Lovely Luang Prabang
Trip Start Oct 16, 2009
15Trip End Nov 15, 2009
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It took a bus ride from hell but Luang Prabang is lovely!
The bus ride between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang is about 7 hours through heavily mountainous terrain. I thought I'd go for a VIP minibus because of the mountains and risk of motion sickness (a thing I'm prone to as it is).
Due to bad timing and being too timid I ended up in the worst seat of all. The one that folds open between the driver and the co-driver, has no head rest, and no leg space (and a stick shift where my legs could go). At first I thought, c'mon, you've travelled in Africa and basically sat on people's laps for hours on end, you'll be fine. But 7 hours was a loooong time. The annoying Korean guy in the co-drivers seat to my right apparently had a big ego and needed lots of room for his tiny Asian legs, so all the while we were fighting the quiet battle over what little space there was, him needing at least 3/4. I probably should've just said something but really didn't feel like it. Next time I will though, no, next time I'll make sure I have a better seat, especially if I paid extra for a more luxurious bus.
See some videos of the bus trip:
I have to say the scenery was stunning though. We went over very high mountains and had views of deep ravines and valleys, green greener greenest.
After about 4 hours one of the Lao rich spoilt girls in the back started vomiting into a plastic bag. Someone else convinced the Korean guy to give up his seat in the front to her so that she'd get less sick. He grudginly agreed. The Lao girl didn't want my crappy seat (obviously). But she took up much less space so that was good, I finally had enough space for my legs. However, by this time I was very sleepy, which was helped by the warm weather, motions of the minibus and the beautiful scenery now becoming repetitive. I kept falling asleep, my head falling back and I hurt my neck a few times because I had no head rest.
But all good things come to an end so finally we arrived in Luang Prabang. Somehow Laos has decided that it's convenient for bus terminals to be at least 3 km outside the town centre, which is kind of a pain! This way a multiple hour bus ride can cost a few euros, but the tuk-tuk ride into town is just as expensive, and more hassle of course. It's like this in all the towns I visited so far so I'd better get used to it. Another hurrah for NS which stops right in the middle of cities!
Luang Prabang immediately felt like a very pleasant, welcoming city (about 26.000 inhabitants). Its centre is situated between the Mekong and another river. It has beautiful colonial buildings, a mellow atmosphere, lots of guesthouses and tourists, but also very Lao markets and streets. Most of the tourists visiting this place are French or other nationalities elderly people, interested in the history and temples and it being a World Heritage site.
And the Lao people here smile again! It's so easy to tell what type of tourist has come before you. Over here: rich old polite ones who are interested in the people and their culture, and spend a lot of money.
I followed a guy persuading me to see his guesthouse, but I also wanted to see a few others first from Lonely Planet and Travelfish.org. Those did not have the good rooms (with balcony / window) available anymore so I ended up in that first place that is not yet in Lonely Planet, and was actually quite charming, only 50.000 kip (4 euros) with private bathroom, except it had a construction site opposite so it was a bit noisy. But I should be used to that by now, what with
Lively night market
Click here for a video of live fish at the market.
A lot of things here are left over from the French colonisation: baguettes, good coffee, people playing petanque (jeu de boules), architecture, street names, hospital names. You also come across old people every now and then who address you in French, and I am able to have conversations with them in French. Those oldies speak better French than English.
23rd October - chilling out
That evening I had my dinner (yummie Tom Kha Kai soup) in a restaurant that also features movies. It had pillows on the floor and travellers were lounging on them, eating, watching the movie and using their laptops because there was also wifi. It sure would be nice to carry a mini laptop and be able to sort my photos and type my diaries on there instead of an internet cafe.
Everything in Luang Prabang closes at 10 p.m. (bars at 11.30 p.m.) so that's another reason it doesn't attract the horrible party crowd you find in Vang Vieng.
24th October - Kuang Si waterfalls
I got up at 6.30 hoping to see the monks. But my hotel owner told me I was too late, they were already gone. Hmmm, back to bed, another go tomorrow! :-)
Click here for a video of the waterfalls.
Today I got up very early at 5 to see the monks going round the streets at 5.30 a.m. They collect food and alms from the religious Lao people. I had read that in the main street this can be a contrived experience with sellers of food harrassing you, but got trapped in such a scene anyway. I thought it might be rude to take pictures of the monks without giving any food, but as
Eventually she gave up and I was able to do what I wanted. It was a beautiful ceremony to witness but I felt like an utter tourist photographing it... but oh well, what can you do. I just thought of the tourists in Amsterdam photographing everything.
Following a random sign
The toothless guy's home
He took me across the river in his boat, and up to his home. It was a stone house and quite big for Lao standards, but the inside was not decorated at all, just concrete, and things lying about randomly everywhere. It had no doors but faded curtains to shut the rooms off from the main living space. He made me sit down, and his daughter and grandson were there. His wife made me some noodle soup and even though I'd just had a big lunch I tried to be polite and to eat as much as I could. It was delicious but I was already quite full. His son came home and suddenly saw himself burdened with the task of taking the 'falang' out to the weaving villages on his motorbike. He didn't seem particularly enthusiastic about this task his father had bestowed upon him, but off we went. I was wearing my skirt that day so I had to sit on the motorbike sideways. It all went well and I didn't fall off.
The weaving village was another one of those places frequented by rich old French tourists who spend a lot of money and are very interested in the work and life of the people, so it was a pleasant enough place. I had a look at some women weaving away at their intricate machines, and some people carving wood. I didn't buy anything though because the prices were much higher than at the night market in town, higher even than in the Netherlands.
Videos of the women weaving:
I had some dinner and went back to my guesthouse, showered, packed and was picked up by a tuk-tuk driver who took me to the bus terminal for my nightbus, leaving Luang Prabang behind with fond memories.