Extending the Excursion
Trip Start Dec 31, 2004
71Trip End Apr 22, 2005
Traveling within Asia is a beast unto itself and seldom do things go the way you've planned or hoped. When I went to the travel agency yesterday to book passage to Chiang Mai I was confronted with several dismal choices. I am a person who knows what I want and I make my decision and that's that -- rarely have I had regrets. Sometimes the choice however is not to choose but I haven't that ambiguous luxury. I have surely irritated half of all the travelers of Luang Prabang within earshot, as well as the travel agents about my conundrum.
My first option was to boat up the Mekong and spend the night in a border town before proceeding onward to the Thai border the following morning on another boat
There are worse places to be stuck than Luang Prabang for a total of nine days. To sit by the Mekong enjoying a leisurely lunch reading a book for hours. Stopping into shops afterward looking at the textiles and Buddha statues and the clunky intricate jewelry from the ethnic hill tribes. Afterward having a dessert at one of the many French or Scandinavian pastry shops then wandering around down alleyways and suddenly seeing across the way is another wat to explore. When the women start setting up the night market in the early evening it's time for a shower and a change of clothes and cocktail hour on the Mekong
I took a day trip the other morning to the Pak Ou caves of the "thousands Buddhas" but I think it's somewhere more around 300 of them. In this rare incidence the journey was by far superior to the actual destination and the destination was still interesting. The early morning mist rising on the Mekong was breathtaking and the two hour boat ride to the caves was beautiful and relaxing. En route we stopped at a little sand barge where the locals were brewing a type of rice wine/moonshine. They were stirring a large vat of boiling black rice wine in large oil drums that trickled down through a pipe and dripped into a gauze-covered pot. I tried a little shot around 9:45 in the morning and liked it so much I bought a little bottle to indulge at a more decent hour. The taste is a bit like sake with a subtle hint of pineapple and very smooth.
The caves themselves were interesting but nothing truly spectacular but for a five and a half journey for $3.50 who's complaining? The boat ride back with the sun directly overhead while cruising against the current lulled me into a nap. By the time I was on dry land my body still felt like it was on the boat
I've met some wonderful people here as well. The other night I had a very swanky dinner at a French/Lao restaurant called L'Elephant with two American ex-pats who live in Taiwan. They own a large import/export business and were thinking about working out some plans to export some of the amazing textiles here. We all agreed that while Thai silk is considered the finest it truly pales in comparison with its Lao equivalent. The embroidery and stitching is exceptional and the detail work is impressive. I had a great dinner with Faye and Howard and they even treated me! Faye said, "No, no it's our treat you're the traveler and you've got a budget." I was very appreciative and it was really nice to swank it up for a night. The following day we went to my favourite place on the river for lunch but wouldn't you know it? It was Sunday and I'd been eating at the only Christian restaurant in all of Luang Prabang -- it was closed.
I've also met a great couple, Jeff and Margaret who are staying at my guesthouse and we've had a couple of breakfasts together
Tonight while walking over to my favourite restaurant for dinner I noticed candles everywhere. The shops, the guesthouses, the riverside bars and restaurants were all lit solely by candlelight. Blackouts are a rather common occurrence here in Luang Prabang my waiter told me. Still it didn't stop the musicians from playing their xylophone, drums and chimes amidst a constellation of white taper candles. I got my regular table and just stared up at the stars and the black Mekong slowly churning below. It was a magical moment to sit there with the chilly breeze floating up the river with the steam rising from my over-sized bowl of ginger and tomato soup as it warmed my face. After a few pages of my book I placed it back in purse and savored all that was happening so slowly around me.
If I'd gotten on the flight I had first intended I'd be in Chiang Mai by now. Instead I've got two more nights here in Luang Prabang for lazing about and being happily bored.