Luang Prabang - the Final Days
Trip Start Nov 14, 2010
17Trip End Dec 22, 2010
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Where I stayed
Pakham Guest House
Actually I don't remember what I did today (as I'm writing this back home in Bangkok already - three days later), so let's assume that I spent the day reading, walking around and watching Gary Shandling videos.
In the evening, though, I distinctly remember meeting a couple of backpack-laden German girls who were just off the boat, wondering where they were going to sleep tonight. (The rhythm of life in Luang Prabang is pretty much the same every day. The boat(s) arrive at about 17:30, and masses of weary backpackers disembark, dazed and confused by the bright lights of the big city.) Because I remember all too well how I was feeling when I arrived, I now make it a point to help new arrivees when I see them. So I escorted these young ladies to a neighborhood with cheap accommodation and dropped them off at a place to their liking
I know - you're probably thinking I'm a nice guy for doing this. And while I won't deny being nice, I do this because it just makes sense to me. There is a big difference between never having been to a place in your life - and having been there for a day or two already - or in my case, a couple of weeks now. If you've been there for a couple of days, even though you are not an expert on the town, you will certainly know more about the place than someone who just got off the boat. So why not take a few minutes out of your otherwise very busy day - and help a fellow traveler with a few words of advice? Wouldn't you appreciate it if someone did that for you? I know I would.
So, after getting a roof over these ladies' heads, I proceeded to the place where I normally have lunch to have my dinner. (The same restaurant where the coffee incident took place yesterday.) I was greeted by the excited owner of the restaurant - who proceeded to relate a story about a customer who had ordered coffee earlier today. She had elaborated all of the options to the customer - including mentioning the sweetness of the milk. The result: the customer ordered - and got - exactly what he wanted - and left happy. And the owner was happy as well. And Bangkok Randy was happy too - for having made a small improvement in some people's lives. This must be how parents - or teachers - feel when their children / students grasp a concept.
My good feeling didn't last long, though
Only one other time in my life have I experienced anything like this - in Jakarta some ten years ago. Then it was a one-off blow-out rather than a multiple day experience - and this one felt the same. I guess that's the good thing about such a serious episode as this: it tends to clear out the system all in one violent rush.
I'm pleased to say that I didn't have to go to the toilet at all again last night, and I'm pretty much feeling normal again already
One of the big things that people do in Luang Prabang is to wake up early to watch the daily ceremony of the monks making their rounds at the crack of dawn to gather the food that is to make up their daily sustenance. I had no intention of taking part in this, not least of which because I didn't fancy waking up at 6 in the morning - especially in this case after having been sick last night and not having gone to bed until 1 am and planning to return to Bangkok today.
But fate had other plans for me. I woke up without intending to in what seemed like the middle of the night (my room is shuttered so I wouldn't have known if it was day or night), glanced at my watch, and saw that it was 5:50 a.m. I took this as a sign to go out and witness this ceremony, hopped out of bed, got dressed, and was downtown by 6. If I had known that I was going to watch this ceremony, I would have done more to research where to see it from. As it was, I just headed down to the main street - and I could see the monks emerging from one of the main temples nearby. Unfortunately it was too dark to make very nice pictures at the time. Still, I tried. Eventually, as has been happening since the beginning of time, the day dawned - and things - including my pictures became clearer
Walking around looking for the best angle from which to photograph the monks, I saw a tourist taking an early morning picture of the main museum / former royal palace. I came alongside the tourist (who turned out to be a Thai girl who works for Thai Airways and who was to be on my flight home later today) - and my sudden appearance in the wee hours of the morning scared her to the point that she nearly dropped her camera.
But the view at that time was so spectacular that I just stood there taking about a dozen pictures, one of which I think was the best picture of the trip - and perhaps one of the best I have ever taken. It looked surreal. But I'll let you judge for yourself, as my words can't adequately describe the picture.
After taking that beautiful picture, I went back to photographing the monks - and had a somewhat embarrassing moment: I saw a pretty tourist girl across the street giving alms to the monks. When she stood up to reveal herself wearing a short dress, I took a picture of her - for my own viewing pleasure. A few minutes later, I found myself standing next to her - and as a way to start a conversation with her I told her about the spectacular museum picture that I had just taken
After getting my fill of early morning monk pictures, I returned to my room and tried to go back to sleep. With the day in full bloom, I couldn't get back to sleep, so instead I read until breakfast. The rest of the afternoon was spent packing, having lunch, and gathering food for the return trip home. (I bought a couple of great ham, egg and cheese sandwiches from the Scandinavian Bakery - and packed them in the Zip Lock bags that I carry with me when I travel.
At 15:30 I went out looking for a tuk tuk to take me to the airport. I had already researched the price and was expecting to pay 30,000 kip for the ride. The first tuk tuk driver I asked quoted me a price of 50,000 kip, so I countered with the correct price of 30,000. At first he just laughed at me - but when I started walking away towards the dozens of other unemployed tuk tuk drivers, he very quickly changed his tune - and agreed to take me for the going rate
You might recall the story about the return flight that I booked through Expedia - first from Luang Prabang to Vientiane then from there to Bangkok. I also have a further segment booked from Bangkok to Chiang Mai for tomorrow morning, but I have no intention of taking that flight.
On the first segment of the trip I sat next to a very large Lao man (by far the biggest local I had seen during my two weeks in the country - and of course he had to be sitting next to me on the plane.) He was a doctor and the head of the Luang Prabang provincial health office and was on his way to Vientiane for an all day meeting at the Ministry of Health tomorrow. We had a nice conversation during the short (less than one hour) flight.
In Vientiane I had a layover of about 3 1/2 hours (which is part of the reason why my ticket was so cheap, I think). But it was not a painful wait as I had my book, my computer, my MP3 player and a sandwich with which to entertain myself. When I checked in, I was very pleased that they agreed to let me check my bag through to Bangkok rather than forcing me to check it to Chiang Mai. Had they done the latter, it would have spoiled my plan
On the Thai Airways flight to Bangkok, I was seated next to a lady with a bad cold and a constant cough. I asked to be reseated to a healthier location and I'm pleased that they were able to accommodate my request even though the flight was nearly full. (It's surprising how many people fly between Vientiane and Bangkok - mostly French people.)
My flight was scheduled to arrive in Bangkok at 23:00 and I was hoping to be able to catch the new airport link train into the city before it closed at mid-night. My plane arrived at the gate at 23:05 and even though I was among the last to deplane, I also know the importance of arriving at immigration quickly. Each person ahead of you in the queue can add five minutes to the processing time. So I ran - and when I got there, there was only one other person between me and the processing desk. In the few minutes that I was waiting for that one person to be processed, about a dozen people arrived in my queue after me. So it really paid to have run.
After getting through Immigration, I went to pick up my bag - and mine was among the first few to come out. I then grabbed my bag and ran for the train - and to my amazement, I was on the train by 23:25, a mere 20 minutes after stepping off the plane
My next goal was to try to make it to the city in time to catch a connecting subway train before the subway system shut down for the night. But I didn't make that and I had to take a taxi from the train station to my home. All told, it took about a half an hour - and 65 baht (15 for the train and 50 for the taxi), or about 2 dollars - to cover the 30 kilometers from the airport to my home - in just 30 minutes. Now that's progress!
Arriving at home at midnight, even though I was exhausted, I still went through my post-trip routine of unpacking everything - and even going to the supermarket to restock my refrigerator - before going to sleep at about 3:30.