Photo: evgenii mitroshin/Shutterstock

Notes on (Almost?) Getting Robbed in Laos

Laos Narrative
by Joshywashington Nov 17, 2009
Aboard a bus in Laos, Josh suspects that the shifty kid with the machine gun might just rob him blind.

IN NORTHEAST LAOS, on one lane roads, we swoop through foggy forests. The driver of the bus strains forward, breathing a little stain of fog on the windshield. Outside the rain falls on sullen cattle.

The bus pulls aside and while the men step out to liberate their bladders, the glint off the barrel of a large machine gun catches my eye. The weapon is protruding from a young man’s denim coat. I stand and stretch, only now I have an electric current running from my toes to my testicles.

The kid, and he looks all of 16, seems to be trying to be inconspicuous. No one seems to heed him or his alarming semi-automatic secret.

We board the bus and the driver gives the machine gun kid a little nod as he takes his seat among us. My eyes won’t leave the muzzle or the angular protrusion of denim or the way he holds the barrel beside his leg. From the size of the gun it could well be an AK-47.

This is my third day in Laos.

The bus is full of sedate travelers surely carrying cash and cameras and all kinds of expensive gadgetry. We are sitting ducks. Oh God please don’t let me be the guy with a black sack over his face holding a newspaper for the unsteady camera. Of nearly equal gravity is the thought of the machine gun kid tearing through my bag to discover $2,000 cash.

We stop at a string of noodle huts waiting for us. Among the scraggle of hungry tourists there is a big lad in a tee shirt that says Vancouver. I need an ally in this unfortunate knowledge.

“Yeah, right there, um, twelve o’clock. He’s packing heat big time dude! And he doesn’t want anyone to see! See?”

“Holy shit, no way man. Look at him, he’s gonna rob the bus, you hear about it all the time. Why else would he be hiding a machine gun? What do we do?”

“Well I don’t know about you but I’m going to the bathroom and getting creative with my dough. I’m carrying, like, a lot of cash.”

In the bathroom stall I rip into my money stash. I duct tape some bills to the inside cover of my portable Steinbeck, making it a $400 edition. I tear into my travel pillow and stuff a few hundred in. The biggest chunk of change is crammed under my junk. I button my jeans and dozens of Vietnamese notes crunch in my underwear. If this is a full on strip-search-jungle-shake-and-bake, well, at least the money they steal will have touched my nuts.

For the next two hours the kid looks relaxed enough. I am sweating through my shirt. The Canadian fingers a serrated plastic knife.

Finally, the machine gun kid slowly stands and turns toward me. He steps forward, shifts his gun and strides quickly to the front of he bus. The bus slows down, but doesn’t stop as he hops off and waves us on. The driver smiles and slams the bus into gear. A queer disappointment contends with my relief. I was so set on being robbed that I’m…a little bummed.

The big Canadian leans close, “I have a plastic picnic knife.”

“You’re a better man than I. I have a fistful of dollars chaffing my naughty bits.”

“Oh, me too. Of course.”


Have you had a close call? Or at least worked yourself up into thinking you were having a close call?! I would love to hear your stories of danger, real or perceived, on the road.

Please send to josh at matadornetworkdotcom.

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