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Vietnam-Laos border:

In Search of the Fountain of Youth

By Tommy Hayes

September 28, 2008 

My search for eternal youth started, of course, when I was much younger than I am now; in other words, I haven't found it yet. But, in a small Thai village along the Vietnamese-Laotian border, I was half a day from possibly locating the source of my world-wide search. 
Throughout my travels, I noticed a constantly recurring theme in countries of the Caribbean, South America, and Asia;  all cultures have some drink or potion that is supposed to increase vitality, make a man feel like a man, make a woman's skin look younger, etc.  After testing some of these potions and actually feeling the effects that were described by the locals...I had an epiphany.  Maybe the fountain of youth is actually a plant somewhere or a tea made from different medicinal plants from around the world?  For example, there is a Chinese herb called fo-ti root. Fifty year old root is said to turn gray hair dark again, and a 150-year-old root supposedly causes teeth to grow back in the elderly!
And so began my search for the 'plant of life', and that's how I had arrived on my motorcycle, in the middle of a mountain jungle, along the border of Vietnam and Laos. 
The Asian adventure started in South Korea, where I chanced upon a rumor of a magical plant, the locals called San Som, which means 'mountain root'.  Unfortunately, the Chinese also had a name for it, ho shou wu, plenty of money to spend, and a huge demand for the plant over hundreds of years.  So, the plant was pretty well picked to extinction in that part of Asia.  After quite a few hikes through the mountains and the constant reply of laughter from Koreans to my innocent inquiries of the plant (they all knew the plant had been picked clean a 100 years before), I decided to try some other areas along the Chinese border.  My dart landed on Vietnam, so I was off to Hanoi!
Once in Hanoi, after some very thorough research into the expertise and experience of local Vietnamese guides, I finally chose the one sitting next to me at the Rock and Roll bar who could speak some English.  We quickly wrote up a contract on a wet bar napkin, stating that the guide expense was $150 for one week including food and lodging.  The fact that, we had drank beer for 3 hours and were becoming increasingly drunk, only fueled our desire to get out into the mountains and search for the plant of life.  But, remarkably,  a storm hit just about 1:00 a.m. and we had to delay our start until the following morning, hail taxis, and return to our respective lodgings to pass out for the night.

The trip leaving Hanoi and coming back into the gigantic and sprawling city was made up of hundreds of miles of absolutely beautiful scenery.  Rice fields, waterfalls, water buffalos being led by children; basically all the idyllic scenes you find of Vietnam in a travel brochure or poster.  Eventually the signs of modern civilization gave way to more and more scenes of rural life;  less paved roads, more wooden houses instead of stone, less traffic until we only passed the occasional farmer walking down the dirt path to work in the rice fields.

Near the Laos border, we spent the night in a village whose name I couldn't pronounce, yet I couldn't have dreamed up a more beautiful place.  There was a local woman in the village that specialized in medicinal plants and, through the help of my guide, who translated, I was able to determine that she knew of and had seen the plant I was searching for.  Although, at this point, it was difficult for me not to jump up and down like a screaming idiot, yelling, 'Where is it! Where's the plant!', I somehow calmly asked my guide to ask her where the plant was located.  After translating to the woman, she responded by pointing up the dirt trail that ran past her hut and disappeared into the jungle.  My guide said,  'It's three hours ride up that trail.  Follow the river west, it's next to the river.'
At this point, I would like to say that, after all my searching in the world, actually being  a 3 hour motorcycle ride from my prize, nothing could have kept me from reaching my goal.  Unfortunately,  I was in a bit of a predicament.  I had visited Vietnam on vacation from my job in South Korea and this was the last full day.  I had to get back two hundred miles to Hanoi to catch my flight the next day.  
So, there you have it.  The name of the plant of life.  The general area where it can still be found.  And the knowledge that it could still be there.  I hope this article inspires some of you to go out and look for the fountain of youth.  And, in the end, even if we never find it...at least we will have lived life, enjoyed numerous adventures, and maybe stumble upon another fountain of youth; it is found by following our hearts.

written by,
Tommy Hayes
He has traveled to 17 countries and 30 Islands and lived and worked in Europe, Asia, South America, and the Caribbean.  Currently he is running a website of International job listings for anyone feeling adventurous and dreaming of travel.

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