Luang Prabang

Trip Start Dec 29, 2007
Trip End Dec 12, 2008

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Where I stayed
Soutikone Guesthouse

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Katie and I left Luang Nam Tha and spent the next nine hours on a bus to Luang Prabang, bumping down pot-holed, unsealed roads, listening to blaring Thai pop music, with this dire soundtrack interspersed with the driver's somewhat excessive use of the horn, and other passengers spitting out of the windows and vomiting.  The scenery was lovely though.  This seems fairly average for a Lao public bus journey.

Luang Prabang is very much a tourist resort, which after our trip up north came as something of a culture shock, but I do like it here.  The French influence is immediately evident in the town's architecture and food.  It is a Unesco World Heritage site so there is plenty of history to explore.  Katie and I planned to stay here for at least a few days while we waited for our Vietnamese visas to be processed, so we both felt happy to be able to explore at a typically Lao leisurely pace, rather than rushing to see everything at once.  We spent a fair amount of time absorbing the cafe culture, and shopping in the ethnic shops and at the night market.

We had Khamu (another Lao ethnic group) massages and it was a much nicer experience than the other massages I have had in Laos.  Unfortunately the pinching did feature again, but this time it was an oil massage so it didn't hurt like last time.

One day we walked along to the end of the peninsula where the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers meet, and there a boat man offered to take us across to the other side of the river.  We had no idea what was over there but he was only asking for a few thousand kip for a return trip, so we jumped at the chance to go somewhere that isn't in the Lonely Planet.  We went there with a Dutch lady called Marianne who we had just met that day.  On the other side of the river some young boys who had been playing in the river immediately decided that we were far more interesting than their game, so they escorted us to a village where we looked around the temple and the local handicraft shops, and were able to watch people weaving and making paper.

That evening the three of us went to Lao Lao Garden, a beautiful outdoor restaurant where we had a huge DIY Lao barbecue.  I had my first taste of water buffalo, which I was unable to distinguish from the beef.  We made some new friends and enjoyed some wine, cocktails and Lao-Lao (rice whiskey - hideously cheap and appropriately lethal), and even came away with free t-shirts and a Beerlao poster.

One day, when Katie was mountain biking, I climbed up Phu Si, a small hill near the centre of Luang Prabang, where there are various temples, one of which is used largely as a school for novice monks.  As I walked up the hill a young monk said hello to me and we got chatting.  He was very friendly and chatty, and clearly relished the opportunity to practice his English.  I had gotten used to Thailand where women can't even sit on the same bus seat that a monk might use, let alone speak to them, so the less orthodox attitude here is quite refreshing.  My new friend, 15-year-old Punmi, told me many things about Buddhism and his life as a novice monk.  I was fascinated and really enjoyed the time I spent talking to him.  It's strange how easy it often is to connect with someone whose despite barely being able to comprehend what one another's lives must be like.  After my time spent chatting to Punmi I spent hours in a cafe writing out pretty much an entire transcript of our conversation - I don't want to forget a single thing he told me.  This was one of the most valuable experiences of my whole trip for reasons that it is really hard to explain.

Towards the end of our time in Luang Prabang, Katie and I met up with her German friend Arne, who is great fun to be around in the same way that an exuberant Labrador puppy is great fun to be around, and the three of us then set off together for Vang Vieng.

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