After five months and a 40-hour journey from Portland, we’re back in Laos for another year! We left Portland on New Year’s Eve 2018 and arrived in Vientiane at sunset on January 2, 2019, with a 12-hour stop-over in China.
I’m still getting used to deplaning into the shiny new air-conditioned international arrivals area at Wattay International in Vientiane. It’s nice and all, but a big part of me misses the old open-air concrete walkway that screamed “Welcome to the Tropics and Lao PDR!” Now it feels more like, “Welcome to China in 2008!”
Upon landing at Wattay, the kids don’t seem any worse for the wear, but we’ve still got visa and immigration to contend with.
Since late 2016, we’ve been entering Lao PDR on Lori’s E-B2 NGO expert visa, bypassing the long visa-on-arrival counter and heading straight to immigration, which is a significant perk with a little one. Due to our extended leave in the U.S., however, all our visas and permits expired, meaning we get to play the waiting game with the short-term visitors.
40 minutes and $140 later, we were through immigration with our 30-day visas (we’ll eventually get our 12-month visas via Lori’s employer). And not a minute too soon, as Noe was very close to losing it entirely, which was eerily reminiscent of our first time doing this over two years ago. Riley, on the other hand, was, Riley.
Leaving immigration, we wondered what we’d find on the other side. Would all eight pieces of checked luggage be waiting for us on the carousel? Would the driver Lori’s work arranged be waiting in the arrivals area? Would his vehicle be large enough to accommodate the four of us and all our crap?
We emerge into the baggage claim area and find our flight’s carousel at the far end of the room, which is now completely deserted but for several scattered bags. We counts seven of our bags. “Looks like we’re missing one,” says Lori. I walk over to inspect a large clear plastic bag that looks to be holding a large, mangled suitcase. “Think I found number eight!”
In minutes we exit the baggage area and are greeted by our driver. A short while later, he pulls around with a mini van that barely accommodates everything.
The bag wrapped in plastic was our oldest suitcase on its last leg that Lori had been using since studying abroad in Spain in 2002. It’s seen a lot of action over the years, accompanying us on our move to and from Belize, to Laos in 2016, another round trip to the U.S. in 2017, and finally, this trip (not to mention moves to/from DC and Portland). After all that, it finally gave way somewhere en route to Vientiane. Miraculously all of its contents are accounted for but for a pack of bibs, which is certain to make some ground crew person’s day.
The driver quickly loaded the van and we were on our way.
It was a strange feeling knowing that the driver knew where he was taking us, but that we did not really. We were headed to our new home that we had never visited. Owing to our extended leave, we had to give up our previous house in Laos, and had planned on moving into a small apartment (again) before finding something to suit our family’s needs and Lori’s employer’s requirements. Serendipitously, this new house fell into place prior to our arrival allowing us to skip the apartment step entirely – but more on the story of the new house in a future post.
We weaved around our new neighborhood (the house is a bit hard to find if you don’t know what you’re looking for…as are most houses in Vientiane, it seems), and arrived just before nine. To our surprise, we were greeted by Santi, Lori’s employer’s logistics manager, and were happy to see a familiar face on the first night back from a long absence.
The house was all lit up and looked even better in person (which is always a good thing). We went about the process of bringing our bags into the house and setting up the kid’s sleeping quarters for the night. I setup Noe’s travel crib in the master bedroom (we still had to move a bed from another room into there for us to use). As for Riley, we made a nice little bed in the drawer of the built in hutch in the room we planned to sleep in. Pretty soon we were all fast asleep in our new digs.
• • •
Generally, I have issues sleeping on the first night after flying over an ocean, but slept surprisingly well this night. A lot of people talk about it being easier to adjust when you fly east to west or west to east, but flying to/from Asia, night and day are essentially flipped and it doesn’t really matter which direction you’ve gone. Despite that, we all managed to get a good night’s sleep. I was up at 4:30am for the first three nights. I felt surprisingly awake (it was 1:30pm Oregon time, after all) and enjoyed the quiet time to unpack and get things done before the rest of the family woke after 6am. I always enjoy watching the sunrise on the first morning in Asia. It’s the fourth time I’ve flown in from the other side of the world, and the first-morning sunrises are always the best for some reason.
I knew that Noe would be dazed and confused (yet again) when he woke up. To give him a taste of the familiar, I set up his favorite toys in the living room, hoping it would help reassure him that they weren’t left behind.
Noe managed to have the best night’s sleep he’s had after a trans-oceanic flight, and woke up happy. But, he was even happier when he discovered his Legos were waiting for him.
In a few days, we’ll get our stuff out of storage and will begin to slowly reintroduce toys back into Noe’s life. But for now, he was content with the few toys that had miraculously shown up half a world away from Nanny/Poppi/Grammy/Grampy’s place.
Soon, we were all up and ready to go on our first morning walk in our new neighborhood.
We walked to a nearby cafe that we’d been to only one or two times before. I imagine this will become a go-to place for us, particularly on weekends, as it’s only a short walk away from the new place.
Admittedly, it’s strange being back in Vientiane and not yet setting foot anywhere near our old neighborhood. Oddly, there is little at the moment that we miss about Phontan Village, but perhaps that will change in time. For the moment, we’re excited about having a new area of town to explore on foot.
