Sunday, 1 October 2017

The Rains of Laos

Anyone who has been to the tropics during the rainy season knows the feeling. The tension grows – and grows – until the sky can bear no more. The heavens open, and in a flash the rain falls from the sky.

This is not the gentle rain of a summer afternoon. It i s a tropical downpour, and as the first drops smash to the ground people squeal with delight and run for cover. In a matter of minutes the streets are deserted, and before long the street gutters are gurgling with water.

I had arrived in Luang Prabang, Laos, only a an hour or so earlier. The sky stretched deep and blue above me, and the heat and humidity were so high the sky was sweating. Somewhere between the airport and my hotel white clouds started foaming over the horizon.

Just before the storm

I stood on my balcony, looking at the street. It was filled with people walking, laughing, riding bikes, sitting at outdoor restaurants. Lanterns had been strung between the trees. Below, a set of steep stairs led to a river, which raced beside the road. Just out of sight it joined with the mighty Mekong.

I stood for a few moments, wondering if I had the energy to explore. Before I could decide, the first raindrops fell. Soon I could barely see across the street.

The rain brings a sense of relief. For a little while, the temperature drops and the humidity becomes bearable – until the rain stops and the world starts to steam.

The overflowing path

I've been caught in tropical downpours in a few places. In Singapore, as I sat at a hawker mall with a dish of Hainanese Chicken Rice, (seriously, do not leave Singapore without trying this) the rain came, trapping all inside. A few braved the line for the taxis, but it seemed all had vanished.

In Saigon the storm came while I was in a taxi heading for dinner. The taxi pulled up outside the restaurant, and I opened the door onto a totally flooded gutter. I couldn't even jump over it.There were no awnings to offer cover in the desperate dash to the restaurant door.

Monks on the river next morning

Back in Vientiane the rain soon passed. It was just the start of the rainy season and the Mekong was still low, yet to fed by flooded rivers. Soon the lights came on in the trees across the road, beckoning me to come have dinner.

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