Chaos on our way to Laos – by Antonia Eiser & Patricia Fromkorth (Team XII)

All Posts, First impressions, Laos, VEDI

Chaos on our way to Laos: eventful journey to an exciting phase in our lives

The moment had finally arrived, and the countdown to our flight to Vientiane was in its final hours. It had been a journey of approximately nine months from when we, Patricia and Antonia, applied for the project until it officially commenced; a time marked by a whirlwind of excitement, anticipation, and preparation. We were determined to complete our Bachelor’s studies at the University of Education Karlsruhe before starting on this journey, and did.

We embarked on “TheLaosExperience” adventure with unwavering determination, fueled by the knowledge we had gained through three intensive preparatory workshops offered by Prof. Dr. Isabel Martin at the premises of the University of Education Karlsruhe. In those workshops, we did not gain insights into Lao culture but also familiarized ourselves with the procedures that lay ahead (whilst noting repeated gentle hints that no matter what our expectations were, they were certain to be disapppointed to make room for real experiences).

The 25th of September marked the beginning of our grand trajectory. As the pages of this story unfolded, it became clear that our flight to Laos was not without its share of chaotic scenes and unforeseen challenges. However, it was precisely these moments that tested our resilience and brought out our problem-solving skills. As we navigated through the hurdles along the way, we discovered a sense of camaraderie and an unyielding spirit that bound us together. With determination, teamwork, and a zest for adventure, we triumphed over every obstacle. The journey was not just about reaching our destination; it was about the experiences, the people we met, and the lessons we learned. In the end, our journey concluded on a high note, leaving us with unforgettable memories that will forever be etched in our hearts. This adventure will serve as a constant reminder of our ability to overcome challenges and the positivity that radiates from every corner of the world.

On that day, at 8:40 p.m., we commenced our journey by boarding a flight from Frankfurt to Bangkok, ultimately bound for Vientiane. Meeting at Terminal 1 around 6 p.m., we proceeded directly to the baggage drop-off area. Our separation during the semester break led to a detailed conversation, therefore we did not mind that the waiting line appeared to remain long without getting shorter. Nevertheless, curiosity arose as to the cause of this stagnation. After an approximate one-hour wait, the Thai Airways staff started the manual acceptance of travelers’ baggage, revealing that the automated baggage line system was defective. However, things went smoothly. We passed through security without waiting in line and headed to Gate B for boarding. 

After a nearly eleven-hour flight, which felt quite long but was uneventful, we arrived in Bangkok. There, we had to endure a nearly six-hour wait for our connecting flight to Vientiane. During this time, we wandered around the airport to stretch our legs, each watched a movie, and waited for the announcement of our departure gate. We were not really impressed by the airport since we thought it might be more vibrant. It turned out that we waited most of the time in the hallway and we did not figure out how to reach the second floor to go to our gate.1 When we glanced at the display board to check if our flight was listed, we realized that one of the two Thai Airways flights to Vientiane had been cancelled. This prompted us to check our flight number in our app to confirm if it was our flight that had been called off. To our dismay, it was indeed our flight.

As a result, we approached an information desk seeking guidance, since neither of us had encountered such a situation before. They directed us to go to the 3rd floor, which was somewhat perplexing as it did not seem like a typical floor but more like a corridor. To clarify, we sought advice again at another information desk. The staff there requested our boarding passes for our Vientiane flight, which we had received in Frankfurt. After inspecting our flight number, she assured us that our flight had not been cancelled, and there was no need to worry. This added to our confusion because we were convinced that we had seen our flight number on the display board as cancelled. It eventually came to light that our flight number had been changed in Frankfurt, a detail that had not been updated in the app, and we had not noticed until that moment. Consequently, the approximately 15 minutes of panic had been entirely unnecessary.

Later, we proceeded directly to our departure gate to await our boarding, when suddenly an announcement called our names. We were caught off guard but promptly made our way to the airport staff. Initially, they requested our passports and boarding passes, which we provided. Following that, they inquired if we had any specific items in our luggage, but we had difficulties understanding her. To clarify, she showed us a picture of fireworks on her mobile phone. We assured her that we had not brought any explosive items with us. Her response was, “well, but we discovered something in your baggage.”

