures.


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