I Was Not Murdered
Trip Start Dec 31, 2004
71Trip End Apr 22, 2005
A few days ago while talking to my travel agent in Bangkok and trying to figure out how to get here we debated all my options. Basically the only places I wanted to go to prior to departing for Burma (Myanmar) by the 10th of February were Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang. I had initially planned to take the train straight up north to Chiang Mai (note the map to the right)and then take a boat trip to Luang Prabang but then I'd also have to return to Chaing Mai since that's where my flight will depart to Mandalay on the 10th.
What I hadn't thought of was what my travel agent suggested and it all seemed to make sense. Rather than back tracking I could do as I did by taking the train and a tuk-tuk to the Lao capital then I could take the bus from there to Luang Prabang
What I read in my Lonely Planet didn't just give me pause it was cause for alarm. I signed off the computer, paid up and headed back to the travel agent and with my voice cracking I breathlessly asked if I could change my ticket and head straight up to Chiang Mai instead. Without asking why she had to act quickly since my train was departing in less than two hours. The answer was yes but I'd be charged for half of it and she couldn't get me on the other train until the next day, which means I'd be stuck in Bangkok for another night. Then I told her what I'd read in my guidebook.
In 2003 two buses over a period of two months were ambushed on the road from Vientiane to Luang Prabang. In the process 25 people were killed and 31 were injured. The government said that they were local bandits but others speculate that they were anti-government insurgents. If that's not enough the bus terminal in Vientiane was bombed in August of 2003. I was panic-stricken. Jay, my travel agent wasn't the least bit concerned and explained to me how many buses a day travel that route
To say that I felt a bit uneasy about the trip up here to Luang Prabang would be an understatement. To pun it, I'd say that the last few journeys have made me a bit gun shy if you will. The rush to the bus however was so chaotic I didn't have time to worry.
Before I tucked into my room for the night in Vientiane at the Hotel Comatose I asked the heavy-lidded front desk clerk for a 5:15 a.m. wake up call. He wrote it down and I saw "5:15" written on the piece of paper. After a deep and much needed sleep I heard a timid rapping on my door, I got up and opened it and looked at my watch -- it was 6:00. I was so flabbergasted, so befuddled I almost laid into to him but he was sound asleep and I didn't feel like waking him up.
In five minutes I headed out and caught a tuk-tuk in the freezing misty morning with a still glowing full moon above we sped off to the terminal
The bus was filled with 90% locals and in the back were four smiling monks and in front of them was seated a man menacingly staring out the window with an AK-47 strapped across his chest. In the front of the bus, ridding shot gun if you will sat the steward who manned the television and across his chest was slung an AK-47, as well. In a different world such as this it actually calmed me -- at least these guys were on our side.
The ride was without a doubt the most scenically breathtaking journey I've ever taken in my life. For ten hours we snaked up and down tree covered mountains passing road-lined bamboo and thatched-roofed villages
Arriving into Luang Prabang it is no wonder that UNESCO has deemed this town a World Heritage Site. It is stunning. The town lies on a sliver of a peninsula at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers and is surrounded by mountains. The town is filled with golden spired wats, traditional Lao and French colonial architecture, lovely river-lined restaurants below large trees lit by twinkling lights. It has made the journey here all worth while.
I strolled along the banks of the Mekong at sunset and had a delicious fish dinner and of course a gin and tonic while live musicians softly played
I had a feeling that if I stuck it out just a little while longer I'd find some beauty in this country and it didn't take long. An hour into the bus ride the country's beauty made itself evident and Luang Prabang emits a charming and comfortably relaxing air. Already I'm thinking about extending my trip here and shortening my trip in Chiang Mai. I also need some time to recoup from all of the traveling. The trip to Chiang Mai will be a two day boat journey that some have praised and others have bitched about. You'll be happy to know that I've researched that thoroughly and I'm not holding anything back this time --there have been no violent incidents whatsoever on that route. It seems (knock on wood) the treacherous parts are behind me for a while and I'm very much ready to soak in the beauty of Lao.