This further compounded our confusion. They instructed us to take our seats once more while they retrieved our luggage, requesting us to open it in their presence and show them its contents. We complied with their instructions and returned to our seats. It did not take much time, perhaps a few seconds, before Patricia began to speculate about the situation. While we are in Laos, Patricia is going to celebrate her birthday, and her best friend had packed some small birthday gifts for her to open on that day. Patricia quickly deduced that her friend must have included wrapped up sparklers in her baggage and sent her a message to confirm this suspicion. It took a few minutes for her friend to respond, confirming Patricia’s assumption. With a clear understanding of the item and the origin in Patricia’s bag, she proceeded to clarify the situation to the airport staff. At any time, we were fully aware that the mistakes were on us, or perhaps more on Patricia than the airport staff. Of course, they did their job and did it well, which gave us a feeling of security. A note for everyone who flies overseas and may receive presents from their friends: please check them in advance! No sparklers!

Though the incident was uncomfortable, we were relieved to have clarity on the situation. Following the announcement, the staff called our names out once more and escorted us to an exit where a vehicle marked “customs/security control” with blue lights was parked, carrying Patricia’s luggage. Because Patricia was aware of where she had placed her birthday gifts, it did not take much time to locate them. She handed the gift to the responsible man who checked and seized it, completed a document that Patricia needed to sign, and then left. Following this incident, which might have occurred earlier in Frankfurt if the baggage line system had not been defective, there were no further obstacles on our journey to Vientiane. Eventually, after enduring a turbulent one-and-a-half-hour flight through a thunderstorm, we arrived in the capital of Laos. Mr Aod, one of the most hospitable individuals we have had the pleasure of meeting and our designated contact during our stay, welcomed us at Vientiane Airport around 8:15 p.m. local time.

Initially, he proposed taking us to a restaurant, presuming we might be hungry after our lengthy flight. However, we were primarily exhausted, so we had to decline his kind offer at that moment. Consequently, he purchased water and bread for us and drove us to our dormitory. After giving us a brief tour of our accommodation, he assured us that someone would be sent the following day to assist with any remaining needs, such as obtaining a Lao SIM card. True to his word, this assistance was promptly provided the next morning.

At this point, all we wanted was a quick shower followed by a good night’s sleep, and that’s precisely what we intended to do. Patricia went first and emerged from the shower feeling refreshed and content. Subsequently, it was Antonia’s turn in the bathroom, with no expectation of any mishaps. However, unexpectedly, a loud noise echoed, and not only did water stream from the shower head, but it also began to pour from the ceiling. After Antonia called for Patricia’s help, we found ourselves in a state of helplessness.

Due to our lack of a Lao SIM card and no Wi-Fi at our accommodation at that time, we were unable to contact Mr Aod for assistance. Furthermore, we had just arrived and had not yet met anyone in the dormitory, consequently our only recourse was to scan the hallway for signs of light seeping through other people’s doors. Fortunately, we spotted light under one door, and despite feeling uncomfortable and embarrassed, we found the courage to knock. A partially dressed gentleman answered the door, eyeing us with curiosity as we attempted to explain our dilemma – that our bathroom was on the brink of flooding, and we had no idea what had gone wrong or how to resolve it.

He did not speak much with us, probably due to the language barrier and a few days later we found out he is one of the chefs at the VEDI restaurant. But still, he went inside his apartment to put on some clothes, and immediately went to our bathroom with us. Other than us, he understood the problem right from the beginning. Of course, the water was not coming out of the ceiling, but out of the bidet shower which mysteriously broke during Antonia’s shower session, explaining the loud bang. We only assumed it was coming out the ceiling because the tube was directed at the ceiling and the water bounced off there. The man turned the water off and called the caretaker of the house. A few minutes later, two men were standing in our bathroom trying to fix the bidet shower, while we were standing next to them embarrassed and feeling guilty.

A few minutes after their departure, the chef from the VEDI restaurant came to our door once more, offering us a bathmat to prevent our room from getting soaked. This thoughtful gesture was unexpected but greatly appreciated. Finally, we could retire for the night, fully prepared to start the project with renewed energy. Our first few hours in Laos demonstrated the kindness and willingness to help others that are inherent in the Lao culture. This made us feel more at home in this new environment right from the start.

Text by A. Eiser & P. Fromkorth

Photos by A. Eiser, P. Fromkorth & A. Thammavong


1 Editor’s note: The authors kindly agreed to me sharing our conversation after I read this sentence.
IM: “This will become a classic and I will use this [sentence] for my next [paper if you allow]: ‘We were not really impressed by the airport since we thought it might be more vibrant. It turned out that we waited most of the time in the hallway and we did not figure out how to reach the second floor to go to our gate.’ […] One can’t capture the (uninitiated) Northern point of view better [wink]”.
AE/PF: “Glad we made you laugh (even though it was not on purpose [laugh]).”
IM: “Our automatic binary judgment of the other side’s inferiority before questioning ourselves even in the slightest is […] ample reason for this project […]. If I needed a new motivation kick, that was it [thanks].”

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