And, yep, there’s Riley. I’m realizing I titled this post “Breaking-in Baby Part #3” and am only now showing a pic of the BABY. It’s not on purpose, Riley. There’s been just a few things going on in the past few days and, well, you’re pretty chill and just go along for the ride, which are all good things. Lately, your brother has required enough attention for two kids, so we’re grateful you’ve just been going with the flow. Your brother, on the other hand…
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you are aware of Noe’s infatuation with all things fruit. So, you can imagine his excitement when we returned to the land of tropical fruits, and encountered this display on our first morning back.
When we first moved to Vientiane in September of 2016, we arrived around noon, moved-in to our apartment, and grabbed some pho for dinner. First thing in the morning, Lori handed me a three-month-old and reported to her new job. With the exception of a few suitcases (mostly packed with kid’s clothes) and a handful of basic furnishings, the apartment was pretty bare bones, and I was left to fend for myself – without a vehicle, food, or basic supplies and furnishings, until the weekend.
In an effort to avoid that with two kids and a new house, Lori made sure we had four days together before she reported back to work on Monday. Our first full day back was devoted to hiring a vehicle to transport the rest of our stuff out of storage. By sundown, we were once again reunited with our Laos stuff.
As you might imagine, it was quite the task to move into a new house with a toddler running around. And it would have been even harder if it weren’t for the generosity of multiple sets of friends with kids who volunteered to take Noe off our hands for a couple of hours each. We love the Mister, but if you’ve ever had to contend with a 2.5-year-old while moving, you’ll know how much of a godsend this was.
On our first morning’s walk, I put Noe in the carrier to walk down the long, dirt road to the cafe. On the second, he insisted on walking.
Morning trash collection in the neighborhood. Yep, that’s a dude standing on top. We’ve missed you, Vientiane.
Noe’s been asking to sleep in a “big bed” for several months now. And, it’s been our plan for several months to graduate him to a big bed. We just didn’t realize how big a bed we were talking about until we moved into our new place. I had envisioned a little toddler bed, or maybe even a twin bed. But those aren’t easy to find here, and we already had a spare king size bed in the house. So…we made some bumpers on both sides and decided to give it a whirl during his next nap, expecting the worst. I gave Noe a little talk about what was expected of him in the big bed, turned on his sound machine, and left the room. He was happily passed out in minutes…
It’s still early on, so we’ll see how Noe does in the long term. Fingers crossed…
The front room of the new house is pretty large, so we sectioned it off into smaller areas, making a padded play space for Noe in one corner. I like this setup, because you can’t really see his stuff from anywhere else in the room, and it keeps most of his toys corralled in one place. Again, we’ll check back later to see how this works over the long run.
I’ve been talking a lot about Noe (again), so I probably should say something here about Riley. Come to think of it…where is Riley?
Oh, hey buddy. Whatcha doing out there?
I don’t feel too bad about not focusing on the baby of the family. On Monday, Noe will be back to nursery school (full time), and I’ll be home with the Junior Mister (full time), so there will be lots of time for more bonding with (and talking about) baby in Laos.
But in terms of breaking-in baby (i.e. introducing Riley to his family’s lifestyle and new home here in Laos – and all the weird, wonderful, and fun things that go along with that) we did make some headway over the weekend in that respect. However, we’re quickly realizing that Riley’s first months in Laos are going to be dramatically different than Noe’s. For one, the dude is going to be riding around a lot more in a car seat.
Here’s Riley on his first ride in his Laos carseat (Noe’s old infant carseat) in a taxi on mommy’s way to pick up a vehicle from work.
Vehicle? Ha! We didn’t even have Laos licenses or access to a vehicle for the first six weeks after moving here in 2016 (and I still don’t have access to a vehicle, but that’s a different story). Back then, we had few friends here to speak of, no babysitters, and we didn’t even receive our freight from the U.S. or Lori’s first paycheck until December (three months after arrival), due to logistics issues.
With Noe, cash was tighter and days were crazier. We did a lot more walking, a lot more riding around in tuk tuks, a lot more waiting around for cheap transport, eating at local eateries, sweating our butts off (it was a much hotter time of year), getting soaked (it was a rainier time of year, too), and a lot more roughing it in general.
We also found ourselves on the road a lot more, as Lori had three work trips (to Chiang Mai, Luang Prabang, and Phonsavan), in our first eight weeks here – that’s eight flights, six hotel rooms, and a boatload of travel miles.
Riley’s circumstances will be far different this time around, but we couldn’t be happier. While we really enjoyed our adventures as a family of three in those first months, we’re perfectly content with the prospect of a much more low-key second time around.
We spent the rest of our time off together running last minute move-in errands and soaking up the near-perfect weather (January tends to be the coolest and driest month of the year, with lows in the mid-60s (F) and highs around 80°F. We even managed to squeeze in a Lao massage, even if we had to go solo, alternating watching the boys.
Tomorrow (Monday, Jan 7th), it’s back to work for Lori, and back to nursery school for Noe.
And I get to spend the whole week with this dude: