Upon which we visit a tour office

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Tour offices are an abolishment to any culture and should be deemed inhumane. I hate them about as much as I hate the organized tour. In theory the idea of a tour is great, but it has evolved into nothing more than a circus sideshow where everyone pays off everyone else in exchange for a piece of a vacationer’s budget. Why do this to your dignity? Why represent your city this way? God help us all if the rest of the world aims to become the next Honolulu, glossed over for the masses and handing out free keychains to the first hundred to buy the ‘plate of the day’ from the big box restaurant next to the big box hotel. Suddenly, nothing is real anymore, and a better cultural experience can be had by visiting a theme park and overhearing the conversations of everyone standing next to you in line at the roller coaster.

The tour office is evil. To my dismay, it is sometimes a necessary evil when in a country that has a language you speak none of, and an alphabet you can’t read. Which is why, during an evening walk we found ourselves slipping off our shoes and stepping into a storefront advertising elephant treks and village tours. The man behind the desk greeted us as if we were his long lost friends, and invited us to sit down and make small talk with him. Directly to his left was an oversized picture of a male elephant mounted on a female elephant– all apparatus in clear focus. I lost my concentration- appalled at the distaste in wall decoration. The salesman read my disgust as intrigue:

Him: ‘Oh you are here for an elephant trek! I will book you on one tomorrow morning. Last minute. I’ll give you an excellent price, it’s good luck for me’

Me: No. I am here because I want to hire a boat. For a day. Tomorrow. Can you do that?

Him: Yes I have a great half day tour. Small groups, much better for you.

Me: No, I want my own boat. And a driver. That’s it. No tour. We would like to go wherever we wish and stop as long as we wish. No tour.

I waved my hands back and forth in a crossing motion to try and emphasize my will to avoid the tour group. The process took some effort and I paced towards the door a number of times. Finally his voice quieted and he took out a blank sheet of paper. He explained that he could not book this through his employer but would arrange the boat for us as a favor because ‘we were all friends’. He’d even throw in the tuk tuk ride for free.

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I was sure that I was being conned- at least a little. But the fact was that we had found what we had set out to find. A handshake followed. He handed us a handwritten ‘receipt’ on a plain piece of paper that could have just as easily served as one of those gag greeting cards: “Dear Tourist- I just stole a bunch of money from you. Gotcha!”

We walked out the door and in unison wondered aloud if any of this plan was actually going to happen or not. Only time would tell. Tomorrow at 9, we planned to wait outside for our promised ride to the banks of the Mekong River. If it all worked out, we’d have a full day of sightseeing, village wandering, and the relaxed feeling of a softly rocking river ride. If not, we’d spend an hour waiting on the concrete sidewalk for a plan that would not ever come to fruition. We rolled the dice, walked back to our room, and waited for the outcome.

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